Celestial Soul Singer Kadhja Bonet's Voice Has the Power to Stop Time
Honesty is more important than the truth. For instance, the bullet points of Kadhja Bonet's biography are easily repeatable: raised in the East Bay among six other highly musical siblings, classically schooled in violin and viola, a star long-distance runner turned USC film student turned psychedelic soul illumination.
But the official version on her Bandcamp page offers a better fit: "(sounds like) Kad-ya was born in 1784 in the backseat of a sea-foam green space Pinto. After spending an extraordinarily long time in her mother's plasma, she discovered the joys and gratifications of making noise with her hands and face while traveling at maximum velocity through intergalactic jungle quadrants."
For the indefinite future, the Fat Possum and Fresh Selects signee has vowed not to do any more in-person interviews — this one being last on a very short list.
"When you're baring your soul, there's a line that needs to be drawn about how much you're willing to divulge," Bonet says at a Silver Lake coffee shop, a 15-minute drive from her spot in the Eastside hills, in a neighborhood she'd rather not specify. "For me, it's extremely vulnerable and personal to share my music, art and everything that goes with it. I need that boundary."
In most instances, the veil of mystery operates as a de facto marketing plan — a clever way to mask a lack of personality. But with Bonet, it's almost the opposite. There's a precision and refinement in her attempts to grapple with the complexities of art and life that casual conversation often leaves inchoate.
We talk about her inclination toward the classical music of oppressed peoples, whether made by Roma or the Russian proletariat. She explains how she originally aspired to make subtle films about social justice that showed to Spike Lee what he did wrong in the post–Do the Right Thing era.
"I wanted to trick people into being more loving," she says, smiling.
Her music offers a similarly veiled duality. As soon as the cinematic sci-fi strings swell on the first song of this month's brilliant The Visitor, it feels as if you're entering a parallel dimension — or an intergalactic jungle quadrant. As heard on the haunting single "Honeycomb," Bonet's voice temporarily freezes time, with a celestial register that makes you take stock.
Decades evaporate. It's somewhere between Minnie Riperton and Joni Mitchell, Alice Coltrane and Alice in Wonderland, Jacques Brel and Jaco Pastorius jamming with Dorothy Ashby. Bonet wrote, produced and arranged these miniature symphonies; she played the guitar and string parts, too. Help came from an impressive ensemble that included Low Leaf on harp and Itai Shapira on bass (he also assistant-produced, co-engineered and co-mixed). After a listen, it's obvious why offering too much information might tarnish the orphic nature of the music.
We discuss the title track and "Honeycomb." To Bonet, the former represents a visitation from an inner consciousness that reminds you that you're on the wrong path and causes a directional shift — a partial metaphor for her decision to switch from film to the even more financially precarious world of music. "Honeycomb" explores sexuality, interpersonal relationships and the societal constructs that surround them. But both songs are more meaningful the less severely they're defined. The best part about music is that it doesn't have to be explained; it just has to make sense.
"I hope these songs allow people to understand themselves a little more ... that the stories are relatable enough for them to make jumps in their own lives ... to start asking themselves more questions," Bonet says. "I can't wait for everyone to be themselves."
An L.A. native, Jeff Weiss edits Passion of the Weiss and hosts the Shots Fired podcast. Find him online at passionweiss.com.
[Note: A previous version of this article said Bonet studied violin and cello. Her actual instruments were violin and viola. We regret the error.]
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