THE CHOKLATE MIXTAPE
By Kalamu ya Salaam of Kalamu.com
Sunday, December 20, 2009.
Pop music is funny. Almost by definition the songs are about avoiding reality, about having fun and forgetting about the day to day. Almost. Except at its best, pop music is a snapshot of the times—the moments we all have. Sad or mad, lonely or happy together, upset or on cloud nine. The moments of life we all have.
When pop music is really good, the vibes the music gives us perfectly encapsulate the zeitgeist, the way we be, what we feel, how we see the world in our own space and time. Perfectly. And that’s when the music becomes popular for real. Sometimes even timelessly popular. Timeless because no matter the calendar year, some situations remain current, some emotions change only in detail; their essences remain remarkably consistent from individual to individual, century to century. This commonality is what the best popular artists tap into.
From time to time, an artist can luck up on hitting the vein but to consistently be on-the-one an artist has to work at crafting her music. I believe Choklate is reaching for and approaching that degree of relevance.
On the one hand, she is writing about what most of us feel: the frustrations of the daily grind, the elation when we connect with a soul mate—even if it’s only a brief hook-up, the dreams of succeeding at making our life meaningful, the profound hurt of betrayal in love, the profound healing that love can provide. All of that and more of that. Except Chokolate seems to be moving beyond clichés, beyond simply stating “I’m huring,” “I’m in love,” “I’m good/not doing good.”
Choklate’s songs aim to bring fresh lyrics to ordinary conundrums and experiences. She is a West Coast singer/songwriter who was born Kolesta Moore in Seattle and grew up in San Diego. She has a degree in graphics design from Highline Community College where she was both the student government president and president of the Black Student Union. She also has a certificate in nursing and experience in office management.
Unlike many, she didn’t grow up singing. She was in her twenties before she went into the recording booth. She was living with her brother when she first returned to Seattle. He had a recording studio in his basement and numerous Seattle artists frequented his studio. Choklate would hang around after work and one thing led to another. She was hanging around when there was a need for a vocalist. She was asked to give it a go and she hasn’t stopped since.
Her self-titled 2006 debut release made ripples in the underground scene. Critics called it “fresh,” “new,” “real soul music.” But of course the real test was going to be the sophomore release. Was Choklate simply sharing her coming of age story or did she possess the vision of an artist? A mixtape featuring Choklate along with a number of Northwest artists surfaced but fans were still looking for a full-length album.
Then in 2009, Choklate dropped To Whom It May Concern and the jury came back with a guilty verdict. She did it! And she did it her way: she wrote the songs, selected the beats and did all the basic arrangements. Virtually self-producing all aspects of the recording session was a gutsy chance to take with a sophomore release, the album that is generally considered the hardest album to produce. Big kudos to Choklate for beating the curse.
Choklate still has a lot of growing to do. She has a strong voice that would benefit immensely from professional vocal coaching. Also, a deeper study of music theory would enable her to introduce more variety, harmonically. But then again, she may never have gotten as far as she has if she had gone the formal education route.
So check her out. Give a listen to an old school approach to contemporary conditions. Choklate’s from a time when singing was about expressing yourself in your own way not about trying to emulate what’s popular at the moment. Hopefully she will keep growing, keep reaching, and keep being her own beautiful black woman self.
…my music comes from a real genuine place. I try to find a way lyrically to express moments that often times don’t have words: like having the blues about something that is good. Lately, my motto has been my complaints are someone else’s dreams. If the average person stopped and thought about their life and supposed they were in a third world country, they would realize someone is dreaming about what they are complaining about. So, I try to creatively talk about things other than love… like a regular human experience. You may not find as many love songs on my record. You may find something like a song about not knowing where your head is or procrastinating. Songs about love are so massive and important in this genre but commercial music doesn’t address them appropriately.
Kalamu ya Salaam is a writer, musician and film-maker based in New Orleans, USA.