SXSW Music Review: Kelela

D.C. electro R&B diva entrances fan girls

White is achromatic. It absorbs and reflects all color, then scatters into visible wavelengths of white. As Kelela Mizanekristos glided onstage Wednesday night at the Gatsby, stark in a white, quilted coat, the second generation Ethiopian-American from D.C. did just that.

Photo by David Brendan Hall

The spacey, electro R&B of “Let Me Know,” from latest album Take Me Apart, ascended in keyboards as she sang its first notes in profile, slowly inching herself to face the audience. The beat dropped, she grabbed the mic, and then danced to each turn of the song.

“There’s a place you own I left behind,” she lamented on “Frontline” next. “I’m finished.”

Those words floated in space until her DJ filled in with twisting electro wrenches, loopy rhythms, and car sounds. The main attraction’s hands traced her body up and down sensually, but her singing emoted divinity, a juxtaposition I’m convinced only Kelela can maintain.

“Better” from her latest crept in soon thereafter, breathy cooing under a soft-spoken, slushy beat interwoven with metal clanking and a backing female falsetto.

“Aren’t we better now? I know it made me better,” hooked the gamer.

She exited after 40 minutes, leaving fan girls (ahem) simultaneously full and hollow – uncertain whether Kelela Mizanekristos is even real.

“She’s magical,” a girl next to me confessed.


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Kelela, SXSW Music 2018, Kelela Mizanekristos

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