The Imminent Takeover: Singer-Songwriter Kah-Lo Has Us Ready for Party Vibes this Summer
After over two years of being under on-and-off global lockdowns due to the pandemic, Nigerian singer-songwriter Kah-Lo is ready to ‘drag’ us out. Through her festival-made single, “Drag Me Out,” Kah-Lo expresses the mindset many of us geared up for: being back outside. Sitting at the significant intersections of American production, her Nigerian roots, and facets of UK club culture, Kah-Lo proves she’s a force ready to take on the music industry – and the world.
Kah-Lo’s remarkable artist collaborations include Idris Elba on “Ballie” and Selena Gomez on the “Back To You” remix. Her features on Diplo’s “Give Dem,” alongside “Melanin” with Michael Brun, have further solidified Kah-Lo’s golden touch to any record she blesses with her vocal chops. Next month, Kah-Lo is scheduled to perform at the Afropunk Festival in Miami, Florida, and the So What Music Festival in Arlington, Texas.
Over Zoom, EDITION chatted with the burgeoning star about the multi-country impact on her artistry, how she’s grown from collaborations in the dance music world, and more.
So, you have a new single called “Drag Me Out.” Tell me a bit about the inspiration behind that song and what went into it.
I don't like to call it rap, but I like storytelling if that makes sense. In this case, with “Drag Me Out,” I was just pulling from all the times I've gone to a party, and I’m so lit – but everyone around you is just not. It's about getting so lit that your friends or whoever you came with have to literally drag you out.
We’re all going back to parties from this pandemic that's kept us locked in. So, perfect timing.
I'm excited about it. Everyone was like, “We’re all outside in 2021,” but then summer came. It wasn't bad, but it wasn’t great. It wasn't what it used to be pre-COVID. So, it feels like this year is finally the year we’re really outside. This track and that feeling is the perfect marriage, and I hope they don’t divorce.
That's a good way of putting it. Getting into your background, you’ve lived in Lagos, London, and now New York. So, how have these different places influenced you as an artist?
I would say Nigerian and British cultures are very, very similar. But I would say one of the main differences, besides culture, is the music scene. I like being in London because I can easily get Nigerian food. I can easily get the things that I would miss if I were ever craving a piece of home, but that music was the eye-opener when I was there. I listened to so many artists. I didn't even know there were so many subgenres of house music until I was there. I actually started going to the raves and stuff.
I left Nigeria when I was 16, and I lived in New York for what seemed like forever. I still live there. It was very interesting because the only things I knew about New York were TV shows and stuff. It was very interesting to go to New York and not eat lunch on the steps of The Met every day – little things that you see on TV. I thought New York was New York City. I didn't know it was a state. I lived upstate, and it was like, you don’t see this in Sex in the City. What is this?
It's a new world. You cited learning about all the subgenres of electronic music while in London. What is that scene like in New York? Do you still feel like there's a bit of influence there?
In the UK, you have popular genres over there like drum and bass, but the drum and bass scene in the US is very underground. When I'm in New York, I gravitate more towards what's more glam and from the queer community.
The tempo would go on the beat to vogue. I can't imagine voguing to drum and bass. That would be very physically challenging. (Laughs) I gravitate more towards that. Even growing up, that type of house music made it to Nigeria. I didn't know all these other subgenres until I stayed in London for those few months. It's interesting. It's like having three different brain parts.
With your debut EP, The Arrival, you can hear all these sounds we just mentioned. First, of course, I can hear the house music since you said that's something that was introduced to you early on. But then, there are elements of disco, Afrobeat, and other fun musical components. Was this intentional?
It wasn't intentional. I'll just flat-out say it. I did not even consider the possibility of making house music because I listened to more R&B, Afrobeat, and hip-hop. My ear wasn't paying attention to house music, although I did like a lot of it growing up. It wasn't until I met Riton, honestly. He encouraged me to try it. I also think my journalism and radio experience helped in the way I understand tempo. There's just something about my vocals that sounds great over that type of 120 BPM (beats per minute). It's shocking to me every time because I fought it for so long. Usually, I was like, ‘I don’t want to gravitate towards those beats,’ but I know that my voice sounds well entwined with it.
Yeah, it works. You have such a multifaceted sound that it could work for what you're doing in the electronic music scene, but also in traditional R&B. So, that's wonderful.
That's one of the things I'm excited about in this new era of music that I'm about to start releasing. It’s the opportunity to explore different vocal patterns, sing, and talk – just all of it. So, I'm trying to draw myself more towards pop because I feel like you're free to try anything with the umbrella of pop.
That makes sense. I see you've collaborated with Riton and Idris Elba. Then, there’s the Selena Gomez remix. Who are your dream collaborators?
Honestly, I want to collaborate with more vocalists now. Off the top of my head, there's some fresh talent that I'm excited about that I would like to see how well our sounds could merge. I love Bree Runway and Tkay Maidza right now. I'm excited to explore that area of collaboration instead of just producer-vocalist.
What are some things you want to achieve?
Touching on what I said earlier, I am looking forward to exploring my vocal ability. I feel like I haven't done a lot of exploration of myself vocally because I have been very constrained to producer-vocalist. I'm excited to see what my brain can come up with without a producer saying, “Oh no, how about you say it like this?” and just watch it flow out of me. It’s a challenge and a very beautiful thing, and it's very freeing. And I'm very, very excited to explore more of that on this journey.
Awesome! How do you feel like you've met some of your goals?
I think I have, to some degree, started this journey that I just mentioned. I'm very proud of that one because it’s tough to leave the comfort of being a top liner, especially as an in-demand top liner, where your voice is very specific. I could easily be comfortable and just do that. It's been tough, but I have challenged myself to try and go for it, and I'm very proud of that. The second thing is that I'm proud of the people around me. I feel like I'm surrounded by people who want to see me win right now. I feel very proud that I have made those choices in life.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.