By now you’ve probably heard her name, or definitely heard her voice maybe without knowing it. Its taken her a few decades to make it into the industry, not that age stigma with being a pop/R&B star gets in the way of the hype Kelela deserves.
Kelela Mizanekristos born in Washington D.C America originally, moved towns a bit until she landed in Los Angeles, went to school for a bit, sung jazz late night, was in a band, received some very stirring advice from Little Dragon, and then came a record deal.
The company in question, Fade To Sound (an American off shoot of the original London based Night Slugs), was a grime dance music label. She featured on one of their artists, Kingdom’s track “Bank Heist”, then Kelela finally later released an EP of just her through the label. The EP was an experiment, a whole lot of dancehall that hadn’t ever included vocals, now overlayed with Kelela’s smooth falsetto voice.
On that EP was a track called “Go All Night”, which was then picked out and included on Solange’s multi artist album Saint Heron. It’s only been up from there for Kelela.
In 2014, we enjoyed “The High” by Kelela and a bunch of collaborations including songs with Bok Bok and Boots. She once again appeared on an album thanks to Solange, her masterpiece, A Seat At The Table featured Kelela on the second to final track “Scales”.
All this history makes for an interesting sound, with soulful electronic, R&B beats, but her lyrics on “Scales” really came deep from the heart. Comparisons are hard, but listening to The Weeknd, Little Dragon, Sampha and Banks on the same playlist as Kelela works well.
Finally, a whole album has been released this week, Take Me Apart. 14 tracks released through WARP music label.
Opening track “Frontline” is a standout track – it’s dark with a good bass beat, layering her voice over lyrics such as “If you think I’m going back, you misunderstood… Cry and talk about it, baby, but it ain’t no use“, it gives the track a intimate feeling. On the track, she’s saying goodbye to someone who was holding her back, maybe a song that’s been a long time coming, with all the ups and downs Kelela has faced on her journey to successful artist.
The album’s title track “Take Me Apart” is my next favourite song. It is about a new love or lust rather, the line “don’t say you’re in love baby, until you take me apart” suits the build up the song takes us on. The song builds and builds to a faster synth track, its very sexy, it’s a bit 90s, a bit FKA Twigs.
“LMK” is the hit off the album, standing for ‘Let Me Know’. From the start of the track, we can hear the layering that hints at a dancehall build up. This is one of the best jams, with a simple one line hook as of late, courtesy of producer Jam City. Look out for the inevitable remixes.
Some of the darker pop songs on the album like “Blue Light” and “Onanon“, brings to mind The Weeknd, the difference Kelela can offer is more emotional depth than some of Abel’s newer music.
The production of this album is never jarring, it maybe electronic music but its so smooth, build ups are like deep breathes and samples ranging from rain fall to slowed down clap tracks sort of give off this trance like quality. “S.O.S“, is a good example, lyrics about fingers in mouths and greed. Kelela’s voice is so angelic, she sounds like she’s breathing these dirty lyrics while surrounded by pastel silk sheets and smelling of mangoes.
I’m glad the music scene’s doors finally gave for Kelela, no genre will hold her sound. In a music landscape with its fair share of electronic beats, Kelela’s unique grime, synth, soft pop R&B is standing out. I’ll be looking out for tour dates. Out now on Warp Records, purchase Take Me Apart by Kelela on iTunes here.
Words by Melissa Davis