Kelela Connects With Her Lush, Layered Soundscapes and Raw Emotion In Los Angeles REVIEW+PHOTOS: Kelela & Bobby Beethoven at The Fonda 4/1/23
LOS ANGELES, CA- Kelela Mizanekristos, known professionally as Kelela, is a second-generation Ethiopian-American singer, songwriter, and producer whose music is a fusion of R&B, electronic, and experimental pop. Her music often features intricate production and hauntingly beautiful vocals. My first exposure to Kelela’s music was her 2015 extended play, “Hallucinogen,” which showcased her seductively distinctive style. She was able to blend all of the genres mentioned earlier into a cohesive and atmospheric soundscape. Add to that a layer of honest and vulnerable lyrics tackling love, loss, and self-discovery, and it was an album that was both artistically lush and personally intimate – a musical drug for me, intoxicating.
Over the years, Kelela’s unique sound and innovative approach to music have helped her gain a dedicated following and critical acclaim in the music industry. Many critics suggest that her music continues to push boundaries and challenge the conventions of traditional R&B and pop music, making her one of the most exciting artists in the contemporary music landscape. I couldn’t agree more.
When I stepped into the Fonda Theater 30 minutes before the show started, the first thing I noticed was the long line for her merchandise. Copies of her latest release, “RAVEN,” were available on vinyl records that I wanted to purchase, and I figured that I could just pick up a copy on my way out after the show ended. Long story short, that line never shortened, and by the time I had packed away all my gear, there were only two vinyl records left, and the line was still at least 40 people deep. C’est la vie.
Kicking off the music for the night was a DJ set by Bobby Beethoven. I don’t very much about this artist other than he seems to involved in the physical arts and LGBT community, has spun records at festivals like Primavera Sound and Sona. He was able to entrance audience members with steady mix of house, dance, and hip-hop music. He definitely got the room in a proper state of mind for the music that was to come up on stage after his final beat drop.
Follow Bobby Beethoven on Instagram and Twitter.
As the lights dimmed and the stage illuminated, the sound of anticipation echoed through the venue. The audience stood in awe as Kelela stepped onto the stage, her presence alone captivating the entire room, literally. She performed to backing tracks, making her the only figure on the seemingly vast stage.
As I stood in the crowd, I was completely transfixed by her presence. It was just her and her microphone, but she was holding the entire audience in the palm of her hand. It’s not often that you see a performer with that kind of magnetism, the ability to captivate a crowd with nothing but their raw talent, sensuality, and charisma, with her voice soaring and dipping with each note. Fans were completely lost in awe in the moment.
I’ve seen my fair share of performances, but this one was something special. There was no backup band, no flashy stage production. It was just a singer and her voice, and it was absolutely breathtaking, proving once again that the power of a great performer is not in the spectacle but in the talent and the connection that they’re able to create with their audience. As her lush, layered beats provided the perfect foundation for her ethereal vocals to soar above, Kelela had the crowd eating out of her hand. That is the power of a magnetic performer.
Kelela featured fan-favorite songs from across her whole repertoire, like “All the Way Down” from 2015’s “Hallucinogen” and “Waitin'” from 2017’s “Take Me Apart.” But a nice swatch of her setlist featured her newest music from “RAVEN” like “Let It Go,” “Bruises,” and “Enough For Love.”
As she moved through each song, it was clear that every moment was crafted with intention. The way she flowed seamlessly from one track to the next, building momentum with every beat drop, was nothing short of mesmerizing. The passion and raw emotion she poured into each performance left the audience breathless, hanging onto every word she sang.
Kelela joked later in her set that she may create a “missed connections” section on her website because she had a gut feeling that a lot of people in the room would connect with each other on a spiritual level. With the way everybody in the room was singing songs, lyric for lyric, throughout the whole evening, that communal, musical spirituality was present. I think that speaks volumes about how Kelela’s music connects deeply with her fans. They feel her love, her heartbreak, her self-discovery, and her vulnerability. And the fact that Kelela allows herself to be vulnerable through the sharing of her own experiences through her music makes her music feel like a genuine expression of her inner self, which, in turn, creates a sense of trust and connection with her audience. That authenticity and intimacy are what make Kelela truly special. And even if you didn’t find your “missed connection” that evening, you definitely connect with Kelela.