The Anatomy of a Kem Concert
Adria Diane Hughes

Kem has a short checklist for achieving a brilliant performance.

“Rest, hydrate and warm up—none of which I’ve done today,” the 45-year-old singer says. 

We’re seated in a vacant media room in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome less than two hours before he’s set to kick off a nostalgic night of music at Essence Fest 2015. “The biggest thing for me is making sure that I sleep enough, which I don’t. The more sleep I get, the better I sound.”

The Detroit-bred crooner doesn’t seem worried, though. Which makes sense once he takes the stage, bringing with him a full band, beautiful backup dancers and vocals that sound as clean and crisp as his CDs. Before his soulful show (which featured a guest cameo by Iyanla Vanzant), Kem spoke with about the make-up of his live show. 


“Set list is crucial. You live and die by the set list. You can have the greatest bands, the greatest artist in the world, if your set list is jacked up [the show] is not good.

“It has to flow, has to be fast in the right spots, slow in the right spots. It can’t be slow for too long; you’ve got to pick it back up. It’s gotta end strong. You want to try to keep the audience engaged and try to keep the flow of the show moving, which we’re not always successful at. It’s trial and error. With every new album. you’ve got a new collection of songs you’ve gotta work into old songs. I think we’re sitting in a nice place right now.”


“It all starts with the songs—having good songs that people want to hear. There’s a section of the show that’s been termed the Testimony part of the show. People connect the dots to ‘Can’t Stop Loving You.’ People love that song. ‘Share My Life’ is one of my favorites. ‘Love Calls’—the first single off of my first album—that’s how we broke onto the scene. People remember that because it sounds like Al Jarreau. That’s the first child.”


“The songs kind of dictate what the instruments are. My music has horns in it, so I have to have horns on stage. I try to stay true to the record. They all come to life in a different way. Everything that’s on the record doesn’t work live. The show has more energy without losing the character of the songs. It’s not as laid back as the records. I gotta tip my hat to my band for helping make that happen.”