Checking In: Kalu James Brews Up Some Strong Juju

And soothes us through the valley of the shadows of death

2017 LP Time Undone put Austin’s Kalu James on the national map with some astonishingly timeless psych-soul, its singer’s oracle vox as deep as his Nigerian background. Finally arrives a follow-up EP, documented Saturday on a YouTube broadcast with producing/guitar cohort JT Holt live from Bud’s Recording Services.

Kalu James in quarantine (Photo by Sandra Dahdah)

Austin Chronicle: Where are you sheltering and under what circumstances? Who else is there and how’s that going?

Kalu James: JT [Holt] and I are sheltering in Austin. We both live alone and that rollercoaster ride of emotions is real and bumpy. Between the justifiable mass hysteria, lockdown, unrest, fear, and anxiety, it truly has been difficult to comprehend how and when all this will move forward. To counter the uncertainties, we have been spending lots of time outdoors, reading, exploring new sounds, gardening, and working on new materials.

AC: At what point did C-19 shut down operations for you, and what went down with the ship, so to speak, both personally & professionally?

“Personally, if there’s a Mad Max style final act scene of driving off a cliff, give me Eminem’s ‘’Till I Collapse.’”

KJ: Our Feb 28, our show at the Continental Club with Think No Think and Medicine Man Revival was supposed to be the beginning of busy months ahead with SXSW and the release of a new single leading up to the launch of a new record produced by Jason Burt (Medicine Man Revival), who recently just finished the upcoming David Ramirez record. Little did we know that it would not only be the last full band show for a while, but also to congregate and share space with friends and fans. The following weeks after were a domino effect of numerous cancelled gigs including a tour as direct support for Umphrey’s McGee.

So everything came to a halt. We all had to quarantine separately, take time apart to access our personal situations, and reconvene only after we were 1,000% sure of being COVID free.

AC: As a global culture, people employ music for every purpose imaginable, obviously spanning religion to entertainment and everything in between. What happens to communities like ours when people can no longer access it in person?

KJ: In the music and service industry, lots of our peers including us, depend on shows for income and you can already see the aftermath with venues and businesses closing down. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

AC: Everyone’s had to shift or drastically alter their work situation. What does that look like for you?

KJ: Besides doing a livestream to benefit SIMS, we just got back into the studio a month ago. That personal/downtime yielded a burst of creativity with lots of new materials as well as reopening and further dissecting the record that was already signed off on and set for release this year. We are gearing to do a lot more livestreams soon, but have been truly treating this time as an opportunity to forecast, explore, remain patient, positive, and raise the bar for ourselves personally and professionally.

AC: What’s your soundtrack for the apocalypse and what role does music play for you as a fan and scholar of it in times of hardship?

KJ: Personally, if there’s a Mad Max style final act scene of driving off a cliff, give me Eminem’s “’Till I Collapse.”

In times like these, music soothes and walks you through the valley of the shadows of death as a companion and avenue for release. In our camp, that apocalypse soundtrack has to be a mixed playlist of Nina Simone, Grant Green, Dr John, both Bobs (Marley and Dylan), and Jacksons (Michael and Janet), Fêla Kuti, Queens of the Stone Age, James Brown, Jeff Buckley, and Ali Farka Toure.

Now that’s some strong JUJU.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Kalu James
Kalu James’ Feel Music
Kalu James’ Feel Music
Nigerian émigré makes Austin a better place one song at a time

William Harries Graham, April 30, 2015

More by Raoul Hernandez
Checking In: Ley Line Needs Their Sisterhood
Ley Line Needs Their Sisterhood
“This has been a curve ball to test our abilities”

July 7, 2020

New Austin Music Worth Your Bandwidth This Week
New Austin Music Worth Your Bandwidth This Week
Our favorite albums, videos, and performances

July 3, 2020


Kalu James, JT Holt, Think No Think, Jason Burt, Medicine Man Revival, David Ramirez, Umphrey’s McGee, Eminem, Nina Simone, Queens of the Stone Age, Grant Green, Dr John, Ali Farka Toure, Checking In 2020

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle