Kelela’s 2013 debut mixtape Cut 4 Me was everything we’d been waiting for and all we could have asked for. Distinct vocals and poignant lyrics over an ambient soundtrack. We couldn’t wait for a full length album from the Ethiopian-American, Chocolate City native, and were only marginally pacified by her 2015 Hallucinogen EP.
Four years later, her studio debut, Take Me Apart, dropped and did not disappoint. Still, even with her success and popularity, she faces the barriers that need to be broken in the American music industry. The 2017 Grammy awards was a prime example of that. “Everybody was talking about [female underrepresentation] because Lorde was not being able to perform when she was nominated...Black girls being snubbed for Grammys is just an every year thing,” she told PAPER Magazine. What’s worse is the perceived diversity of nominations, which oftentimes have no bearing on the Recording Academy’s intended selections. Because of this, Kelela is deliberate about her associations. She also makes it a point to raise awareness on the state of things, when she has the chance. “The way that I do it is a combination of participating and speaking out,” she explained to Hazelhurst.
She continues to be transparent about her experiences as a black woman navigating a world not fully ready to embrace the people of the culture that sustains it.
Her most recent statement was through Calvin Klein’s “Our Family, #MYCALVINS ad campaign alongside Caroline Polachek, Dev Hynes, Kindness and Solange Knowles. “I’m pushing back against the white misogynistic heterosexual establishment in the music industry,” she told TIME Magazine. “Like, literally, in all its forms. I’m trying to make a decision that’s not just going to make it easy for me to get paid, but for every woman and every black woman after me to be able to do the same thing. Women who don’t have the privileges that I have access to. That’s what I’m out here to do.”