Lia Kali strips emotionally and artistically on her new album “Against all odds” (Propaganda Pel Fet, 22) demonstrating that it is one of the most powerful voices on the Catalan urban scene, for which a great future lies ahead.
Before talking about the album, let’s get to know a little about the person and artist behind it. Who is Lia Kali, where does she come from?
It’s hard for me to separate Kali from myself because I write about my life, about what happens to me, for me making music is a form of therapy. In addition, there is a need for me to share it because it helped me to listen to other artists who told their lives and their stories. I’ve had dark times, ups and downs, and making music feels like a way to give back what other artists gave me. I come from a family of two crazy artists; my father is a drummer and my mother writes, so creativity has always been present in my life. It started as a necessity and now I love it and hopefully I can make a living from it. My idea is to work hard to achieve it and otherwise die trying.
When did you realize that you had a special gift for music?
It all started doing covers with friends, and from there came the Amy Winehouse tribute band with which I took my first important step and learned a lot. And I started to see in music a way to get the pain and the darkness out of me. It was a wonderful thing to realize that with music I could free myself from all that and that people also liked how I did it. And from there I began to realize that there might be a path there for me.
“It’s a very eclectic record, which is what I was looking for. There’s soul, rap, flamenco, some electronics, black music”
Your music comes from neosoul with urban influences, reggae, flamenco,… what other references do you have and how do you like to describe your style?
In my house you have always heard everything; rock, flamenco,… and I have been absorbing all of that. But what I really like the most is soul, jazz, rap, all music of African-American origin. I love all the black music divas from a few decades ago. I listen to them and they awaken something indescribable in me.
However, you are very involved in the rap scene, with collaborations by many artists from this scene. For what is this?
Well, I really think it was because of Lupita’s Friends, because of Marcel, when I met him and worked with him my sound began to turn a little more towards rap. Hiphop has always been present in my life, I had many friends who rapped, we have always been singing in the street and meeting other people and groups. And when I met Marcel, who produces Sofía Gabanna, Hard GZ and other artists from Barcelona, he asked me to record and we started to take it more seriously. We created the group Sibil La 3 and I learned a lot with them. From there I have been getting to know more people from the scene and the truth is that they have been very well received, everything has been very organic.
Let’s talk about the disc. You start with a kind of introduction where you talk about what the record contains, putting the listener in a situation. Where does this idea come from?
Well, I thought that, being an album as personal and deep as this one, it was a good idea to add an intro putting the listener in context. So you can better understand everything that comes on the disc that can actually be complicated at times. I’m better at writing than speaking the truth, so I started recording it and blurted it all out in one fell swoop. It was kind of improvised, I said what I felt about the album and that’s how it stayed, and I think it’s good because it helps the listener to understand everything that happens later and is told on the album.
As the title of the album you have chosen “Against all odds”. What does this name hide?
When I began to think about what title I could give it, I thought that the name of that song was perfect, because all my life they have told me that I could not do anything, it is a message that ate me a lot, they have told me many times that it was worthless and I have eaten many nos. That fight against all those obstacles is reflected with the release of this album. It is something that I also talk about in it. All that struggle to get out of the absolute darkness, regain self-confidence, love myself, get out of catharsis,… those moments in which it seems that nothing has a solution, but in the end, against all odds, you end up getting out of the hole .
The album begins with a very hard song, in which you talk about depression, psychologists, health centers,… very intimate aspects of your life. Didn’t it cost you to expose yourself like that on your first album?
Yes, in fact I have felt ashamed, but the need to tell it has been stronger. In the end we only tell the good to give a good image of ourselves, but these bad experiences are also part of us and build us. This topic cost me a lot to write; telling how they drugged me, mistreated me,… it was hard to go through that but telling it helped me to heal it. In addition, it is also a form of denunciation, that it is known that these things are done in psychiatric hospitals. It seems that these mental health issues are taboo and it is something that people suffer a lot with. That’s why it’s good to share it, because when people hear it they can feel identified and that helps. Seeing that someone has come out of the same thing that happens to one can help you find the right path.
“There is a very powerful and very beautiful rap scene now in Barcelona and where women have a very leading role”
Can we understand the record then as an autobiography in musical form?
Yes, totally. This first song is a story that happened to me when I was 14 or 15 years old, because of a fight we had at home, and they took me to the psychiatric hospital and kept me locked up there for several days. It was a place with bars, cameras, it looked like a jail. They drugged me, my parents didn’t know anything about me, and they wouldn’t let me go out because they couldn’t find what was wrong with me. Until they realized that nothing was wrong with me and let me go. But what they lived there was horrific and what happens in these centers must be denounced. It sucked for me to find out that there are places like this in the world. The album begins with this story, since it marked my life a lot, and it goes on like a journey that goes from darkness to light.
Let’s talk about the record musically. What musical form have you looked for for him?
I did not want to close myself to musical forms. In other words, I wanted it to have an urban spirit, but at the same time to have several genres coexist in it. I wanted it to be a musical journey through different sounds and environments, just as it is an emotional journey. That’s why it’s a very eclectic record, which is what I was looking for. There is soul, rap, flamenco, some electronics, black music,…
Outside of the album, an IG post in which you show yourself a few years ago and the physical change you have given caught my attention. Talking about the difference between how people treated you before and how they treat you now.
I don’t know, I think it’s something cultural on the one hand. On the other hand, also if you watch movies, for example, the protagonists are always handsome and pretty, those who are fat play the role of funny, and in reality that is a way of ridiculing them. There are exceptions, but most of the actors are that prototype. And something similar is happening in music, the singers who are babes have it easier. Maybe it’s because of the video clip and that the image matters more and more in music, but there are fewer and fewer Rosendos. I’m sure talent is wasted every day from people who are worth a lot but don’t find it beautiful, and it’s a huge shame. And social networks are also to blame. We are totally dominated by the image, it is a horrible obsession.
At that same time you went through the program La Voz. How was the experience?
Since I was little I have always liked those programs, I have seen them a lot on TV. And at the beginning, when I still wasn’t very sure where my career was going to go, I decided to participate. And I am very grateful for the opportunity and what I learned, but I realized that it is not what I want for myself. That included having to sign with a multinational whose contract had very abusive fine print. I realized that even if it was harder and slower, it was better to own my music and my career.
On the other hand, your native Barcelona seems to be the strongest scene today in terms of rap, especially if we talk about female rappers.
Yes, there is a very powerful and very beautiful rap scene in Barcelona right now and where women have a very leading role. There are rappers like Anier, Sofía Gabanna, Santa Salut, Tribade and many more, each one with her own sound and also doing many things together, we are very close and that helps us grow. There are more and more female rappers and that’s good. I remember at the beginning that only Ari, La Mala and little else were there, they opened the door and now there are a lot of women doing high-quality rap.
However, it is not something that is reflected later in the festivals, where there is much more male presence than female. Why do you think that is?
That should be asked of the programmers, who are the ones who choose who goes to the festivals. Perhaps the problem is also that there are few female programmers. But be that as it may, they have to realize the quality of these rappers and how they are breaking it up. I see people on the street wearing Las Ninyas del Corro sweatshirts, and many of the rappers we’ve talked about have millions of views. They have to realize that there is a future there and that they have to take advantage of all that talent.