Toronto native Kalisway stands out effortlessly. Between April’s Cream EP and today’s newly released Special K EP, it’s impossible to listen to the artist and not smile, shimmy, and give yourself over to celebration. Kalisway rides over funky grooves and makes infectious and poppy moments meant to stick in your head for all-time.
Funk at heart, Kalisway got her musical start as a producer, fearful her voice wouldn’t connect with fans. Inspired by the alternative stylings of Pharrell and Erykah Badu, Kalisway eventually found her confidence, partly through the creation of Cream, and has been basking in it ever since. Special K showcases an excitable artist whose personal mantras lean into the void of good times and positive affirmations. Kalisway is here to create a fresh lane for funk music, with twinges of satellite genres mixed in.
In just six songs, Kalisway brings a deep love for hip-hop, R&B, pop, and funk on Special K. Opener “BA BUMPIN” treats the listener to a fusion of Erykah Badu and the eccentricities of early Odd Future. Standout “WIND BLOWS” grins with squishy percussion accents.
“VANILLA DIP” drips with swagger, and Kalisway’s distinct voice propels the track to thumping heights. The final third of the track deploys a delightful call-and-response portion reminiscent of what makes music so special: community. It’s easy to imagine Special K ringing off in a spirited bar setting. In another lifetime, people are spilling their drinks in the wake of Kalisway’s certified bops.
Who inspired you to start making music?
When I was younger, a lot of my music came from listening to alternative music. I was listening to Pharrell and Erykah Badu, and my parents listened to soul music. Since I was young, I would always sing those tunes. I like music that makes me feel real emotional. I use that to inspire me [to make music] that makes me feel happy. [The music] is an expression of myself, now, today. It keeps evolving as I keep going.
You have a really defined voice. Did you always love the sound of your voice, or did it take you some time to grow into it?
I grew into my voice, for sure. When I just started to actually sing and make my own music, I was gonna be a producer. Generally, my voice is high. I didn’t know if it was gonna work out. I had to fall in love with my own voice and myself. It was a whole path of discovery and believing in myself that led to me taking the artist route. I believe in my sound, and it’s gonna speak for itself.
Your music is vibrant. Where does your good mood and positive energy come from? Especially considering the circumstances of 2020.
It comes from learning, as I’ve grown… Don’t get me wrong; there’s times where I gotta think clearly, and not everything is happy all the time, but my outlook on life, in general, is that I’m growing every day. There is no reason for me to be down on life because there’s gonna be not so great days, but if I keep a good outlook and see how I’ve grown, that keeps me motivated. Rather than being like, “COVID! Okay, I’m stuck in the house!” I just don’t worry about it—I keep focusing on grinding.
Earlier this year, you dropped the Cream EP, and today you’re dropping the Special K EP. What did Cream teach you, and how did you apply those lessons to Special K?
Cream taught me confidence. When I created Cream, it was an explosion of me. When I look back on it now, I was breaking out of my shell. I was super shy! I had to believe in my sound, and I just wanted Cream to be that intro to my mind and my feelings within my music. When I was creating Special K, I was like, “I fully know who I am, what I’m trying to become, and who I’m not.” Special K is full of confidence and believing in what I have going for the future.
Special K has an infectious and bright spirit. What do you need to do during your creative process to summon such boisterous energy?
It is making sure I get a good breakfast! I make sure I’m okay; I do meditation. I always try to make sure I’m in a good state of mind. Out here in Canada, sometimes the sun’s out, sometimes it’s not. That has an effect on people, but I’ve taught myself that energy is within myself. If I’m feeling good, day or night, I just gotta make sure I’m channeling all my creative energy.
How do you stand out in 2020, when it feels like everyone is trying their hand at making music?
It’s taken a while to do this. As long as I’m doing what I want to do, and I believe in my vision, [the music] will speak for itself. Especially it being 2020, when you’re hearing my music, you’re not hearing everyone else. It’s completely my vision.
Because I know exactly where I’m trying to go, it speaks volumes, and it speaks to everyone. I’m trying to create this whole new sound and lane. I believe in it! Because I believe so heavily, it’s making a print.
Finally, what’s one thing you want fans to know about you that they might not get from your music?
I want them to know I’m an energetic person, but at the same time, I think very, very seriously. I’m an artist, but I’ve been a producer. I have both sides, and they’re intertwined. This lane I’m creating; it’s not just, “Oh, man, this is something brand new!” I want them to know, personally, I’m funk at heart!
Photos by Cash Kev.