Photo: Theresa Ang
Kalani Pe'a & His New Album 'Kau Ka Pe'a' Are A Ray Of Sunshine
GRAMMY.com caught up with the Kalani Pe'a, who called in from his Maui home to discuss his new album, 'Kau Ka Pe'a,' his deep Hawaiian roots, music industry advice as an independent artist and much more
Two-time GRAMMY-winning singer/songwriter and producer Kalani Pe'a radiates warmth and joy in all he does, and his deep connection with his Hawaiian roots makes conversing with him feel like attending an inspirational talk, poetry reading and history lesson all in one. This inviting energy and depth are ever-present in his music and its effortless blend of traditional Hawaiian folk music, classic R&B and soul—not to mention heavy sprinkle of Kalani charm.
As an independent artist (and co-owner of Pe'a Records & Entertainment with his husband and manager, Allan B. Cool.), Pe'a encourages artists to own their masters, promote their work, be authentic to themselves regardless of what others think, and follow their dreams. And he sure is walking his talk. His first two albums, 2016's E Walea and 2018's No 'Ane'i, both earned him a GRAMMY for the Best Regional Roots Music Album, making him the first Hawaiian artist to win in the category.
GRAMMY.com caught up with the vibrant artist, who called in from his Maui home to discuss his new album, Kau Ka Pe'a, his deep Hawaiian roots, advice as an independent artist and much more.
How are you?
The word thrive comes to mind for me, like when I'm writing music at the beach here in Maui, when there's this particular cold breeze we call makani lave malie. This calm, cool breeze that embraces me and gives me a little chicken skin. When you get this feeling inside to write about something you love, while the sand and the rocks embrace your body, and the ocean swells, and the mountain is clear, and the sun rays warm your skin, you write about it like poetry.
I love writing music about people and places I love here in Hawaii. I love your [hair] color, by the way. As you know, purple's my favorite color.
Yes, I noticed when I was scrolling through your Instagram. I remember the sparkly purple blazer you wore at the GRAMMYs, that was good.
I'm a little loud. I'm a big boy who is loud and proud. I will wear my sparkly stuff, but yet stick to my roots, and this is who I am. I would never change my authenticity.
You feel that authenticity when you talk to someone, when you see someone, when you hear someone's music. It inspires others. None of us are one thing, we all contain multitudes, and it's so beautiful to see people living out those multitudes so seamlessly.
I've learned so much as a singer/songwriter, and as an independent artist who co-owns a label and publishing and entertainment companies with my husband. We do it all our own. I'm very proud to be a two-time GRAMMY winner that owns my music. And I think musicians should be at the forefront of encouraging other artists to own [their] own masters and take pride in [their] work. However, learning to collaborate and build bridges along the way is important too.
We had a songwriter summit here in Hawaii with dear friends of mine in the industry. We talked about what we call piko, our umbilical cords. We believe in three different piko. Our first piko is the head. And it's so sacred in Hawaiian. Whether you're a musician, an engineer or a producer, we're always reflecting on our ancestors and forefathers and the gifts and wisdom they've bestowed upon us. The second is the womb. That's where our mothers carry the children, that's where the water in that womb allows us to survive. Water is life, water is medicine, as much as music is medicine. The third piko is down there, our reproductive system, where life is made.
And so, when we are connecting ourselves, as musicians, with all of our piko, we are going through a self-care moment, self-reflection, self-evaluation, and we need that because, often, musicians, we're all over the place. We musicians have so much to offer to this world, that we often don't take time to take care of our piko. We need to take care of our health and wellbeing, so we can continue contributing to our fans. But how do we do that? We take our self-reflection time, go to the beach, write music, rejuvenate, cleanse our souls and bodies and swim in the ocean or the streams.
Let's talk about your new album, Kau Ka Pe'a. What does the title mean?
Kau is to be placed or to hoist. Pe'a is my last name, which means the sailboat or the sail of the boat. The theme of the album is to hoist your sail, create your own sailboat and voyage; navigate the world. And I needed to create this new album with a new theme song to instill the value of where we come from, having a sense of place, self-reflection and identity. We all have to chart our own journey. As we pivot and adapt in this pandemic, we put up our own sail, and we must move forward. Holo Ka Wa'a, which means we got to chart our journey no matter whatever we see in life.
My paternal grandmother, who I love very much, would say, "Nani a maika'i," "It's all good and beautiful." You know when people say, "It's an ugly day today, it's raining." In a Hawaiian perspective, the rain is a sign of procreation, wealth and beauty. We have songs about that. But I remember her talking about, when I was in fifth grade, how there's gold at the end of every rainbow, that there's beauty in thunder and lightning, there's beauty in the rain.
When there are earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and tidal waves, our earth moves and shakes, and we have to move with the earth because we can't control the earth. And when we move with the earth, we shift with the earth, we grow with the earth, we grow with the sky, we grow with the rays of the sun. And as Hawaiians, we see beauty in that. And my grandmother taught me that, "Never say today's an ugly day. Always remember that there's beauty all around."
It's such a good perspective to have because it's the same thing happening, but the way you're looking at it shifts your mood and the way you engage with the world.
Like this pandemic, there's beauty in this pandemic, despite the amount of loss and people that lost their lives from it. This pandemic would not stop us, music creators, from creating music for the people who need to hear it. Music is essential, music is medicine. So, I did my crying over the year when I headlined a concert at the Lincoln Center, my first sold-out concert in February 2020. And when it came to March 1, 2020, and when they had about a thousand COVID-19 cases, I told my band, "Before we get home, sanitize everything, make sure you wear your masks. We don't know what's going on." But the pandemic affected us right there.
March 1, 2020 is when we all realized we all had to make changes. I lost every show, every tour, every concert, but I always had to remain confident. My grandmother and my parents have always taught me, "Through change, you have to be effective, and you have to be effective through change."
And it's been hard for me as a musician because I'm so used to touring, I'm so used to having live shows, not virtual shows. Artists feed off of ego, we feed off of people. I'm like, "Are you clapping? Do you like my song? Do you like me? No, you don't like me?" [Laughs.]
But I know that we have to chart our journey, and I had to create this album featuring legendary and upcoming Hawaiian artists because I believe in collaboration. I believe that if I work with other people in the Hawaiian music industry, we can thrive together because the Hawaiian music industry is really tiny, so we need each other.
So, I wrote about places I love here in Hawaii on the album. I also did a classical song that's been done by Nat King Cole, "When I Fall In Love," but I sing it in Hawaiian, too. I asked one of our legendary vocalists here, six-time GRAMMY-nominated artist Amy Hānaiali'i to sing it with me. She's won 18 Nā Hōkū Hanohano awards, which is Hawaii's premier music awards. And she's one of my mentors and advisors. To me, she is my Whitney Houston of Hawaii.
People asked me, "Why are you interpreting songs like 'When I Fall In Love' and Joe Cocker's 'You Are So Beautiful' in Hawaiian?" And I'm like, "I'm a modern Hawaiian, and I can." I feel confident, as a Hawaiian language practitioner, to translate or interpret whatever classic music I grew up with, whether it's an R&B song, or a love song of the '90s or '80s because that's who I am. I'm innovative, and that's what people love to hear.
My fans love it when I do Karen Carpenter's version of "Superstar." [Starts singing] I do it all in Hawaiian. People make those personal connections, but I do it in a Hawaiian way because I'm Hawaiian, and I can. So, if you feel that you need to rap in Spanish and Hawaiian, do it. Just do it.
What was it like working with Kimié Miner and Pandanus Club on the title track? And how does that song represent the journey of the album as a whole?
So, I started writing "Kau Ka Pe'a" and then I worked with my teacher, Larry Kimura, on the other verses. Larry Kimura is a Hawaiian language instructor and one of my mentors and advisors. He's very famous in Hawaii for writing Hawaiian music. He and I wrote this together, to acknowledge the people who shaped my Hawaiian identity.
In the first verse, I talk about my ancestors—little do people know, I'm Hawaiian, Filipino and English. My great-great-great-grandfather was a British commodore, and he came from England and met up with a beautiful Hawaiian girl, my great-great-grandmother—I talk about the arrival of my ancestors and how my ancestors met, and I give a little bit of genealogy and where I come from.
I wanted to highlight Pandanus Club, who are legends in Hawaii. And I was so touched that they said yes, that they were able to collaborate with me on this song. And the second verse, I talk about the seventh royalty, King David Kalākaua, was our last king of Hawaii, who brought back hula and Hawaiian music, which had been banned by Westerners. I thank him because he was all about innovation as well. He also gets on a boat himself and he did travel the world during his reign. He met with emperors and leaders all over the world, like presidents of the United States.
The third verse was working with my sista, Kimié Miner, my Hawaii island music queen, as well as Kalenaku, both of these women, I love and adore. They are educators, they're mothers. So, I wanted to have Kimié and Kalena sing the third verse about King Kamehameha Akahi. He was our first king, and united eight Hawaiian islands under one rule in 1810. And then the last paragraph talks about our kūpuna, my ancestors and forefathers, and how we always need to acknowledge those who have held that torch and had created our path for us to follow.
That's a big history lesson in there. That's awesome.
Yes ... People don't know so much about Hawaii. They feel like it's "you got to shake your hips, and let's go to Luau, and see some women shake their hips." That's not even Hawaiian, that's Tahitian. "Let's see fire knife dancing." That's not Hawaiian, that's Samoan. So as a Hawaiian language and culture practitioner and as a musician and music producer, I'm all about sharing the true authenticity of Hawaii.
Who is the Hawaiian monarchy? What have they contributed to the Hawaiian political movement? And prior to the annexation of Hawaii, prior to the illegal occupation by the U.S., what had the Hawaiian monarchy and our people done, what kind of legacies of the Hawaiian culture and the Hawaiian? So, education is so important. People think everything is Hawaiian in Hawaii. We have our own hula, we have our own dance, we have our own spiritual beliefs and values and practices as Hawaiians. People don't know that. So, through this song, I'm educating people about the monarchy and the arrival of my grandparents in Hawaii. I come from 25 generations of native Hawaiians. My grandmother and my grandfather are from Kalapana, Puna, Hawaii, but I'm proud to tell people I'm Hawaiian Filipino English. I'm proud to have descendants from Europe and from the Philippines.
I'm proud to be part Asian, and I'm proud to be 75 percent Hawaiian. And I grew up on Hawaiian homelands, which are equivalent to Indian reservations, but we were beneficiaries of agricultural lands. We grew guavas on our farms. We raised pigs on our farms, and cows. I know my roots. The roots and the values are so important to being a Hawaiian musician.
What does it mean to you to represent Hawaii and Hawaiian music, in this fresh, new way as you do it?
Whenever I get this gut feeling, I call it the whispers of my ancestors telling me what to do next. I always tell people, when I get this butterfly feeling to sing or write about this particular place or write about this particular person, it's not me just doing it. It's my ancestors whispering through my ears, guiding me to do it. And I always feel their presence around me. I feel them when I'm at the shoreline, I feel them when I'm up in the mountains or in the streams. They're always with me, especially my one grandmother who has Alzheimer's, my maternal grandmother. Earlier, I talked about my paternal grandmother who always uses the mantra "there's beauty all around."
And my maternal grandmother, Lu Kahunani, she's literally the love of my life, the big supporter of my Hawaiian music career, and my educational endeavors. She has Alzheimer's and she's 91 in November. She beat COVID-19 after four months, and she can't communicate with me anymore, but when I sang to her, her song, her eyes lit up. She nods at me, and I get that briefly from her, but I know spiritually, she knows that I love her, and she loves me. So, music is everything to me. Music is amongst my first loves.
"I do what I have to do through the whispers of my ancestors and forefathers guiding me. I'm very proud to come from the heart of the Pacific Ocean. I'm proud to share aloha through my music."
I love your and Amy Hanaiali'i's bilingual duet of the classic "When I Fall in Love." Why did you choose to cover the song and include it on this album?
I grew up listening to that kind of music. My dad is a bass player. He listened to Earth, Wind & Fire, The Temptations, Pink Floyd. Growing up in Hawaii, I grew up with diverse cultures and ethnic backgrounds. So, my childhood friends were just like me; native Hawaiian, white, Black, Hispanic, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, and we all spoke Hawaiian fluently on campus. I wasn't introduced to racism until I visited the mainland. People thought I was Mexican. I was like, "No, I'm Hawaiian. I'm a Hawaiian Filipino boy." And then they were all, "We love Hawaii." I basically grew up in a melting pot of diverse cultures, so I love doing cover songs, and interpreting them in my own way and in my own fashion.
And I love musicians like Natalie Cole. God bless her heart. She's in heaven, singing. She sang at Irvine's Barclay Theater and I had my own concert there, too so it inspired me to acknowledge these artists in my own way when I did the covers. And when we translate in Hawaiian—I hate using the word translate, we say interpret. We interpret it in the perspective of a Hawaiian thinker. So, if we say we fell in love, we'll use showers. I'm showered by love, by you. This subject is Hawaiian poetry, Hawaiian composition 101.
Your last two albums both won the Best Regional Roots Music Album GRAMMY. I was curious what those wins felt like for you, and what it meant for you and the Hawaiian music community?
Oh gosh. You know in your [high school] yearbook? How you have wise sayings about what you want to do in life? In mine, at 18, I said that I wanted to win a GRAMMY. Yes, I did! We have receipts on that. [Laughs.] I live up to my goals, and I'm so determined and persistent about them. The accolades, I tell people; "Awards do not define my success. Awards do not define who I am."
I thank the Recording Academy and the GRAMMYs, I thank the indies, as well as those who are part of the labels, I have networked and built relationships with thousands of members of the Academy. I thank the Academy for elevating my career as a winner. Whether you're nominated or not, or whether you win, we're all artists in this industry, thriving together as one.
And I felt it, being a singer/songwriter making history for Hawaii, I cried about it, I cried and shed tears for the oppression that my people have faced here, in Hawaii, over 200 years. I cried because I am a representative of our people. I cried when I won because I was astounded that I won, to represent and bring Hawaiian music to this national platform ... But I am the same Kalani Pe’a that came from the guava fields of Pana'ewa, Hilo, Hawaii, with chickens and pigs and cows. And I'm still that guy today that is going to wear a purple sequin jacket at the Lincoln Center and sing you a Hawaiian song and "When I Fall In Love" in English and Hawaiian because that's who I am, baby, yes!
That's awesome and so well said. If we're only striving for awards or external gratification, you'll never have enough. It's a balance of feeling, "Wow, winning this is amazing," and also knowing you're amazing no matter what, right?
Right. I've also got many emails and Facebook messages from musicians and upcoming musicians and students majoring in music or engineering and producing who are inspired now to become members of the Academy. I've inspired hundreds of musicians to sign up as members, and submit their music, whether it's in American roots or regional roots or reggae. That's a part of my legacy, and I'm very grateful to have encouraged Hawaiian artists. I gave them a broader perspective that we can do more. We could do more instead of just staying in the islands. We can grasp these opportunities and work with the Recording Academy and be very grateful they are giving us a platform.
Opening the door, yes!
Opening the door. Why? Because there's beauty all around. There's gold at every rainbow, girl. When you're chasing a rainbow, I think that is equivalent to chasing dreams. I think, the same as my grandmother, "Go and find the gold, but remember, continue chasing those rainbows and never be satisfied with what you have. Always find ways or seek ways to improve yourself as a person." Find a way to chase after that dream and accomplish your goals and do your best to strive for them.
I've always set short-term goals as a precedent and long-term goals, because, as a musician, mentally, physically, spiritually, we get drained. So, I'm going to be very transparent with you. People think our life is perfect as musicians, but it's not. We're human like everyone else, we have to find ways to take care of, again, ourselves and others in order to continue to thrive. That's what I feel. I hope that doesn't sound reactive or negative, but I feel like every musician has their own personal story and struggle, and we just got to continue finding beauty in everything. It's a tough industry.
You mentioned that you and your husband Allan have your own music business and publishing company. I was curious about your perspective as an independent artist, and any advice you have for either a young artist that wants to put out their music, or an artist at any point in their career that's thinking about making the move to be independent.
So many people complain and just don't do the work. And I really encourage people to not complain and just do it. And Allan and I believe in social media content, we believe in relevance and timing in life, and we believe that if you continue posting, it doesn't hurt you from getting the word out. If you can't afford a PR agency to post your work or promote you, do it on your own and continue doing it, and continue networking with people. It doesn't hurt to post five, 10 times a day, because we do it, sister. I mean, some people are like, "Oh my gosh, overflood." I'm like, "No, if you're promoting a new album, do it. If you want to promote a new music video, do it." Because why? No one else is going to do it for you, baby. Who's going to do it if you can't afford 20 grand to pay a PR agency to post once a day?
Allan and I do everything. If you are an independent artist, own your music, own your masters, work hard towards it by going to school. I've taken college courses on business and management and I got my bachelor's degree in public relations. Allan has a 20-year background in business. So, from business and marketing, we're able to create press kits and press releases.
Reach out to artists like me. I'm okay sitting down with people and talking these things over and guiding people. Don't be intimidated to reach out because I'm here when you need me.
What do you feel like a more equitable future for artists looks like?
From the first and second GRAMMY-winning albums, I realized that I have to reflect. As an artist, you have to reflect on your value and your time. And it's okay to say no at times, to really focus on your value. I hope that doesn't sound negative, but I recently said no. Because I'm a full-time touring musician and I have to really reflect on my value, my time and "how am I going to pay out my band, my staff, my venue?" And that's all with anxiety, but where do we seek the balance? Where do we find ways to really reflect on the importance of our craft, and how do we continue being creative in the process and in the making of things?
You have to understand your value and surround yourself with valuable like-minded people. And you don't have to have 100 people to love you or like you, but you can have at least 10 that can uplift your light, and you can uplift their light. You need someone to hold that torch with you because that light must continue to burn. You must continue to have that burning feeling as an artist. As much as I'm collaborating with you, we're building this burning feeling, the desire to create music, to do what we love. The question is, why do we remain passionate in our craft? Because it's who we are, it's what we do, it's what we love.
So, people are always going to find ways to bring you down, and I've had a lot of that, but don't allow them to not motivate you, to go down the drain. Allow that to give you the strength and the wisdom to surround yourself with just a few people who are like-minded to you at your round table. Collaborate with those people, build relationships with people in marketing, at news outlets. And I have built that little roster, and it's okay to have that little roster because those people are part of your circle. And so, I recommend other artists do the same, and whatever works for them.
What gives you the most hope right now?
[Creating] more music for the world to heal; that's my hope. To makes sure that the medicine is music and music is medicine for us all. I hope we can heal, as the years go by, from this pandemic. That is my hope.
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.
Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.
A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.
This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system.
"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."
He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.
"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.
To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.
Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.
Photo: Steven Sebring
Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage
"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."
Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP, Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.
Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.
Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face."
But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life.
His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves.
Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)
Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") — their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.
While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens.
Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.
Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up.
Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically.
"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?
We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds.
We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick.
I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?
Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol.
You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way.
Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?
I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier.
I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff.
So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.
[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.
I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.
Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?
I did, yes.
You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?
I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.
It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.
But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is] informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.
Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.
We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.
It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].
We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.
You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.
It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.
When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.
You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?
Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."
We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.
You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.
With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.
Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.
You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?
I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.
But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.
I remember when you went on "Viva La Bam" back in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?
I think it was his car.
Did he get over it later on?
He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.
Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?
In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.
We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.
The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.
There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.
It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.
It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.
Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?
Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.
The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.
The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?
Yeah. Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].
Graphic: The Recording Academy
Hear All Of The Best Country Solo Performance Nominees For The 2023 GRAMMY Awards
The 2023 GRAMMY Award nominees for Best Country Solo Performance highlight country music's newcomers and veterans, featuring hits from Kelsea Ballerini, Zach Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris and Willie Nelson.
Country music's evolution is well represented in the 2023 GRAMMY nominees for Best Country Solo Performance. From crossover pop hooks to red-dirt outlaw roots, the genre's most celebrated elements are on full display — thanks to rising stars, leading ladies and country icons.
Longtime hitmaker Miranda Lambert delivered a soulful performance on the rootsy ballad "In His Arms," an arrangement as sparing as the windswept west Texas highlands where she co-wrote the song. Viral newcomer Zach Bryan dug into similar organic territory on the Oklahoma side of the Red River for "Something in the Orange," his voice accompanied with little more than an acoustic guitar.
Two of country's 2010s breakout stars are clearly still shining, too, as Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini both received Best Country Solo Performance GRAMMY nods. Morris channeled the determination that drove her leap-of-faith move from Texas to Nashville for the playful clap-along "Circles Around This Town," while Ballerini brought poppy hooks with a country edge on the infectiously upbeat "HEARTFIRST."
Rounding out the category is the one and only Willie Nelson, who paid tribute to his late friend Billy Joe Shaver with a cover of "Live Forever" — a fitting sentiment for the 89-year-old legend, who is approaching his eighth decade in the business.
As the excitement builds for the 2023 GRAMMYs on Feb. 5, 2023, let's take a closer look at this year's nominees for Best Country Solo Performance.
Kelsea Ballerini — "HEARTFIRST"
In the tradition of Shania Twain, Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood, Kelsea Ballerini represents Nashville's sunnier side — and her single "HEARTFIRST" is a slice of bright, uptempo, confectionary country-pop for the ages.
Ballerini sings about leaning into a carefree crush with her heart on her sleeve, pushing aside her reservations and taking a risk on love at first sight. The scene plays out in a bar room and a back seat, as she sweeps nimbly through the verses and into a shimmering chorus, when the narrator decides she's ready to "wake up in your T-shirt."
There are enough steel guitar licks to let you know you're listening to a country song, but the story and melody are universal. "HEARTFIRST" is Ballerini's third GRAMMY nod, but first in the Best Country Solo Performance category.
Zach Bryan — "Something In The Orange"
Zach Bryan blew into Music City seemingly from nowhere in 2017, when his original song "Heading South" — recorded on an iPhone — went viral. Then an active officer in the U.S. Navy, the Oklahoma native chased his muse through music during his downtime, striking a chord with country music fans on stark songs led by his acoustic guitar and affecting vocals.
After his honorable discharge in 2021, Bryan began his music career in earnest, and in 2022 released "Something in the Orange," a haunting ballad that stakes a convincing claim to the territory between Tyler Childers and Jason Isbell in both sonics and songwriting. Slashing slide guitar drives home the song's heartbreak, as Bryan pines for a lover whose tail lights have long since vanished over the horizon.
"Something In The Orange" marks Bryan's first-ever GRAMMY nomination.
Miranda Lambert — "In His Arms"
Miranda Lambert is the rare, chart-topping contemporary country artist who does more than pay lip service to the genre's rural American roots. "In His Arms" originally surfaced on 2021's The Marfa Tapes, a casual recording Lambert made with Jack Ingram and Jon Randall in Marfa, Texas — a tiny arts enclave in the middle of the west Texas high desert.
In this proper studio version — recorded for her 2022 album, Palomino — Lambert retains the structure and organic feel of the mostly acoustic song; light percussion and soothing atmospherics keep her emotive vocals front and center. A native Texan herself, Lambert sounds fully at home on "In His Arms."
Lambert is the only Best Country Solo Performance nominee who is nominated in all four Country Field categories in 2023. To date, Miranda Lambert has won 3 GRAMMYs and received 27 nominations overall.
Maren Morris — "Circles Around This Town"
When Maren Morris found herself uninspired and dealing with writer's block, she went back to what inspired her to move to Nashville nearly a decade ago — and out came "Circles Around This Town," the lead single from her 2022 album Humble Quest.
Written in one of her first in-person songwriting sessions since the pandemic, Morris has called "Circles Around This Town" her "most autobiographical song" to date; she even recreated her own teenage bedroom for the song's video. As she looks back to her Texas beginnings and the life she left for Nashville, Morris' voice soars over anthemic, yet easygoing production.
Morris last won a GRAMMY for Best Country Solo Performance in 2017, when her song "My Church" earned the singer her first GRAMMY. To date, Maren Morris has won one GRAMMY and received 17 nominations overall.
Willie Nelson — "Live Forever"
Country music icon Willie Nelson is no stranger to the GRAMMYs, and this year he aims to add to his collection of 10 gramophones. He earned another three nominations for 2023 — bringing his career total to 56 — including a Best Country Solo Performance nod for "Live Forever."
Nelson's performance of "Live Forever," the lead track of the 2022 tribute album Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver, is a faithful rendition of Shaver's signature song. Still, Nelson puts his own twist on the tune, recruiting Lucinda Williams for backing vocals and echoing the melody with the inimitable tone of his nylon-string Martin guitar.
Shaver, an outlaw country pioneer who passed in 2020 at 81 years old, never had any hits of his own during his lifetime. But plenty of his songs were still heard, thanks to stars like Elvis Presley, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings. Nelson was a longtime friend and frequent collaborator of Shaver's — and now has a GRAMMY nom to show for it.