Interview \\ Kadhja Bonet: A musician misunderstood

11th November 2018

Kadhja Bonet in conversation with Tina Edwards

Kadhja Bonet, the L.A. based artist, is regularly referred to by a small number of observations and interpretations; a child of seven to her parents, a soul singer, a woman. Whilst these observations serve some truths, they distract from Bonet as whole. As a vocalist, violinist, guitarist and rising producer, Bonet doesn’t have an equal. Nor is her music so easy to compartmentalize. There is undoubtedly soul, in its simplest meaning, in Bonet’s music, but that description alone would leave unspoken words desired. On second album ‘Childqueen’, lush and tidy strings bed her voice, which flies comfortably in the higher ranges above most singers’ comfort zones. Some tracks, like ‘Maybe Mother’ could be a DJ’s closing track to a 70s disco not the cheesy kind; the kind that you’d always remember for the golden tones of it. Meanwhile ‘Delphine’ is vulnerable yet womanly; a slow-tempo ode that she sings with reassurance and gentleness. It’s somewhat addictive.

In the garden of a Stoke Newington cafe, I had an engaging conversation with Kadhja Bonet. As I should have expected she was nothing like what I expected her to be. Her music soft and her photos hazy in hue, the sweetly-spoken musician I thought I’d be meeting in fact joked and spoke dryly with a warm, low tone of voice, tomboyish in denim and kooky glasses, effortlessly cool and L.A in vibe. She laughed regularly, and she asked for tips on the best vintage (correction; ‘thrift stores’) to find a cool jacket for her trip. Whilst we sat drinking fresh juice Bonet on two hours of sleep after flying in from Germany just hours before I decided I wouldn’t edit a single word for this interview. Without any rigidly planned questions, we had a conversation bedded in creativity and identity.  Below is an excerpt.

TE \\ You’re moving into production a little bit right? Did you teach yourself or did you have some guidance?

KB \\ Some of both you now, I also had already gone to film school so I was using Avid at the time for sound design, so I already had some basic knowledge of Protools from film school but I hadn’t been using it musically yet. It’s a whole different thing.

TE \\ Yeah I imagine. I wanted to ask you about film school I guess because it’s a different creative avenue from music; What was your lust for film about?

KB \\ I think the same thing that brought me to music which is that, it’s a really powerful storytelling medium, it’s just a different way of telling stories than what making music is, and I just realised that I’m a little bit more efficient telling stories with music then I am with film.

TE \\ Do you think it’s having a shorter medium? Even an album is half the length of a film.

KB \\ I think so, yeah, just the fact that I can make music by myself and film depends on so many other people and so many variables. It was something that I was intimidated by, to be able to corral twenty people together… the resources to execute something.

TE \\ Yeah, the efficiency of everyone’s work rests on your own work. The way that you’ve planned something or try to create a vision, I can imagine little doubts might pop up. I can imagine why that feels less daunting with music. So yeah I know you play a lot with strings; violin, viola, guitar. Do you feel a certain affinity to strings?

KB \\ It actually was something where, I didn’t ever anticipate using strings. It was a very resentful act of “eurgh, I have to go to my viola lesson and practice”. I was so happy to quit when I quit, you know? So I really didn’t envision coming back to them. And when I started making music and started getting frustrated ‘cos I wanted help, I just sorted of realised, i have this tool, literally in my closet that I wasn’t using, and I was like “oh, I’ll just do it”.

And I even remember the first time I was recording like my first single I was working with this person at the time. They didn’t even really believe me that I could play. And so it’s this weird thing being a female I don’t know if you ever experience this but you let people talk you out of what you’re capable of.

And even though I knew I could play at a professional level, I was like “oh yeah – maybe hire a professional”. I just got really like – “no I want it done a certain way and i can do it!”. It was a moment of “why am I even doing this here, you know?”.

TE \\ It’s other people disqualifying you, from what you already know you can achieve.

KB \\ Right? And this way of trying to be polite you let them. It’s really twisted.

TE \\ Yeah! Rather than challenge that and carry this fear of “oh – maybe I will get it wrong”. I hear you.

KB \\ I’m so glad that you are saying this I’m hiring all these female singers for a thing called The Hum everyone on stage is female. I have very conflicted feelings about it. I love working with women and that part of it is great but I also hear this other part that I feel often when people are interviewing me or making it a bigger deal that female than it is. “Wow you’re a woman and you’re playing all these instruments, you know?

It’s not rocket science and even if it is, women do that, too. I think there’s something weird about how women get an extra pat on the back for something.

TE \\ It’s like people are surprised.

KB \\ Yeah! Why are you surprised that I can do this? I know plenty of people doing this.

TE \\ Right! And how do you address that surprise? Do you say “yeah I worked hard to get here” or do you say “I just went ahead and did it”. If you allow yourself to absorb the weird things that people say around you, it can be difficult but there are people who will be good at not letting it affect them.

TE \\ So with the gig you’re doing, were you feeling conflicted about it being promoted as an all female line-up? Do you just want it to be promoted for who you guys are?

KB \\ Yeah – you’ll be noticed for it. It’s like waving a flag going “hey, we’re women”, you know? I think, then you’ll always be good for a woman”, if you know what a mean, that’s the conflicted feeling I run into. They’ll be like “You’re great for a woman”, rather than “you’re just great”.

TE \\ Yeah, and just letting it be what it is. I came across the fact that you’re one of seven and with that, the fact that you’re asked about it a lot. I have that conversation sometimes when people say to me “oh, you’re an only child, what’s that like?”. I always think “i don’t know” because it’s relative to my own experience. I’m interested to see what your thoughts are; not about being one of seven, but why you think people get fascinated and look for meaning in the fact that you’re one in seven?

KB \\ I mean there’s so many things like that where people create this story about you and people pick what’s interesting. They don’t really wait and decide once they’ve heard your story what’s interesting. It’s “blah blah blah these are the things about you”, defining you by three or four things and trying to create what their assumptions are about that life.

Kadhja Bonet’s ‘Childqueen’ is out now

Photo credit: Mark Escribano 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *