The storyteller who makes music that's sorrowful, wistful and touching
When I first hear ‘The Visitor’, Kadhja Bonet’s debut mini-album, it’s like the opening scene of an arthouse movie. I’m sat on my yellow sofa covered in a blanket, my legs folded up underneath me, laptop on my knees. The lights in my apartment are low and it’s dark outside. I’m feeling blue (because it’s January and on top of that some guy I had a few great dates with hasn’t texted back). Rain smashes against the windows, the orange glow from the street lamps makes the pavement – black and slick with rain – look like oil. I’m browsing emails and there’s one from my editor (Hi Stu!) with a one-line question (‘have you heard this lady?’) and a link to Soundcloud.
I’m not expecting much, but I press play and there’s this rousing, cinematic, string section – and then the singing: a full, grown-up voice, like something from the past; high and deep, sweet and smooth with a mournful crackle. It’s all my favourite things. It’s Billie Holiday, whisky and 1940s Disney. It’s hopeful yet sorrowful, wistful and touching.
Bonet grew up in a busy household, the middle child of seven siblings, whose father, a musician himself, encouraged her burgeoning interest in classical music. She is loathed to attribute her creativity to her large family (“I have no idea if I’d be the same person if I was in a house with three kids or seven kids”), but she does acknowledge that the busy-ness of her childhood meant she often found sanctuary in making art. “It was so hectic in our house,” she says. “Maybe my brothers were monopolising the TV or whatever, so I was just like, ‘I’ll build something with recyclables!’”
Bonet laughs when I tell her about the Disney nostalgia during my listening experience. “I think there’s definitely a truth to that. I think early Disney is one of [my] passive influences for sure. When I was growing up I wasn’t permitted to listen to very many kinds of music. What we had was a lot of classical music and a lot of Disney movies.”