Intersections Between Industries: Music Meets Social Justice with Kendall Kendall!

Photos by Geritza Carrasco

As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Special Edition 2022 – I Belong

Kendall Kendall! is a musician and songwriter. Their love of music spans all decades. Influenced by ‘70s and ‘80s R&B, Kendall! takes inspiration from legends such as Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross, and Stevie Wonder. They are a lover of old-school jazz artists such as Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Doris Day, and Frank Sinatra, as well as new-school R&B artists such as D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, India.Arie, The Internet, Solange, and many more. Kendall!’s music and sound are a euphoric mixture of the artists that were the genesis of their music creation. 

Kendall! shares how they use music as a lens to encourage societal dialogue on topics that affect the world around us, particularly marginalized communities.

How have you used music to help you network with people around you?
My music has helped me network in a lot of ways. My first year of college was me and my little acoustic guitar against the world at open mic nights. I remember my first one was in the backyard of the person that just so happened to run an art collective at my university. I sang “Nakamarra” by Hiatus Kaiyote, a song that a sax player in the audience was trying to arrange for his band. The rest is history. We rehearsed, arranged one of my originals that I had initially just been playing on my guitar, and played Bossa Bistro in DC with some fellow musicians, and it was amazing. When COVID hit, I had more time on my hands to figure out how to produce my music. Social media was perfect for networking when we were primarily online, and I’m so grateful that the connections I made online have helped me today as we live in a much more hybrid setting. 

The textures in your vocals and music are a vibe that captures the ear of the listener. Talk about some of your musical influences and why those artists influence you.
I have too many influences to count! I grew up on my mom’s R&B records from the ‘70s and ‘80s. I’m super influenced by the vocal production of Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross, Stevie Wonder, and many more. When Pandora was still a thing, and you could stumble upon whatever radio station was calling you, I felt called to jazz radio stations because it reminded me of Christmas music, which was my favorite time of the year. Around 12 years old, I was listening and singing along to many Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Doris Day, and Frank Sinatra songs. I’m inspired by the blends and vocal stacking of old jazz records. I try to bring that beauty into my production (it’s what I was going for in “Daydreamers,” “Lullaby,” and “Mona Lisa”!). As for new school artists (‘90s and beyond), I’m inspired by the sounds of D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, India.Arie, Steve Lacy, Ravyn Lenae, The Internet, and Solange. The stripped feel of some of my music is inspired by Jessica Pratt, Nai Palm, Moses Sumney, and Mereba.

What is the importance of listening as a musician?
Listening is the most important thing for a musician. Many think it’s the playing or singing, but it’s the listening. It’s in listening to all the musicians in your band that sound and tone are balanced. You find balance in listening to your body and caring for it. It’s about listening to feedback, critique, and praise. It’s about listening to people you resonate with and people you don’t.

When it comes to social issues (specifically those directly affecting queer and BIPOC folk), music can be used as a tool to inspire conversation around social justice. What social challenges do you believe communities face, and how can music facilitate these discussions?
As a Black queer person, I believe my community’s challenges are rooted in the legacies of colonialism and enslavement. We are still systematically denied resources and access to education, clean water, healthy food, police brutality, and more. We are still led to believe that these issues are caused by our insolence, inadequacy, incompetence, and insubordination. I think that may be the most significant challenge we face — the idea that there’s something wrong with our Blackness. We live in a society that does not directly address systemic racism or the white supremacist construction that perpetuates it. We are led to believe there’s something wrong with queerness rather than addressing the homophobia, transphobia, and cis-hetero patriarchal structure we still live in. I believe music is a universal tool that can open the doors to healthy dialogue.

Photos by Geritza Carrasco

What social advancements would you like to see within marginalized communities, and how can artists such as yourself contribute to that change?
I want to see everyone fed. Food apartheid is a problem across the country and is terrible in the DMV. Our food system is not meant to be sustainable, equitable, or accessible means to healthy food for everyone; it is by no accident. To me, accessibility to healthy food means more than putting low-end grocery stores in food deserts. True food access begins at the root, creating access to food production and developing sustainable, community-based farms. There are already so many people in my area doing this work, and as an artist, I want to use my platform to bring people together around social justice issues such as food injustice. My dream would be to tour the city in every community garden, connect with farmers, and build a community around that work.

Tell us about Topaz Jones and how they have inspired you. Would you say they influenced you to become the artist you are today?
Topaz Jones is an incredible hip-hop artist from Montclair, New Jersey. In 2021, he made this beautiful visual album (now one of my favorites of all time) called Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma, which features original music and a peek into his hometown. He also highlights short vignettes from his family members and several Black artists and activists from the community. After several times watching it, I kept thinking that whatever I do with my art, my community has to be central to my mission, the same way Topaz exhibited through his art. A shoutout, Topaz Jones! He has helped me to tap into the bigger purpose of my work. 

Your song, “Day Dreamer’s Lullaby,” has a simple yet elegant vocal arrangement. It has an essence similar to that of “Love is Stronger Than Pride” by Sade. What was your recording process — specifically around vocal stacking.
The process for vocal stacking on “Daydreamer’s Lullaby” started with one idea. I wanted to stack harmonies to be reminiscent of an old-timey jazz song “Again” by Doris Day. I spent a day with trial and error, getting the pitches, vocal textures, and timing exactly how I wanted them.

Photos by Geritza Carrasco

What are some of your favorite pieces of gear to use during live sets? How do you use those tools to translate the same captivating, ambient vibe that your records have?
Honestly, this is one way I want to level up as I progress in my craft! I have been blessed to play at venues with equipment that helps me achieve the ethereality I like to produce with my music. Still, as I get more resources, I want to intentionally invest in pedals and other equipment that can give me more control over my live sound.