Kindred The Family Soul
Here before us: A soul-filled expression of yin and yang, feminine day force meeting masculine night force, strength and sensitivity coexisting within a divine collaboration sprung from love. Homegrown Philadelphia duo Kindred makes the music of two who have become one, music with enough soul power to light all of our ways.
Kindred is Fatin and Aja Dantzler, singer/songwriters whose intimate, progressive, and spiritual view of the world is the common thread woven into their songs. Husband and wife partners, these lovers lavish as much thought and care on their music as they do on each other. Their work can be likened to that of a modern-day Ashford & Simpson, another trailblazing duo who soulfully chronicled the joys and challenges of black love; Kindred's sound is steeped in the urban nu-soul groove of percolating Philly, from whence sprang friends and colleagues The Roots, Musiq Soulchild and Jill Scott.
Kindred's story is one of passion, determination, and talent, and their impact as performers is testament to the adage about an entity becoming more than the sum of its parts. Both Fatin and Aja had striven toward musical careers long before they met. Fatin had carved out his territory as a songwriter at a young age, co-penning tunes for Pebbles and Bell Biv DeVoe while still a teenager. Aja too had striven toward that first Big Break, singing as part of a girl group and later signed by a label as a soloist. But as fickle show biz would have it, Aja's album was never released. But that doesn't mean the experience didn't come with some benefits.
"I was a solo artist--I was signed to a deal when I was about 15 and I was working on a record, and I was seeking out The Roots as the producers and I was introduced to Fatin as a songwriter and a producer," says Aja, "and we began writing songs together for my project."
Though the album didn't materialize, a strong connection between Fatin and Aja did. Says Fatin: "Basically we were working in the same arena, in the same camp for a while, singing, doing jam sessions, and just hanging out. We got to know each other as friends, we started seeing each other, and knew we wanted to get married."
The newlyweds soon learned they were expecting a son. They concentrated on "a quote unquote regular life," holding down full-time jobs, making a home for their baby, and looking at music as a sideline. But once Fatin was laid off from his sales gig, the couple made the decision to follow their hearts. They re-connected with their friends in the industry, and began to play regular gigs in Philadelphia like the popular Black Lily performance series, where Jill Scott and the Roots frequently performed.
"Every week we were consistent in performing," Fatin explains. "We went through some transitions in the band and as individuals and performers, we drew people, gained fans, and gained some respect throughout the city, and that began to spread. There being such a dominant presence of big music powers in the city right now, some of our friends were able to put our names in the right place, speak on our behalf and make us look good, and people would come to see us."
In fact, at Scott's urging, Hidden Beach president Steve McKeever caught the couple's show and signed them up. No doubt their music and its relentlessly positive spirit enlightened McKeever as well as Kindred's growing base of word-of-mouth fans.
Aja and Fatin insist that they sing about their own life experiences, and the music that they create in collaboration with other writers and producers is the result of a melange of musical influences that cannot and should not be categorized. Says Aja: "Fatin and I listen to everything from Mobb Deep to Cat Stevens" Adds Fatin: "Tuck & Patti to Aerosmith, to the Dave Matthews Band." Concludes Aja, " anywhere from hardcore hip-hop to folk music, to punk rock, to the whole gamut! I can't even say that we're just influenced by soul music."
Just check out some of their tunes, like the wistful "Far Away," which expresses both the frustrating realities of urban life and the healing appeal of loving arms. The mid-tempo groove driven by a ringing electric piano, expressing longing for an easier time and place, "far away" from the troubles of society, with alternating verses sung by Fatin and Aja: "Tired of paying taxes, sending e-mails and faxes, Tired of crooked cops, tired of black folk complaining that crime don't stop, I wanna go to a place where lovers go, do the things that lovers do, no stress, a sweet caress from me to you"
The deceptively simple "Feel So Free," as sung by Fatin, is a quiet yet powerful celebration of love's power to lift us all higher. "This is more than we ever thought at it could be/ And we're so glad that we found happiness, yes," he croons in his rough-edged baritone against the smoothest of head-nodding grooves. The simple elegance of the lyrics, married to the rhythm, speaks volumes about the simple joy and endless opportunities available when love thrives between a black man and a black woman.
But Kindred can get down and funky as well. The pair can easily rock the house as they have with their horn-laden re-make of hot-buttered-soul man Isaac Hayes's determinist anthem "Do Your Thing."
The strength of Kindred comes from the melding of the individual artistry of both Fatin and Aja, as well as their abiding love for their craft and each other. "It came together when we both came together," says Fatin of the success that he and Aja are witnessing now as Kindred. "The blessing of everything that we were doing before we came together seemed to really start to pay off when we came together. And I think we changed the direction of where we were going as individuals and why we were doing what we were doing, and therefore gave it more purpose, gave it more life."