Kaliné: There’s a Story Here
Kaliné Akinkugbe is a talented soul singer who has been deeply immersed in the world of music from a tender age. She started playing the piano at five years old. Taught and brought into the classical world of music by her mother, she learned how to play R&B, jazz, reggae and hip-hop music from her father.
After completing her university degree in Economics at the Imperial College, London, she made the decision to chase her dream of studying music at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she found her voice and style and has gone on to win several music awards and recognitions such as the Berklee College of Music’s songwriting for social change (1st place), Tamezin Commonwealth Competition, England (1st place twice).
She believes that her music and voice will inspire and empower people. She continues to perform in concerts in Nigeria and around the world on her journey of self-discovery.
In this interview with Omenka, she discusses the release of her debut E.P. ‘There’s a Story Here’, a soulful, elegant, and funky flutter that spreads across the landscape of jazz, R&B, and Afro-beat.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how your background influenced your current path in music?
So, my name is Kaline, as you know. I’m a singer, songwriter, pianist, and also a film composer. I started playing the piano when I was five years old. I was taught by my mother, and she brought me into the whole classical world of music. My dad, on the other hand, was playing a lot of R&B, jazz, reggae, hip-hop music from a very early age. So I was also immersed in that world very early on. I started playing classical piano pieces and was just more involved in that aspect of musical training. My mom was so adamant about me learning the basics and the foundation of classical piano playing, and then I moved on to more non-classical stuff.
I feel like, in as much as you’re not in classical music, your sound is very heavy. You can tell that solid training
Thank you for that.
And did you grow up in Lagos?
I did. I did. I moved away to school in England when I was 13.
So, up until 13, you lived here?
So, you grew up in Lagos. Are there any factors about the city that have motivated the artist you are today?
Factors about the city in what way?
In the sense that it is really chaotic. I find that artists sometimes struggle with creating because, of course, it’s such a heavy or very busy city and sometimes it can be depressing.
It can be overwhelming, definitely, the fast-paced aspect of Lagos. It keeps you on your toes. As a creative, I feel being here just makes you constantly feel like, OK I have to be doing something; I have to be putting out a song. I have to be putting out a video. So I have a lot on social media.…When I was in New York, it was the same thing. But when I was in London and when I’ve been in L.A., it makes you come back to yourself as just a creative. You’re not thinking really about the business side of things or being too overwhelmed with social media. You’re just coming back to who you are as a true artist, and creating is a lot easier in environments like these. I must say, Omenka Gallery is a great place to create, because I’m loving the lapping of the waves and everything. But Lagos, the chaos of Lagos and the fast-pacedness has helped to just make me more conscious of what’s going on in the Nigerian industry and also across the world. We’re such a cosmopolitan city as well, so there’s just so many influences around. And artistically, of course, it’s influential. It’s a great place to be, I have to say, with all the chaos.
So, it is very similar to New York?
One hundred percent.
What about London?
I think, for me, it’s the best of both worlds. You have that fast-paced aspect of it, but then, you can still tuck away into places and just be more serene. What do you think?
I think that works, because there’s a hybridity to Lagos, in the sense that it’s overwhelming and very inspiring—just a huge divide between the rich and the poor and just a fence dividing that literally.
Yeah, exactly. I mean, for the amount of people that come back to Lagos who are creators, there’s definitely something here. I have quite a few friends who have come for short periods of time to work on music that is not Nigerian. So there’s definitely something about here that is vibrant enough to want to stay.
Have you been to the music collection of Jazz World?
And I find that they have all sorts of music.
All Black civilizations.
I know. Jazz World was one of my favorite places. So, it’s so much history; you really learn a lot about not just music but our own journey as Nigerians and how we came about our sound and everything. It’s a great collection.
Because you mentioned something about people coming to Nigeria and creating songs that aren’t Afro-beat. And I’m like, I’m sure they are definitely going there.
So, as a young Nigerian creative, what artists have contributed to your sound?
I’m influenced by so many people. I can’t lie—being in Nigeria, the Afrobeat scene has really influenced just how I tried to—I wouldn’t say fit in, that’s not the word I’m looking for—how I try to identify—how to be a part of this space but still be authentic. That makes sense. So I think, as an artist, depending on the environment you’re in, you can’t be too far removed from what’s happening in the industry you’re in or in the global industry. You have to be conscious of what’s going on. What are people listening to? How are people responding to certain types of sounds? If you plan on being a more popular artist, then you definitely have to be aware of what’s happening in the more popular part of the music world and try and marry your sound with what’s happening to get a larger audience.
So, from Wizkid to Yemi Alade to Simi to Bez to Adekunle Gold—and those are just some of my influences in the Nigerian industry. I’m very big on alternative soul artists and other parts of the world. I’m listening to Emily King right now. I’m listening to H.E.R. and listening to Sza. I just love authenticity, and I love the newness and the fresh sound that all those kinds of artists bring to the table. But my major influence—which people might not say they hear in my music—I feel that Michael Jackson was probably one of the reasons why I even went into music in the first place. When I first heard his album Dangerous I was about nine years old. His harmonic language and how he writes his songs—I’m very big on that. Stevie Wonder is another major influence. Sade is another major influence. She turned 60 yesterday. So yeah, those are just a few.
You worked on your debut E.P., There’s a Story Here, for two years while you studied at Berklee College of Music. What was that experience like?
I worked on the E.P. for two years, but it was actually way after I left Berklee. Of course, my Berklee experience influenced a lot of the songs that are on it. There are some songs that are on the E.P. that I started writing while I was at Berklee. “Here I Am” was one of the songs that I was already singing while I was at Berklee, and this goes back to 2012 or 2013. ‘Stranger’, as well. ….And it’s just so crazy, ‘Stranger’ has evolved as a song. So it’s just amazing to know that it’s finally out in the world and not just as a song that people know live, but you can actually have it on your phone and stuff. So it’s been a long journey. And I know a lot of artists go through that process of being fearful, like, When should I put out my art? When should I share it? It’s not perfect yet. You’re suffering from perfectionism, so I’m just happy that I’ve finally gotten over all of that. Did that answer your question?
You waved off to something. I think my question was lacking that. So perfectionism is you spend so much time overanalysing and thinking. Does this make sense? I don’t think it’s right yet, etc. There was this thing I saw when I was 21 or 20 about not writing a book till you’re 25, and I was so angry when I saw that line. But weirdly, I think a part of my brain subconsciously stuck to that line, and it’s just now (I just turned 25 five or six months ago) that I feel like I’m starting to feel more confident , being self-aware.
You’ve had the Just Kaline Show at Omenka Gallery a few times. Can you tell us more about the series?
So, the Just Kaline Show in 2018 was a monthly show. We didn’t do 12; we did nine, and it was just a chance to build a live music community, because I started to see that there was a switch. Around 2017 I started to see that people were looking for other forms of music to listen to, not just Afro-pop but Afro-beats, and they also were looking for places to watch and listen to music, and there weren’t that many through the year. There was always something happening at Christmas, but nothing through the year. So my primary goals were twofold. It was to build a live music community of loud music lovers and then also to build my audience and just share my work on a consistent basis in order to just be better as a performer. So when I look back at my February show and how I perform now—like when I had my show in December at Terrakulture—I’m so proud of how far I’ve come as a stage artist, as well. I’m also pretty confident with my singing, but I also see that my vocal strength is a lot better. My confidence on stage is a lot better. Of course, my band—we worked so much towards each month; we would have three or four rehearsals each month. So we spent so much time together. We understand each other; we anticipate each other, how we vibe; we’ve bonded. There’s just so many quirks within the band, and we play a lot better together. So there’s just so many benefits of performing live. Performing live was one of my favourite things to do out of everything I do. So just to hone that craft is amazing.
It’s nice that Just Kaline isn’t just giving to people, to the audience. It’s also helping you as an artist with confidence.
I did suffer from stage fright growing up. When I started writing songs I was now like, I have to perform these songs. It was tough, but yeah, we’ve come a long way.
Your E.P. is quite heavy on themes surrounding love and perhaps identity as your songs delve deep into the Yoruba dialect. “Stranger,” which is one of my favourites, repeats the phrase “Ko ye mi. Kilode?” What does this mean? What do you think sets this album apart?
So, first of all “Ko ye mi. Kilode?” means, “I don’t understand. What’s wrong?” in Yoruba. And yes, the E.P. definitely has a lot of lyrics relating to love and also to identity. The decision to call it There’s a Story Here came way after I finished recording the songs. I was trying to think of what’s the running thread, the common themes, surrounding all the songs that could make this a project on its own as a whole, and I realised that all the songs were telling some sort of story, and they were stories that I had either experienced or had experienced through conversation with friends or whatever. Also, I feel as a songwriter, you’re a storyteller anyway. And it’s important to share stories in this day and age where communication is limited to what’s happened. Conversation needs to be more intentional, and I feel that through storytelling we’re able to bridge the gap between various forms of humanity, if that makes sense. Sharing your stories really helps people to know that OK, I’m not alone in this. This is what I’m going through as well. Thank God there’s somebody out there that’s going through it with me. I think music has always done that anyway. So the songs were just trying to bring that theme to light more.
You just said something about conversation; I felt like I was speaking to my friend. There is this idea of love, right? We’re in Africa, in Nigeria, where weddings are an entire programme. Yes, it’s a production, and I like the idea of self and identity and love. This album is not like, “Oh please, let me settle and get married,” or “Where’s my love?” All these normal things you hear of. It’s more like, “Don’t worry; I’ll wait for the perfect guy even if he’s an imperfect man. Fine, I won’t settle.” I think that’s such a feminist thing. So that’s something I really like. That’s why I love “Stranger,” because I didn’t understand why we kept going back, but I like the fact that it was about letting go of love.
You’ve been all around the world taking advantage of the best experts and programmes in the music industry. Do you think there’s an advantage to being back home in Nigeria, and are there certain limitations working here?
There are huge advantages to being here. It’s home, first of all. For me, being around family and being around friends also helps your creativity. Nostalgia is also a really good influence for music. So being back home definitely has a lot of advantages. Being around family, friends—there’s a lot of nostalgia associated with being back home for me because I left so early. And I think, creatively, it’s probably one of the best things to come back to your home country where you grew up, where you were brought up. It’s like starting back at one kind of reminding yourself and even doing research on what makes you you. Conversations that I have with my grandfather, for example, tell me more about myself. You know how you have got conversations with family members and it makes you realise, Oh, okay, so this is why I’m like this, and this is how I’ve been influenced in this way. As an artist you take all of those things and put it into your art. Being around the world also highlights that as well, because you now look out into the world, and you’re like, Okay, so I’ve learned this, this, and this, but I’ve come home now and I see the relationship; I see the comparisons, and it just makes you more aware of self and identity. Being away and then coming back to self is also a journey in itself. No pun intended.
Are there certain limitations working in the Nigerian music industry, specifically?
Mostly to do with infrastructure. So everything from scheduling rehearsals, finding your band, getting great sound engineers. There’s no real structure around anything, so we’re all just winging it in a way, and we’re just hoping that this gig works and people don’t show up late and stuff like that. The structure is very difficult to navigate, but we’re getting there. The music industry is evolving.
What other limitations do I have? Just getting around, I think. People underestimate traffic. Just the planning of that. Having to structure your day around getting around is crazy. So that limits a lot what you can do in a day, whereas when I was in New York, you can check your train time, you know exactly how long it’s going to take you to get from your house to the train station. You are not worried about, oh suddenly there’s a one-way here. I’m sure there are more limitations, but I can’t think of them right now.
You started amusicianinlagos
I started amusicianinlagos.com to help with the structure, so everything we’re talking about, from finding a rehearsal space to sound engineer to where should I gig? What facility do they have there? How was the proximity of rehearsal bases to my house? Things like that. I just basically used my experience of being a musician in Lagos and just put all the information that I have out there. So the downside of it is, once you get into the groove of OK I know I have a rehearsal space that’s decent. I like the facilities there. I have a sound engineer that I use all the time—so I’m not exposed to as much as I would like in order to put more and more information up on the blog…but it’s just a chance to give people who are looking to come into this space or who are already local in this space tips on just how to navigate the industry and figure out where to go, what to do, where to gig, who to talk to.
I look at the website, and I like some things. I think there is the mental health part that talks about how to stay sane in a city like this, for instance; if a rehearsal didn’t go well, how to plan towards the next one. I think I even saw some funny things like “How I used my mom’s gele to make an outfit” and then a style one that says, “Fringe of two types of organza.” Please, are there two types of organza?
From the Nigerian market, it seems to be. We found it was a very subtle difference, but it’s to do with weight and texture, basically. Yeah, I’m sure there are even more. I just said that there were two types I use for the outfit. You know, like how you’ve got different weights of silk or different weights of tulle or net.
As an artist, what keeps you going?
What grounds me? Family, for sure; friends in the industry who are doing similar music to what I do. We kind of lean on each other when we’re going through challenges, because we’re going through similar things. I think why I keep going is just knowing the purpose behind what I’m trying to do, which is to have purpose and to be authentic in that purpose. I feel that as a creative, as an artist, there’s a certain amount of responsibility to be yourself.
Imagine if Michael Jackson decided to just make music that was reigning at the time that he was there. We wouldn’t have had Billie Jean. We wouldn’t have had the Off the Wall album, because he wouldn’t have decided to collaborate with Quincy Jones, who was also a pioneer in being authentic. Imagine if Fela decided to stay in—I think it was in New York, or it was in America, anyway—where he studied for a bit. If he had decided to just stay there and focus on his jazz—maybe he tried to dabble in the little bit of high life that he knew then and tried to meld them all together and then never came back and did Afro-beat. I just go back to those sorts of stories. People really believe that you have to be authentic in your craft, and it’s important for generations to come to know how authentic you are and how honest you are about what you’re doing. So that’s what keeps me going.
I can’t imagine really doing any other kind of music, but I say that loosely because, remember, we talked about how, as a creative, it is important to know your environment and understand what’s happening and try and fit in, in a way. You still have to be aware of what’s going on and the sounds that are reigning and try and use that towards how you’re trying to be authentic. So it’s important that they can do that through collaboration. You can do that through working with other kinds of musicians that are not really your style. So that’s important as well. But remaining true to who you are—I think there’s more longevity in that, because it goes without saying that if you’re true to yourself and you understand who you are as an artist then you will just continue to evolve for the long term.
So what’s next? Do you have any future projects you’d like to share?
I definitely have so much going on right now with Just Kaline. It’s going to be turning into a quarterly show instead of monthly. So we’re going to do it a lot bigger and more special, with different themes and everything. We’ll have three this year and then—this is just an E.P., so there’s still an album to come. Hopefully, towards the end of the year, I’ll start putting out information on that. Well, people know me as an artist, musician, and creative, but I also have a business side to me, and I’m also interested in creating platforms for other musicians. So I’m working on a production company, and that’s how it ties in with why the blog came about. So, those are the three major things I’m working on. I’m going to be doing a lot more collaboration this year as well with other artists.
Thank you so much, Kaline, for coming on the Omenka Pod.
Thank you so much for having me.
Will you like to tell our listeners where to find you?
Yes. So first of all, the E.P., my dear E.P, There’s a Story Here, is out on all platforms from Apple Music to iTunes, Soundcloud, Spotify, everywhere really. And you can find me on Instagram @Kalineofficial and also Facebook @Kalineofficial. My Twitter handle is @kalinea, and then, of course, my website is kalineofficial.com. Thank you.
Hi, guys, this is Kaline, and you are listening to the Omenka Pod.
You just listened to the Omenka Pod with Christina. Tune in again as we celebrate the best of art, business, and lifestyle on the African continent. See you later. Bye-bye.