You never know how it’s going to go when you meet a certified cool girl like Kelela. Placed in the same roster of singers like NAO, FKA Twigs and Jillian Hervey from Lion Babe, the 34-year-old has made waves in the genre of electronic soul. Her look is edgy, her lyrics are sensual and her fashion game is sick. So again, she’s a little intimidating… before you meet her.
Arriving by herself to the ESSENCE office, the petite talent gave a round of church hugs instead of corporate handshakes when she met the team. Dressed in a hunter green bomber with her name embroidered on the back collar, she’s essentially your around-the-way friend who happens to know Solange’s cell phone number.
“I’m so excited, it’s going to be on the upcoming episode of Insecure,” Kelela told ESSENCE after playing a little of “Frontline” a song off her debut studio album Take Me Apart. “It’s going to be played at the end of the episode, and it’s about exes going their separate ways. I wrote it through a breakup.”
Kelela began her career as a singer in DC’s jazz scene after graduating from American University. Never feeling totally at home in the genre she joined an indie band called Dizzy Spells and sang progressive metal, before transitioning to electronic. She’ll be the first to admit that her core fans base is White folks and Black queer electronic fans —hence her first big show being AFROPUNK in 2015— but she’s hoping her new music will also appeal to millennial Black women.
“I really hope Black women gravitate to the sound on the album,” Kelela said after noting her love of Janet Jackson. “It’s familiar and, sort of, far off in a way. What I’m doing is innovative, but it’s not new— Black women have performing this kind of music for years.”
For many in this aforementioned demographic, her music was first heard on the Saint Heron collaborative album from Solange. Having met five years ago after Solange’s manager saw her perform, the two have remained close. Kelela watched SoLo perform at AFROPUNK 2017 last weekend and will be hitting the stage with her at The Hollywood Bowl on Sept 24 with Blood Orange and KING. And like her contemporaries, her message is always about uplifting her people.
She ended our intimate discussion by being very deliberate about why she makes her music.
“Black people in this country took over the whole f–king world,” the Ethiopian-American said. “What are we talking about right now? What it means to look young and be cool in the world, derives from what Black experienced in this particular country. We’re amazing and should own it.”
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