This interview originally appeared in DIY Magazine
Los Angeles singer and multi-instrumentalist Kadhja Bonet was born in 1784 in the back seat of a sea-foam green space pinto. Well, that’s according to her slightly outlandish Facebook biography at least. Listening to her debut mini-album ‘The Visitor,’ her fictional backstory could almost pass as a fact. A fusion of jazz, hip hop, soul, funk and orchestral, vintage pop – powered by Bonet’s own soulful yet often aching, yearning voice – it’s sensitive and contemporary, yet also cosmic and set outside of our normal space-time continuum. The album could have feasibly been recorded any time in the last 60 years, with its sepia-toned live instrumentation lending it a timeless feel. Although, as Kadhja herself notes, its DIY aesthetic was born more out of necessity than by design. “I mostly just use what resources I have available, and make those things work for me,” she says.
‘The Visitor’ originally came out a year ago, but has now been released in an expanded format, including a couple of new tracks in the form of ‘Nobody Other’ and ‘Francisco.’ The re-release is intended as a gift from Kadhja to her fans who have stuck by her. “I didn’t want to leave the folks who have been down with me since day one hanging, so I included a couple new tracks as a way of showing thanks to those who continue to support me,” she says.
Even a year on from its original release though, Kadhja still finds that “talking about my work is vulnerable.” That’s not particularly surprising, and not just because the music itself is carefully constructed to form beautiful, yet also somehow fragile, soundscapes. It’s also because she has “never written something that wasn’t in some way personal.” The title track, for instance, is about the revelation that you might be on the wrong path in life, reflective of Kadhja’s own shift from making films to creating music. “But this song wasn’t at all about film,” she says.
Actually, Kadhja’s work is a lot more relatable than it first appears, and ‘The Visitor’ in particular was written about “the little things, the day to day things that we could all be doing better.” It’s about “the ways we could be a better daughter, sister, friend, partner. The song is about being honest about personal progress, so you don’t have to look in the mirror in twenty years and realise you’ve become the jaded, bitter serpent of your nightmares.”
While its lyrical content might be universal, ‘The Visitor’ is still an incredibly personal project because it’s almost entirely masterminded by Kadhja. She wrote, produced and played half the instruments on the record (including guitar, flute, and violin) and arranged the rest. That’s a monumental feat that, but while Kadhja is almost entirely responsible for every element on the record, some have given more credit to her co-producer Itai Shapira. She laments that fact: “It’s just never something you would see the other way around,” she says. “He does some engineering on the record, but the quickness of strangers to assign him the bulk of the credit for my music pushes me to do even more of the work for myself than I might if I were a man. I feel like I have to go above and beyond any usual expectations just to receive half my due.”
However, while Kadhja acknowledges that it’s “annoying to receive asinine and belittling misogynist comments,” she also thinks that this is an unfortunate symptom of our current society. “It’s nothing particular to the music industry. It’s a social problem,” she says. “We have to be brave enough to bend or break our social inheritance. We have to teach our girls confidence. We have to teach our girls that it’s ok to be seen, to take up space, to use our voices and make mistakes. These are privileges men don’t think twice about but women second guess every day.”
Despite her strong views on the subject, Kadhja doesn’t want to lead a legacy fuelled by attention and credit (“I would be really embarrassed”). She does, however, want to “make the work I’ve dreamed of and master my communication.” ‘The Visitor’ feels like a huge step towards that goal, a sign that Kadhja is someone willing to push herself in bold new directions to better herself personally.
“I am only trying to break down my own borders,” she says. “Perhaps that attempt is relatable and transferable, but I don’t believe in intentional structures in music. That only creates copycats, and I’ve never wanted to be one of those.”
The simple fact that ‘The Visitor’ is such a melting pot of different genres demonstrates how much Bonet stands as a singular, unique voice potentially capable of taking on any style she wanted. As she says herself, “I would never want to restrict my evolution in any direction.”