The expectation upon seeing a banjo hanging is one of rollicking rowdiness, but when Kaia Kater began to strum her five-string, the mood in the office turned plaintive and a bit mournful. The Afro-Caribbean-Canadian singer and songwriter, who studied Appalachian music at West Virginia’s Davis & Elkins College, often references the Black Lives Matter movement, within a music form that doesn’t exactly snap to mind as being in dialogue with modern issues.
These days, Kaia Kater records for Smithsonian Folkways, and some of the songs she brought to the Tiny Desk come from her recent recording Grenades, a record she worked on while exploring her father’s home country of Grenada.
It’s a country that has “experienced a lot of political turmoil,” she says. “My father left when he was 16 years old and he came to Canada as a refugee, on his own. It’s a story I ran away from for a long time, where I didn’t want to reconcile with myself being this kind of hyphenated Canadian.” Kaia Kater tries to come to terms with that history on the last song at the Tiny Desk, also the title track of Grenades. “Rain heavy like carpet bombs, sweetgrass, and lemonade / Fold the memory into your arms and whisper it away.” The imagery is stunning, her Tiny Desk Concert sublime.
- “Nine Pin”
Kaia Kater: lead vocal, banjo; Andrew Ryan: bass; Brad Kilpatrick: drums; Daniel Rougeau: electric guitar, lap steel guitar
Producers: Bob Boilen, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Kimani Oletu, Kara Frame; Associate Producer: Bobby Carter; Production Assistant: Adelaide Sandstrom; Photo: Amr Alfiky/NPR