There’s a picture of Naia Kete singing into a microphone at the age of one. At age 8 there's another, still singing into a microphone, except the venue is no longer her living room; it is Cape Verde in front of 30,000 people. By the time she reached 13, Naia found herself inducted into the well-traveled 'conscious' reggae roots group Black Rebels. With the underlying message of unity and peace, the Rebels aren’t just musical acquaintances, they are her family - stepfather, mother, father and brother. She had a part in composing the songs that would be recorded and taken on tour, as well as the inclusion of her own pieces in the group's repertoire. Fast forward five years and at age 18 she has spread her wings and recorded her debut solo album Sweet Music. It's no wonder Naia turns heads when she opens her mouth to sing; she's steeped in music, grew up with it like a sibling.
Naia is confident and centered, as grounded as the musical tradition she grew up with. She is direct, kind, quick to laugh, and talks about music as a conciliatory tool that she has seen unite her family and plans to put to use inspiring and bringing together the peoples of the world. “Community is so important to me.” says Naia “A lot of what I try to convey in my music is that I feel like it's truly time for the people of the world to unite in order to create peace and joy. It has to start in the home, and next in your extended family and community. I wouldn't be singing and writing in the way that I do if it wasn't for the people who have touched my life and heart so dearly.”
One such experience is that of Naia's time at the Institute for Musical Arts (IMA) – an organization dedicated to supporting women in music in Goshen, MA. There she studied alongside IMA co-founder June Millington of the breakthrough rock-band Fanny, IMA Executive Director Anne Hackler and the Grammy-award winning sound producer Leslie Ann Jones among others. Her work with the youth empowerment organization 2050 has also made its mark, as well as her friendship and collaboration with fellow songbird Sonya Kitchell. Wherever Naia’s gifts come from, her message is moving, refreshing, and an undeniably eloquent and conscious one to be coming from anyone, let alone an 18 year-old from the hills of Western Massachusetts.
Sweet Music is a personal/political soul-trip, as grounded and articulate as it is emotive, ever powered by the guitar and voice of this blossoming young visionary. Naia explains "All the songs on 'Sweet Music' were written from a pure place of passion. Most times the song-writing process for me, will be days, weeks or even months of playing chords and humming melodies whenever I sit down and play my guitar. Then, out of nowhere, a feeling, experience, person or idea will inspire, and through me will come a song. An expression of how this feeling, experience, person or idea has affected me. The process of actually writing the song will often happen in a matter of minutes.”
Listening to Sweet Music, Naia’s world view and passions shine through. She writes about truth and love in “Are You Ready” urging people to unite as one and calls for a revolution through personal responsibility in “Come Back Home”. She inspires with her words and brings the listener on an emotional journey. “It makes me happier than ever to have the opportunity to share my passion with people of the world" says Naia.
Throughout the album her voice flows with a lyrical maturity and precision that conjures images of the great Lauryn Hill or soul diva Erykah Badu, and leaves the listener wide-eyed and ready for action. Sweet Music was produced by June Millington and Lee Madeloni and manages to bring to life Naia's music with the lushness of a full band, without treading on the intimacy or edge of her original solo compositions. But here's the true spark of Naia's music: It calls for a revolution through action not fistfights, seeks empowerment irreverent of race, is inspirational and does not exclude. Naia says "I want my music to be universal" - it might just work.