Kah-Lo is a Grammy-nominated Nigerian artist, proud of her heritage and keen to show it off through her music.
But until recently the dance music artist thought she had to hide her true self to be understood, and because of that bringing her sound to the mainstream has been a struggle.
She’s slowly getting there, having featured on the track Rinse & Repeat, and also Mr Eazi and Davido’s Money, and her new track Fasta has been picked up by BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra, reaching the top 4 of the Shazam Dance Chart. Her love of monotone rap is driven by her influencers MIA, Madonna and Blondie and it’s something she’s keen to bring back.
But although she says herself she’s very comfortable in her skin, she’s battled her own demons in worrying about being accepted for who she is.
‘I always thought growing up that if I wanted to make music on a global scale I would have to use an American accent or just really switch it up and hide the fact I’m Nigerian until a comfortable time,’ she confessed exclusively to Metro.co.uk.
‘But then seeing the success of [Nigerian artist] Dr Alban – Even laying down my tracks I thought people won’t understand what I’m saying, but then the reception was just so amazing. It’s very very awesome I can be who am on a track and people understand and appreciate it.
‘It’s very cool to use my accent, his songs were massive dance hits, and it’s very cool I can do that on a dance track and that people will understand it, I can put my lingo and actual accent in there.’
So it turns out the worry was all in her head; she explains she was never told by music bods to hid her accent, she just thought that’s how it should be.
‘It was from looking at the internet. I didn’t even know about Dr Alban at the time, going back through history I didn’t know of any Nigerian artists,’ she said. ‘There are examples of Nigerian artists but most are ones who have crossed over to the international music scene and have been successful Afrobeats artists, or they get nominated for ‘best world’ or ‘best international artist’.
‘I haven’t seen a Nigerian artist nominated in the same category like best pop or best RnB unless they are Americanised or European. Unless you know, you wouldn’t know they’re Nigerian.’
So the main thing she’s learned from this – to be yourself, and with that she plans to go big.
‘You can be yourself, because the Grammy nomination we got wasn’t in a world category and I had my regular accent on there. If that can happen, then I feel I can take this way further than anyone who has ever taken it before.’
Her inspiration comes in the form of actress Lupita Nyong’o, who isn’t type cast into only African roles.
‘It’s amazing because she spent most of her life in Kenya. She’s very African, she’s passionate, but she doesn’t get boxed in. And if I can do that with music, that would just be the dream,’ Kah-Lo says.
But of course she has battled some racism along the way: ‘I do get comments on YouTube or whatever “oh I thought she’d be white”.
‘On one of the other videos they said “she looks like an ape”, but they’re just trolls, they have nothing else to do. They don’t matter. Nothing matters, I’m very comfortable in my skin.’
All of that aside, she nearly didn’t become a musician at all as her parents decided she should become a lawyer.
Despite having written her first song when she was in Year 9 at school, her parents weren’t 100% convinced it was a suitable career. So long before she was battling her own concerns about heritage, and trying to make it mainstream, she was having the age old fight with her parents about having a stable career.
‘When I was younger I wanted to know why they wouldn’t support me, but then I realised it was coming from a good place,’ Kah-Lo says. ‘At first they wanted me to be a lawyer. And then I was like “nope! I will go to school, but I will study journalism because that’s the only thing I could see myself doing.”
‘That was a big fight but they let me, but said I had to do law afterwards. I said “daddy, I want to be a musician! You can send me to law school but you would be wasting your money and I would be wasting my time!”‘
She moved to New York to study, and the deal was she would have to support herself. But at the age of 22 she found herself having to move back home when money got too tight.
‘I was a marketing assistant at an architecture firm and then I got fired from that because I used to have all these ‘dental appointments’ where I would sneak out to go and perform at open mics!’ she laughs. ‘They found out so I got fired!’
But it’s even been a struggle for her to break through in her native country.
‘They don’t listen to dance music in clubs, it’s Afrobeats and hip hop. Slowly the music is breaking through, but I don’t think it’s something I can single-handedly do.’
Sounds like she can, her determination is palpable and given that her biggest inspiration is Kanye West – who spent years fighting against what he was being told he couldn’t do to become one of the world’s greatest rappers – she’s got the balls to do it.
‘What you’ve heard isn’t half of what I can do,’ she brazenly but admirably says. ‘I’ve done some hard core, some hip hop, jazzy stuff, this [dance] is just what’s happening now and I’m kind of riding it. I’ve done stuff where I’m singing more. It’s very hard to pigeon hole my music into one thing.’
With a new single coming soon, and an album hopefully in the new year with producer Riton, Kah-Lo has proven nothing is going to stop her and her distinctive voice will be all over the mainstream soon.