"I Tried To Take Down Those Walls" Clash Meets Kiana Ledé
Kiana Ledé has been through a long journey to discover who she really is. It’s a process that has involved child fame and mind-numbing office jobs, but it’s one driven primarily by music, by her thirst for expression. A vivid R&B talent, her vocals – so expressive, mellifluous, and innately creative – are blended with songwriting that cuts deeper than most, tackling love, family, love, and issues with mental health.
It’s all gathered on her new album ‘Kiki’ - the title is a family nickname for Kiana, and it’s her way of truly allowing fans into her world. “I think this album is so special because it is completely me,” she tells Clash from her home in Los Angeles.
An act of self-healing, the new record is a break from her past, a means of allowing Kiana to clean the slate in an emotional sense. “I was absorbing too much,” she insists. “I was carrying way too much, I was holding people’s thoughts... and I stopped just looking at music as a way to feel better. With ‘Kiki’ I really let myself just be me. And I tried to take down those walls.”
“That’s why I called it ‘Kiki’,” the singer insists. “I wanted people to get closer to me. I wanted to give the world a second chance of really seeing who I was.”
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The record itself was largely built during a hectic spell in Malibu, where Kiana Ledé a small group of collaborators, free from outside influence. “Malibu is just a far enough drive so people don’t wanna go there everyday,” she laughs. “So I knew that there wouldn’t be many people trying to interrupt. I wanted to go there, so that I could really close myself off, isolate, and have no expectations.”
“I was dealing with a lot of expectations at that moment in my life, and feeling really pressured and uneasy about where I was going to go next… What moves I was going to do next, what music I would create. I was feeling a lot of pressure. I wanted to take that pressure off because music doesn’t work when you apply too much pressure to it. It just doesn’t.”
“I think I really wanted to get back to falling in love with music,” she continues. “There was a time when music felt a lot like work, and if I wanted to do a job like that I would work at a 9 to 5 like I did a few years back. I risk my life to do this job that I love so much – I’m not good at a 9 to 5, I’m just not. I wanted something I was good at and that I loved, so I stopped loving music. To be able to love it again I realised that I had to have no expectations, and make the music that I wanted to make and that I needed to make for my soul.”
The team Kiana gathered were incredibly close to her heart – her boyfriend (who is also her videographer) was with her, alongside executive producer Mike Woods. “Working with Mike is the best,” she exclaims. “It’s like working with your actual brother – you just get each other. He has known me since I was 16 years old, and believed in me, and we definitely get in creative arguments but it’s the best! We just get each other.”
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The music just flowed. Six songs from her album ‘Kiki’ were essentially written in one night, with Kiana able to find absolute focus in seclusion. “I think I work best in two ways,” she muses. “One, isolation. Which is really funny considering that’s what we’re doing right now! And procrastination. If I procrastinate, and I only have a certain amount of time to get something, that is my time to shine.”
The new album certainly shines. ‘Kiki’ is a record that exudes joy, it’s careful blend of light and shade illuminating club bumpers with a depth of emotion, while even her most poignant moments feature rays of hope. It’s a dichotomy that comes naturally to Kiana, one that reflects her own experiences.
“What I’ve realised is that I am this perfect contrast of light and dark,” she says. “I’ve grown up that way my entire life. On one hand, during the week I would be in classes, preparing for pageants, doing projects, doing musical theatre, I went to classical art school… but then on weekends I would ride dirt bikes, and camp, and fish, and do all of this outdoorsy kind of shit. In my opinion I’ve always had this contrast about me.”
“I think the biggest one, that everybody who follows me on social media already knows, you see that I’m very up or very down. When I speak to my therapist about it, she’ll say: most people are positive three and negative three… but you can feel all of the spectrum. Positive 10 to negative 10! I constantly battle with this. I always want to be the light in people’s lives. I always want to be the cheerleader. I always want to be the support system. Sometimes I put on a happy face, and I go home and I cry. And that’s who I am.”
“I don’t like people seeing vulnerability, but I’m going to use my own position to be able to teach people, and hopefully mend some things in people’s lives, because it makes me feel like my shit is worth it.”
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One of the vital aspects of ‘Kiki’ is the way that it presents Kiana Ledé amongst her peers. Ari Lennox appears on ‘Chocolate’, a divine R&B tale of girl-bonding that comes equipped with a neat Facetime video.
“We had all these ideas, to have all these black chocolate-y men in the video, and spend some real budget on that shit! And then quarantine happened. I was thinking, like, what would I do naturally? If I was at home, and I was talking about my man… what would I be doing? Well, I’d be Facetime-ing with my girls, telling them about it. Ari loved the idea, and what people love about it is that it is so genuine… like you’re just seeing a Facetime conversation between me and Ari. I think people really loved that about all of us. We’re very genuine.”
‘Second Chances’ meanwhile features a guest spot from former Clash cover star 6lack. “He just messaged me, saying: hey, just got to admit I’m a huge fan… And I was like: great, cos I’ve got a song for you! And he did it that night. I was flying to DC that night, so I took off, sent him the song, and then when I landed it was already right back to me with the feature on there.”
In spite of its wide-ranging influences and broad cast, ‘Kiki’ is an emphatically unified experience, one that contains a remarkable sense of purpose. A record of healing and growth, it’s the sound of a potent artist bringing their identity into focus, and sharing it with the world. We finish by talking about the front cover, an image of Kiana seated at her childhood home.
“The album cover is really personal,” she reflects. “I used to be really ashamed of that house growing up, and this was my moment to be like: stop running away from shit! I’m always running away from who I am, but I should be proud of that… because I wouldn’t be like this without the hardship, without all the shitty stuff in life. Just embracing that, and not running away from that, and putting it on the cover for the world to see…”
“So yeah,” she finishes. “There’s nothing I’m running away from anymore”.
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'Kiki' is out now.
Words: Robin Murray
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