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Interview with Kelli Sae
5th january 2006, Blue Note - Milan
Eva Simontacchi
photo: Kelli Sae Archive
Fai click qui per leggere la versione in italiano

There are a number of factors that make an artist appealing. The way they carry themselves. Their ability to draw cross-cultural crowds. The respect they have for their craft. And of course, the vocal skills they possess. Yet, sometimes there are less overt ways an artist can make an impact. Sometimes a performer has worth simply because they resonate. Singer/songwriter Kelli Sae has spanned the world with acclaimed bands such as Incognito, Count Basic and most recently the Philippe Saisse Acoustic Trio, taking on the role of lead singer for all three bands. Kelli has been honored by the industry, and is admired by music critics. Yet the most meaningful indication of Kelli's worth is how her music makes you feel. Her songs cut deep into your heart and soul and give you a window not only into Kelli's world, but a new perspective into your own. Kelli's become not merely just songs, but your songs.

On her self-titled debut album, Kelli Sae, the vocal gymnast created emotionally honest music that was deeply personal and universal in scope. With a soaring combination of craft and compassion, Kelli's songs touch on a myriad of subjects; heartache, romance, regret and redemption. It's no surprise, Kelli's first solo project, released on her independent label, Kwurk Entertainment, initially sold over 6,000 copies and is still going strong based on her live performances and word of mouth. Kelli does it once again, and better than ever with her second independent release, Heroine.

The new masterpiece is filled with diversified songs that take listeners from up-tempo party bangers to intimate ballads that warm and weaken the heart. Heroine is rich and full of great emotion. Just like the grasping, "Yesterday", the songs on the album move slowly through each part of your body – from your heart to your bones and back. Throughout the album, Kelli explores her Puerto Rican and African American heritage. Don't be surprised if Heroine attracts a heavy Latin market, which is already starting to take notice. Two of the songs on Heroine are sung partially in Spanish, which opens Kelli up to the possibilities of her becoming an international superstar.

From the Gospel-induced "Can't Wait" to the drum-n-bass filled "Thank You" and the soulful ballad, "Heaven", Kelli fluently transforms into various eclectic styles with sheer ease. "My job as an artist is to fill all of my creative gaps by expanding and making sure that I cover every ground that I want to cover," says Kelli. "I don't want to just stick with one genre or way of doing music. I want to listen to my energy and go where it takes me."

Kelli's resume boast of accomplishments that any artist whether independent or signed to a major can only wish for. She was worked with the best of the best. As the lead singer of the internationally successful band, Incognito and the European groove band Count Basic, Kelli's multi-octave voice has reached millions around the world, from the USA to Africa.

The company Kelli has worked with is admirable. She's sang background vocals for such respected artists as Me'Shell N'Degeocello, Peter Lord & Jeff Smith of the Family Stand, PM Dawn, Neneh Cherry, DJ Logic, Corey Glover and the Grammy Award-winning hip hop group Arrested Development. Kelli has opened up for music legends such as the late Curtis Mayfield, George Clinton and the P-Funk All-stars, David Bowie, Bootsy Collins and countless others. Furthermore, Kelli has worked and toured with Grammy Award-winner Ryuichi Sakamoto (score composer for the "Last Emperor").

Kelli has already gained a mammoth following for an independent artist after releasing only one album. Being herself, listening to her own voice and then using that voice to express her love, pain, sunshine and rain to others is what makes Kelli so unique. "At the end of the day, I'm just trying to make everybody feel good" Kelli says. "I want to be that pain reliever."

Kelli Sae is a superwoman – a Heroine who is well on her way to major success.

I met Kelli Sae at the Blue Note in Milano, on January 5th 2006, after the first set. She had just presented the first part of her concert with Bahnamous Bowie (piano/keyboards), Gintas Janusonis (drums), Trevor Allen (bass), Biti Strauchn (backing vocals) and Arif St. Michael (backing vocals). During the first set Kelli Sae and her band played "How Many", "Life Goes On", "Only", "Daydreamin'", "Higher", "I'm Lovin You", "Stayin' Alive", "Latina", "If", "Can't Wait", "Burned" and "Okay". Kelli's energy and skills are awesome; she's a very generous singer and songwriter. During the concert she calls out Biti Strauchn and Arif St. Michael (her backing vocals) and we all have the opportunity to listen to their beautiful voices while soloing. The artists in her band are very talented, but the music was a bit too loud..... Kelli's voice is so expressive, that if the band would have played a little softer, I'm sure I would have loved the concert even better that I already did!

I contacted Kelli shortly after her return in the U.S., and this is her interview:

Eva Simontacchi: When did you first start to sing? How did it all begin?
Kelli Sae: I began singing at an early age, around 3 years old. I probably wasn't very good but I was really loud and sang with a lot of determination.

E.S.: Who were your early heroines in music?
K.S.: Early on I remember just listening to what my parents listened to. Minnie Ripperton, Gladys Night, Patti Labelle, Black Ivory, Barry White, Love Unlimited, Celia Cruz, Hector Lavoe and Ruben Blades and so many others.

E.S.: Have you ever taken voice lessons, and what do you do for your voice now?
K.S.: Yes I am a big fan of vocal lessons. I still train. Not as much as before, but as much as possible. Overall, I just really try to take good care of my voice and body.

E.S.: You write your own songs. How do you work on a song? Do you start with the melody or do you start with the lyrics?
K.S.: I don't have any particular way really. Each time it's different. Sometimes it just begins with me humming some melody or I may actually sit at the piano and start with a bass line and chords then the words later. So I never go anywhere without my micro recorder, just in case a thought pops up.

E.S.: Do you listen to a lot of music? If yes, could you tell us what kind of music you listen to and which are your favourite singers?
K.S.: I listen to music almost 24hrs a day. I listen to everything under the sun. One minute it's Hip Hop, next it's straight ahead Jazz. I find something great about it all really. I have so many favourite singers it's difficult to name just one. I go through phases where I will just listen only to this singer or that singer or musician. Right now everything is all Nina Simone.

E.S.: Which are, in your opinion your strenghts and your weaknesses?
K.S.: I think one of my weaknesses is focus. I really need to work on that. My mind thinks of a million things at once. My mind is like a computer where pop up screens just keep coming up. Then before I know it…I'm doing more than one thing at a time. So - I'm trying to fix that. I could probably think of ten other things that I need to work on. But let's just start with that one! One of my strengths is my ability to see only the bright side of things. I see the cup as always half full and I'm very resilient. In this business, this attitude can be helpful.

E.S.: Could you tell us about the "dream of your life"? (Something that you would really love to do in music, and that you haven't done yet)...
K.S.: My biggest dream is for me to play Carnegie Hall in New York City with my music. This is a huge dream I know. But I don't think it's impossible.

E.S.: Could you tell us something about this experience you had in Milan at Blue Note? And was this your first tour to Italy?
K.S.: I have been to Italy many times before. But this was the first time I was in Italy performing my original solo music with my band. So for me it was a really big deal. I was so excited to be there. I was even more excited when people actually showed up for the concert! This is the greatest gift to me. Each night the audiences were so warm, loving and just really terrific. I can't wait to go back.

E.S.: You have a wonderful amount of energy, and you are perfectly capable of conveying it to your audience. What is the essence of the message you would like to convey?
K.S.: Thank you. I think the message that I'm trying to convey is that I just want everyone to have fun and just let go. Sometimes there can be so much going on in people's lives and stress with work and just life in general – that I'm hoping to just alleviate a little bit of that in some way, even if it's just for a short while.

E.S.: When do you think you'll come back to Italy?
K.S.: I'm hoping to come back to Italy next year or possibly even later this year after the new CD comes out. Hopefully the people will want me to come back too.

E.S.: What are your projects at present? (Are you also working with other groups, or other singers right now?) And what about your future projects?
K.S.: At present I'm working on my new CD. I'm really excited about it and sometimes recording it gives me chills, because it's so autobiographical – it's really close to me. I still work with Count Basic and doing some writing for some Indie Films. In addition to that, I'm working on 2 books. I started writing them over a year ago, then I put it down. Now I've started back up again. So I hope to finish them soon.

E.S.: Could you talk a bit more about you, about your life and your childhood.... and about how you got to be the artist you are now?
K.S.: I come from the South Bronx. It was the hood and a tough street life. So I wasn't really allowed to go out too much. At the time I didn't see that this was a blessing. It really made me get into music even more. I would spend all day singing, listening, and practice writing some songs. Some good…some not. I would ask my mom to listen to me, critic and rate me. I'm sure I got on her nerves sometimes. But she was very patient. I really got into instrumentation and was fascinated by the way things were put together and orchestrated. My mom would point out things to me in the music and then I really started to get into to it so much more. I didn't train with anyone in my early years. I just would try to mimic what I heard. Then I'd ask for someone to listen and point out my errors or what could have been better. Usually it would be my sister or mom. In my early teens I started working with some producers. This was helpful in the shaping of my sound and helping me to acquire my own identity. Later on it was Joseph Bowie of Defunkt who really helped me to put it all together. I don't even think he was aware of the impact he had upon me. I tell him now – but I think he thinks I'm joking. When I worked in his band, he really pushes you to the edge to get out more than you thought you could and do things you didn't even know you were capable of. Again, I didn't realize what was going on-but now I get it and I'm so grateful for this treatment. It was the kind of training you couldn't pay to get. So fast forward to now. What I'm looking for is… in the end, after one of my performances, or after someone has heard a CD - I just want people to walk away with the feeling that's very real and that they can connect with. I don't put on a fake air or vibe. I want them to leave feeling good.

E.S.: Could you talk a little about your experience with "Incognito"?
K.S.: My experience with Incognito was and is still a very remarkable one. It is one of the most fun and great musical moments in my career. I love the music and musicianship very much. I have been very fortunate to have worked with such a great group of talented people. I find Bluey himself to be very genius at what he does. He's able to bring together so many creative people and make something truly wonderful happen. He is also a great songwriter and producer. So I truly feel grateful for being able to add this experience as one that tops very high on my list of "great moments" in my career. I recently had the opportunity to sit in and be a guest twice in these last months. It was such a joy to me. It is indeed an extended family and like with any family, you will have differences, adversity and challenges that come up from time to time. But only through those experiences can you truly grow and elevate to the next levels. I have such a fondness for Bluey and the whole gang. Stepping on that stage with them now, feels just as great as it did the first time. I wouldn't change a thing. It's simply an amazing experience.

Russion version

Related articles:

Interview with Jean Paul "Bluey" Maunick - Incognito: "Influences are from everywhere but one of the things that separates the songwriter from any other form of writing is that we have this extra texture that becomes the soundtrack of other people's lives...." (Eva Simontacchi)


Interview with Kelli Sae and Peter Legat - Count Basic: "...it came together as a project that I had in mind combining the styles of music that I like that are the funky groovy stuff and some jazz influences that I have. I met Kelli in London when we did our first record there, and since 1993 we go on together." (Eva Simontacchi)

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Inserited on 7/8/2014 at 22.03.16 by "irmaomacs"
Hello Biti Straunch We were missing you since T4F and now found you with kelli . I'll look for and listen to the musics and after i 'll send a comment . Peace your fan Marco Antônio from Rio de Janeiro Brasil

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Publishing Date: 15/04/2006

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