Kindred: The Family Soul

Kindred The Family Soul - Feature and Q&A

Seandra Sims - 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. 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

made out.

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

in Philly.

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.