Kindred The Family Soul – Feature and Q&A
Seandra Sims – AllHipHop.com Alternatives (March/April 2003)
[An overzealous lighting technician has raised the house lights too soon.]
"Why are the lights up? Are we done?!"
"No!" yells back many of the more than 500 members of DC’s grown folk
and bohemian set.
The lights drop, and once again Aja Graydon takes control of this house she’s
made a home – for the night at least.
Then Graydon, a native Washingtonian and the
livelier half of husband and wife duo Kindred The Family Soul, smiles as wide
as her Afro, absorbing their approval because she really is home.
Seconds later, Fatin Dantzler, her shell-top
Adidas-wearing husband and slightly more reserved backbone of the Family, ushers
in the song "Spread the Word."
It’s a go-go inspired track certain to win over
the local crowd at The Saint. Most of them don’t know the words to the song,
but they do know ‘the pocket’ on percussion when they hear it – and they love
Kindred’s 10-piece band shines while the track
rocks the audience for more than 12 minutes. From the full horn section reminiscent
of Earth, Wind & Fire a generation before, to the talented drummer whose
arms take on a life of their own, everyone in the Family gets a turn. It leaves
you wishing that they’d release a live version of the album. And that’s cool
with Aja and Fatin – after all, it’s their live shows and the band’s signature
sound that have helped to catapult them into the spotlight.
Surrender to Love, the group’s debut album released
on Hidden Beach on March 25 is an eclectic blend of neo-soul harmonies and touchingly
raw lyrics. Its first single, "Far Away," is a rhythmic, guitar-heavy
anthem for hardworking young folk, exhausted parents, and anyone who needs a
break from the grind.
Allhiphop.com: The album recently came out. What
will the next few days and weeks be like for you?
Aja: Well right now we’re just preparing for
our kickoff performance in Philadelphia, Tuesday the 25th at the TLA. We’re
gearing up and rehearsing for that and some other performances that we’ll be
having in New York, Washington D.C., and also in Atlanta. We also have some
up and coming performances in Richmond and the St. Lucia Jazz Festival, so we’ll
be quite busy for the next two months. We’re just trying to relax with our family
and get some good family time in before we go on the road.
AHH: You’ve been connected with Jill Scott, The
Roots and other members of the growing neo-soul music family in Philly. And
I remember, even a year ago, the industry was anticipating your album. With
all of the advance press you’ve gotten, do you feel any pressure that you’ll
be lumped into a category with Jill and other artists with a similar sound?
Aja: Well, what an illustrious category to be
lumped into! I guess more than anything we just want to be associated with good
music, whether that’s Jill Scott or any other genre – we’re not opposed to that.
It’s not something that we’re nervous about. We’re just nervous about the reception
more than anything. We’re just glad to be associated with good music, whatever
it may be.
AHH: I know Jill and her husband introduced you
to the folks at Hidden Beach. And since we really haven’t heard anything like
your sound in years, how receptive was Hidden Beach when they first met you?
Fatin: They received us very well. They were
very helpful in the beginning, as they are right now. Steve McKeever, the president,
came down to see us when we were at The Black Lily. He was right there among
all of the rest of the crowd, and he enjoyed it. He hung out with us and made
us feel real at home, real comfortable. We got a chance to go out to the record
label and put some things on the table. They really wanted to make sure that
we got to do some things ourselves as well. But at the same table, they had
ideas, too. It has been a really good experience so far.
AHH: There hasn’t been an article that I’ve seen
yet that hasn’t compared you to husband and wife teams from the past – Ashford
& Simpson, Ron Isley and Angela Winbush, etc. While we can see the similarities,
what do you think most sets you apart from them?
Fatin: The fact that we’ve grown up with hip
hop. That we’ve grown up in the times that we’ve grown up in and had that experience.
We just live in a different world today. We’re very influenced by [hip hop],
and we’re trying to carry on the tradition. And then we have those people that
we’re compared to as our inspiration. It’s like we have the blueprint already
AHH: This album is what I call a ‘rider’ – in
other words, yesterday, I drove from D.C. to Delaware without changing the CD
and without skipping any of the tracks. How difficult is it to create an album
that has such continuity?
Aja: Actually, I don’t know if we tried. You
don’t try – you just hope that it is. I don’t think you go at it like ‘hey,
let me make the record like this.’ You just express yourself creatively, and
pray that’s what it is.
AHH: Is this a glimpse into your daily lives
as performers and as parents?
Aja: Yeah, that is our daily life! Sometimes
our lyrics get realer than you real think! As a songwriter, if you can’t get
inspiration from your own situation, I mean, then you really are just telling
other people’s stories. Some people are very talented at that. Obviously, you
have rappers who do that. But most times, if you interview a rapper, they are
like, ‘yo, these are my experiences.’ They seem to be the kinds of artists you
describe when you say ‘keeping it real.’ I think that R&B songwriters are
never really expected to talk about themselves. They’re expected to write about
these fantasies, this ideal of love and what love should be. But I think in
some ways, we try to take a cue from that element of hip hop, talking about
what we see on the street and what we see in our own home. But it’s just R&B
instead of hip hop.
AHH: Why don’t you all embrace all of the frills
associated with the industry? I know you’re just getting started out, but the
frills are going to come more and more. Do you think you’ll be able to keep
it as ‘real?’
Fatin: I think so. I think that it’s all about
the type of person that you are and what you come from. We have been talked
about a lot of times like we’re the bling-bling era. The way I feel is that
if you want to be that, you can be that. But you just don’t realize all of the
things you’re fortunate enough to have, that other people don’t even have already.
We live a life that’s comfortable. We have love around us. We have cable TV.
We have heat and gas. We have Coca-Cola. (laughter) We might not have diamond
jewelry on or a limousine. I might not even have an Escalade with 24" rims
on it. But I live a life that makes me feel good, I feel good and content with
who I am. So I think that it’s about being content with who you are. It’s not
that we don’t embrace society’s trinkets or luxuries – everybody wants luxuries,
of course. Like we said, ‘Far Away.’ We want to go far away from here. That’s
a luxury in life, you know what I mean, but we may not get an opportunity to
get to that. We have that vision, and we have that dream. One day… It’s
not about changing.
AHH: Anyone who’s seen you in Philly, specifically
at The 5 Spot knows these lines: "Loving you is a dance/The rhythm of life/And
if there’s a chance/I want you ’til I die." Why do you think "Rhythm
of Life" resonates so much with your audiences?
Aja: I don’t know – a couple of reasons. First
of all, as Black folks, we are African in origin, and we like songs with cadence
to them, you know what I mean? And so, in a way, it’s the cadence of the song
that comes out and affects people. And also, Fatin and I don’t feel that we
have a conventional relationship, and in a way, it’s kind of like our vows.
We make these vows to each other onstage in front of an audience. In turn, the
audience is kind of making these vows back to us. I think that’s cool, and it’s
one of the more spiritual moments when we’re performing – when we’re all sort
of in cadence together, and it’s like we’re speaking and communicating in a
way that audiences and performers want to communicate to one another. We always
want to achieve that.
AHH: One of my favorite tracks in the album is
the song "Stars." And when I got to it while listening on the road
yesterday, it actually brought tears to my eyes. I’m not gonna front, it’s rare
for a song to evoke emotion from me like that. When I thought about it, I realized
it’s because we never hear Black love personified like that, so in a way, you
are breaking ground. Did you realize that your music would help to redefine
the image of our relationships?
Fatin: I don’t think so. After a while, we did.
People started telling us about how the music touches them. You know, my aunt
called me the other day and said, "You should sing this song at the kickoff."
When I asked why, she said she thought people would really relate to it. She
related to it, and I was like, ‘This is my aunt!’ Now, she’s looking at us like
we’re relationship experts, and we’re putting out a message that she can relate
to. It was like, wow, this isn’t just a fan or someone who’s listened to the
music. She respected it. That meant a lot.
Aja: Yeah, it seemed to go beyond ‘oh, that’s
my nephew and I’m proud of him.’ It was a man and a woman in a relationship
that she could learn from. I think more than anything, the emotion behind the
song and the things that we wrote about were things that couples go through.
We weren’t the first to write about it, and so the fact that couples can kind
of relate didn’t surprise us. That type of personal experience is always increased
when you hear someone else, and you can co-sign it. Like ‘I’ve been there with
AHH: I think that’s what’s special about your
music and that of people like Jill Scott. It’s not that you’re the first to
define Black love, but I think for this generation, you’re the pioneers to fill
in that gap and to give a ‘voice’ to groups of people like us. And I think that’s
really, really important, and the reason why you’ve had the success you’ve had
Aja: We are so filled up with appreciation for
how people have received us. The development of a person is natural, and we
just decided to not feel corny for saying stuff. This is our lives, and instead
of pretending like it’s not, we’re embracing it and singing about it. It has
just been a blessing, because it has taken us to a point where we’re talking
to people like you.
AHH: "Entertain the Peoplez" and "Party’s
Over," they really show the funkier side of the talented band you perform
with. And especially on "Party’s Over," I was surprised to hear Malik
B and Flo Brown. Do you feel a responsibility to reach back for the people around
you? To pull people forward and really be a family?
Fatin: Yes, we have no choice but to reach back.
That’s what was done for us, and that’s what we’re all about. It’s our responsibility.
Aja: It’s kind of funny. A lot of people our
age are sort of afraid of that word ‘responsibility.’ But whatever you put out
there… I mean, you’re responsible for what you say. I think, oh well, responsibility
is responsibility, and that’s doesn’t mean I have to be perfect. It’s just knowing
that you are striving to be a better person. As long as you’re striving for
that, it’s okay to say what’s right or wrong, you know? But you don’t want to
say it for fear of being judged.
AHH: And while you’re giving advice – somewhere
in every city, there’s some little hole-in-the-wall club packed with the friends
of an artist who’s trying to be discovered. Your fan base in Philly helped to
spearhead your success, so what’s the best advice for someone who’s unsigned?
Fatin: To never give up, to believe in yourself
even when things look hopeless. Between the two of us, we’ve got 25 years in
music – that’s just right here with the two of us. And we had to do what we
had to do to keep this thing going. You just can’t give up.