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Kelela — A Boundary-Pushing Dance/R&B Artist Blurs The Personal And Political

The nearly six-year period Kelela Mizanekristos took between 2017’s Take Me Apart and 2023’s Raven wasn’t just a break; it was a reckoning. Like a lot of Black Americans, she’d watched the protests following George Floyd’s murder with outrage and cautious curiosity as to whether the winds of social change might actually shift.

She read, she watched, she researched; she digested the pressures of creative perfectionism and tireless productivity not as correlatives of an artistic mind but of capitalism and white supremacy, whose consecration of the risk-free bottom line suddenly felt like the arbitrary and invasive force it is.

And suddenly, she realized she wasn’t alone. “Internally, I’ve always wished the world would change around me,” Kelela tells Apple Music. “I felt during the uprising and the [protests of the early 2020s] that there’s been an external shift.

We all have more permission to say, ‘I don’t like that.’” Executive-produced by longtime collaborator Asmara (Asma Maroof of Nguzunguzu), 2023’s Raven is both an extension of her earlier work and an expansion of it. The hybrids of progressive dance and ’90s-style R&B that made Take Me Apart and Cut 4 Me compelling are still there (“Contact,” “Missed Call,” both co-produced by LSDXOXO and Bambii), as is her gift for making the ethereal feel embodied and deeply physical (“Enough for Love”).

Stream Raven

And for all her respect for the modalities of Black American pop music, you can hear the musical curiosity and experiential outliers—as someone who grew up singing jazz standards and played in a punk band—that led her to stretch the paradigms of it, too.

But the album’s heart lies in songs like “Holier” and “Raven,” whose narratives of redemption and self-sufficiency jump the track from personal reflections to metaphors for the struggle with patriarchy and racism more broadly. “I’ve been pretty comfortable to talk about the nitty-gritty of relationships,” she says.

“But this album contains a few songs that are overtly political, that feel more literally like no, you will not.” Oppression comes in many forms, but they all work the same way; Raven imagines a flight out.

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