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Kiéla Adira Embraces Change On Debut EP ‘GROWTH.’

Written by on August 31, 2023

For Chicago artist Kiéla Adira, her musical journey thus far can be summed up in one word: GROWTH. It’s also the title of her debut EP, which she released independently on August 4.

Kiéla Adira’s six-track EP GROWTH. has been years in the making, serving as a cathartic culmination of her learned experience since first stepping onto the scene in 2019. Best known for her collaborations with fellow Chicago artist Ric Wilson — their track “coco badass” was named one of the best songs of summer 2022 by Time Magazine — Adira’s music is infused with the same spirit of groove and positivity.

Kiéla Adira by Nick Moody for new EP ‘GROWTH.’

Though GROWTH. is her first solo release, music has been a part of Adira’s life since early childhood. She remembers singing and playing instruments at 4 years old, writing her first song at 8, and was classically trained as a vocalist in her teenage years.

Music even made its way into her teaching career, as she offered an after-school program to high school students to teach them music, theater and dance. “Make a Way,” a standout track off the EP, combines her love for both music and education in its forthcoming music video, which was filmed in collaboration with Paul Revere Elementary School. 

“I was thrilled to be able to give these students a chance to showcase their beauty and let their light shine!” she said. “This video and how it came together is a testament of what positivity, perseverance and a loving community can bring.”

After “Make a Way” was featured on Vocalo’s “In Rotation” playlist for August, we heard from the artist about the meaning behind the song and her debut EP, her journey as a Chicago artist and her new project Fool’s Croon, expected in November.

How and when did you get your start in music?

I started singing and playing instruments around 4 or 5 years old, but I got serious about music in high school when I sang with the HHW Vocal Arts Ensemble at Gallery 37, the headquarters of After School Matters. Studying at HHW encouraged me to hone in on my natural gifts and challenged me to step out of my comfort zone. While in high school, I was classically trained vocally, and I was taught music theory and educated about the music business and the art of good stage presence.

Who are your musical inspirations?

I grew up listening to a lot of Mariah Carey, Destiny’s Child, Usher and other R&B artists, but I’d say my music is also influenced and inspired by Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliott, India Arie and Jill Scott.

What was your first song like, if you can remember? How do you feel you’ve grown as a creator since?

I wrote my first song in a Hello Kitty journal when I was 8 years old, and it was super catchy but very corny! Once I started songwriting again after college, I found myself censoring my thoughts before I could even write them down, but as I pushed myself to let the creativity flow, both my songwriting and confidence improved. 

Kiéla Adira performs alongside fellow Chicago artist and frequent collaborator Ric Wilson at Pitchfork Music Festival 2023. Victoria Sanders, courtesy of Kiéla Adira.

Tell us about your track “Make a Way,” which was added to our “In Rotation” playlist for August. What do you hope listeners will take away from the song?

“Make a Way” is the first track on my debut EP GROWTH., produced by Timmy V, and is an upbeat, uplifting song about the importance of resilience and embracing the changes that life brings. I wrote this song as a reminder to myself and to anyone who listens that we all have within us the power to accomplish whatever we set our minds to. 

You mentioned in your submission to Vocalo that the music video for “Make a Way” was recorded in collaboration with a local elementary school. Tell us a little bit about that experience!

The “Make a Way” music video by Endangered Peace Productions was filmed at Paul Revere Elementary School on the South Side of Chicago and features some of the students. I was thrilled to be able to give these students a chance to showcase their beauty and let their light shine! This video and how it came together is a testament of what positivity, perseverance and a loving community can bring. 

We’d also love to hear a little bit about your educational work. What do you teach? When did you start teaching?

I started teaching in 2018 after graduating from Oberlin College. I taught a high school after-school program called “Triple Threat” where we focused on the musical, dance and theatrical elements of a performance and how to be a well-rounded performer. Later I was a Junior Kindergarten Teaching Assistant at a private independent school here in Chicago, and now I sub classes from time to time and offer performing arts private lessons to some of my students.

What’s been the most rewarding part of being an educator?

One of the most rewarding parts of being an educator is knowing that I’m uplifting the next generation of leaders. Seeing the joy that I bring to the students fills my heart and reminds me that I have to continue loving myself and embracing the things that make me unique, because they are following my lead. Teaching the little ones helps keep my youthful spirit alive, and allows me to practice patience, forgiveness and adaptability.

RELATED: Ric Wilson: In Conversation At Pitchfork 2023

You’ve collaborated with fellow Chicago artist Ric Wilson several times over the years. How did the two of you start working together? What’s your favorite track you’ve worked on together?

Ric! A collaborator turned into my chosen family. We met back in 2017 when he performed at Oberlin College, in Ohio during my senior year. Fellow Chicago artist Andre Jamal introduced us on campus, and the rest was history! Ric and I started working together pretty consistently after I graduated and we hit it off! I think out of the tracks we’ve released, “coco badass” would have to be my favorite, but there are so many more bops on the way!

Anyone you’d especially like to collaborate with in the future? Why them specifically?

I would like to collaborate with Missy Elliott, Jazmine Sullivan, Eryn Allen Kane, and I also have a bunch of Chicago artist friends that I look forward to collaborating with — Shawnee Dez, LaJé, Cassius Tae to name a few. They’re all so dedicated to their craft, and have inspired me in one way or another. I look forward to the magic that will be created when we bring our skills together. 

Tell us about your experience in the Chicago music scene. What do you feel are some triumphs and hardships of being a Chicago artist? 

Some hardships that I have faced in the music scene are trusting in myself and in the process and understanding that everyone’s journey is different. There are so many incredible artists in this city and it’s a blessing to know that as we continue to work alongside each other we will all be able to shine in our own lane, without having to look at each other as competition.

Kiéla Adira by Nick Moody

You just released your debut EP GROWTH. Tell us about it! How does it feel to have the project out in the world? What’s the initial reception been like so far?

GROWTH. represents everything that I’ve had to learn and work through over the past few years in order to have the courage and confidence to share my art with the world. 

My songs were written with the intention of healing me and anyone who takes the time to listen. This project has been very well-received thus far and I am so grateful! People have told me that it’s their favorite music to wake up to, drive to work to, work out to, etc! I hope to continue to reach people around the world with the love and uplifting vibes that is GROWTH. 

You also just performed the EP at the WNDR Museum! How was the show?

Yes! I just had my release show at WNDR Museum and it was such a success! Everyone who came had an amazing time. I’m grateful to have had an amazing team and cast of instrumentalists, vocalists and dancers, as well as a creative director and choreographer, Mz.Flo, who really helped bring the vision to life! I look forward to taking the show on the road! 

Now that your EP is out, what should listeners expect from you going forward? Any upcoming shows you want to let people know about?

Next up I will be opening for Anthony Hamilton at the 79th Street Renaissance Festival on Saturday, September 9! The following weekend on Saturday, September 16 I have an event in collaboration with lululemon entitled “GROWTH. Summit” and then the following month, I will be gearing up for the release show of my upcoming project entitled, Fool’s Croon, which will be on November 10 at Epiphany Center for the Arts. My debut EP GROWTH. was just a taste of what I’ve been working on, and there’s so much more in store that I look forward to sharing!

Kiéla Adira by Nick Moody

Keep up with Kiéla Adira on Instagram

Written introduction by Morgan Ciocca

Interview by Imani Warren and Morgan Ciocca

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