Kesshia Jadine Kumari, aka KESH, has her fingers in every pie. Since selling DIY t-shirts via MySpace at just 17-years-old (since worn by the likes of Kanye West and Mariah Carey), the Croydon-born artist has traversed the worlds of art, design, and disc jockeys to reach a new stage in her career: musician. Her recent singles, Not Gaan Out and Jadines Escape, have expressed both a penchant for experimentalism and an eye for catchy rhythms. With Mind Maze, released late July on her label TENNN, these themes are continued as arpeggiated synths whirr ahead of pounding beats for a six-minute run, wrapped together by vocals reminiscent of early Grimes records. METAL spoke to KESH about forming sonic landscapes over insta-hits, pushing through trauma and divisive NFTs.
The lyrical content of Mind Maze, coupled with the artwork that features references to your previous art pieces amongst other aspects of your past, suggests this is a song centred on the grappling of identity and the balance of your varied passions and outlets as a multi-disciplinary creative. Is this a fair inference? What emotions and ideas are this track built on?
Although balancing the many aspects of being a multi-hyphenate creative can be challenging the song itself focuses on the deeper issue of self sabotage. Mind Maze focuses on the stored up emotions that we carry within and how they can create a sort of maze like trap that we can find ourselves in. For many years I suffered from depression; I was unable to do the things I enjoyed, my passions, I was debilitated by low feelings and sadness. Mind Maze is a reflection on this time and taking note of how it can come and go. Pain has such strong memory within us and can produce cycles of thought and effects that hinder our growth if it is not dealt with properly. So Mind Maze was a form of healing for me by taking the step to address it and become aware.
You've provided three quite different singles thus far, from the dark, dub-centred Not Gaan Out to the trance-like climax of Mind Maze, albeit three which sit in the same sonic universe. How would you describe your sound to the uninitiated?
I don’t really think the sound can be described. They’re a collection of emotions and a blend of multiple genres that have raised me up or have flown through me naturally. There is no intention of sound style or genre when I make the initial track. I just make a beat, write the feeling and everything evolves. My audience are open minded and eclectic so they receive the works with no expectation. They know I can flow in a million different directions.
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I understand that you were terrified of the idea of isolation prior to moving to live in the woods around 2013. Except that you faced your fears and felt stronger for it. Given that change, I’d imagine that quarantining hasn’t been as much of a challenge for you - How have you found the experience of this past year and a half of coronavirus lockdowns, which have almost been bookended by your most recent singles?
Isolation is actually very natural to me. I’m an only child and grew up in a home where my mother worked a lot of overtime and late shifts. I spent a lot of time alone and that carried on as I moved into my own spaces. As I’m constantly working on various projects in my studios, I didn’t really feel a change. I picked a new location and carried on as normal. I felt removed from the coronavirus experience in many ways as I had moved deep into the mountains just before lockdown, so I wasn’t having many interactions with humans in general. It kind of played out at a distance for me and it was interesting to observe. I think it provided a lot of perspective for humanity as a whole and for me it was a reminder to how precious life is.
It was interesting to discover how you only found out that Jadine - which features in the title of Jadines Escape - was your middle name via paperwork later in your life. Identity is a complex thing and something as simple as a name can often frame experience of something or someone in a new light. Talk me through that moment, if you don’t mind - when and how did you discover this? And what does the name Jadine mean to you now?
I discovered the name as I was searching for information on my birth parents. A couple years back I briefly had the feeling that I wanted to find them and find out more about my history. I had one folder that came with me from the adoption agency, and I started to dig through to look for some clues. I found a copy of my birth certificate which I had never seen and under middle name I saw ‘Jadine’. I’d always been told I didn’t have a middle name and never used one throughout the years. In that very moment I began to cry. Deeply. I put the certificate back in the folder and haven’t opened it since.
For a while I just kept it to myself. I wrote it down on a piece of paper a few times, folded it and put it away. Every now and then I’d find the paper and look at it, and feel confused. This was a part of me that has existed since I was born, and I never knew. I avoided it for a while but after researching the name and learning about the qualities of Jade I started to let it in. Now Jadine is a part of who I am. I associate the name with the softer side of me, which I rarely share, but as I move forward in my journey [this part of me] is slowly but surely pushing through past traumas and stepping into the world.
You discussed how the whole project is character based, between you and your demon as light and darkness within yourself. I find the age old, biblical framing of good/light versus bad/dark very interesting, especially in a time of reactionary politics and instantaneous Twitter discourse, when often things are a lot more complicated. Why have you chosen this as the central theme to your work? Is it important to have these clear distinctions?
I mean it’s different for everyone. Things aren’t always so black and white when it comes to your inner battles. There are a lot of grey areas but in this form of expression I’ve chosen to make it clear as my yin and yang are very strong, and my pendulum can swing far and wide. Everything you see is just the beginning. I am introducing the characters and setting the stage for what will be a long and complex ride. So, for now it’s important to me to have clear distinctions.
I understand that when you began learning to make music, you were giving yourself an hour to produce tracks to accompany video footage. How does the creative process for making music today, differ from when you started in 2013?
Now instead of hours it takes months. Years. Those pieces were what I consider to be short form expressions. They were timed and combined with moving image to put forth a feeling or emotion that I had in those months. They were attached to a series of work called What Are We Worshipping? A show studying the effect of mass media and celebrity worship. Plus, multiple unreleased demos and evolutionary works. Now I still make those but they’re my demos which I then select and build out over a long and in-depth process.
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All the tracks are released on your own music label, TENNNN, which you created in 2018. Firstly, what's the background behind the name? 
TENNNN originally had 10 Ns. Each N was to represent a “New being” that could inject some light and positivity into the vast landscape of the music industry. I stripped back the N’s for typing purposes, but the logo still has the 10. As time went by the concept of the label morphed into something else it’s really multifaceted now. We are open to a wider scope of people and concepts. We also provide creative direction, consulting and much more.
But also, I understand TENNNN was made because you wanted to release your own music - and Prince told you to make your own label since industry labels weren’t having the right conversations. Though, the first releases were actually by Greentea Peng. Was it always your intention to go into the label or managerial side of music or was it just a happy accident from wanting to release your own tunes?
I already knew in my heart I wanted to release independently. TENNNN already existed before I met Prince, but the concept was different. It was going to be a music curation site and performance platform but once we met and he gave his words of wisdom I changed the whole thing to a label. As soon as I did this, I felt a lot safer as my music is so untraditional many labels don’t understand me. They’re looking for ‘insta-hits’ and I’m out here making 8-minute sonic landscapes.
I knew when I started it that I wanted to also work with others. I know how to refine and enhance an artist. I can do it with my eyes closed. So, we built a number of artists from scratch on the label because we wanted to see people with real talent win.
There has been a lot of furores about the NFT scene, including the environmental costs associated with minting them and the idea they are not revolutionary ‘levellers’ for artists but uphold the status quo of wealthy (often white, male) technocrats. Given your recent NFT auction, what do you have to say about them to your sceptical fans?
I think it’s easy for people to have issue with things they’re not using. But search engines, video platforms, social media are creating just as much environmental costs [as NFTs] if not more. So, unless we’re going to shut the whole internet down, I’m going to take the opportunity to move forward with the times and utilise the space to sell and protect my work. Although there are the usual boring levels of hierarchy there are spaces for people to independently show their work and connect with collectors directly which I find refreshing.
Outside of music, you’ve had many other creative outlets including forming looks for the likes of Jammer and Kanye West or your own fashion line. How does it differ when creating for yourself rather than a design brief? Do you pull on the same emotions and concepts or is one more impulsive – and a more natural fit – than others, for instance?
When I design for myself, for my brand, it is more impulsive. I create what I want to see on myself, or others and it flows very organically and expressively. I see the piece forming right in front of me and I know what I want. When working with others I’m much more methodical. I want to make people feel comfortable, and I want to work within their brackets of expression, so I blend the two together to make something that allows me to still design within my realms but also makes the person feel understood.
Given you’ve covered so much terrain in art, fashion and music - an intersection METAL embodies and looks to champion - do you have any longer-term plans right now? Is this upcoming release the start of a musical ‘period’ in your life or another avenue to keep creative?
This musical period will continue as I carry on juggling all the other elements to form one fluid motion. Eventually they will blur into one and the vision will become clear.
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