The journey starts in a field of golden crops swaying in the wind. Their warm color is mirrored in the jacket of the person making their way through the field. „I walk alone“, the 3D avatar of Sera Kalo sings in the video to the song Can You Speak My Language. As part of the audio-visual EP SERENDiPITY released ahead of the artist’s debut album eXante, the song tells the tale of a beginning journey. I meet the singer in a quiet café in Berlin’s Neukölln to speak about the journey she is on and to analyze the beautifully multi-layered, virtual-reality-like videos for her genre-fluid music.
“I have released under many names because I have many parts as a person”, the singer tells me. Not wanting to be rabbit-holed or limited to a certain type of music that people then expect from her, Sera Kalo is the newest creative personality that the artist channels. The process she describes as “almost like finding an alter ego”. Inspired by no other than the visionary Mexican painter Frida Kalo, Sera remembers a short obsession with Frida she had as a child.“I was quite young at the time. I think she gave me a door into exploring deeper thoughts about life, existence, who I am and how to express that artistically”, she comments.
The reinventive character of her artistic personality is reflected in the music. The complex songs defy genre boundaries – intentionally. Allowing all of the facets of her identity to co-exist, Sera Kalo leaves room for a multiplicity of meanings, sounds, and emotions. The avatar 3D artist Marcus Fiedler created for the music videos, lets her express the multiplicity of her emotions visually in its journey through different environments, exploring their plurality and ambiguity.
“I don’t really put myself in a box because all these influences have been in my life since the moment I came to this earth. It is not like I have to think about it. I just exist and try to get in touch with all the parts of me and let them out. Whatever happens, happens.”
The Spirit of an Activist
Coming from a background in activist work, for example, as a founding member of the Soul Sisters (a collective for the healing, community, and empowerment of Black womxn in Berlin) Sera Kalo finds an outlet in music now. “I still feel like I have the spirit of an activist. I still do activism, but it definitely takes the form of music, my work ethic healing, and transformation now. Music seems to be the one-size-fits-all for me with everything that is going on in my life. It is the realm in which I can process, create, and feel safe.”
Sera Kalo talks about her musical inspirations with a smile on her face. “I recognize these things in my music, and I recognize where they came from. But it is more something that I notice afterward rather than something I plan on doing.” The ease with which the different influences blend into Sera Kalo’s swirling compositions comes from this approach. Growing up in an Afro-Caribbean household, traditional genres like Calypso were always present. “I love the style of storytelling, the expressions, and the play with rhythm”. A classical vocal education brought her closer to orchestral music and its wide harmonies, which Sera describes with gleaming eyes as “full and heavy but also kind of shiny and glittery.”
The Power of Vulnerability
The visual journey of the EP was created with 3D visual artist Markus Fiedler over multiple sessions. He and Sera Kalo brought the essence of the music to life. “It was quite an intimate process. I had to be honest and couldn’t just give a one-line summary of what the songs are about. I had to dig deep and sometimes I felt very vulnerable. But thankfully, Markus is a very kind and trustworthy person and an incredible artist. He took a lot of care in listening to my stories.”
“There is power in vulnerability, my friend Nathalie told me. I did not understand it at the time, but it stayed with me. Then I felt it manifesting itself in ‘SERENDiPITY’. The social and emotional layer of the EP was a very important process for my growth as a human being.”
Working with a motion capture program and face mapping, the two artists created an avatar based on Sera Kalo. The visuals of the four songs take us across a range of different landscapes, through nature, space, and spiritual realms. In stunning digital artwork, we experience canyons, spaceships, and forests alongside the avatar, strolling in search of something, through the magical world. An immersive audiovisual journey.
Go and Go Again
Across the videos, several themes reappear. Bright colors, nature, flying or floating, futuristic elements. There is one moment, where her avatar and another avatar fall into a hug and dissolve into sparkling rays of color. Sera Kalo describes: “Those moments are a representation of the desire to visualize the things that you feel but can’t touch or identify. It is that feeling you have when you are transforming. The closest thing I can image it resembling is that feeling when you get goosebumps”.
Driven by emotions, we undergo changes throughout the journey. What started as a walk alone ends in a community gathering under a colorful dreamy tree in Go. The song fades in with a recording of a voice message Sera’s grandmother left her. “My grandmother appears in the water in ‘Vital Signs’ and again in [‘Go’]. The people under the tree are friends and family.” Walking among kin, the video also draws on the artist’s relationship to ancestry. Growing up with the culture and tradition of her Caribbean family in the States, she describes the region where her parents are from “as a place where there was a lot of wisdom about life. A place of grounding.” The gentle words spoken by her grandmother on Go connect to that grounding experience. Bearing emotional value, Sera Kalo tells me that it was the last voice message they received from their grandmother. “It is not easy being out here, away from family my culture. Hearing her sweet accent saying all of these encouraging words to me just made me feel like I was at home. It made me feel seen.”
The genre-fluid music and the videos moving between colorful landscapes and futuristic tech, the connection to ancestry, and the theme of the journey remind of Afro-Futuristic art and tradition. “I didn’t consciously incorporate those things, but I would say by default, yes. Over the years and through my activism and studies, information poured into me, and I feel like I embody certain aspects of Afro-futurism. Like having consciousness over the power of your own agency and changing narratives and developing a future that you see yourself in – that you want to be in. Creating futures with ideas of transformation has a lot to do with realizing your inner power and who you are outside of systemic racism and shame – that is also a part of it.”
“My healing journey is something I practice with these songs and with the style of music. They don’t follow the typical structures; they are my voice and my vision. Each song was like I’m getting more and more in touch with myself and realizing the power I have in guiding my own journey and remembering ways to heal.”
Every Monday, the NBHAP staff brings an exciting new artist to your attention alongside a 30-track-strong Introducing Playlist on Spotify. Feel invited to follow the playlist and give these talents a spin. Sign up for our Newsletter to receive monthly updates about new music.
This week, we curated the playlist together with Sera Kalo. Along with tracks from her new album, this week’s update includes Janet Kay, Laura Misch, Sara Tavares, and more. Tune in below.