The Wild Wild West

I promised myself this would not be a super long blog post but honestly, I might just have to 'go in' this month because I skipped June and this is like my monthly diary lol. Needless to say I've had a certain topic on my mind for a while, but I think as fate would have it, now is the better time for me to share my thoughts. The topic which I've had in mind is Comparison. I'm sure you've heard it said that we live in a society that is fueled by comparison more today than ever in history. With social media, we have a view of each other's lives that may be true or false. Nonetheless, Facebook and Instagram have introduced a new scale to measure our own lives by. We use pictures to prove our social status and see likes and views as a major reflection of our popularity and worth. It's a catch 22 because for some of us, social media really makes a difference to our hustle. For example as a singer, it's important for me to be seen as a singer, doing singer things in singer places and I'm very proud of some of my posts. I've also gotten work through Social Media, based on said posts. But I've definitely fallen into the trap of comparison as well...and it's dangerous because one loses sight of what's real! So how do we escape the trap. Part of me feels like it's human nature to want what my neighbor has, especially if they share the same goals as I do. But the saying goes "the grass is always greener on the other side" not because that grass actually is greener, but because it appears greener from far away. Many times when we get a closer look we realize the grass back on our side was actually not half bad or maybe even just as green. 

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When I travelled two weeks out of June to the West Coast, namely Los Angeles and Las Vegas, I got a glimpse of where the grass is supposedly greener, at least for artists and entertainers. The first trip was for business as I was contracted for a gig in Laguna Beach and the second trip, Las Vegas, was for pleasure, as it was my sister's birthday. Both my travels had their share of lessons, the biggest of which was "Be thankful for where you are now." After performing in Laguna Beach, I stayed the weekend in Los Angeles with my good friend, who is also a singer. That weekend I hoped to get a feel for the city and maybe even make a few connections. The opportunities were not scarce especially with the BET Awards taking place that Sunday. Although I was flying out Sunday night, there would be several events leading up to the nationally televised awards show; events where my friend and I could see and maybe even meet celebrities and industry professionals. I became acquainted with other artists in my friend's circle and learned first hand about what it would be like if I moved out to California to pursue my dreams. I could feel the "five degrees of separation" as I listened to their stories of not just celebrity sightings, but meets and greets and collaboration opportunities with some of my generation's revered artists. I myself walked past Rick Ross twice in the same day and sat just yards away from one of my favorite singers, Luke James as he was interviewed by long time BET host, Tigga (who still looked exactly like he did when I used to watch 106th and Park as a teenager). There was no doubt that LA had its own magic, so why wasn't I lured by it, not even a little bit.

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Maybe it was Luke James' interview that struck a certain chord with me. In Luke's candid response to Tigga's questions about his life as an artist, he talked about moving to LA when he was fresh out of high school, with dreams of being an "overnight success like Usher". He spoke openly about how it didn't quite work out that way and that a few years ago, he even quit music out of frustration with the industry. Hearing this came as a moment of enlightenment for me. This was the voice of a star in my eyes, a triple threat who by that time, had already worked with legends: from dancing and opening for artists like Beyonce to writing originals songs with producers like Salaam Remi. But somehow, I understood exactly what he was dealing with. Even though to me, he had made it, he decided to quit because in his mind, he didn't have the breakthrough he wanted yet. Even with a resume like his, he was still figuring out where he stood in the music industry. I wish I could talk to him after, first to ask him if he had straight up lost his mind and then to ask him if he knew how much of an inspiration he was to artists like me. But there was no Q&A or Meet & Greet session at the end so I just kept that memory in my pocket until now. Today, Luke James is back to making music and nominated for two Grammy awards. But it doesn't take being on his level to understand that emotion, that frustration that made him question everything once...I know that feeling. In that sense, his grass suddenly didn't seem so much greener than mine. Not because my situation was identical, but because the feeling was.. Knowing I could be where he was, have what he had and experience the same frustration, gave me a new perspective on my life as an artist. As cliche as it sounds, I knew I had to stop waiting to enjoy a destination and start enjoying the journey. 

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The man-made paradise that is Las Vegas was next on my journey as I followed up the trip to LA with four nights in the city of lights. I can't lie, I had a lot of fun out there and seeing the Grand Canyon with my family was unforgettable. But once again, the glitz, the glam, bright lights and show biz on every corner didn't call to me in the way I thought it would. Don't get me wrong, I would love to have a residency in Las Vegas someday like Celine Dion or Elton John. In fact, as we walked out of one of the smaller shows at a Broadway Style theater, my mother asked me if I would move to Vegas. As amazing as the production and cast were, I just didn't get the feeling it was what I should be doing at this moment in my life.  I didn't get the notion that being there now would bring me closer to my dream of writing songs the world could sing along to. Instead, I felt the opposite. I could appreciate everything about Las Vegas and Los Angeles in a way that affirmed the decisions I had been making and the strides I had been taking back home. Those cities were magical in their own right but I had already started laying the groundwork under my feet in Florida. Now that I was standing on the other side, I could look back and see just how green my grass was. I felt a new wave of gratitude for my local residencies, my band, the new venues we'd been playing at, the new music we wanted to make together, musicians I met this year, connections I'd been making with other artists and the capital I'd been able to save to start investing in my original sound. Without being complacent, I felt in my gut that I was doing what I was supposed to do, where I was supposed to do it. There was still a ways to go but I had been creating my own lane and I was okay with staying in it until I felt called to do something else, somewhere else. 

I've always been a firm believer in the idea of a calling and that what's for you is for you. As I get more in touch with who I  am, it gets easier to determine what's in alignment with my purpose. It gets easier to block out the noise of comparison and focus and expand on what I already have. The Wild Wild West has been my reassurance of the fact that I'm where I need to be, not because it's East Coast vs West Coast or  Florida vs LA or Vegas, but just because it's where I am in sync with who I am today.

 

 

SUCCESS: speaking it is being it!

In her song Better, Regina Spektor sings “if you never say your name out loud to anyone they can never ever call you by it.” This lyric has always held a life lesson for me but recently it’s taken on new meaning. I used to be afraid to speak about my success. I would worry about coming off as over-confident, arrogant or a show-off and being misunderstood or disliked …but now I know I was mostly afraid of jinxing myself, blowing hot air and not measuring up to a certain idea of “success”. I felt like an imposter, introducing myself as a professional in my field while I knew I was still failing at some of my key goals. I could call myself a rising singer-songwriter with incredible live vocals and an electric stage presence, but how did it measure up with not getting callbacks at auditions, or failed attempts to breakthrough further in the music industry. Even though these setbacks didn’t negate my talent or success, in my mind they overshadowed everything. I would want to share an accomplishment and think, “Who am I kidding? This isn’t a big deal. I’m still not even close to where I should be.” I would talk myself out of it just like that and ultimately get in my own way. The more I focused on my negative thoughts, the less I shared about my positive achievements and the less people knew I even existed as a singer-songwriter. It was good old self-sabotage at it’s best and I knew I had to get past it.

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How could I expect to breakthrough in the industry if I didn’t believe in my progress enough to talk about it out loud: to show how far I’d come and highlight the goals I’d accomplished along the way? Who would take me seriously if I for one didn’t? I felt like I was blowing hot air, because I was a false believer in myself. I had exposed an imposter indeed, but it wasn’t the successful Keba. It was the “unsuccessful Keba”, my harsh self-critic posing as the real me, pretending to keep me “humble” and “down-to-earth” when ultimately she was keeping me back, by casting a “not-good-enough” shadow over everything I achieved. She was my inner voice for a long time. You know the inner voice I’m talking about…the one that overthinks every decision and shows up in self-deprecating captions under beautiful pictures…the one that has narcissism disclaimers for everyone’s compliments, because she’s humble and doesn’t take herself too seriously. Don’t get me wrong, this inner voice played a role in reminding me to work harder and not get too comfortable, but she also had a way of overstepping her boundaries and walking all over me. “You think you’re good? You’re obviously not good enough or you would be further along and have much more recognition by now. Don’t be narcissistic.” she told me. Listening to her, I would go in circles over something as simple as sharing my songs. Even after I worked so hard on them, I just wouldn’t put myself out there. In the words of Kendrick Lamar, B**tch killed my vibe!

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So how was I going to get the voice of “unsuccessful Keba” under control? Home-girl was a savage and if I was going to get anywhere, she could not hang. So I went to one of the masters. I listened to the “IDGAF” voice of Prince! In an interview from the 90’s, Prince said, “I don’t look at myself through other people’s eyes”. He was responding to a question about critical reviews surrounding him and his music and he had the audacity to say “I don’t look at myself through other people’s eyes.” Didn’t Prince feed off recognition like the rest of us mere mortals? His response blew my mind. It was a revolutionary and empowering idea for me as an artist because in many ways, we measure our success through other people. We often judge our art by how much we think other people are going to like it, and since our art is an extension of who we are, we judge ourselves this way too. But what if we could express ourselves outside of this context? Without judging ourselves in anticipation of how others might judge us? How much creativity could we unleash then? How much more fulfilled could we feel and how much self- sabotage could we eliminate? We would put ourselves down a lot less, and put ourselves out there a lot more. We would get out of our own way.

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I’m determined to stop worrying so much about whether I “measure up”, if it’s one less thought in my way. It doesn't matter if my success is in the form of public recognition or personal victories. Success is success and acknowledging myself for the small wins can lead to bigger ones. Personal victories remind me of which Keba I always have the capacity to be, especially in the face of failure. They make room for successful Keba by cheering me on and drowning out the self-sabotaging voice of  “unsuccessful Keba”. I’ve heard it said before that success doesn’t happen overnight. But now I understand that statement on a deeper level. Success is about progress, not perfection. It's a culmination of all our wins, big and small, personal and professional and it occurs simultaneously with failure. I can’t take any of that for granted and more importantly, I can’t take my grind or myself for granted. After all, Regina told me, if I never say my name out loud to anyone they can never ever call me by it. My name is Keba and I’m a rising singer-songwriter with incredible live vocals and an electric stage presence. I have an EP out now called Filmstrip and I just released a new single, Love You Long Time. If you don't know, now you know and you can listen to my music below ;)


THE STORY OF GOOD LOVE

What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice
And everything nice
That’s what little girls are made of.
— 19th Century Nursery Rhyme

I could tell you all the things that The Good Love Project represents for women like me. I could 'sugarcoat' my view on how we come in more FLAVORS than "sugar, spice, and everything nice". However, the only way to SHOW you what Good Love really means is to share MY story. As a young girl growing up in the Caribbean, I was told: Children should be seen and not HEARD. You may see how that could be a problem for a girl whose dream was to be a singer...

I was moved by music at an early age in ways I didn't understand. From the very first encounter, I became aware of the FREEDOM, power and magic which music held. I could feel it as tangibly as I could see the light of the sun or taste the salt in the ocean. Music was a primal, visceral, emotional language my soul knew how to speak without knowing why. It intrigued and terrified me because it gave me a VOICE I was taught never to use; one that was uncensored, opinionated and revealing. How dare I be so loud, attention-seeking and imposing? How dare I be so uninhibited, uninterrupted and free? And who was I to be seduced by such wild and passionate ideas before the age of 5?

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I had always been precocious. The youngest of 4, I took an early interest in the way everything worked. But with that came a sensitivity to how EVERYONE worked and how they responded to my intelligence and maturity. So I learned to quiet that little girl who was often too loud, too smart, too talkative, too inquisitive, too emotional and too honest for her own GOOD. I stopped answering questions in class because I would be teased by other students for knowing the answers. I stopped ASKING questions because one teacher told my parents I challenged their authority too much. In college, friends would ask, "What are you thinking?" and I'd smile and say "nothing" even though my head was full of ideas. As a young adult, I stopped having real conversations with people because I had INTERNALIZED the idea of "being seen and not heard".  

I spent years living my life on this principle before I realized what I was doing. I will never forget an exercise I did in a forum I took three years ago. We had to look into the eyes of a total stranger for two minutes without saying a single word. During those two minutes I thought only about how BEST I could hold space for this person in front of me: to give them all that they needed to get from our non-verbal exchange. So what this woman gave to me at end of the exercise came unexpectedly... "You matter" she said. I smiled bashfully and nodded OK. But she looked me in they eye and said it again. "You matter." I don't know what struck me more: the fact that she was able to see a void aching to be filled, or the fact that I wasn't. Those words planted a seed in me which I'm still watering today.

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You see, the biggest problem about teaching children to be seen and not heard, is that you diminish their self-worth. You teach them to silence themselves in service of others, to hold space for every thought, opinion and point of view but their own. It's hard to write this even now because I have to recall all the times that I buried my SELF-EXPRESSION over the years. I held my tongue, dismissed my own thoughts, undermined my own feelings and muted my own voice. I had turned my VOLUME all the way down. Luckily, MUSIC was still there in the background, gently reminding me of who I was underneath who I had conditioned myself to be. I wrote songs about the real Keba, that no-one had ever really heard. I preserved her personality in lyrics, rhythms and melodies and began to sing her untold stories out LOUD...GOOD LOVE is my story: a freedom song which celebrates the journey of a sassy but sweet afro-Caribbean girl who found the courage to use her voice again. 

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I wrote GOOD LOVE to remind myself and every woman that we are meant to be seen AND heard because who we are and what we have to say MATTERS. In my childhood, I may not have had much say but today I have every intention of defining my womanhood for the generations to come. I put that S*** on everything.

 

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