The new album from young African-Canadian roots phenom Kaia Kater couldn’t come at a better time. As a new generation takes the reins, American roots music is needed more than ever to remind us of the troubled pathways of our own history. Born of African-Caribbean descent in Québec, Kaia Kater grew up between two worlds: one her family’s deep ties to Canadian folk music in her Toronto home; the other the years she spent learning and studying Appalachian music in West Virginia. Her acclaimed debut album touched on this divide, but her new album, Nine Pin (set for release May 13, 2016), delves even further, and casts an unflinching eye at the realities faced by people of colour in North America every day. Her songs on the new album are fueled by her rich low tenor vocals, jazz-influenced instrumentation, and beautifully understated banjo, and they’ve got as much in common with Kendrick Lamar right now as they do with Pete Seeger.
“Toni Morrison once said: ‘If there's a book you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.’ I tried to understand those words for a long time. I pored through her novels at 15, and again at 18 as I arrived in the steep hills of West Virginia. I read her novels at 20 on a series of small buses headed through the mountains of Matagalpa, Nicaragua. Music and poetry are the languages I speak. Any time I travel, words come walking back with me. They have souls and histories. They create me and I create them.”
Nine Pin is already garnering critical acclaim, having received praise from outlets such as Rolling Stone, CBC Music and The Roots Music Report. Recorded in just one day in Toronto, the album was produced by both Kater and acclaimed Canadian Chris Bartos (The Barr Brothers, Jonathan Byrd, Sarah Harmer), who also produced her last album, Sorrow Bound (2014). Few artists could pull off such a polished, cohesive album in one day, but Kater felt that this actually lent focus to the project. As a concept album, Nine Pin weaves between hard-hitting songs that touch on modern issues like the Black Lives Matter movement (“Rising Down,” “Paradise Fell”) and more personal narratives speaking to life and love in the digital age (“Saint Elizabeth”). And while these larger stories are deftly crafted, this is really an album of moments. Kater’s a cappella voice speaking to the loneliness of a city in “Harlem’s Little Blackbird” while solo dance steps echo in the background, the muted hesitancy of Caleb Hamilton’s trumpet breaking the trance of “Little Pink,” the smoke of electric guitar that cuts through “Saint Elizabeth,” the wave-like ebb and flow of piano behind the plaintive love poem “Viper’s Nest…” All of these moments point to an artist wise beyond her years.
Here are a few of the workshops available—ask us about other possibilities.
WORKSHOP 1: Beginning Banjo: This will be a hands-on workshop where participants will learn tunes in the clawhammer style as well as several drills to improve technique. Participants should bring their own instrument; observers are welcome.
WORKSHOP 2: Percussive Hambone Traditions of Appalachia: This workshop will explore different body rhythms native to the Southern United States, including examples of African-American Step and Hambone traditions. Participants will also learn to create their own body percussion as well as getting to experiment with layering different rhythms on top of each other in order to create a polyrhythmic beat. This is a participatory workshop. No instruments required!
WORKSHOP 3: Introduction to Appalachian Dance Styles: Ever wondered what clogging is? Is it different than flatfooting? Do you have to wear clogs? Learn more about these Appalachian styles, and some of the basic moves for each - you’ll be dancing in no time! No clogs or previous dance experience needed.
“...plaintive, mesmerizing...writes and performs with the skill of a folk-circuit veteran...”
— Rolling Stone
“Innovative and forward thinking banjo-picking artist Kaia Kater, now a resident of Toronto, was awarded The Oliver Schroer Pushing The Boundaries Award for her album Nine Pin.”
“(Kaia) Kater is one of the most exciting roots musicians to come along in years.”
— Matt Hendrickson, Garden & Gun
“Nine Pin is unlike anything you’ll hear this year.”
— Rachel Cholst, No Depression