FORT LAUDERDALE — When Jeanette Contant-Galitello was 14, her teachers told her that she was too spirited, too ambitious and too unrealistic. She blew them off, and now she’s running her own business, Kiskadee Music, and her own nonprofit corporation, Ethical Music.
The producer, composer and performer, whose stage name is Kiskadee, was born partially sighted and is encouraging others to blow off negativity.
“Whatever the situation is, it doesn’t stop you from doing what you want to do,’’ she told a group of teens and young adults attending a summer camp focusing on entrepreneurship at Lighthouse of Broward County.
The organization aids visually impaired people of all ages.
“Have a lot of confidence,’’ she told them. “Even if you don’t, you can fake it.’’
Music has always been a part of life for Kiskadee, who was born in England and moved to Coconut Creek in 2008. Her mother studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Her father was one of the early developers of the steel drums in the Caribbean.
“Together with my brother and sister, they formed this small steel band and we traveled all over the United Kingdom and Europe and we played in opera houses and we were on TV and in the press,’’ Kiskadee said.
“Then they sent me to a horrible boarding school to learn Braille. It was absolutely horrible, horrible!’’ she said.
She said she clearly remembers the sit-down she had with five teachers and their oral assaults: “You want to achieve too much in life. … We don’t like the way you dress; you’re too fashionable. … You shouldn’t be talking to janitors. You shouldn’t be mixing with the likes of those people. … Just don’t get above yourself, young lady.’’
“They were like this for three hours,’’ Kiskadee said. “I was crying, and then I thought, the more you tell me what I can’t do, the more I’ll show you what I will do.’’
She showed them by earning a combined bachelor’s degree in English and French with honors from Roehampton University in London, and working for the BBC until she hit the glass ceiling and decided to set up her own business in 1999. Shortly afterwards, she met her husband, Christopher Contant-Galitello, who left his job as a project manager at IBM to join her.
He recalled a few instances when they were working with an engineer who was taking too long to create specific effects that Kiskadee requested. As the engineer struggled with his mouse, “Kiskadee went to her equipment and did it in a few seconds, and it shocked him.’’
She has collaborated with celebrities including the late Michael Jackson. She has also played in the Caribbean, South America, China and venues including the Millennium Dome and Wimbledon.
“My most popular performance is Gimme Me One World,’’ she said. “The theme is one God, one religion, one human race, written in a calypso style. Ice Cream Sundae is a close follower.’’
Her big turning point happened in 2000 when she called many malls, asking if they would like some “steel band entertainment to bring the sunshine out, which we have very little of in London,’’ she said.
Finally, one mall agreed to let them play and set up a table to sell CDs.
“We go to this big luxury shopping mall and she sets us up underneath an escalator outside a grocery store,’’ Kiskadee said. “Guess what. People started coming over one, two, five, 10, 20. It was amazing and we were selling CDs like hotcakes. … That was the beginning of the big stuff.’’
But it’s not all glitz and glamour, she reminded the Lighthouse camp participants.
“You have to know how to sell yourself,’’ Kiskadee said. “Think about all the skills you have. Everyone has skills. Write them down. Identify your business, make a business plan, put down your business goals and sell your business. I always say to myself: Be positive and stay ahead of the game. What is lacking? Think about what you want and what we don’t have right now."
Rudly Jean, 17, of Deerfield Beach, might already be ahead of the game.
“I want to put speech software in iPods,’’ he said. “The Shuffles they have, I think, is what blind people use, but I want to put software in there so you can make it voice-activated.’’
“Sometimes it takes a little bit of ingenuity,’’ said Dee Nelson, of Plantation, echoing Kiskadee. “We are a minority. We have to adapt.’’
Matthew Ramirez, 15, of Sunrise, said he already has created a business plan for a video production company.
“Everybody I talked to in the last couple of weeks has motivated me more and more to start my own business,’’ he said. “I can use advanced programs that typical people can’t use, and even if I don’t know the program, I learn it. I don’t say, ‘I can’t do this.’ ’’
Photo: Kiskadee, right, urges young people to believe in themselves.