Daily Dose: Kaia Kater, “Grenades”

The Canadian singer juxtaposes a nation’s beauty with its war-torn terror

Music Features Kaia Kater
Daily Dose: Kaia Kater, “Grenades”

Daily Dose is your daily source for the song you absolutely, positively need to hear every day. Curated by the Paste Music Team.

Kaia Kater first picked up the banjo when she was 13. As the biracial daughter of a Canadian mother and an immigrant father from the Caribbean island of Grenada, she kept her craft a secret at first, because of the instrument’s generally bumpkin connotation. But when she learned of the banjo’s roots as a West African instrument brought over by enslaved people to the Caribbean, it seemingly validated her musical purpose and further sparked her interest. She went to school in West Virginia to study Appalachian music and on her first two albums, emerged as one of the finest young clawhammer-style banjo players.

Now with her forthcoming release, Grenades, out Oct. 26 on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, her songwriting rises as the banjo slowly begins to take a backseat to full-fledged productions, and a lyrical exploration of her own roots and identity. Kater traveled to Grenada earlier this year for the first time in her adult life ”in order to understand myself better and my family better,” she told Paste while at the Fayetteville Roots Festival. ”It’s the endless quest … I just needed to go.” She met her paternal grandfather for the first time on the month-long trip and then three weeks after her return to Toronto, she got the tragic news that he had passed away. The gravity and ghosts of her discovery are everywhere on Grenades.

Kater’s journey to her motherland and what she uncovered about herself feels strongest on the beautifully sprawling and bittersweet juxtapositions of the album’s title track, “Grenades.” Written on a wurlitzer, the piano is the guiding light among mellowed guitar, syrupy bass, humble drums, mood-shifting pedal steel and Kater’s angelic vocals. “Rain heavy like carpet bombs, sweetgrass and lemonade / Fold the memory into your arms and whisper it away,” Kater sings in a tender and devastating foil. During the album’s creation, Kater sat down with her father to talk about his experience as a boy in a war-torn nation. “I wrote it [“Grenades”] after hearing his testimony of the U.S. invasion in 1983 … what that felt like as a child … hearing bombs and chaos,” she says. “I wrote it as this comparison of this beautiful landscape with ultimate terror.”

Watch a live version of “Grenades” below.

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