NATIVE Exclusive: Kah-Lo is closing out an old chapter with ‘Pain/Pleasure’
"A lot of us musicians are crazy to be doing this full time. But a lot of us are here because we have something to get out."
"A lot of us musicians are crazy to be doing this full time. But a lot of us are here because we have something to get out."
With the exception of the anomaly that is Tems, not many Nigerian artists can brag of a Grammy nomination so early on in their career, let alone before the release of a debut album. But as we’ve seen, Kah-Lo is nothing like the rest. The Nigerian House-leaning artist and writer joined the British producer Riton on “Rinse & Repeat,” the intro track for their joint project, ‘Foreign Ororo’. The duo presented an indisputable force with the Electronic-Pop song that earned a nomination under the Best Dance Recording category at the 59th Grammy Awards.
“It was great but it was really overwhelming as well,” Kah-Lo reminisces. “I went from people not knowing or considering that I was Nigerian or that I was really making great music to being in the cover of three national newspapers. It was strange.” Despite achieving feats unfathomable for the artist at the time, she took time perfecting her craft and finding her voice amidst the rush of Nigerian pop going global.
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Kah-Lo ensures to stay true to her House and Electronic roots, ignoring several pressures to box her into anything that feels even slightly inauthentic. Seeing as she uses music as a vessel for her expression, Kah-Lo arrives armed with varying messages to herself and her audience and doing this without the pleasantly screeching and euphonies melodies of House just doesn’t seem right. In conversation with Kah-Lo, her tone and message radiate the music-chose-me energy and she is only here to pass on these stories.
“A lot of us musicians are crazy to be doing this full time. But a lot of us are here because we have something to get out,” she explains. She part jokingly, part seriously adds “You know when Western artists try to make Afrobeat and it sounds just off. That’s what it sounds like when I try to make Afrobeat.” This incessant to do only what feels right and true to her person has informed Kah-Lo seemingly delayed release a debut album, seven years after her official entry into the scene.
Kah-Lo’s time is now and she couldn’t be more ready. Her debut dubbed ‘Pain/Pleasure’ presents a 14-track representation of her journey over the years, armed with bitter lessons and necessary experiences needed to navigate the next phase of her life and career. She ruminates on her loss and pain translated to anger and many other emotions. While these are inherently negative, she embraces them with open arms and sits in the feeling of discomfort with a renewed sense of maturity. A slew of masterful producers join her as she peels back refreshing layers of her artistry, effortlessly shifting between heartwarming renditions and club-ready bangers to relay her experiences with pleasurably painful life.
Ahead of her highly anticipated album, we caught up with Kah-Lo to discuss moments leading up to the drop, the messages she aimed at communicating with her audience, overcoming the challenges that come with being Kah-lo and much more.
Our conversation, which follows below, has been lightly edited for clarity.
NATIVE: Walk me through your background. Did you have any early introductions to music?
Kah-Lo: My family wasn’t musical but they enjoyed music so I grew up enjoying music. My elder sister also loved 90’s music, Spice Girls and Tupac specifically. My dad loved 80’s R&B like Shalamar and all. There was also my uncle who just loved everything. I got introduced through all three of them mostly and I eventually grew up to find my own taste.
How would you say the music you consumed in your childhood shaped your relationship with creating the music you do now?
It definitely did. Combining those genres or should I say eras. It felt like the possibilities were endless with what I could create and I think that’s reflected in my music today because I don’t really put myself in a box of genres. It’s all about the feeling that I try to express and it can be anything from Electronic to R&B or Dance.
Have these early influences changed regarding the music you listen to now?
Definitely. I consume music every day so everything I listen to inspires me. Every sound, every single auditory experience I get inspires my sound.
At what point did you realise you wanted to pursue music professionally?
I’d say 13 but it was actually when I was eight. I started taking it seriously and taking steps towards it at 13.
What did those steps look like at that point in your life?
You know, just connecting with musicians looking for producers, trying to get recorded music down, trying to put it all online, trying to find an audience and so on.
The grammy nomination on “Rinse and Repeat” must have been a phenomenal point in your career. What were your takeaways from that moment?
It was great but it was really overwhelming as well. I went from people not knowing or considering that I was Nigerian or that I was really making great music to being in the cover of three national newspapers. It was strange.
NATIVE: How has your process of making music changed over the years?
Kah-Lo: I mean, now I have access to producers and other amazing resources. There’s a lot more flexibility but still not that much flexibility, you know? Now music pays my rent. So, like the kids say, you have to make music like the rent is due.
Is there anything about your processes, the way you write and record instrumentals for example, that has changed? What exactly does your process entail in general?
Not really because I started as a writer. I really liked writing poems and so it’s still mostly the same. Sometimes, once in a while, I can try to have the freedom or give myself permission to freestyle on the mic but that doesn’t come so naturally to me. It’s more of the words that come naturally to me and then I put them to melodies. I hear a beat, resonate with it melodically, then I write the words to it.
Your music holds a feel-good touch in general but what do you audiences take away when they listen?
I want them to feel joy and feel empowered because even my music empowers me. I created Kah-Lo to do things Farida was afraid to do. It’s kind of like I need her to help me and so I hope she and the music help other people.
What informed your artist moniker Kah-Lo?
There’s a Mexican artist called Frida Kahlo and my real name is Farida. My sister always called me Frida Kahlo when I was younger and I never really had any nicknames I liked growing up. I adopted Kah-Lo and put a hyphen in it so I don’t get sued.
With the eyes of the world on you, I’d imagine you’re exposed to a world of music creatives. What now informs your choice of collaborators in your creative process?
Good vibes. I hate negative energy. I know that’s generic but the slightest negative energy I detect, I can’t work with you.
You recently released “Runaway.” Can you share with us the inspiration behind the track’s themes and what do you want audiences to take away from the song?
People always ask me why I don’t make Afrobeats and I feel like it’s a genre I can’t do justice to mainly because it doesn’t come naturally to me, as weird as that sounds. So “Runaway” was a track that I made with TMX when I was in Lagos last summer. Everybody said I needed to work with TMX because he understands perfectly the niche that I’m in. We were essentially able to collide our worlds and create “Runaway.” I would say Ampiano is an evolution of African music because at this point it belongs to Africa. We’re able to merge Dance and Amapiano which was what I was feeling at the moment and I never want to do anything that is not authentic to me. So “Runaway” just felt authentic enough.
You predominantly dabble into Afro-House amongst other genres. Why did you feel that was the best medium to tell your stories?
I wouldn’t even call it Afro anything really. I feel like I just make Pop and House but my Africaness or Nigerianess led to the inclusion of the Afro label. Which is why I appreciated the category I was nominated for the Grammys. It was just Dance and not World Music because it seems once you put the non-western connotation in something, all of a sudden it becomes othered. I’ve always wanted to make music that could transcend my cultural background and where I was from [Lagos]. Taking it back to the inspiration from my family, musically, they weren’t just strictly listening to Fela and Sunny Ade for example. As much as I appreciate that music still, listening to a plethora of genres enabled me to end up the way I did musically and my ability to express myself was nurtured by those moments. I can probably count on one hand, the amount of tracks that I intentionally intended to include that Afro element in there.
Are there any genres that you’re curious to explore in the future?
No. Not that I’m aware of yet.
NATIVE: What’s the hardest part about being Kah-Lo and how do you rise above these challenges and stay true to yourself in an industry as packed as this?
Kah-Lo: That’s a good question. Essentially, I had a great job before I started making music professionally as Kah-Lo. It was a wonderful job, great benefits, everything was perfect. I was exceedingly good too. I have a university degree so I could probably get a job if I wanted to now. While I had this wonderful job, I was not able to express myself in this way so I had to get it out. At the time, not many people were really doing that. I didn’t have any representation of the things I was trying to do. Like I said, when an African artist makes Pop, they put it as Afropop and then you have to try to fit yourself in that box because that’s the only way you can pay your rent.
When I make my music in that space, you know, I can easily just say hit up Adekunle Gold. Actually, I’m lying. I probably can’t because I’m a great songwriter but it does not translate to Afrobeats in the way that feels authentic. You know when Western artists try to make Afrobeat and it sounds just off. That’s what it sounds like when I try to make Afrobeat. I probably could be more known if I had a wonderful songwriter like Teni, or any other person in that space but it just sounds off. If I were to build my career off music that sounds off and doesn’t sound authentic to me, then why did I leave my job in the first place? I’d end up in a situation that I hate. So I could have just stayed in a job that I hated. A lot of us musicians are crazy to be doing this full time. But a lot of us are here because we have something to get out.
You’ve achieved a number of outstanding feats in your career thus far and your debut album is just coming out now. Why did you feel like this was the right moment to share with audiences?
I’ve been working through a lot; career, ups and downs and more. The album title in itself being called ‘Pain/Pleasure,’ I went through a lot with the people I came up with and even going through all of that as a Nigerian artist to end up being here. A lot has happened to make this the perfect time. Honestly, if it was any other time, I probably wouldn’t be as ready. Mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically, this is the right time in all aspects. I’m with Epic Records Now. I put out my EP two years ago and then the natural progression after that was an album, which I’ve been working on for a few years now. After like about 80 plus songs, we are able to get this and it’s well encapsulating my entire journey into a 14 track message.
What should we expect and what do you want listeners to take away?
The album is called ‘Pain/Pleasure.’ The first half deals more with the pain I was dealing with through that time. When COVID-19 happened, we were all dealing with collective pain. So there was a lot of anger that I had to get out. A lot of people I trusted when I started out my career basically tried to destroy me. I had to get weathered and I had to find a way to creatively get it out. The bulk of the newer songs are more into the pain section of the album. Then the last half is more themes of pleasure. That’s when a lot of the blissful ignorance was occurring and those were really good songs. Just because I was hurting doesn’t mean the song shouldn’t have a life. There’s a couple of new songs on there as well, but it’s a journey. I started to realise through the process that pain and anger, all these things we consider negative emotions don’t have to be bad because sometimes they’re necessary. To get to the good you have to experience pain and know what pleasure truly feels like.
What sort of doors do you hope this opens for you?
I haven’t really thought about that yet because this is closing a very long chapter for me. I really have no expectations because I’m literally just in the process of closing a very heavy security door. Happy to be here.
Listen to ‘Pain and Pleasure’ here.
[Featured Image Credits/The NATIVE]