NPR has decided to celebrate and acknowledge black history month by hosting four black artists who all bring various different sounds, messages, and genres to the stage.
KeiyaA’s background is dressed in navy blue hues and burgundy red paint strokes splattered across the walls – while behind her guitarist, oak and wood sits as grounded as a tree trunk.
To contradict this all is KeiyaA’s light radiating from her spirit. She decorates her body in a sand-colored silk dress, tickling her ankles just enough to reveal her snake print boots.
Cornrows, chandelier earrings hanging from her lobe like a wreath, eyes glazed in glittery gold eyeshadow – KeiyaA is an embodiment of both rebellion and peace. She straddles the line between healing and truth telling like a skilled trapeze performer in the circus.
KeiyaA doesn’t have to say much in order to get her point across through a song – sung like a wise wordsmith. Her awareness of patience and repetition are key components within her music. Her tracks do not resemble an average cycle of verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, and outro.
Her songs are orchestrated and written in the same way a poem would be crafted. For example, the first track that KeiyaA performs is “Do Yourself a Favor” – which consists solely of two verses, separated between a one-line bridge.
KeiyaA sings, “If you see me, if you see me, if you see me. Walking down the street one day, don’t say nothing to me.”
That one thought, those two sentences, and the visuals she is giving us are already packed with so much meaning and layers to it – that it becomes the centerpiece of the entire song.
Sonically, her songs encompass a lot of percussion and jazz keys. Her voice can take on a high, ethereal tone as if she is reporting back from the spiritual realm. In the next line, her voice may drop lower, more bitter and tangy like red wine.
The patience comes in by her fully allowing the beat, instruments, and words to linger like a slow burn in the room. A lot of music nowadays can feel quite rushed and forced.
KeiyaA waits till her whole being and body are feeling the track before she jumps in with her vocals. This effect actually leaves listeners much more impacted by a song and its message.
In the same way that discovering the significance of a poem requires a slow, thorough read – KeiyaA’s music demands your time and attention to detail. She is also a big fan of sampling dialogue that carries ancestral knowledge in it like a sonnet. These samples add even more symbolic references for her love of spoken word and language.
KeiyaA even brought up that her biggest inspiration for her artistry has been literature – but not just any literature, black literature written by black women.
During her transition period between the lineup, KeiyaA reaches for the novels on a side table next to her as if they are magical potions. She holds up the books like she would reveal a birthmark; there is an inherent sense of familiarity and identity that gushes through her.
“Most of the work that has carried me has been the writing of black women. Particularly the works of Jayne Cortez and Ntozake Shange – who both speak unabashedly about the plight and joys and general experiences of the black femme woman.”
It’s no surprise that KeiyaA references the writings of both Cortez and Shange as being catalysts in her awakening of what she wanted her music to also represent.
Her debut album, Forever, Ya Girl, is an experience rooted and centered around blackness. Cortez and Shange don’t sacrifice their dialect, their history, their stories for the sake of others’ comfortability – or rather often, complacency in the restriction of black female voices to be highlighted.
KeiyaA dismantles and destroys the idea that a black narrative does not have universal appeal. Just in the way that Cortez and Shange didn’t morph their world around the construct of whiteness and a white audience – KeiyaA refuses to remold or sacrifice her narrative as well.
Throughout the album and performance, KeiyaA is re-affirming and validating her own identity, truth, expectations, and desires.
KeiyaA ends her Tiny Desk concert with the song, “Rectifya.” “Rectifya” addresses specifically the void of reciprocity and nurturing that black women continuously experience. She asks over and over on this track, “WHO RECTIFYING ME?”
This notion, pressure, and expectation that black women must be healers for everyone but themselves is what KeiyaA is dismantling.
Once again, the theme of sacrifice emerges – that black women’s continuous sacrifice is not only expected but demanded from them. The expectation of possessing infinite resilience and strength is placed onto their shoulders. Black women carry the weight of humanity and trauma.
As they carry the world’s burdens, the world refuses to carry them back. The world is resistant to reciprocity. KeiyaA is shedding the ideology that black women must be indestructible and immortal in the face of pain in order to be deemed worthy.
She sings, “I will never reel in my shine, wear a shade. These n***** on my back like white on rice, claimin they get healing from my energy.”