CMJ 2013: KELELA


Tensions were high as Maryland-born, Los Angeles-based singer Kelela came out to a room filled to capacity for the opening night of the FADER FORT presented by Converse in Williamsburg on Thursday. As one of CMJ’s most buzzed-about artists, Kelela maintained her cool, nonchalant demeanor at what was her first high-profile performance. Her mentality through the show was to bear her all, warning the room that there would be “no fucks,” telling the assembled guests, “If you like fucks, they are not being given here.”

Kelela opened her set with “Keep It Cool,” following it with four other songs off her début mixtape “Cut 4 Me,” out earlier this month. It didn’t take long for the crowd to be pulled in by her vocals and further engrossed by the hallowing and, at times, bone-chilling dub and grime beats that back her songs.

With her mixtape gleaning the support of her labels Fade to Mind and Night Slugs’ producers Nguzunguzu, Bok Bok, and Fade to Mind owner Kingdom, Kelela’s beats created a cohesive canvas for her to showcase her songs, singing live with only the support of deejayed tracks. There wasn’t much, especially in the form of production, to hide her vocal talent. As Kelela moved into the title track of her mixtape, she introduced it with, “This song’s about this girl.” She shook her head, claiming, “Whatever.” It was effortless passion.

Sipping on her beer, Kelela plowed through her set, moving physically closer to the crowd as the show went on. You could feel the raw emotions moving through the converted rough, garage-like warehouse space, as everyone moved and swayed along. As Kelela closed off her set with the energy-filled “Bank Head,” she left the crowd feeling like thirty-five minutes was not enough. But, conveniently, this is only the beginning of her career. For the industry, it’s been a while since there was a new R&B vocalist who could carry an electronic beat, and Kelela is ready to bring it, all while we fervidly listen.

View more CMJ coverage of Willis Earl Beal, Eleanor Friedberger, and Savages.

Yelena Perlin is an art director based in New York. She moonlights as a music fanatic.

Alexander Wagner is a photographer based in Brooklyn, New York. He’s currently working on a book of musicians living in America.

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