NYVC Artist Spotlight: Kamilah hero

NYVC Artist Spotlight: Kamilah

Posted Monday, February 21st 2022 by Kacey Velazquez
Songwriter, Singer, and Artist, Kamilah shares insights into her writing process, inspirations, and artistic journey with NYVC's Kacey Velazquez...

Hi Kamilah! Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from and where are you currently based? 

Hi! I'm a multi-disciplinary artist (vocalist, songwriter, guitarist, producer, visual/wearable artist) originally born and raised in the Bahamas and currently based in Brooklyn, NY. 

You are a wonderful songwriter! What inspires your music? What is your creative process like? 

Thank you! :) I find I'm most often pulling from life experiences- reflections on my own experiences and those of others. Over the years my process has changed. When I was working a full time job and pursuing music at the same time, my process was writing what I could on my commute and in shorter bursts of time once I got home.

I remember melody ideas coming to me while I sat at my desk, and I'd run to a conference room or to the bathroom down the hall to record the idea into my phone to come back to later. Sometimes I'd forget the recorded idea and circle back to it months or years later, sometimes never at all, but just the practice of never allowing the idea to escape me allowed me to feel like I was in a state of writing all the time even when it didn't feel like I was dedicating enough time to it. I think that practice changed my approach.

Now there are times when the words and music seem to come in one fell swoop, but generally I write no more than a few lines at a time. Just like with the words I wrote on my commute, I notice they often reflect continuity of thought. I'll mull over a story, idea, or reflection on humanity and how it relates to the people I know, and suddenly a line I wrote a month ago works with one I wrote last week and the one I'm thinking of now.  Then a song emerges - or at least the beginnings of one.

You’re a seasoned backing vocalist, having sung on awards shows, soundtracks, and Sirius XM Radio. Most recently, your voice contributed to the film “Swan Song” as the singing voice of Naomi Harris. That’s incredible! Tell us about that experience. 

Every Monday I perform as lead singer of Producer Mondays, a night of live improvised music at Nublu in the LES. Producer Monday is the brainchild of Ray Angry, who is an esteemed pianist and composer often seen playing with The Roots and other legendary artists. Ray reached out to me  to sing on a demo of the Prince classic, 'Sometimes it Snows In April' for Swan Song. Benjamin Cleary, writer and director of the film, felt drawn to my voice as the singing voice of Poppy (Naomie Harris' character) and Ray and I were called in by the music director, Meghan Currier, to re-record in the studio.

The process of making music for film is always interesting because scenes are built out of chronological order. The audio of my voice capturing the vulnerable rendering of the song was needed before the scene in which Naomie sings it was shot. I barely knew the story of the film when we did that recording, so I had to work closely with Meghan and ask a lot of questions about the character singing: where she was emotionally, what her musical journey had been, why she was singing this particular song, and what  this moment meant for the film? All these questions gave me insight into how I would manipulate my voice to embody that  character's experience.

Music for film is fascinating because it makes you consider the storytelling and acting qualities of delivery and takes you out of the ego of your own voice and story. Someone who is a seasoned professional singer may not sing with the same voice as someone who is good but isn't a working professional at it. The intentionality of the delivery changes. That's always fun to consider and work through. 

What singers have influenced you the most on your vocal journey? 

There are so many. My Mom's eclectic taste in music introduced me to Nina Simone, Roberta Flack, Sarah Vaughn, Aretha Franklin, Joan Baez, Cleo Laine, Pheobe Snow, Joni Mitchell. As a teenager I listened to a lot of India Arie, Sade, Jill Scott, Amy Winehouse, Lauryn Hill, and others. 

We're thrilled that you're a part of the NYVC community! What led you to taking voice lessons with Justin Stoney? 

Back in 2014 I competed at Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. I kind of did it on a whim. I'd seen an ad for it in the subway at 14th and 1st and decided to give it a try, but after the initial audition I realized that I wanted a bit of support preparing for a stage that large. It was my first time ever playing for 1200 people. I reached out to Justin through another student at the time and the rest is history! He's really been a dream to work with and the progress undeniable.

What advice would you give to singers who want to pursue a career in the music industry? 

Figure out what you want to be and do, and pursue that. Compromise only when you feel growth is necessary. If growth is always the pursuit, it won't feel like a compromise.

This mission requires a lot of patience with yourself and your craft. The industry often seems to misunderstand its own intentions and can be frustrating. If you commit and invest in your creative growth as a matter of principle, you'll feel ready for any of the whacky rooms your career places you, and you'll ground your gift in something more consistent than the industry and its demands. 

What can we expect from you in 2022? 

More music! More art! I have quite a bit of new original music in the works so I'm really excited to share that new energy and perspective, live and recorded. I've also really loved all the film work I've been able to do and hope to do more this year. I've also been making jewelry and painting so I've been looking forward to furthering those practices and making the work available to the public soon! You can expect lots and lots...

Connect with Kamilah on Facebook and Instagram, visit www.IAmKamilah.com for more updates, and email her at info@iamkamilah.com.

Kacey Velazquez

Kacey Velazquez is a seasoned vocal coach, songwriter, and recording artist from New York City. Kacey has been involved in the arts her whole life, getting her start in musical theatre. When she was just thirteen years old, she began songwriting, recording, and performing her original music at acclaimed venues in New York City including The Bitter End, 54 Below, The Cutting Room, The Astor Room, and the St. George Theatre.

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