The girl from Pereira
It’s the afternoon after the General Election. Outside Shepherd’s Bush Market tube in west London, a bundle of free newspapers calling for Theresa May’s resignation have toppled over and a handful of Lib Dem campaign leaflets are blown across the road. Underneath the train station, between a series of large red brick arches, past the motorcycle garage offering cheap MOTs, Kali Uchis is with her live band in a large rehearsal space. A drum kit is set up, along with some laptops, a bass amp and mic stands – a dance studio mirror runs down one side of the room, and various members of Kali’s backing group are strewn about the place taking a break.
As footage of volunteers sprinting around leisure centres clutching ballot boxes stuffed with votes were simulcast on TV the night before, the 22-year-old singer was on stage at Brixton Academy. She was there with some of her famous friends and peers – Vince Staples, Kelela, Popcaan – performing her cyborg-pop collaboration ‘She’s My Collar’ with Gorillaz. It was the first night of a relentless trip to the UK for the artist. Over the next six days she’ll guest spot with Gorillaz twice, make her proper British festival debut and play two headline solo shows. A bunch of radio slots, photoshoots and interviews are planned for the minutes in between.
Past all the band’s equipment, there’s a kitchen out back, a narrow room where Kali, wearing massive brown sunglasses, green corduroy trousers and a pinstripe grey blazer, hugs her knees and curls into the corner of a sofa.
“Last night was cool,” she says meekly, stifling a jetlag yawn, reviewing her Brixton appearance. “It’s kind of like those last days of school with all your classmates. You’re bullshiting, watching movies and shit – just hanging out, waiting to do our thing.”
For some artists, being picked up by Gorillaz and asked to feature on their album (she’s on two songs, the second being ‘Ticker Tape’) would be the kind of springboard they’d leap on. Kali, however, is relaxed about it. The drummer in Gorillaz had heard her 2015 track ‘Loner’, handed it to Damon Albarn, who flew her to the studio in New York.
“I don’t get too much of that Oh-my-God-I’m-around-a-famous-person,” she says. “I’ve never really felt that way. Even before I was making music, my persona, just as a human being, is that I see everyone as equal. I don’t think that celebrity life is real.”
Even though she grew up listening to Albarn’s music, and admits collaborating was a “very humbling moment”, Kali’s profile has been on the ascent anyway. The debut mixtape she shared back in 2012 (‘Drunken Babble’), made on her laptop when she was 18, caught the attention of Tyler, The Creator and Snoop Dogg (she’s gone on to work with both). The nine-track EP, ‘Por Vida’, she released in 2015 laid the foundations nicely, too. Tracks like ‘Ridin Round’, ‘Loner’, ‘Rush’ and ‘Lottery’ may not have been promoted much by British radio and press, but the streams for their eye-catching, self-directed videos are now well into the millions. So, with the release of her debut LP imminent, it’s looking like a smart move for Gorillaz to get Kali Uchis on their album.