Kilamanzego | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
The Key Studio Sessions: Kilamanzego
I’m a sucker for hyper-specific genre names when I’m searching the internet for new music, so seeing that Kilamanzego tagged several of their recent tracks as “kalimba core” warms my heart.
For sure, it’s a reference to a song: this spring, the experimental electronic musician from West Philadelphia released an enchanting piece of music called “Picking My Kalimba From A Distance.” But “kalimba core” also works as a summary of their mission statement. Kila’s music is rooted in house, trance, dubstep, and ambient electronic styles, but draws influence from a variety of African sounds as well. Listen and you’ll hear Congolese rhythmic intricacies, highlife vocal samples, and that titular kalimba and its melodic leads — also known as the mbira (or colloquially as the thumb piano), it is an instrument with origins in west African countries.
Primarily, Kilamanzego’s music is indented to rock parties with high-energy beats — they’re part of the smth savant collective with MadamData and others, which organizes the backyardbxss event series — but they also look to push the possibilities of what those beats can sound like, merging Kila’s Ghanaian heritage with their punk rock roots and experimental spirit.
As we learned earlier this year in an interview with our Alex Smith, Kilamanzego got started playing bass and later guitar in a variety of teenage punk (and ska, and Christian death metal) bands, before transitioning into beat construction and live reproduction with their chosen conduit, the Ableton Push. In that interview, Smith reminisced on seeing Kila in a dusty West Philly warehouse, blowing the minds of the crowd, and said “while that performance might have been a welcome surprise — that so much powerful, trance inducing sound could be conjured by a petit yet tough former hardcore punk, black girl in a west Philly punk rock basement — Kilamanzego’s next performance I witnessed? It was a revelation. There is no doubt that we are dealing with one of Philly’s most creative musical minds.”
Over the past year, we’ve seen Kila pop up at locales from Bartram’s Garden to the First Unitarian Church basement (where they were on the Get Better Fest lineup), and we’ve seen their steady stream of digital singles reach a wider and wider audience, to the point where they’re currently repped by the Amsterdam collective Zen Supremecy.
Their global perspective broadened even further this May, when Kila made their first visit to Ghana, a trip centered around self-discovery and exploring where their family grew up.
“That meant everything from reflecting on lots of beaches against palm nut trees to stomaching googly-eyed stares due to my piercings and alternative dress,” Kila says. “I did get a crazy opportunity to DJ in Accra twice, once at a party and another time for their African Union holiday. It was a bit amusing, because I make electronic wonky hip-hop music, and I wasn’t sure what the Ghanaian audience generally vibed with.”
The set went over well, as Kila recalls, and more importantly, they got to connect with musical peers and fellow creatives in Accra including Keyzuz, Prince Gyasi, Rvdical The Kid, Nana Kwasi, and Joshua Kissi…artists they hope to cultivate a more fruitful relationship with when they return. As Kila says, their next trip to Ghana will be focused on collecting as many sounds as they can get their hands on to blend the experience into songwriting.
About that: Kila prefers working on a track-by-track basis for now — “I think it speaks to how I’m feeling every step of the way,” they said, “I enjoy producing very whimsically and giving people a taste of what I can create as a relatively new artist” — but adds that they’re always keeping the back burner active with work on a longer-form thematic project, which they hope to drop at some point down the road.
For now, you’ll hear an assortment of new songs and sketches for songs in this 12-minute live mix Kila recorded for The Key Studio Sessions this week — and you’ll also hear excerpts of “Maze of Twists,” “Laughter in the Sunshowers,” “Sunsets in the Dark (ft. MacwithaQ),” “Everyone You Talk To Will Say I Hate This Song” and “Myth of the Groove.”
For more, make plans to see Kilamanzego upstairs at World Cafe Live this Friday, November 23rd, on a stacked lineup with Masie Blu and Gender Work. Tickets and more information on the show can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar.