Staff Pick: KAINA
By Hillary Hedstrom
Photo via DDesigns Multimedia
KAINA’s Spotify bio, “a soft, savory voice that’s sharp enough to remind you of what happens when you get too close to the sun,” could not get more accurate. The 24 year old singer dropped her first album, Next To The Sun, in 2019.
She drew inspiration from the Chicago R&B, blues, and latin music she grew up hearing. The album is full of self-exploration as KAINA’s experience growing up as a first generation woman of color. Concepts such as lineage and ancestry infiltrate her songs, the idea that it took so many specific events spanning generations for her to get where she is.
The album starts out with “Home,” a soft song. An airy and light instrumental in the background as KAINA almost hesitantly sings the verses. She comes in stronger, but still soft and welcoming, on the chorus with the line “Oh, Lord knows we’ll live somehow.”
Songs like “Next To The Sun” and “What’s A Girl?” bring out the sharpness. The titular track exerts a certain power, with her soulful voice and a beat that sounds almost mysterious. She’s singing about having two battling sides and wanting to be elsewhere, where she can be herself.
“What’s A Girl?” is heavy on the R&B. The song is relatable for many girls, about wanting to break from traditional roles but feeling like they shouldn’t be wanting more. “What’s a girl without ambition? Without a single driving mission?” is repeated throughout the chorus.
“Joei’s Secret” starts off with a young girl talking about what to do with a crush. The simplicity of being a child with a crush and asking the boy point-blank “do you like me?” and having a plan for the answer whether it’s a yes, no, or maybe. If it’s a maybe, you can focus on something other than a relationship, but if it’s a no you can still have a secret crush. KAINA then sings about being someone’s secret crush. With the repeated lines in the post-chorus of “Los días pasan, la vida pasan” she says that life is passing by.
The only feature on the album comes from Sen Morimoto on the trilingual song “Could Be A Curse.” With KAINA singing in Spanish and English and Sen Morimoto in Japanese and English, the song transcends cultural differences. The lyrics in each language are about restless nights, being alone with the moon and thoughts. Seamless transitions between languages paired with a dreamy lo-fi instrumental perfectly encapsulate the feeling of being awake at 4 in the morning, overthinking.
The album ends with “Green,” the heavily latin inspired track. The colorful video shows that KAINA is proud of who she is and the culture she came from. The bridge of “I've been through so many moons/You've seen them, too/Doubting is hard to undo/But know me for my truth” is her growing up and being confident in who she is.
She was featured in the 2020 SXSW Music Showcase and has nowhere to go from here but up.