Kelela on Black Womanhood, Collaborating with Solange and Bringing 'Take Me Apart' to Life

Collaborations with the likes of The xx's Romy Madley Croft, Danny Brown, Arca and Gorillaz helped focus her art
Kelela on Black Womanhood, Collaborating with Solange and Bringing 'Take Me Apart' to Life
Photo: Dicko Chan
Although Kelela sounds assured, independent and wholly distinctive on her debut Take Me Apart, R&B's most singular new voice is quick to share the credit for her brilliant new songs.
A recent interview made it apparent that the 34-year-old, Maryland-raised, Ethiopian-descended up-and-comer is not only a gifted musician, but also a flat-out music geek. She heaped praise on producer Aaron David Ross, who made the instrumental for Take Me Apart highlight "Jupiter," calling him "an incredible producer who is really into film sounds. Me and him have actually gone in on different soundtracks for an entire evening. The IMAX feeling of his music, that's something he's an expert in."
An even more surprising cohort — considering their differing styles — is the xx's Romy Madley Croft, who helped Kelela pen the lyrics for "Jupiter." Kelela recalls their varying approaches: "She works on poetry, she writes, then figures out what the melody for those words are. It's really cool, she'll listen to me and say 'I think you're saying this.' That's natural for her, and for me it's natural to have a melody but not say anything. It's a total yin and yang situation."
Kelela also had the pleasure of working with critical darling Arca on both this album and her prior EP, Hallucinogen, while also working with contemporaries like Danny Brown and Gorillaz, on the song "Submission," from that band's recent album Humanz.
As exciting as those projects have been, Kelela considers her guest spot on Solange's A Seat at the Table to be an even bigger breakthrough.
"It's an honor to be part of her record," Kelela says of being featured on "Scales," from that album, adding: "The part that I sang, Solange had completely written herself for me. It was a matter of her wanting me to be included in a really overt way."
And while Kelela admires Solange's talent, the experience ran so much deeper than merely working together on a song. "Seat at the Table has expressed real adversity, struggle and also triumph and joy." Kelela says, adding that, for her, the LP "blazed some ground for me. And when it comes to the vulnerability I displayed on my record, I feel safer knowing that Solange's record exists in the world. In the same way she's helping others, she's helped me. And if I'm to help anybody, it's because of all the women who came before, who laid groundwork to receive what I'm trying to do, and hopefully what other black women are trying to say in the future."
That sentiment is especially crucial now, in a music industry that is still so racist and sexist and in a society where minorities are so frequently shot by police.
Or, as Kelela puts it: "As it pertains to my black womanhood, there's just a lot of ground to cover. There's a lot of stuff to say." She adds that the path forged by herself, and her idols and collaborators, can hopefully inspire and empower listeners who need to hear that most. She adds: "It's such a challenging time, and in my small way I will make it so that other younger women, and maybe older women, will be able to do the things they want to do, and accept themselves, and their experience."
Take Me Apart is out October 6 on Warp Records.