OK, seriously–Hiatus Kaiyote. First, let’s talk about the great name. I mean, yes. Definitely a name you will remember. They describe their music as “multi-dimensional, polyrhythmic, gangster shit,” which is cute at best, silly at worst (I’m still waiting for the word “gangster” to stop being used as a positive, but now I’m just nitpicking)…If asked, I would describe their sound as jazz+soul+African+funk=in my ears now, please and thank you.
The band hails from Australia, and all of the members are serious musicians with jazz chops to back it up. The bass player was at an open mic when he met the lead singer, Nai Palm. He saw her playing a child’s pink nylon string guitar because she misplaced her own guitar at a friend’s house. Amused by the story, he stuck around–little did he know, he was in for a performance from an accomplished guitarist and a gifted singer. After the show he asked her about collaborating, and the rest is essentially history.
Of course, we do need to address a few things. I know it can be controversial when we talk about white artists incorporating elements from black and indigenous cultures into their art, which this band certainly does. The term “appropriation” gets thrown about from time to time. Let’s be clear though–this writer, a person of color, does NOT see this group as exploitative in any form. There’s a thin line between respecting and being inspired by a culture different from your own, and grossly hijacking elements of that culture and using them to market yourself as unique or different. Out of all the members of the band, Nai Palm straddles that line, but I don’t think she crosses it. Her fashion seems inspired to me, as opposed to mimicking or mocking, and her soulful voice sounds natural and fresh. But everyone is entitled to their opinion.
This band is definitely unique and different, and vastly so in comparison to the popular music of the day. So much of what we hear on the radio is just a series of electronic blips and bleeps tested for a group of 15-25 year olds in a soundproof room, and then culled for the most catchy tunes, the biggest potential sellers. Thankfully, this group is so organic you can feel it in your bones, the music natural and earthy in tone, and a true joy in the playing and singing that I’ve been missing in current music. Prince, Wayne Shorter, Erykah Badu; these are the artists that come to mind when I think of challenging AND emotionally evocative music–and now I’ll have to count Hiatus Kaiyote among them. Bold statement? Not really. Music is music, and if it moves you…it moves you. Check them out now, thank me later.