Airy vocals and strong lyricism, Kelela is an Ethiopian-American singer from Washington DC. Known for her symmetrically cut dark locks and penetrating gaze, the “Rewind” singer is successfully making her mark in music her own way, and not letting cultural expectations stop her.
Never the one to confirm to society’s standard, Kelela told Fader how as a kid, she dressed differently to confuse classmates as they tried to pinpoint where she was from. “I’d rather be the bridge” she quoted, explaining how she felt like she was in the middle of many worlds. Just like her style, you can see her resistance echoing in her music as well, combing electronic, R&B, house, techno, hip hop and dubstep.
Kelela began singing jazz cafes until joining indie band Dizzy Spells in 2008. After moving to LA, the singer linked up with Teengirl Fantasy in 2013 which led to her meeting different record labels. She released her first official mixtape Cut 4 Me later that year on October and has collabed with a number of artists from Solange to Gorillaz.
Her 2015 album Hallucinogen, put her in the spotlight with “Rewind” and “A Message”, her 90’s anime inspired music video visually explaining how she felt as she become whole and falls apart over and over again. Filled with hypnotic techno beats mixed perfectly with traces of 2000’s R&B, Kelela takes us on a journey of self discovery with her latest album Take Me Apart.
Not only is she known for her diverse take on musical genres, but one thing that makes the artist shine as a beacon of black girl magic is her self confidence. You can tell through her songs, lyricism, music videos and even instagram pictures that she is no one but herself which is probably why her and Solange make such a dynamic duo.
Extremely open about sex, personal experiences and the things that have made her an artist, I believe her vulnerability and straight up honesty she shares in her music is what inevetibly what makes her such a strong artist. Lyrics like “Don’t say your in love baby until you learn to take me apart” burn themselves into your brain as you listen to her tell stories of her endeavors with men. Listening to her songs is like having a real life conversation with the person you want to be, cutting straight to the point and asking questions you’d be to self conscious to ask about otherwise.
The minute I watched the “LMK” video, I was reminded of what MTV used to be about. Kelela dressed in all leather fit changing into different colored wigs with each scene and dancing in a narrow, lit up hallway of a club as her girls danced in sync behind her. It felt like an ode to the iconic R&B queens who effortlessly owned their sexuality and basked in what it meant to be a carefree woman. She gets right to the point singing “No one’s trying to settle down, all you gotta do is let me know” and “Did you think you’re my ride home babe, cause my girls are parked behind.” She’s a real life badass who doesn’t care about preserving the male ego as she casually tells the boy who thinks she’s in love with him that she’s really just down for the fun and that what they had, was never that deep.
See this Ethiopian queen perform live in Houston on November 21st at White Oak Music Hall. You can buy tickets here.