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Kelela by Matt Fry

My 2013: October – Kelela

Quitting her call centre job to make “fuck you” and “fuck me” R&B – plus her epic plans for 2014

TextKieran YatesPhotographyMatt Fry

First lady of LA label Fade to Mind, Kelela has had an extraordinary year. Introducing her brand of evocative R&B, she's been responsible for one of the most exquisite musical offerings of the year, courtesy of her mixtape released in October, Cut 4 Me.

With phenomenal production credits from the likes of Night SlugsBok Bok, Girl Unit and Nguzunguzu, Kelela delivered an mixtape worthy of the praise that’s come her way. Fresh from touring with Solange, she'd released two tracks that made the internet take notice. One was 2012's minimal, heart-renching Teengirl Fantasy collab, and the other was the extraodinary "Bank Head" (feat. Kingdom) – which topped our tracks of the year poll. It was the gateway drug for many listeners, and the tense, soulful offering set the precedent for the sound Cut 4 Me introduces – spacious, hedonistic production influenced by grime and layered with her emotive storytelling. We speak to her in London as she reflects on her rollercoaster year.

"I started this year fresh from doing two gigs with Solange last December. That was my first breakout in terms of performance. So it was a huge deal. She is amazing. Through the beginning of the first half of this year I did quite a few Solange shows. She’s fun and we get along. It’s like meeting somebody that you should’ve been friends with. Also, I met Beyoncé! Solange introduced me to her, and she said, 'Oh my God, you missed Kelela, she just played right before me and it was so good' – it’s just crazy to be introduced to Beyoncé that way!

I was introduced to the Fade to Mind folks on New Years Eve of 2012. I just showed up at this house, and it was this crazy party and they were the DJs making these amazing dream sounds come out the speakers and I was like 'who are these people?' In March they approached with a bunch of tracks, and I started writing with them. Then in April/May time I also started writing "Bank Head". There were the a few songs I made pre-break up and post-break up. I think it was "Enemy" and "Floor Show" – all the sort of 'fuck you' tracks and 'fuck me' at the same time. You know how it is.

I didn’t 100% know that Cut 4 Me was gonna be a hit – but I knew it was good, because my producer friends who I respect worked on it. Then I listened to the final product and had this jumping around the room moment where nobody can tell you anything cause you’re convinced that it’s the shit. It’s really heartening, to know people like the shit you make with your friends.

The first time seeing the audience sing along to my songs was amazing. It’s crazy being able to see music resonate on people’s faces while I sing about all these things that have happened to me. My audience didn’t exist before. Nobody would buy tickets to see Kelela headline a show and now it’s like, now totally different experience. I love London. It feels so honest the way that people make music here. I haven’t had any good Ethiopian food though! When I’m in DC that’s when I’m having Ethiopian food, and I’m not really fucking with it in any other place. I don’t even fuck with it in LA like that because it’s just nowhere near as good, take it from me. My rider is like really fucking basic though. It’s like, I mean, the only things on there are like, tea, and I think it says that I need to have access to hot water. It’s pretty basic, but check with me in a year. That can be the progression of next year and I’ll put loads of cool shit on it. Interview me when I step my shit up!

There were so many milestones for me over the past year. I quit my job last December, so January was the first month I didn’t have a telemarketing job in LA. I was selling solar panels. I was actually trying to get people to schedule a consultation to see whether their home could produce enough sun to power their homes. Now I’m just working on my album for next year which is basically going to be like the mixtape, but not like that kind of production. I’m going to try to focus more on taking the songs further and developing them into more epic pieces. And working with people within the Fade to Mind and Night Slugs camp but also outside of that. I was like really sort of heartbroken a year ago, working in a call centre. There’s so many things that have changed in both my personal and professional life…this year has kind of been the shit."