“I know my ticket is vulnerability,” says Kelela in her spring issue cover story. “Most people point to some emotional experience, some hardship, some high or low when they talk about my music. A time when they need to feel those feelings more.” The LA-based musician has steadily hypnotised listeners since the release of her mixtape debut Cut 4 Me, which showcased a delicate range and a brooding demeanour that could easily soundtrack a breakup or a wild night out.
Having worked with esteemed producers like fellow Dazed 100 artist Arca, Girl Unit, Future Brown and Kingdom, Kelela has emerged as an R&B star whose strength lies in sincere and layered storytelling. In fact, establishing a strong connection with her audience is something she chalks up to her upbringing as a first-generation Ethiopian-American. “Growing up in an Ethiopian household allowed me to feel like I had an audience before I had an audience,” she explains. “Something that I think extends to a lot of African cultures is that the line between performer and audience is blurry.”
“Rewind”, a 90s-influenced club anthem from her 2015 EP Hallucinogen, proved to be one of last year’s standout releases, soundtracking runways at Fendi and Opening Ceremony. The pressure to top its viral success doesn’t particularly faze the singer – in fact, her hopes for her debut album, out in May, are unexpected to say the least. “I want it to be like, Carole King or Dolly Parton will want to take it to the piano immediately.”
Text Monique Todd