Soul folk singer-songwriter, Mama Kin, recently celebrated the Canadian release of her sophomore album, the Magician’s Daughter.
Traversing themes of loss and disillusionment, ushered by vivid imagery, the Magician’s Daughter is both compelling (Red Wood River) and raw (One Too Many). Often somber in tone, Kin’s honest lyrics about love, devotion and allowing oneself to simply trust, (Bosom of Our Bed, the River As She Runs), beautifully showcases her ability to be lyrically vulnerable and fearlessness.
Mama Kin spoke to the Winehouse Mag about the making of the Magician’s Daughter, pushing her own boundaries in the name of art, and what you do when you’re stranded on the Winehouse desert island. Chaka V.
TWM: What was your first memorable or significant experience with music as a child? And was there an artist that really inspired you vocally and lyrically?
MK: My earliest musical experience is singing with my big sister Carmen. I was her shadow, and would always ask her to sing for me or if we could sing together. She has an amazing voice, and as she is 14 years my elder, she really took me under her wing. My older siblings had a family band in full swing by the time I was born, so really our lives were immersed in music. It was [also] what we offered to our community, our family was known as the ones who would bring the music to the celebration! I was really impressed upon by the artists that my older siblings listened to, and as the youngest of 6 that was a wide range! Anything and everything from Aretha Franklin, Joan Armatrading, Stevie Wonder, The Cure, Prince, Bonnie Raitt, Charley Pride, Johnny Cash, Dr. John, Michael Jackson. As the youngest of 6, I had no “stereo access rights,” so I was at the mercy of the 5 older DJ’s. Luckily they had great taste.
TWM: Aerosmith has a famous song called “Mama Kin” (Keepin’ touch with Mama Kin/Tell her where you‘ve gone and been.) Did that song inspire your stage name? If so, why did it serve as inspiration? If not, where did it come from (I think it’s a great name).
MK: No, I didn’t name myself after this song. Actually, I didn’t know about it until after I had bonded with the name. The name came from my earliest demo-ing session with my brother Nicky Bomba. As we were working on the tracks we were talking about doing a project together called “Kin.” Two days into the session I found out that I was pregnant with my second child, and so he called me Mama Kin. And then he wrote that on all of the CD demos that we burned. The name stuck!
TWM: The Magician’s Daughter is a beautiful evocative title. What was behind your choosing of that album name?
MK: My grandfather was a professional magician in post World War II, Malta. My mother, one of 13 children, was his assistant for some time. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of their relationship. The father, the magician, and the daughter his assistant, in collaboration, delivering a performance aimed at creating wonder. Sharing the secrets behind the tricks, the necessary discretion, and what she describes as a kind of telepathy between them in their speechless communication during performance. The idea of this girl that knew the secrets of her father, or her male archetype, but was discrete with them, and built secrets and magic with him. There is so much magic in that.
TWM: Tell me about the making of this album? Did you have a concept? What was your vision for it?
MK: I didn’t really have a concept for it as such. The album was really defined by the body of songs that made it. The songs I ended up choosing to go on the album really created the cohesion and the texture of the album as a whole. I worked with my band, and [the] wonderful producer Jan Skubiszewski [Way of the Eagle, Owl Eyes, The Cat Empire], [and] we approached the album in a very visual sense. I feel that Jan brought that cinematic, visual sensibility to the tracks. I purposefully did not show anyone the tracks until we were in the studio. I didn’t want us to be bound by how we might deliver the tracks live, I just wanted us to create the sonic environment for the song and story to flourish in. We then adapted our live show to meet the expansion in sound that our recording journey had created. It was really a great creative process.
TWM: You have said that this album “pushed your boundaries.” Can you go into a few ways in which it stretched you as an artist?
MK: I think the “not knowing” was the biggest part of the stretching. Going in with the songs in their rawest forms and allowing us all to experiment with our responses to the stories within them. This was sometimes very challenging because it was a case of, “I don’t know what I want, but I’ll recognise it when I hear it. So, let’s just keep brainstorming creative ideas.” This was the challenge and the reward of this album process, in my opinion.
TWM: My favourite songs on the album is “Red Wood River” and “The River as She Runs” (I’m clearly drawn to sonic rivers). They evoke very strong images in my mind. How do songs like these and “Cherokee Boy” relate to you?
MK: You have chosen the songs that have the darker stories in them. The stories about the shock and grief and surrender of loss. I love these songs most on the album also. I think growing up with a lot of country and western music, I was always awed by the songwriting–stories of love lost, life lost, hardship. Somehow these were the songs that I was drawn to — the grief, the blues! It was the expression and transmutation of something painful into something truly beautiful that stirred something alchemic in me.
TWM: I’ve seen gorgeous images of you that have a Frida Kahlo-esque vibe about them, the Magician’s Daughter cover being one of those images. Who are some of your inspirations outside of music – those in literature and art etc.?
MK: I love Arundhati Roy, her book “The God of Small Things” changed my relationship with literature. So many years after reading it, I still hear her storytelling in certain landscapes.
TWM: You seem to have transformed visually during your career. Do you alter your look to match the energy of an album? Or is your most recent incarnation truer to you as an artist?
MK: I think I am always transforming visually. I think I get a bit braver the older I get and the further I get into my creative journey. Like right now I am wearing high-waisted shorts with watermelons all over them. That feels really brave, and I like it. I think I definitely set the artwork of my releases to match the sentiment or the aesthetic of the music within it, but that it is quite an abstract process. I am lucky to work with a really cool graphic artist, Claire Foxton, who really gets my work and works closely with me to interpret it visually.
TWM: If I put you on a lush desert island for a year but you could only bring a few items, which three albums and which three books would you bring with you?
MK: I would take Aretha Franklin: The Best of Aretha Franklin. Gillian Welch, Time (The Revelator). Saturday Night Fish Fry – New Orleans [Funk and Soul] Compilation.
Books: Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, Naomi Wolf: Vagina, Alain De Botton’s Religion for Atheists. (The last two because I’m reading them now and want to finish them). Can I please bring one more book? Unknown Author: How to build a boat from materials found on a desert island.
TWM: Clever final selection! And if your music was a colour, what colour would it be?
MK: That is a really tough question!!! Rich velvety teal.