get to know pop prodigy kidä and listen to her debut single “snakes”
The young artist, already fed up with music industry misogyny, shares music from her upcoming self-produced LP.
20-year-old Kidä's seductive soundscape is an unexpected blend of musical influence. With Egyptian and Italian heritage, and a father who owned a vast vinyl collection of international music, Kidä (aka Ava Leoncavallo) grew up listening to the likes of Ballake Sissoko and Ravi Shankar, while in her teen years she grooved to D'Angelo, Christina Milian and Aaliyah. Drawing on a varied collection of sound has led to Kidä's avant-pop vibe.
Born in New York, she later moved to Los Angeles where as a teen she sang backing vocals for Pharrell, Natasha Bedingfield and Carly Simon. More recently, she made the decision to leave architecture school in London to focus on music. "Snakes" is the first single off Kidä's upcoming debut LP and each shift in sound provides a glimpse into her eclectic sonic universe - a place where R&B, pop, soul, and global beats all pulsate on a smooth, sexy vibration. We recently had a chat over Skype about misogyny in the music industry, singing Chaka Khan covers in a closet, and the story behind her debut single.
You're moving to L.A.?
I'm moving there on Monday, so everything is crazy for me right now. My life is getting put into boxes. I've been in London for the past year and change and was actually studying landscape architecture out here, which is not music, and which is why it didn't work out.
Is that when you started getting serious about music?
I started getting serious about music before I moved to L.A. When I was a teen in New York, I had a music teacher who was a huge mentor to me. He knew that I hated math and would pull me out of my math class and we would record Chaka Khan covers in this little closet studio. I guess he just really believed in me. He had a Motown band with his mates and he had me up there with the singer of it so I must have been around 14 and I was singing with this 50-year-old seasoned jazz musician at boat clubs. I started getting really serious about music while doing Motown and soul music, and that sort of rubbed off on my vocal style. When I moved to L.A., I started singing with another jazz group and it was with that jazz group that I did the backup vocals for Pharrell and Natasha Bedingfield.
What led to you recording your upcoming album?
I had been producing this LP since last year when I was still in school. That's how I got into Red Bull Music Academy - I sent them this music that I had been working on throughout the year. When I first moved to London, I was going to do a collaboration with this guy, and it's happened so many times where I'm meant to be working with some guy producer and there's so much - how do I put this - it was kind of like an unspoken misogynistic sort of thing going on where they didn't really respect my artistic input and it got so frustrating that I was like, "Fuck it. I'm just going to learn to produce myself so that I don't have to deal with this."
Did you have a concept for the upcoming LP or is this a collection of songs you decided to put together?
It really started with me being an absolute hermit recluse and just being obsessed with proving to myself that I could produce as well, if not better, than all of these producers that I had worked with before. I made so many songs that it eventually just made sense to turn it into an album. That's pretty much it, and being able to make any sound that I wanted because I have roots in world music, roots in soul music and loved R&B as a kid.
What's some of the early stuff you liked listening to?
Probably this West African musician Ballake Sissoko. He plays a West African harp. It sounds so heavenly and I still do love it. When I was a really little kid I also listened to R&B and I still make R&B now. I was all about Aaliyah.
I love her.
Oh my god. She's the queen.
What's the story behind "Snakes"?
That was the first song I made on the album. There was someone who was being a snake to me, and I remember being so angry that making this song was sort of a cathartic release and I made it in like two hours. Then it was done and I didn't want to touch it because it encapsulated this emotion that I got rid of. I made it in my tiny little flat with my tiny little mixer and a midi keyboard.
I think it's brave that you're leaving London and architecture school behind to focus on music. Are you scared?
No, I'm not scared. I'm really not. I feel like it's the best feeling in the world to know exactly what you want and need to do and to do that. Obviously it's scary because the music industry is scary, but it had to be done because I didn't want to ever regret not trying.
Text J.L. Sirisuk
Photography Roon courtesy Kidä