Home is where your story begins. For Kelela, the nation’s capital serves as the initial setting for her narrative and in the latest chapter, she’s returned as a rising R&B singer on the brink of stardom. Although she currently resides on the opposite coast – in L.A. – Kelela admits to being a “D.C. girl” raised in suburban Maryland.
Her entourage is small. She arrives in D.C. for the Broccoli City Festival, with her mom, dad, DJ and publicist at her side. Her gloomy, all-black wardrobe is offset by her bright smile, which she pleasantly greets the coordinators working the event with. This moment is special to her. Last month, she performed in front of hundreds of thousands of people in Austin, TX at the SXSW festival and next month she’ll travel overseas for a string of shows in Portugal, Serbia and the U.K. But right now, she’s home and anxious to perform a medley of tracks off her highly praised mixtape, Cut 4 Me.
She gazes into the crowd as she makes her way onto the stage, searching for familiar faces like an alumni at a school reunion. This is her homecoming. We caught up with Kelela after her performance to talk about returning to D.C., her new fame, her debut album and more. – Christopher Harris
Photo Credit: Tumblr
Vixen: How does it feel to be home in D.C. for the Broccoli City Festival?
Kelela: It’s a pleasure. There are a lot of people that I know and a lot of people that I don’t know who have been connecting with me for whatever reason. Maybe because I’m from here, which is meaningful to me because I’ve had a particular experience here in D.C. There’s just a familiarity or a feeling when you know your folks. D.C. folk is like a particular thing, so that was just pleasant. I’m grateful for Broccoli City to even ask.
Are you an L.A. girl now?
Well, I don’t know what that means… All my shit is there. I can’t really own L.A. like an “L.A. girl” but I can say, if anything, I’m a D.C. girl because this is the most familiar context to me. I would definitely say that L.A. is a really beautiful, comfortable space. It’s a great place for me to create and for me to live right now.
Tons of people have tried to describe your sound. How would you describe it?
It depends on who I’m talking to. If I’m talking to a peer or someone that I think is familiar with the context, then I will say it’s definitely… my vocal is coming from the R&B tradition. I’m definitely an R&B vocalist but the production is more club oriented. It’s actually club music, it’s meant to be played loud in a small basement space and it’s abrasive, at times. It’s sort of juxtaposed to softer textures in vocal. But if I’m talking to someone older, I’d be like it’s R&B, but club R&B. It’s electronic but party sounds.
How does it feel to be receiving all this new attention?
It’s definitely more far along right now, then I thought it would be when I made the first move. I think the first thing that happened was probably when Solange requested that I open. So, that’s the first thing. And from that moment, I felt like some momentum was about to be created or was being created. But if you asked me then would I be in this position or at this level in my career, I wouldn’t have thought so right now in April of 2014.
I know your debut album is on the way. Can you tell us anything about it? Do you have a title?
Well, I don’t have a title. I usually do all of the things around the actual music after I make the music. So I will come up with the cover after the title of the whole project and just like anything around it. What I can say is that I am working on the songwriting aspect of it. I’m trying to make sure that all the songs are sort of full-on songs. And they feel good, I just want to go deeper. I think the messages and the approach will be similar but only modified in terms of songwriting. I’m trying to be a better songwriter.
Broccoli City Fest is a healthy lifestyle-oriented festival. Do you have any personal tips?
Well, I’m not perfect but I do my best or I try. I’m generally trying to avoid eating shit. So like, edible food-like substances, anything that’s highly processed and isn’t really going to make me feel good. I have a sensitive body as well and I’m singing for a living, so it doesn’t allow me to do a lot of things that are damaging. I can’t really drink like that. If I smoke it still effects me.
Is there anything that your fans don’t know about you that you’d like to share? I know your fans interact with you on Twitter and via social media, but have you ever felt like, ‘I wish my fans really knew this about me?’
I try to be pretty transparent with the things that I want them to know. There’s nothing that I want them to know that I don’t think they already know. Based on when I meet people, they seem to connect with the fact that I say I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know. I think that there is a message in my music that just speaks to me not having things figured out. And people have approached me and said that they connect with that and that’s kinda the most important thing for me to communicate, that I don’t know what’s going on, too. You know what I mean?
You’re like a work-in-progress?
I’m just a work-in-progress just like you and I do fucked up things and I make huge mistakes. I don’t want to say I’m just like you but there are more parallels, more commonalities that we’re all sort of having similar experiences. Big or small, whatever.
You’re really buzzing right now and the anticipation is building for your debut album, congrats. But do you ever sit back and think about how do you want it all to play out?
Well, honestly the thing that would make me be like “ahhhh” has already happened. Monetarily, obviously, I think all of us have dreams to be able to take care of our future grand-baby, grand-baby, grand-baby, but the real thing that makes me feel accomplished is that I tried something, I didn’t think I could do it, and I just did it any damn way and then, it started working out. So, I’m just really elated. I think being grateful always keeps bringing more things. So, I’m just sort of in that boat of not really wishing too much. The second that I wish for something or I’m like, “Damn, that would be so tight if we could just…” It happens. So, I don’t know. I feel really good.
A Grammy would be great but if I never won a Grammy, I’d also be really gratified just by being able to connect with people because I think that’s primarily what it is. All the other things are just bi-products of having connected successfully, you know?