The term genre-defying is used in high frequency these days in music reporting. I am as guilty as any other writer although I pass myself due to the variety of artists I cover. Whether or not I am justified is unclear and in defence, the boundaries between genres are happily being pushed outward if not being pulled down brick by brick. As I did my perfunctory research on Kelela, the term popped up again and again. Having listened to her latest album, Raven, as a whole and repeatedly, I speak for all music writers by saying we stand firmly in this uncategorization.
Mentioning the album and artist to a friend, I described Kelela’s music as ‘moody alt-R & B with trip-hop and early aughts dance elements’. Pretension less often takes me over when chatting with friends about music than committing overwrought, overthought written statements as internet content. But, here we are. Given an opportunity to catch this unique artist, especially on her short and sold out tour before an inevitable wave of longer tours and larger shows become the norm, it felt impossible to say no.
Raven was released on February 10, 2023 ending a six year album drought for Kelela acolytes. So professed were the questions and calls for new material that they became memes. In fact, Kelela released a humorous video depicting the wide range of rumours about the artist’s whereabouts. Raven was almost complete back in January 2020, so fans’ calls may have been answered sooner barring ‘the thing’. Anticipation made the eventual release all the sweeter. 15 songs that bounce between genres, critics ‘raved’ about the album from the get. Leading into the Raven tour, in Toronto strains of the album’s opening, Washed Away, opened the show. As Kelela entered the stage from the wing, the audience roared. A brief few words about the audience, I don’t believe I’ve been at a show with as great an audience as the one out this night. No shock, they were dancing from note one and each that followed that opening DJ, Bobby Beethoven played. But the volume of cheers raised even higher once Kelela appeared. The phrase that entered my mind was Beatlesesque. The audience hung on each word of banter and at times, match the volume of Kelela’s voice in singalong. While the artist basked in these moments of adoration, it was clear that she possessed a unique connection with her crowd that seemed to surprise her the least.
Swaying to Washed Away, the set segued to Bluff from Kelela’s first album, Take Me Apart. The set leaned heavily on tracks from the new album however she took a moment to address the crowd, to paraphrase, she said whether had just heard her or had been following since the release of Bank Head (from her breakout 2013 mixtape, Cut 4 Me, we were all the same in this room. At mention of the song, she launched into it to an expected roar. Closing the set with Raven’s gorgeous Enough For Love, the singer took a brief break before returning with All The Way Down from her 2015 EP, Hallucinogen.
April 1st ends this leg of the Raven tour before crossing the Atlantic for shows in London, Paris and Berlin. More info here.