Chicagoan Kiéla Adira has been garnering major buzz on the underground scene, dazzling all those who discover her with her impeccable vocal range and old-school jazz sentiments.
Fusing influences of jazz and R&B on her divine second EP Fool’s Croon, the six-track project marked Adira’s second drop of 2023 after the stunning sounds of her debut EP GROWTH. Employing live orchestration of strings, harps, flutes and even crickets to create a full-bodied listening experience in Fool’s Croon, Adira has quickly proven to be an underground gem on the Chicago scene – and Adira’s rich vocal tones and mature, vulnerable songwriting marks her as a significant one to watch.
Celebrating her new EP, Kiéla sat down to talk through the extensive, multi-year process of creating her Fool’s Croon EP, how her Chicago upbringing and experiences with the local community helped develop her artistry, as well as her insights into how the industry can better serve women in music.
SheBOPS: Hi Kiéla and welcome to SheBOPS! Your latest EP Fool’s Croon is newly released. How does it feel to have the project out into the world?
Kiéla Adira: Hi! Thank you so much for having me, it’s an honor to be interviewed by you! I am so excited to finally be sharing my second EP, Fool’s Croon, with the world. I’ve been working on this EP alongside producer/songwriter and brother duo Jeoffrey and Judah Arrington for over two years, and we have all put so much time, love, and energy into this project! This process has proven that hard work, dedication, and patience really does pay off! I am grateful for this music and the opportunity to show the world a different side of myself.
Fool’s Croon is described as a journey that delves into personal struggles and culminates in understanding, clarity, and closure. How has the process of creating this EP contributed to your personal growth as an artist and individual?
Creating the Fool’s Croon EP has contributed to my personal growth in many ways. Throughout this journey I have learned how to relinquish control, trust the process, and have faith in the incredibly talented artists that I worked with. The idea of this project started with Jeoffrey Arrington composing 5 tracks and reaching out to me and his brother, Judah, to help add lyrics, melody, and additional production to the project. Creating and performing this music pushed me to take risks, be more vulnerable, and has taught me to embrace all my feelings, even pain and sorrow. Being a part of the Fool’s Croon team was something I didn’t know that I needed, but I have evolved in more ways than I could imagine. Thanks to this experience, I have become a more confident, open, and flexible artist as well as an even better collaborator.
The EP features live orchestration with strings, harps, flutes, and even crickets. What inspired the choice to incorporate these specific elements, and how did they enhance the storytelling within the songs?
I have to credit Jeoffrey Arrington for choosing to include live orchestration and other unique elements to bring his compositions to life. Here are his words as to why he felt that live orchestration was crucial to this project. “I have always been inspired by orchestral music and its ability to move a listener through multi-layered arrangements and textures. The same composition using a 4 piece band might not achieve the same power. “Respite,” the leading single leans into a very children’s-story style of storytelling that people are accustomed to hearing alongside orchestration. Plus, the delicate movements really help portray the emotion of the song and vocals.” When I listened to Jeoffrey’s compositions for the first time, I felt that the music itself told a story. Even before we added lyrics, the message of each song was clear. The instrumentation positively impacted my live performance and vocal recording process by helping me tap into needed character to effectively tell the story.
You’ve collaborated with an impressive list of Chicago-based artists on this EP. How did these collaborations come together, and what unique elements did each collaborator bring to the project?
I met Jeoffrey Arrington, the phenomenal composer of the Fool’s Croon EP, at a restaurant on a random Tuesday evening in 2021, and he just so happened to be looking for a lead vocalist and co-songwriter for his first music project. At the time, the project was just five compositions, all named and almost fully thought through. After adding lyrics to all of the songs, Jeoffrey and I decided to add a few features so we could collaborate with some of our favorite artists from the Chicago music scene, who just so happened to already be our friends. When I first heard the demo for the title track “Fool’s Croon,” written by Jeoffrey’s brother and co-producer, Judah Arrington, I instantly knew there should be a male vocalist singing the 2nd verse. Manasseh, one of the most impressive vocalists in Chicago, was the perfect person for the job! “Charity,” written by Jeoffrey and the fourth track on the project, is one of the more simple compositions and had space for a little extra love. Isaiah Collier, multi-instrumentalist and international artist, was the person who could add the flavor and soul that we were looking for. Demetrius Rhymes was a go to rapper because he has the energy, lyricism, and flow that would take the “Sky is falling” composition to the next level. Jeoffrey and I agreed; In the case of each song, the perfect collaborator was a no-brainer. Each of the three (Demetrius Rhymes, Isaiah Collier, and Manasseh) brought in their own writing or interpretation, and we just gave them free reign to be themselves. There was a foundation of trust that came together beautifully in the final project.
The recording sessions took place over two years in various home studios. How did the choice of recording locations influence the overall sound and atmosphere of the EP?
We brought this project to life by working directly with two of our producer/engineer friends, Julian Stacey and Russell Wine. These guys are extremely kind, patient, and great at what they do, and they played a huge role in making the studio such a warm, comfortable environment for everyone. We had to work around a lot of constraints in both of their home studios, but with time, dedication, and teamwork we were able to mimic a full orchestra sound within those environments. The locations may have been home studios, but these engineers worked hard to provide a quality sound like that of a song from a movie soundtrack. Being able to create in a warm, encouraging environment was extremely helpful in making a final product that everyone is proud of.
Were there any significant challenges you and the team faced during the creation of Fool’s Croon, and how did you overcome them?
I’d say one of the biggest challenges would be bringing this masterpiece to life with little to no budget. Everyone who contributed to the project is an independent artist who came with the sole purpose of contributing to the creation of a meaningful project that resonates with all people worldwide. Fool’s Croon started off as a passion project from Composer & songwriter Jeoffrey Arrington, but it has quickly become a timeless body of work that I believe will soon change our lives for the better. Another challenge was abiding by the timeline when there are so many individuals, locations, and factors involved. I’ve learned that there needs to be a healthy balance of creating deadlines and also being flexible and understanding enough to make adjustments to the schedule when necessary.
Coming just three months after your debut EP, GROWTH., how did your approach to the production of Fool’s Croon differ, and what did you learn from the experience of creating your first EP that influenced the creation of the second?
The entire Fool’s Croon process was much different than the making of GROWTH. for many reasons. For starters, in this case Jeoffrey brought me onto a project that already existed, so I didn’t determine the sound of the EP the same way I did for GROWTH. Some of the tracks off of Fool’s Croon like, “Respite” and “Sky is Falling” are very different from any track that I had previously written or sung to, but I used this opportunity to be open-minded and to push myself out of my comfort zone. Jeoffrey, Judah, and I quickly realized how different our songwriting styles are, but we had to adapt so there would be room for all of us to get our ideas across. The process of releasing Fool’s Croon forced me to re-evaluate my approach to songwriting and opened my mind to new ways of collaborating with other artists. I learned from creating and releasing my debut EP GROWTH. that success often comes from embracing change even when it’s uncomfortable. This acceptance is the reason I agreed to work on this project. Not everything happens exactly when or how we plan, but a part of being at peace is trusting in the process and remembering that divine timing takes patience.
Your voice has reached diverse audiences, from the Vice Premier of China to the inauguration of former Mayor Lori Lightfoot. How does your connection with such varied audiences influence your approach to creating music?
Being connected with such varied audiences at a young age taught me that there is more life to experience and that I have to dream bigger! Singing with HHW School for the Performing Arts in high school and beyond has opened my mind and continues to provide me with experiences that I will cherish forever. Now, when I create music I keep in mind how much power my voice and my words have. The more I express myself, the more I can heal, uplift, and inspire people all over the world. Being connected with different types of audiences has inspired me to think and create outside the box. One of my favorite things about music is that it’s a universal language, and wherever you go, it’s possible to find someone who resonates with it. I love to incorporate hints of jazz, soul, R&B, and hip hop, and even classical into my music because that is what I was consuming as a child. I believe that all of my experiences singing, performing, and connecting with musicians all over the world has helped me become the unique, well-rounded artist that I am today.
Growing up on Chicago’s south side, how do you think the local culture and community influenced your musical taste and artistic expression?
Music and the arts have played such a huge role in my life and in the development of many schools and communities around me. Growing up, I attended a diverse Elementary school and community arts center that offered music and other art forms to all of the students. It was then that I learned how to play the violin and flute and is where my appreciation for music blossomed. I was blessed to be able to develop my music skills while also developing a passion for theater. For years I could expect to hear all types of music and entertainment in and around my neighborhood. I think the South Side of Chicago heavily influenced my music taste and taught me to be proud of who I am and where I come from, which definitely translates in my music and artistic expression. R&B, hip hop, soul, jazz, and hints of House were the types of genres I could expect to hear in my house, outside the house, on the way to school, etc. Whether the bucket boys are starting their own drumline at the stop light, a saxophonist is serenading people on Michigan Ave, or a quartet is giving a show on the redline, the music is never ending. In my experience, music has always helped bring people together. I spent a lot of time working with organizations whose mission is to uplift the community by educating the youth and providing arts programming in spaces where it might not have been accessible. As a result of this, It has become my mission to spread messages of love, hope, and growth through my music to any one who listens.
How did the local arts community, including programs like Gallery 37, support and nurture your early interest in the arts and music?
If it wasn’t for programs like HHW and Gallery 37, I can’t say that I would have pursued a career as a professional performing and recording artist. Being surrounded by supportive, nurturing, adults who want to help me develop my gifts is a huge blessing that I don’t take for granted. I thank my parents for supporting my passion early on, but I don’t think any of us actually planned on music playing such a major role in my life. I was extremely fortunate to have had opportunities to expand my knowledge of the arts in High School. One of my favorite experiences was joining the first cohort of the Lyric Opera Youth Council in High School. At Lyric Opera I was able to gain a deeper understanding of Opera, attend shows, and make the Opera accessible to more youth in the Chicagoland area who have not been exposed to the Opera world. Being a part of HHW gave me the opportunity to meet and sing for celebrities like George Lucas and Mellody Hobson, Renée Fleming and Yo-Yo Ma, and on top of that, I appeared on tv as an HHW Alum after graduating college. I had given up on the idea of pursuing my artistry for a few years after High School, but these organizations proved that if I can dream it, I can achieve it and that what’s meant for you will find its way back.
Having spent time in Dakar, Senegal, how has the cultural richness of that experience influenced your music and the stories you choose to tell through your songs?
Spending time in West Africa inspired me on many levels both personally and creatively. I quickly realized how privileged I am living here in the United States and how much I take my experience for granted. My time abroad challenged me to embrace my journey, celebrate the small wins, and to encourage my peers to do the same. It is both a pleasure and honor to be able to share these lessons through my music. I was given multiple opportunities to perform a few of my original songs the last time I was in Senegal, and it was then that I knew even when language is a barrier, it is possible for a message to be communicated, understood, and appreciated. Coming back to Chicago I realized that whether I’m on a stage or in the studio recording a track, I have to put the right amount of energy and emotion into the delivery and be intentional about my desired outcome.
You’ve mentioned artists like India Arie, Jill Scott, Lauryn Hill, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Amy Winehouse as influences. In what ways have these women shaped your musical style and storytelling?
These amazing vocalists have written some of my all time favorite songs and continue to play a major role in shaping the artist that I am today. From the positive messages from India Arie, the vocal acrobatics Ella Fitzgerald displays on her tracks, to the way Lauryn Hill seamlessly blended Hip-Hop and Soul in her iconic album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, these iconic female artists have shown me that it’s possible to forge my own path and allow my experience to inform the stories that I tell. My journey is unique, but these phenomenal vocalists and songwriters are proof that there will always be someone who is able to relate to or gain inspiration from your story.
Can you speak to any obstacles you have encountered as a woman in the industry, and how have you navigated or overcome them?
Being a woman in the music industry has presented obstacles that I have to continue navigating and fighting to overcome. I have felt on numerous occasions that I don’t get the respect, recognition, and support that some of my male counterparts receive based on the fact that I’m a woman. While this can be discouraging, it is important that I don’t rely on outside praise in order to believe in myself: it must come from within. Instead of giving energy towards the lack of love I feel that I receive in comparison to men artists, I try to think about how lucky I am to be a woman and a Black woman on top of that. I have also noticed that people love to compare women to each other, and because of this I have experienced feeling ashamed of my own progress. This is something that I have to constantly work against – this change won’t happen overnight. Almost daily, I remind myself: I am on the right path, and it will look different from everyone’s paths around me. I have powers that I am still uncovering, and it is a pleasure to be able to motivate girls and women all over the world in the process.
Gender representation and equality are significant issues in the music industry. From your perspective, what steps do you think the industry can take to counteract this?
From my perspective, I think one of the best ways we can start to counteract the gender representation and equality issue is to collectively put forth more energy to love and uplift the women and non-binary artists around us. It is hard to make change when the social norm is to compare ourselves to others and to see someone else’s wins as a jab at our own success. Instead, we should be proud of and inspired by the work another person is doing. The world continuously tries to turn women artists against each other, promoting the idea that we cannot all shine from our own lanes, but I hope to bring forth an energy that motivates and encourages anyone who crosses paths with me or my artistry. I also think that the more we come together, collaborate, and celebrate each other, the more we will counteract the lack of equality in the music industry.
Do you think the music industry is evolving in a more inclusive and supportive direction for women, and if so, what factors are contributing to this shift?
Yes, I believe that the music industry is evolving in a more inclusive and supportive direction for women, and has been for years. Many of the women artists who I look up to today have been breaking down barriers since before I can remember. Some of my favorite female artists like Missy Elliott, Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, Beyoncé (just to name a handful) have made a huge impact on the music industry! These ladies, and so many others, continue to inspire women of all ages to believe in ourselves and to fight for what we believe in, despite the negative energy that is projected onto us. Today, we have numerous multi-instrumentalist and award winning artists like H.E.R and Esperanza Spalding taking the world by storm, our very own Chicagoan Jennifer Hudson winning an EGOT last year, and young artists like Jazz-Vocalist Samara Joy, and sister-duo Chloe & Halle Bailey making major strides despite the critism in this Male dominated industry. I believe that women advocating for ourselves and being supported by other women in the process has contributed a great deal to the shift in this music industry. We can’t always count on it unfortunately, but in some cases, we do receive love and support from our male counterparts, which will always be welcomed and encouraged.
How do you see music as a tool for empowerment, particularly for women? In what ways can music contribute to breaking down barriers and promoting equality?
Music is a tool for empowerment because it allows us to express ourselves with no limit, while also changing narratives. People, and especially women, are constantly holding on to so much, and music has always been a way to release and channel our emotions. In this patriarchal society, but most specifically in the music industry, the world has tried to put women in a box. We are constantly having to prove ourselves, and convince the masses that we too can accomplish anything we want. Whether we decide to be a singer, rapper, dj, songwriter, producer, music director, multi-instrumentalist or all of the above, women should have the right to explore however we please. Through music, we can continue to prove that women can break down barriers because we are just as worthy and deserving of success as any man.
What advice would you offer to young girls who are contemplating a career in the music industry, based on your own experiences and journey?
I would tell young girls who are contemplating a career in the music industry to be patient with themselves and their journey and to enjoy the process!!! The more energy we put into ourselves and developing our craft, the more we will grow and the more confident we will become. I’ve had many ups and downs in my career already, but every experience has made me a better person and artist. I would also tell them to try their hardest not to compare themselves to other people and their successes, because comparison is a thief of joy. We are all capable of achieving whatever it is that we put our minds to. Everyone has their own path, their own lessons to learn, and their own challenges to face, and the more we understand that, the more we will thrive in our own lives. Last thing I would say is the same thing I said in my single “Make a Way” – “Find your power… Make a way… embrace changes everyday, even when you make mistakes, keep your head up, don’t lose faith.”
What’s next for you in terms of future projects as well as goals in your music career?
I am so proud and grateful to finally have my music out in the world for people to enjoy! I look forward to promoting these first two projects and sharing them with listeners from all over the world. One of my short-term goals is to go on a college tour to perform all my new music and to help grow my fan base. The long-term goal is to eventually headline a world-wide tour, but also go on tours opening up for some of my favorite artists. I’m very excited to continue creating music and collaborating with my friends Jeoffrey Arrington (Fool’s Croon) and Timmy V (GROWTH.), but I’m also excited to release a collab project with my brother and Chicago Funk-rapper Ric Wilson and other amazing Chicago creatives in the near future! In the meantime, I am constantly working on my stage presence and performance skills, so when the opportunities continue to present themselves, I’ll be ready! There is so much talent in Chicago, and the importance of connecting and growing with other creatives is something that is often overlooked – I hope to help change that. Chicago artists are next up!