Kah-Lo – the rapper, singer, and songwriter hybrid born Faridah Seriki – is planting her seeds in Western soil. The Nigerian-born artist has been making music back home for some time, but only got noticed on this side of the world two years ago with the single “Rinse and Repeat”, a bumpin’ tune she made with British electro DJ vet Riton. Last year, the track was nominated for Best Dance Recording at the Grammys, and its respective music video currently has over seven million views on YouTube. The golden nod is considered the ultimate sign of prestige for many artists, but Kah-Lo’s conscientious of the subsequent pressures that come with fast fame. And upon chatting it up with her, it’s apparent that her humble approach to stardom will result in a career that stretches beyond a mere fifteen minutes.
Kah-Lo is not your archetypal African musician, either. While most artists coming out of the continent are riding the Afrobeat wave, she’s in her own lane. Her roots are prevalent and can be heard in her tone and vernacular, but musically, she’s on a different tip. She lays down vocals over bass-heavy house tracks like “Fasta” and “Fake I.D.”; both songs easily could have been from London, or NYC, or Chicago or Detroit. Reminiscent of the ‘90s, an era when dance music was brimming with colors and birthed a new form of self-expression – primarily for black underground artists who were creating movements, well before the genre went global. Her astuteness, both sonically and geographically, speaks volumes. It also doesn’t hurt that her music is pretty damn good.
We caught up with Kah-Lo shortly before the release of her newest single with Riton, “Ginger”, to chat her illustrious place in the music world.
Where are you based currently?
I have a closet in Lagos, Nigeria. I have a closet in New York. I don’t have a closet in London. I pretty much live out of my suitcase.
You don’t have a ‘traditional’ Afrobeat sound. Would you say your aesthetic borrows from London’s ‘90s house era?
That’s a good question. I would say ‘no,’ because as far as house music, that comes from DJ Riton. He’s been doing this for like, 20 years. He knew all these branches of house music that I’d never heard of in my entire life. The melodies, lyrics and hooks are mine, but what you just described is Riton.
Is there a country or city that vibes to your music the most?
With the music we’re putting out right now, it’s mainly Europe. Those guys vibe to it the most. New York comes second, and Lagos last.
Does Nigeria have a more conservative ear when it comes to music?
When it comes to my music specifically, it’s mostly more Nigerians from the diaspora who went abroad and moved back, or who are more open-minded, that get my music. It’s not a lot of them, really. But there are those that really appreciate the sound. Unfortunately, I haven’t done a show out there yet. So, I can’t really say ‘Okay, it’s this amount of people.’ But it’s not comparable to Europe or New York.
Do you want to have more of a presence in Africa?
Yeah. It would be nice to have a bigger presence where I’m from. But for now, I’m just naturally letting it ride out. I make music that I like.
When you first started making music, where were you?
When I first started I was in Nigeria, but when I started taking it more seriously I was in New York.
The population of Nigeria alone is almost 200 million. You didn’t feel compelled to focus on building out that potential base?
When I was a kid, people who inspired me to become a musician were American. It was mainly an American dream, almost. I didn’t come to America specifically to pursue that. I came here for school. I had already told my parents I wanted to make music, but as African parents, they are like, ‘School first.’ So, I did school, and then that finished, and they were like ‘Law school’, and I was like ‘Nope! You said school first – school is now finished. I’d like to do what I originally what I wanted to do.’ I ended up staying for another three or four years to make that happen.
The West is paying a lot of attention to African music. Do you want to capitalize on that, or is the aim to be more universal?
I would say universal because like I said, the artists that inspired me were American. Sade also inspired me; she’s British-Nigerian, and she’s never shied away from that. But her talent transcends where she’s from. Even if we go away from that for a second and look at Lupita Nyong’o; her acting talent transcends where she’s from. I want that to happen, because a lot of the Nigerians who made it on that global scale were Nigerians that grew up abroad. It’s very rare to see ones who grew up in Nigeria. Like, no matter how far we go they still say, ‘You’re still this African/Nigerian artist.’ But if I had one dream, it’s to be properly global. The only artist that I can think of who achieved that is Rihanna. She’s from Barbados, and she’s become one of the most successful artists of our time. She’s unashamedly Bajan. That’s what I’d like to do.
Being a dark-skinned woman, what’s your view on the skin-bleaching some female artists do to appeal to a broader audience?
Well, as I said, I just want a place where my talent transcends all of that. I didn’t even think it to be an issue until I googled black female artists of the past, like, 20 years, and I realized that 90, if more of them, are light-skinned. I was properly shook; I didn’t think it was that big an issue, but the Beyoncés the Rihannas, they’re all lighter-skinned. Amara La Negra is really pushing that right now. And she’s a dark-skinned artist speaking out; she’s become the most successful cast member of the Love and Hip-Hop Miami cast. People are seeing her as an example, and they’re really looking up to her. You would think with the internet we can transcend that and not dwell on it as much, but I have seen that it’s something that we darker skinned artists should be very much aware of… it just makes me sad inside.
Would you say the Internet has made it smoother for you to break into the industry as a woman?
I mean, I wouldn’t say it’s been smooth necessarily. I’m also new to the industry. I can’t really complain about the pay gap, for example, because I’m new. I don’t have the clout to do certain things, but at the same time… I do try to be as assertive and aggressive. But there are those little challenges where you’re being assertive, but you’re still considered soft-spoken. It makes me feel like I need to be an outright bitch for people to understand that I’m being assertive. If I say I want two buns in my burger, but you didn’t hear me, and you give me one bun, do you want to me to bitch-slap you across the counter before you give me two buns? [laughs]
Stay tuned for more from Kah-Lo. Catch she and Riton on tour this year at one of the following dates:
May 21 – Wonder Ballroom, Portland, USA
May 22 – Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, CAN
May 26 – Brooklyn Bowl, Las Vegas, USA
May 27 – Observatory North Park, San Diego, USA
July 20 – Splendour In The Grass, Byron Bay, AUS
July 20 – Oxford Arts Factory, Sydney, AUS
July 21 – Prince Bandroom, Melbourne, AUS
August 11 – Boardmasters, Newquay, UK
August 17 – Pukkelpop, Belgium
August 24 – Leeds Festival, Leeds, UK
August 26 – Reading Festival, Reading, UK
August 26 – SW4, London, UK
Sept 11 – Ibiza Rocks, Ibiza, Spain
For more of our interviews, read our recent print feature with Kelela.
- Words: Safra Ducreay