Who's your favorite Australian soul band? Can't name any? Thought so. Now, you can say Hiatus Kaiyote. Except they may become your favorite band, period. Because the only thing that trumps the uncanny likelihood of a Philadelphia-worthy electro soul polyrhythmic sound coming from the Australian desert is the fact that it sounds so good.
Indeed, 30 seconds into hearing their underground lullaby "Nakamarra" (see video below) will put you in a zenful state of soul. Its aural incense.
Zoom now to an apartment in Melbourne, just days before Hiatus Kaiyote's first U.S. tour and more uncanniness is revealed. While we met in person in LA last fall, Nai Palm, their lead singer and guitarist, further heightens the contrast of sight vs sound. She is beaming to me via Skype on a bed converted into a tent adorned with eagle feathers. With partially shaved head, a coyote bone anklet and Billie Holiday gardenia inked into her skull. Look out Adele, this is the new global soulstress.
Don't take my word for it. Ask Erykah Badu or Questlove of The Roots crew, who tweet their heads off about them. Aaron Byrd, of KCRW says "their musical sensibilities draw upon familiar standards found in soul music but through their unorthodox time signatures, unique melodies and subtle dynamism in lead singer Nai Palm, Hiatus Kiayote is the terroir in a relatively unknown scene in Australian music." Yeah, that's what the brother said.
If we were to use Hollywood lingo, you might put it like "It's Jill Scott meets Little Dragon at Foreign Exchange's studio when D'Angelo drops by." Make of that sweet gumbo what you will.
Not bad for a band that barely existed two years ago. They formed organically through a series of jam sessions. "Yeah, I was going through a break-up and ran out into the desert," says Nai. "I wrote this song ('Malika') based on the opera Lakme. "I walked home and found my sister had a baby and it was like this whole ugly chapter had closed and something new was about to happen, " she reflects. "And I started working with (Paul) Bender, and then we were off." The result eventually was their debut EP Tawk Tomahawk.
Indeed they were but things were not quite so magical and rosy for her. She was torn from a six member family due to her father's eventual departure from home. But that sadness would be augmented by the delight of a classically-trained Indian dancing Aunt taking her to ballet lessons or humming songs her Mom used to play by people like Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder. Proving again the healing power of art she says, "Even young, I think I started writing because of that pain."
Now all of that pain, the lifting of spirit, the chords and the ribbons of a soulful voice will spill out across the U.S. this spring. The first stop is South By Southwest with a few gigs (3/12-17), then Washington, D.C. (3/18), Chicago (3/19), New York (3/22) and Los Angeles (3/23). "I'm hyped. I want folks to see another definition of soul", says the D.C. producer, tastemaker-about-town and DJ called Munch. "Cats should not sleep on this."
And don't be surprised if people like 2013 Grammy-winner Robert Glasper or Questlove or an errant opera singer show up. Or help comes from people like Carlos Nino who she says hooked her up with a grand piano for the LA date. Or promotions like a grafitti mural near their venue in Chicago, an urban welcome mat of sorts.
Folks are feeling this dusty global soul thang. Feathers and all.
Follow their travels across the states on twitter @HiatusKaiyote