Rockin' her signature killer style, a huge grin and natural talent, Kalae Nouveau (formerly Kalae AllDay) is a vocalist, rapper, actress and the creator of Fem'Fatale, an ongoing meet-up initially created to gather women artists in various genres to share, connect, inspire and create real relationships. Tired of what she viewed as the divide among women artists and spurred to create a community after meeting various female mentors and supporters, Fem'Fatale has been running ever since. Kalae has recently recommitted to reinvigorating the community; from spicing up the web presence to thinking up creative ways to bring folks together - be it via film screenings or working with domestic abuse survivors.
I first met Kalae at a Fem'Fatale get together in Brooklyn and was impressed by her warmth, ease, and her genuine desire to bring people together. I also remember the good vibes of the women who attended; graphic designers, vocalists, editors - it was my first introduction to these group of creative ladies; not only did I dig their talent, I dug their willingness to support one another. Project Inkblot chatted with Kalae over hummus and some bomb-ass eggplant dish in Harlem one rainy afternoon on her process as a creative artist and performer, starting Fem'Fatale, the problem with yes men and why getting your ass kicked makes you stronger.
Let’s talk about Fem'Fatale. That’s where we met and I loved the vibe and the experience. Why did you start the group?
Growing up I found it hard to relate to most people. I was always excluded, teased and picked on. I was very different looking, including being very tall. I wasn't really accepted until I got into the art circle. I was meeting women who were so real, nice and creative. I felt like I found my tribe. I thought, how do I get these women together? I have always struggled with- and I am almost sorry for saying this - but ‘normal chicks.’ People who are ok with normalcy. Maybe I am more adjusted, but as a teenager I couldn’t connect.
I really loved the women I met through being a hip hop artist. So I started to get their contacts. At the time I had this two bedroom apartment on the upper west side and a lot of people could come and hang out. I wasn’t savvy yet on getting a venue, that came later.
What was your vision for Fem'Fatale then and is it the same now?
My vision then was to get these talented women together so we could network a bit, share and learn from each other. The vision has changed - before, all the women who came were artists but now it’s more about sisterhood and community so we may have business women etc. Now, the vision is to have a stronger internet presence.
The second year of Fem'Fatale was harder. It was the first winter and people didn’t want to go out as much. I brought it to Brooklyn and had another woman host it, we also went to the Bronx. Because of my childhood and what I considered to be rejection, when I invite a bunch of women who I admire to an event and they don’t come, it’s so heartbreaking on so many levels. I started to get really discouraged and almost started to feel resentful, like why are my sisters not cooperating? One of my friends said, are you really doing this for them or is it for yourself? And I thought about that - what does it mean to do something good for people and what it means to do something good for yourself. And what I realized was you should always do things that are good for yourself and if it benefits others then that’s great. Yes, I am doing it for myself and I am also doing it for them and I am not going to feel bad about wanting that. It feeds me in a really amazing way and what I see in the future is having Fem'Fatale groups that are not always run by me. Perhaps having Fem'Fatale groups in different cities.
Can you talk about some of the work you've done in women's shelters? What was it important for you to integrate this type of outreach into Fem'Fatale?
We went to shelters for women who have been domestically abused and done [creative] work with the women there and have had them bring their children. A lovely friend of mine Gianna Leo Falcon does a lot of social work and put Fem'Fatale in contact with this women's shelter on the upper west side. I felt like the magic that was happening between the artists in Fem'Fatale was so enriching and enlightening that it should be shared through community work with females that normally wouldn't have access to this sort of thing. It's Fem'Fatales community outreach. I want to incorporate it and other work, like youth outreach, more into the Fem'Fatale regular rotation. I feel like I need to give back to my community but it has to be something I am passionate about.
The mission is to create sisterhood. Simple and plain. The members really enjoy the relief of being around powerful opinionated women with out the masculine divine presence. It really liberates the divine feminine out of conditioned entrapment and forces women to recognize the value in their and their sisters' ideas, opinions, etc and through that I hope to inspire connection, self-worth and most importantly SISTERHOOD. As soon as women recognize the importance of being surrounded by other women, the cattiness and the belief that there can only be one spot/one token woman, will subside.
You’re a native New Yorker; how has NYC contributed to who you artistically?
New York is so diverse. It’s hard to not have a global sprit. I was always surrounded by different people, ethnicities, languages. You know, for a lot of people, you don’t get to eat sushi when you’re nine. The urban culture, the diversity, the fact that we’re so densely packed together. There’s this sense of limit and limitlessness a lot of the time.
When did you get into music?
I believe I came out of the womb singing, since I was four I was singing and since I was seven I was writing my own music. In New York, when you grow up, you're exposed to so much art. Sometimes people are only exposed to a certain type of art but I was exposed to a variety of artists: Sined O’ Conner, Dorris Day, Barbara Streisand…I had no idea that I was ever going to bea rapper. People assume that I am a singer but are usually surprised that I’m a rapper. At sixteen, most of the hip-hop I got was from the radio and I didn’t like it.
What didn't you like?
I couldn't relate. The oppression of women, getting money…there was nothing about that that resonated with me as a human being. Not just hip-hop, but pop music, too. I started to get into what would be considered “conscious rap” like Black Thought, Mos Def, Common. My nephew rapped and he was five years older than me. I was sixteen and I wrote a rap because my nephew was recording onto a cassette tape. I went back to him and said, ‘listen to my rap’ and he was like, ‘that was fucking horrible’ [laughs] so I never tried to rap again until some other people started encouraging me, around nineteen.
What are the differences between rapping and singing for you, as a performer?
Rapping is like talking. There’s so much you can do with it that is outside of getting my diaphragm ready…all of the technical aspects of singing I can throw out the door. I can do so much more. So, the performer part of me is more expressed when I rap. I can do a lot of expression and emotion in singing but it’s more subtle. Rapping is more in your face, energetic, crazy. It’s really fun.
Are you currently working on an album right now?
I’m not working on an album right now but I am working on the film score and shooting a movie for a film called Good Funk. It’s been ten years since I have acted but it’s performance, and it’s art. I think performance art is all the same. What makes the movie special is where the paths intertwine. There are four main charters and about six stories and it’s a commentary on what’s happening in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and what’s happening in this neighborhood. It's very touching and I think it’s one of those stories that everyone can relate to. It’s kinda like you’re thrown into this moment of time. I love to perform. What I prefer is not one over the another but the moment in time when I am performing over the moments in time when I’m not. I’m not opposed to those other moments like being in the studio or recording but the moment I hit the stage is like magic, it’s like all of the other moments were for this.
My favorite part is performing but I know for some people their favorite part is writing. There are times I write because I have to, because I am working on a project and there are times when inspiration hits and these are the times where it’s magical and spiritual. And that doesn’t happen all of the time especially when you’re doing this full time. There’s a lot to be inspired by in New York City so I always say with input there’s output. If I am doing a lot of output and no input, it can be tedious. I also find the hours of two to four in the morning to be so inspirational. Almost tike clockwork, inspiration hits.
As an artist what are some of the challenges?
At some point I just had to be ok with not being like everyone else. I remember a promoter once told me, ‘I know you rap but I don’t know where to place you’ and I thought, don’t say that like it’s a negative. Most of my recorded music is my manifestation of myself as a rapper but not as a performer. Even when I try to fit in, I can’t do it. It’s hard for me as a person in development. It’s very easy for me to do lots of different kinds of arts. I draw, paint, sing, rap, act…so trying to contain myself for the benefit of myself is an arduous task. I know in my heart I want to be a singer but I can’t spread myself too thin. I think I did and I broke and I have been trying to put myself back together. I now feel like I have a foundation to stand on.
One of my complexes is the 'yes men' complex. I think it’s important for people to tell the truth and to not always be so impressed with the people you're around who are artists. I’m not that impressed with my own stuff so when I am around people who are, it makes me feel like, ok are you lying to me or are you so consumed with the sparkly aspects that you can’t judge where the dull parts are?
What I learned is that I need to decide that for myself. And that has been a huge part of my process. If someone tells me yes or no, you cannot let your ego be affected but it's challenging, especially as an artist, you want people to like your shit! It feels so good when they do and I am trying to disassociate my ego from that. Every time I feel like I fail, I become more pliable. My jump back is quicker. The first time is tragic, your poor little soul! The second time is like, that hurts. But the third time you’re like I can do this. I came back before twice.
Interview by Jahan Mantin