Kate Odulukwe is a Nigerian-American singer, songwriter and actress. Based in New York, Kate is a refreshing burst of ethereal joy; she is vibrant, uplifting and full of love. I had the opportunity to talk to Kate through Zoom about her latest release: “Live and Let Me Live”, as well as the importance of cultural identity through music, self-love and life.
Tala: Tell me a little about yourself!
Kate: I’m Kate Odulukwe, I’m a Nigerian-American artist based in New York. I originally went to school at the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. I was pre-med first, then I went further into health in general, and then I figured out that I loved public health. but then I discovered that I loved musical theatre – just performing and acting.Throughout my entire childhood I was in choir. So a lot of directions… I was actually a very, very, very shy and quiet child, even my voice and my disposition was all quiet. So I was very shy… and then in middle school I joined choir and I learnt “oh! I can sing, I can project my voice!”. It really brought me out of my shell. I did choir all throughout middle school and high school. At college I had access to their theatre arts program and saw musical theatre and regular acting. Then I got accepted into the “SpringBoard NYC Programme” with the American Theatre Wing and they are the ones that do the Tony Awards.
I was the class of 2016, and after I finished I was on a high. I was auditioning for a bunch of theatre things… but I was booking nothing. Waking up at 5am for calls… but nothing was happening. I was missing music and I was bored. I just wanted to sing, and not having people telling me what to do. So, I started doing open mics. I would just go everywhere – just anywhere I could and sing to anyone who would listen to me. The open mic scene in New York is a lot […]
I just realised that you don’t have to be signed to a label to put out music… I wouldn’t have known that if I wasn’t doing all these open mics because I wasn’t booking anything.
Tala: So talk to me about your first project – your 2018 EP “Melanin and Melancholy”.
Kate: I got all the people I knew together, a producer, an engineer… and thought that I was going to do it myself, because I wanted it to be fully mine. I was really proud of what I was able to make… But after 2018, I didn’t release anything for four years. There was just this block with my music. I have a mentor now… which definitely allowed me to release “Let’s Get Lost” in 2022… without them I probably wouldn’t have released it until 2025! *laughs*
My mentor told me that making music and releasing it is like having a child… and then when it’s time to let it go you have to just do it. You did your best, but you have to let them go off into the world. This is something that after getting mentorship and stepping away I learnt – probably in about early 2022.
Tala: And what was it like to release “Melanin and Melancholy” into the world?
Kate: Before I released my first EP, I wasn’t thinking about branding or what it means to have your music distributed in a certain way, or reviewed. Or how I came across as an artist. I was just writing on the train, in my bedroom. I was just having fun. I didn’t think about what other people would think. So that meant that a lot of the things I was writing and creating were very personal… It did not click with me that other people were going to listen to these extremely personal things…
My family – my parents were going to have an anniversary party anyway – but then they made it a listening party for my first EP too – very cute. We also had CD’s for people to pay for. I hired a Nigerian artist to do the cover art. The moon is a very reoccurring theme for my designs – or a planet or moon, type of thing. So, the EP is out, it’s doing it’s thing – and then I’m like “oh my goodness, people can hear me!” Like, I’m literally talking about personal things like not understanding life, not being a child anymore, my anxiety… this was helping me feel better. It’s so vulnerable – but I did not even think about the vulnerability of it for a second.
Tala: So, it was a pretty personal piece of work to release?
Kate: […] I put me into the world… so any comment or opinion felt like it was about me as an individual – that was really hard because then I attached so much my self worth… so much of my understanding of myself to what I could produce.
I’m very Type A, so everything has to be perfect… but the world wasn’t saying that. It was saying that I’m not perfect – and in hindsight that’s fine. But I wasn’t prepared for it. It made me feel some type of way… to the point where it made me feel not excited to perform my first EP. I went to different open mics and did different things, and got so much positive feedback – all I could think about was the negative comments. It might be overdramatic to say it was traumatising… but it was so much to take in. After a year of hearing no and feeling that I was so visible and being so out there, it was so overwhelming. I would pop out every now and again to do performances but then I would retreat back in.
But you know… As I say all this now and I explain it I’m realising that it happened for a reason. That time away made me think about the artist I wanted to be. I didn’t have a direction sonically either, and it made me a watcher and a viewer of other artists. So I did that, and I co-produced “Let’s Get Lost (Na Ala Eze)”, wrote all the lyrics and I got it together… I figured out a visual. I wanted to be an otherworldly, afro-centric, dreamy…. Planets, lights, colours.
Tala: All your music feels very ethereal and other worldly…
Kate: Yes! I feel like with music, I want to take the listener to another place. I want the person to feel that they can get somewhere better, let the listener to see what I can see. I want them to see the magic and etherealness that I can see that exists
Tala: There is so much joy missing in music. I think you wanting to take people to that place is so rare.
Kate: Right now I’m doing a lot of Afro-pop. With “Let’s Get Lost” I had this vision – it’s in the video, where its slow motion and ethereal blur. I wanted it to be more focused on my singing.
Tala: What is it about music/song writing that makes you feel more confident?
Kate: I was always so shy and quiet as a kid because I always thought I had nothing to bring to the table… Being a kid is crazy! But when I sang, people turned around to listen to what I had to say. I also realised I could project my voice, which made me realise I could talk like that too. I’m a human being and I can bring something to the table.
In hindsight, even though it was a wild time, I’m happy I stepped away from music for so long. I’m who I am today and know where I want to go today because of that break. I wanted to know what my music could do.
Tala: Are there any themes in your work?
Kate: I love purple, and I’m always sticking in the moon or a planet or a shine or light. Even if its not obvious, it’s always there. I really love ethereal, otherworldly vibes… I want people to see where this music takes me and hopefully where it can take them.
Tala: Why is it important for you to incorporate Igbo into your songs?
Kate: Something that is really important to me is being honest about who I am, expressing love for who I am, and putting out into the world who I am and loving that manifestation of myself. I am not just American, I am Nigerian. But I am also not just Nigerian – I am an Igbo woman. I love my culture and how it shaped me. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t also incorporate that. Music is a manifestation of myself. It’s a way to express what is truly inside of me… and to show this world I’ve created! What’s inside of me is not just American, there is a huge Igbo part of me! I’m passionate about my culture, and I’ve been shaped by both American and Nigerian – particularly Igbo culture.
The beautiful thing about Igbo is that it is so poetic. I love Igbo so much. You don’t have to be so exact in the language… but there’s so many ways to describe things that aren’t a matter of fact… and I love that about my language so much. It’s about how our culture had a lot to do with storytelling… All those bits and pieces make up the painting of who I am.
Tala: I feel like this makes music so much more exciting and personal.
Kate: It’s so much fun to see how it’s received by my friends that are just American. It’s so crazy to see people from different backgrounds that I don’t know playing my music. It’s like, they don’t know what I’m saying – but you’re still having a great time! *laughs* It’s so funny but its great. There was a Polish person who left a comment once, and I was like, “oh my goodness! Let me press the translate button!”
Tala: That itself is a testament to what happens when you combine all facets of your identity in your music.
Kate: We have this phrase “Afrobeats to the world”. So it created this thing that is no longer just ours, but everyone is looking towards it.
Tala: It brings people together, whether they want it to or not…
Kate: It’s been so amazing to see that. One of my cousins – she’s Nigerian American. She babysits sometimes and she sent me a video of these American children dancing to some of my music. It’s amazing to see people to connect. I’m very proud of this. I love that I’m focusing on more Afropop. I’m going to continue to go forward sonically while also embracing all parts of myself. I still want to create an ethereal environment with my music, particularly in the Afrobeats realm.
Tala: Can you break down the inspiration and meaning for “Live And Let Me Live”?
Kate: Right before this track, I released “Let’s Get Lost” where I wanted to get listeners to go somewhere else where its heavenly. With “Live And Let Me Live” I wanted to ground that heavenly place a bit. You’re not necessarily out of this world – you’re still here. I want you to see what’s going on and how you can view the world around you. I understand that you have issues, or things might feel frustrating – but it’s like, no! Let that person live, and let yourself live. Everything is plenty – look around you! I wanted to take this otherworldly and brighter place that I created with “Let’s Get Lost” and ground it with “Live And Let Me Live”. If you’re doing well, let’s have fun. If you’re not, just let yourself be and “Live And Let Me Live”.
I’m so proud of being able to include facets of my identity, but I also really love Afrobeats and Afropop music. I really love this song and that listeners are loving it too.
Tala: What music are you loving right now?
Kate: Pheelz – his new EP “Pheelz Good”, and my favourite songs on it are “Electricity” and “Stand By You”. Ayra Starr and Raveena. In general I like a lot of Afro-fusion music. Afro R&B, you know? Also Tems.
Tala: What advice would you give to yourself?
Kate: Take it day by day. . I would love to tell my younger self that failure is good… And what you define as success isn’t always right… define it for yourself. and please, just go a little easier on yourself.
For a full list of where you can keep up with Kate, make sure to check out her LinkTree here.
Listen to “Live and Let Me Live” here.
Written by infostoryofsong