Basic Folk podcast, eps. 265 – Kaïa Kater

After banjo player Kaïa Kater attended Americana Fest in 2016, the music industry started telling her she was a part of the genre, which encompasses all kinds of roots music, acoustic music, folk music, singer-songwriter and alternative country music. Kater was singing about heavy themes like historical trauma, her cultural heritage (her father is from the Caribbean country of Grenada) and her music history. She confesses in our interview that she never felt comfortable in “Americana,” that she never fully felt accepted by this mostly white world.

Kater has declared that her new album, Strange Medicine, comes from a place that lives beyond the white gaze of Americana. This music is filled with emotional healing, and features music production that sonically reflects the vulnerability that Kater is expressing so deeply for the first time in her career. It’s also the first time she’s avoiding metaphors and letting her most raw feelings about colonialism, sexism, racism, and misogyny rip. These songs see her using violent language and releasing emotions she’d previously kept frozen like anger and revenge.

While creating Strange Medicine, Kater listened to a lot of instrumental music, allowing her ears to be bigger than they had been on previous records. This inspired her to be more willing to take big swings and take risks. And, Kater also attended school to learn about film composition, allowing her to be more comfortable with being a little bit more overstated in her songs, which certainly proves true on the new record.

Another good piece of news is that the banjo is back! After using it very minimally on her last release, Kater picked it up again after listening to a lot of Steve Reich, a composer who developed a groundbreaking minimalist  style in the 1960s that’s marked by repetition. His work helped Kater conceive of the banjo as an instrument that could hypnotically play patterns over and over. We go through this monumental album track by track and unwind songs with topics from Tituba’s revenge (the first to be accused during the Salem witch trials) to getting the critic out of the room, to realizing the critic is you. She also recounts her history in her hometown of Montreal and what the Internet was like when she first logged on in the 2000’s.


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