Chakeiya Richmond aka Keiya was born and raised in Chicago. While living on the south side, she was exposed to gang violence on a consistent basis, but her natural affinity to music kept her in art and music programs at the public schools she attended. She sang in the Chicago Children’s Choir while in grade school, but abandoned vocal performance for jazz saxophone in high school. After studying jazz and diaspora studies in college, she decided to leave after three years to pursue a career in vocal performance, expanding her instrumental talents to audio production and engineering. Now 23, Keiya has self-produced, self-recorded, and self-released her first solo EP “Work”, her first artistic statement of many more to come.
Sedate: Where are you from? Where are you now, and where are you going?
Keiya: I’m from the southside of Chicago, this neighborhood called Chatham. I’m in the Bronzeville neighborhood now and actually moving at the end of the month (August) to central Jersey. Some super last minute things happened and I’ve got to get out of my apartment so I’m going to go live in Jersey and transition to live in NYC some months from that point.
I’m so excited; I’ve lived in Chicago my whole life, and I have traveled to other places, but I never lived anywhere else but here. I feel like I’m 18 going away to college.
S: Growing up as a woman of color, let alone being a woman, how has oppression affected your mental health?
K: Being a woman of color has empowered me, but it’s also affected my mental health my entire life. I grew up in an all black neighborhood I went to a predominantly black public elementary school. I went to a high school that was about 80% black, I pretty much grew up only seeing and knowing people that looked like me in terms of black people in America. Chicago is extremely segregated and I grew up feeling the harshest effects of the systematic racism in this city. As I got older I would travel to other parts of the city and see the dramatic differences in the various neighborhoods; it was shocking and troubling to me. I was fortunate enough to have the mindset and tools that allowed me to excel in school; I was afforded the luxury of participating in a lot of activities outside of school, mainly in the arts -- I would be around other kids that were gifted like me, but weren’t poor like me. I started to learn what it felt like to be othered.
When I got to college I started experiencing depression. Knowing that being a woman of color, specifically being a black woman, all of the sudden all of these things that belonged to me didn't belong to me. I was already sort of crippled by the effects of systematic oppression in Chicago, but as an artist this really went deep for me on top of that. I felt like my life and culture is of no value if I am creating it. I was a jazz major at Columbia College and the program was relatively diverse, but still predominantly white. I remember feeling upset because I’d be playing at the same level as some of my white peers, but still see those peers get recognized or awarded before me. You learn that being black, and being a woman, you have to be twice as good to be looked at as the same level. Learning about the history of the culture, our culture, and then realizing that it all resulted in deep appropriation and being pushed through the education complex being taught through outside lenses, it was deeply troubling for me.
S: Did you have any release other than your music which you used to escape this oppression and misappropriation of your culture? Do you find any outlets that help you deal with situations like these?
K: Honestly, making music and producing music was the only real outlet I had. Connecting with other like minded people helped me a lot as well. I have had the opportunity to run into very few but very good and real people that can relate to me. Social media was a good outlet for me when I was in my late teens, because it was a marketplace for people at so many different walks of life. People I never met would write about experiences just like mine, and it was relieving just to know that you're not alone, and that you are not experiencing this alone. It gave me hope - I knew that if I was experiencing this and could find twenty other girls on the internet that were experiencing this, then it means there are millions of other girls around the world that are experiencing this. It gave me the idea that I could use my art to touch those millions of others.
S: Right. Thats a great way of looking at it and especially dealing with something when it affects you your whole life, it always makes you feel less crazy when people are like you especially when you find that group of people.
K: Yeah, it always does. I was watching a segment on the Melissa Harris-Perry show about this journalist who went to Salvador, Bahia in Brazil. She was traveling and talking with the people in Salvador who had African lineage. It almost brought me to tears, because she was talking about how you would be in the United States and unless you were in black neighborhoods, especially in major cities, you are kind of used to the idea of not being a majority, instead being the minority. Being the different one. Being an ‘other’ among a ‘normal’ blanket set of people. She was talking about how she was in Salvador, everyone looked just like you, and it wasn't even a big deal. You weren't even contemplating the image of yourself because you look around and everyone around you is black. Everyone around you has nappy hair. Everyone around you was happy to see you, and happy that you are you, and that they are them, and it was always celebrated. They even had murals mourning the deaths of some of the blacks killed by police over here. At the end I was like “Wow she is right, you never experience any of that in America.”
S: In February you released ‘Work’ EP, in collaboration with Khallee (formerly part of JODY). There is something about ‘Work’ that seems very intimate. What were your influences, and/or motivations when writing this EP?
K: In general, the entire project was written and produced all by myself, with the exception of “Baby” with Khallee, he wrote his lyrics. I did ‘Work’ while I lived in a basement apartment with my boyfriend. It was the winter time, and we had no heat or hot water. We literally just had a space heater and electric burners, and we had to stay in our bedroom when we came into the house because no other part of the apartment was heated. It was wild! I was on edge all the time. It was freezing outside and I would go home knowing it wasn’t going to be much warmer. Thats like where my general headspace was all the time. ‘Work’ was kind of like me proving to myself that I was capable of completing a project like that.
Before writing that record, I hadn’t sang since I was in middle school. I was thinking about trying something new, but really doubted myself and doubted that I could pull off a singing career. I would go back and listen to Supa Dupa Fly, Missy Elliott's album. I was listening to a lot of femme fatales, but really strong and not typically pop-sexy artists.
I was fortunate enough to meet Khallee on Twitter randomly. I think we were just following each other for awhile and he was like “come to my show!” but I was in Jersey at the time and couldn’t make it. Eventually he came over to my house when we were working on “Runaway”, a record with KYWO. I had him come over again and I was like “I have this rough idea for a hook do you want to do your thing?” He just went on the mic in my room and spit his verse and it came to life. He’s one of the few artists I know personally that just gets it, he’s an amazing talent. Rounded out the whole thing.
S: If anything, what would you like to see change in today’s youth culture, and what are you doing to change that?
K: My major issue with youth culture is the culture of mediocrity that’s emerged. The thing about the internet is that it is a blessing and a curse, a double-edged sword. The internet has opened up all these new opportunities for education that it is so important -- you don’t have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to have access to education. You can go on Youtube and learn how to mix a record, or you can go to Wikipedia and learn how to write a check or about your ancestors, or literally anything else. I think that is great because it encourages our youth to learn and try to do things at a younger age. People are coming up a lot younger doing things. That’s incredibly important and positive. The issue with that is the culture of instant gratification we now expect; getting used to the idea of not having as hard to reap benefits. Hard work builds character, and I feel like that essence is getting lost.