TransVocalizers — Kokumo

| Oct 7, 2013
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It’s always a pleasure to come across an artist who, while new to me, is someone who has spent years developing not only their talent but also their sense of commitment to their community. Kokumo is such a person. She is not only an accomplished singer, song writer, actress and musician, but is also a well known activist and entrepreneur.

So, it’s with great pride that Transvocalizers/TGForum is introducing Kokumo to our readers. She’s already familiar to some of you, but for others the following interview will serve as an introduction to a rising talent in the transgender music world.

TGForum: I gather that you’re a Chicago native, from the South Side to be specific. What was it like growing up there as a transperson?

Kokumo: It was gorgeously difficult. I learned how to hustle as well as enjoy the stripped essence of life. Not having luxuries teaches you to relish the necessities and respect their contribution.

TGF: I got from your website that you’re 23, right? How old were you when you first started with your trans issues? How supportive is your family?

K: I’m 25! I came to understand my transness at age of 21. Up until that point I was in denial due to the reality of my life. I was a child, repressing sexually abusive episodes, just trying to finish teenage life. When I turned 21, I literally saw my past in play-back and burst from chains. I saved enough strength to free myself. I began hormones and began my odyssey.

TGF: Any formal musical training? What instruments do you play?

K: I studied voice and music theory in college. However, the program was more semantics than practicality. Therefore, it became moot. Ultimately I wound up getting a Bachelor’s in Psychology and Individualized Curriculum. And that suited me beautifully, because I was able to study with a professional opera singer/vocalist, take writing classes, and even study with a professional actress. The educational complex is flawed, for sure, but the redeeming thing about it is that there are tangible ways to circumvent the bureaucracy.

TGF: What were your musical influences growing up? And, what do you listen to now?

Kokimo Media by Kiam Marcelo JunioK: Sylvester, Sylvester, Sylvester, Sylvester. And as to who do I listen to now? Sylvester!.

TGF: Your EP There Will Come A Day was just released. Who produced and played on it? Is this all your original material?

K: Aside from our cover of Tears For Fears’ Mad World, the album is full of original material. I was privileged to work with D.M. Stoermer. He’s an older gay white man, and I’m a 25 year old black transwoman. He’s a classically trained pianist and I am the adopted child of Sylvester, Grace Jones, and Nina Simone. Our respective brands melded to create a stirringly unique cauldron. There Will Come A Day is a musical feast prepared over the span of two lifetimes. And I’m still savoring.

TGF: When performing, do you use live musicians or tracks?

K; I use both. I grew up listening to consummate musicians, therefore it’s embedded in me to only perform live with vocals and bands. But sometimes I don’t have access to my pianist. So I summon my ancestors and unleash to the best of my ability.

Clip from Mad World

Clip from There Will Come a Day

TGF: Your web site states that a full length album, entitled I Shall Not Be Denied, is due out next spring. Who’s producing? How much work have you done on the project so far?

K: Thank you for that question. My debut album has actually been pushed back. But my second EP will be released next year in its place. We’re not at liberty to discuss more at this point but supporters can stay abreast exclusively at my website. They can also download for free There Will Come A Day and are welcome to donate as well.

TGIF-21-900x650TGF: Since these releases are on your own label, Kokumo Music, would you eventually consider releasing material by other artists? Do you want to take the label to that level?

K: Actually, that is my plan. First, I must develop a solid support base for myself and then I highly anticipate being able to break other TG artists of color. It’s all part of my five year plan!

TGF: In general, how often do you perform and at what type of venues?

K: I identify as a revolution(ary) as much as I do an artist. Therefore, I love being able to share space and present my art at rallies, marches, and progressive gatherings of the like. As far as There Will Come A Day is concerned, I have performed at literally just about every type of venue. Now when my second EP is released next year, I will be doing mainly concert venues.

TGF: You’re also very politically active. Are some of your other activities, such as Kokumo Philanthropy, aimed specifically at the trans community, or do you strive to reach beyond to the gay/lesbian and straight communities?

KOKUMO-THE-DEFINITIVE-PICTUREK: I stand in solidarity with the gay community, but in all honesty, black transpeople, even more, black transwomen are my priority. I can’t even contemplate working for other people when most black transwomen don’t even have a GED. I’ve got work to do with my community and when we feel that we’ve made strides, I’ll be in touch.

TGF: I’ve learned over the years that the trans community is great at preaching diversity and inclusion, but often falls short in practice. Being an African-American transperson, what kind of obstacles have you faced from within the various communities?

K: I’ve been tokenized, exploited, then disposed of. Hence the reason I do all of my activism via Kokumomedia INC. Kokumedia INC. is my multimedia production company. It is my weapon in a world that only sees me useful as either dead or imprisoned. Doing work in the non-profit industrial complex, I found myself fighting more than healing. I realized that you should never send a spectator to do a black transwoman’s job.

TGF: What advice would you offer to any young musician/singer just starting out?

K: Focus on being powerful, not popular.

TGF: In closing, any final thoughts?

K: Kokumomedia Inc., will be releasing a digital quarterly magazine called Kokumo, May 2014. The magazine will be dedicated to all things black, trans, and revolutionary. We have the most prolific black trans notables alive already on board such as Laverne Cox, Igantio Rivera, Janet Mock, Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler, Monica Roberts, to name a few. Kokumo magazine will be available for purchase exclusively via beginning May, 2014. Thank you so much!.


Jennifer Leitham

Jennifer Leitham

Jennifer Leitham

Sunday October 27: Hidden Valley Community Concert Association presents Jeff Linsky: Jeff Linsky guitar/uke, Jennifer Leitham bass, Monette Marino percussion. Doors open 3 p.m., Show 3:30 p.m., First United Methodist Church, 341 South Kalmia Street, Escondido,  CA 92025

Saturday November 2: Angels of Change. Jennifer Leitham is being honored with the Community Leader Angel Award at the 2013 Angels of Change event,  benefiting Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Division of Adolescent Medicine Center for TransYouth Health and Development. “This award is given annually to an individual for their continuous support and advocacy toward the advancement of trans youth in our community.” Angels of Change is the single annual fundraising event to support the Center for Transgender Youth Health & Gender Development Risk Reduction Program in the Division of Adolescent Medicine at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. Arena Nightclub, 6655 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles,  CA 90038.

More gig listings are in the Itinerary section on Jennifer’s website and also found on Jennifer’s Facebook fan page in the Events section:

Georgie Jessup

Georgie Jessup

Georgie Jessup

Georgie Jessup will be hosting another open mic night at Edith May’s Paradise, October 12th, featuring ilyAIMY, Justin McMahon and The Honest Mistakes, as well as Georgie herself.

November 15: Georgie and Edith May’s will be hosting Dirk Hamilton.

November 23 is the Native American Month concert, with Terry Strongheart, David Rose, Georgie Jessup and others yet to be announced. Edith May’s is at 7711 apple Ave., Jessup, MD, 410-799-3755; Check out Edith May’s Facebook page also.

Rev. Yolanda

Rev. Yolanda has been busy with Pride events in North Carolina, but will be back at NYC’s The Duplex on October 20th. For more information, please check out Rev. Yolanda’s website.

Calpernia Addams

Calpernia has a new YouTube video. This one is very short, but she does an excellent Marlyn Monroe.

David de Alba

David de Alba will be performing at the legendary Onyx Theatre in Las Vegas on Sunday, November 24, 2 p.m. This show is a tribute to Judy Garland entitled Dorothy — The Later Years. For more information, check out The Onyx Theatre site , as well as David’s website.


True by Avicii

Avicii_-_True_(Album)True by Avicii (a.k.a. Tim Bergling) is an extremely unique project. Bergling is the internationally known DJ, mixer, and producer known as Avicii and True is the first full length album he has released. While he wrote or co-wrote all the tunes but one, Berling utilizes the talents of different singers and musicians throughout.

Bergling’s purpose for the project was to present different genres of music through the lense of electronic/house music. Given that rather off-the-wall concept, it’s interesting to hear how he actually succeeds with the idea.

Wake Me Up, sung by Aloe Blacc, was a hit single well before this project started. It’s presented stylistically as country, but with a tech keyboard and dance groove, which I didn’t expect to hear at first. It does catch your attention almost immediately.

The more rock tunes, You Make Me (vocals by Salem Al Fakir), Hey Brother (vocals, Dan Tyminsky), and Addicted To You (Audra Mae, vocals) are all woven throughout with a house music feel, while still managing to be the heavier tunes on the project.

Berling delves into some interesting territory with the retro rock, keyboard dominated Liar Liar (vocals by Blondfire and Aloe Blacc), and the cabaret-like Shame On Me (vocals by Audra Mae and Sterling Fox)

The two outright dance grooves on True are Lay Me down (Adam Lambert, vocals) and Dear Boy (vocals by MO). If the album has one tune that’s a bit of a downer, it’s Dear Boy, simply because of its length — 7:59. It is possible to beat a theme to death.

Hope There’s Someone is the one tune that Bergling didn’t write. It’s penned by Antony Hegarty and is probably one of the project’s stand out tracks. Musically sparse at times, it does give way to a very dynamic, powerful feel, while picking up the dance groove at the half-way point. Vocals are by Llinnea Henriksson.

True closes with the instrumental Heart Upon My Sleeve. This another outstanding track on the project, and definitely wasn’t something I expected to hear.

While some producers wouldn’t mix genres so willingly, Bergling does an excellent job of tying the entire project together into a cohesive package of songs. The ubiquitous 4/4 beat is what makes dance/house music a little redundant to just listen to, but not in this case. Bergling has every right to be proud of True. You can find Avicci on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

The Electric Lady by Janelle Monae

Electric_Lady_TargetThe Electric Lady Suites IV and V, the new project by Janelle Monae, is actually a continuation of her first EP, Metropolis. It is also her second full length album, the follow-up to 2010’s ArchAndroid.

Monae draws heavily on the jam esoteric known as “ish,” as well as the continuing influence of the women in her life. The result is a very eclectic mix of dance music that also includes some funk, some R&B, and even some rock.

The project is extremely long-19 cuts-divided into two suites. Tracks 1 and 11 are both used as overtures to introduce the suites. The aforementioned R&B tunes are Electric Lady (featuring Solange); We Were Rock And Roll; Ghetto Woman; Victory; and What An Experience.

Monae also mixes R&B with smooth jazz in tunes such as It’s Code; Can’t Live Without You; and Dorothy Dandridge Eyes (featuring Esperanza Spalding).

The use of guest artists is something that Monae makes good use of. Along with those just mentioned, Prince is featured on the light rock tune Give ‘Em What They Love; Erykah Badu is on the funk tune Q.U.E.E.N; and the somewhat laid back rock tune (with a decent guitar solo), Primetime, features Miguel.

There are three fake radio spots/interludes that are used to loosely tie the android theme together. While it’s an interesting trick, it does impact the flow and continuity of the project by distracting for the actual music.

However, that’s what I consider to be the project’s only glitch. It’s easy to overlook this when the best moments on The Electric Lady are considered. They are: Dance Apocalyptic, which is just plain cool-a 1960’s sort of dance groove, in spite of the name; Look Into My Eyes, a fully orchestrated tune which is sort of reminiscent of a movie sound track, specifically something from one of the older James Bond films.

Perhaps Monae’s best vocal is found on the laid baid, guitar dominated Sally Ride.

The Electric Lady is executive produced by Janelle Monae, Nate Wonder, Chuck Lightning, and Sean Diddy Combs. Co-produced by Antwan Big Boi Patton. You’ll have to check out the CD insert for individual writer, musician, and production credits.

For more information, including upcoming fall tour dates, please go to Monae’s website; also on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Love Is Love by Vensun (David Vendetta and Sylvia Tosun)

Love Is Love is an eight track remix disc of the single from the debut work of Vendetta and Tosun. The song itself has been described as “…a soundtrack to the global struggle for human rights and polarizing social issues such as gay marriage.” Tosun is herself known as an activist for the gay community.

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Category: Music

Pam Degroff

About the Author ()

Pamela DeGroff been writing for TGForum since the start of 1999. Her humor column, The Pamela Principle, ran until 2005. She started the Perpetual Change music column in May of 1999, and in 2008, Angela Gardner came up with the idea for the Transvocalizers column and put Pam to work on that. Pamela was a regular contributor to Transgender Community News until that magazine's demise. While part of a support group in Nashville called The Tennessee Vals she began writing for their newsletter, and also wrote for several local GLBT alternative newspapers in Tennessee. Pamela is currently a staff reporter for a small town daily paper in Indiana, and is also a working musician.

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