If you visit this artist’s YouTube Page, you’ll find her performing “Never Knew a Thing”, my favorite song of hers. The video begins with a piano and her captivating voice taking the foreground. Before long, the entire band creeps in and carries you through a story of her past lover. After seeing this performance, I knew I had to interview her.
Born and raised in South Africa, Kileza was brought into the world of music at an early age, taking up piano lessons at the age of seven. This would begin a journey that would see her becoming a citizen of the world, living and performing in Argentina, Canada and Germany.
Her placement within the top 6 finalists in Idols South Africa’ s second season, gave her unprecedented exposure, and her future success would come in Canada with her winning the 2005 Waterloo Idols.
Now in Germany, Kileza works to build a name while also maintaining a regular blog called Tea Talk Tuesdays, where she shares a perspective she’s gained through work and life around the world.
She describes her music as “psychedelic R&B, a blend of experimental electro, soul and hip hop.” While the aforementioned “Never Knew a Thing” gives a smooth and intimate experience, songs like the intoxicating “James Blake” lean to the alternative style. In both cases, her vocals hold up well.
In The following Q&A, Kileza shares for experiences, her art and her plans for the future.
What inspired you to take classical piano lessons at the age of seven, and what eventually moved you more into the world of pop and jazz?
“Well, I was fascinated with the piano from a young age, and for some reason my parents enrolled me, without me really asking, which was wonderful because it felt like divine intervention.
I was heavily influenced by my parents’ listening habits, my mom is more of the pop girl, and my dad is more into jazz and classical. Jazz was a great sort of technical/harmonic basis for the instruments I was playing, and I love pop music because for me, it’s a science. Distilling music to its most crucial elements.”
Was it primarily this shift towards the latter two genres that made you pick up the guitar?
“I’m not sure why I picked up the guitar; again I was just fascinated by it. I remember this Red Hot Chili Peppers Song “Otherside”, I think that opening Bassline made me want to play a stringed instrument. As I got more and more into the guitar, I fell in love with jazz guitar, particularly samba, and that still influences most of my playing today.”
At that point did you have any idea that you would be using your voice as much as you do?
“I’m not exactly sure, maybe around 10 years old, I remember going to my grandmother’s house in Sasolberg, and singing extra loud because I wanted her to her me and tell me I was good!
When I was 16 I took part in “South African Idol” and afterwards we all made a CD together, that was my first time being in a real recording studio, and I remember thinking, “this is me!”
At the time, did you have any dreams of becoming a musician, or was it only a hobby?
“Again, I think it was around the age of 10 that I realized that you could be a singer as an actual real profession. Since then it was my dream, my purpose.”
Can you describe your time in Waterloo, Ontario? How did your time in this region affect you and your art?
“My time in Waterloo was crucial to me becoming a producer. Not only did I take a University course on the subject, but I also began studying with a teacher externally. I think that was the most important part of the situation. It also made me realise how much I didn’t want to be in school, and how much I wanted to pursue my music career seriously.”
Given everywhere you have performed and lived, do you ever feel homesick for any one place?
“No, luckily I don’t really feel homesick for any particular place. I’ve found that each place has its advantages and disadvantages. I always feel a little bit out of place no matter where I am, so I think that helps me in being able to adapt to new places and circumstances easily.”
What was it about school that didn’t appeal to you?
“Again, I just felt like I didn’t belong in University. In primary education I was a model student.
I had the best grades and I did well in a lot of extracurricular, so University just felt like an extension of that. I knew it was something I could succeed at easily, so it was quite boring sometimes. That being said, there were some courses that were instrumental to my musicianship. I guess like most students I realized I liked learning more for the sake of learning, and not for the sake of repetition and test-taking.”
What eventually brought you to Germany?
“Once I’d transferred from the University of Waterloo to the University of Toronto I met a musician who’d lived in Germany for 10 years. He told me it was much easier to live and work as a musician in Berlin. He said that you’d do 1 gig and it would pay your rent, and that made my eyes light up because being a musician in Toronto was quite difficult. I always needed a side job to make ends meet; also I felt that the general public didn’t have much regard for local musicians. Luckily I’ve found that it’s much different here!”
As an indie artist, what are the biggest struggles you have faced that many outside of the creative community may not be aware of?
“Well, the first thing that came to mind is that it’s somewhat disappointing how poorly musicians are treated sometimes. Although we enrich the most important moments of people’s lives, we’re still somehow seen as subhuman by even the most well-meaning people. I suppose this is pretty common across all fields.”
Are there problems that are unique to young women who are trying to make it as musicians?
“Yes, I think as a young woman, you’re often not taken seriously, especially if you want to do something outside of singing, like production or audio engineering. I can also count on several hands the amount of older men that underestimated my intelligence and mistook my kindness for stupidity. Luckily I haven’t been through anything horrific really. That’s why the growing awareness about feminism is so important, because it normalizes women being strong and powerful from a young age. It’s also unfortunate that women often feel like they have a ticking time bomb in regards to their age in the music industry. Luckily I’m seeing attitudes changing quite a lot now.”
On a recent episode of Tea Talk Tuesday, you discussed the importance of being yourself in an industry obsessed with image. For young women in the arts, can the idea of ‘image’ be reconstituted effectively to inspire ideas of empowerment (I’m thinking of bold artist personas that challenge societal norms), or do you believe empowerment is best achieved though absolute authenticity?
“Well, if I understand your question correctly, you’re asking if “reconstituted” or “created” personas can be as empowering as an authentic image?
I think they are both useful. There is always a bit of truth in the “reconstituted” image, even if it was dreamed up in boardroom by a bunch of ad men (and women!). For me personally, I find that I’m more deeply inspired by the artists that are more authentic. When I can see an artist’s journey, and/or their flaws as opposed to only their perfection, they become human to me, and I can see myself in them more; it allows me to believe that the same miracles that they’ve created are possible for me. I find that the artists when artists “fake it”, you’re always a bit disappointed when the truth comes out, and it always comes out.”
Do you think that, as technology makes our lives more and more open (whether we like it or not), it may eventually become impossible to keep enough of yourself hidden to maintain a cultivated image?
“I think it’ll be much harder than before, but not impossible to maintain a cultivated image.”
What was your inspiration for the song “Never Knew a Thing”?
“Never Knew a Thing”, was written about someone that I loved very much, that I dated when I was very young, and he was much older. I think for him at first it was just as bit of fun, but he treated me pretty badly, and the song is me telling him the depths of how hard I was hit. I think he was completely unaware of that because I always kept a “stiff upper lip” but I was devastated, broken. Within a few months, he realized how deeply he had felt for me as well, and he regretted ending it. The song stayed with me for a long time, I kind of got it as an instant download, and I just kept that melody with me for months until I was ready to write it down, and start recording it.”
There is a strong sense of intimacy I get from your songs. What is it like to take something so personal and share it with an audience of strangers?
“For me it’s very freeing, because I’m normally quite private. I think it creates an instant bond with the audience, when you’re willing to be imperfect and vulnerable.”
What future projects of yours are in the works?
“I’ve worked recently with a great production team “Mokoari Street Productions” on a video for my song “Homegirl”. I’m hoping to release that in the fall.”