I had the pleasure of watching “Kindred The Family Soul” do their thing at the Summer Spirit Music Festival this weekend in Maryland. And while they weren’t the headliners like Erykah Badu and Jill Scott who closed the two day festival respectively, Aja Graydon and Fantin Dantzler’s performance really stuck with me long after they took their bows and floated off the stage together.
I was introduced to Kindred in college (early 2000s) and they came out around the same time Jill Scott and India Aire did. These artists were a breath of fresh air as I was growing and learning how to be more mature. Listening to these kinds of artists was a gateway to shaping my evolving taste in music. There was something old school about them, yet fresh and relatable to me. You couldn’t ass shake all the time, and you couldn’t scream out loud aggressive raps either. At that time, me and my friends were falling in and out of love and even wondering if the relationships we were building were among the ones that would lead to marriage. It was college after all.
I was immediately drawn to Kindred’s first album, which I think hands down is their best and untouchable, “Surrender to Love.” The classics on that joint still stand the test of time, as evidenced by the reaction from the crowd when they sang a good amount of those songs in their set some 16 years later.
After to Surrender to Love, I kept my eye out for some other songs, only really connecting with a single or two here and there over the last few years. They announced they are releasing their 6th studio album, and I’m just so stuck on their first. I’m sure they wouldn’t be happy with my steadfast devotion to only Surrender to Love and neglecting their other albums, because as artists they need to and have to grow.
I was standing still and my relationships weren’t really evolving to the level of the things they were talking about.
Which is why I’m revisiting Kindred now as a 30-something who has had a few relationships under her belt, including a broken engagement and six long years of being single and now entering something new and serious and very mature.
My ears are starting to perk up to some of the other songs on their other albums and I’m hearing them with completely new ears, because I’m eager to make this thing work, and I’m finding out that deciding to really open yourself up and join with someone else and not be long distance can reveal somethings about yourself in the process. How guarded you really are, and how it takes a lot of trust to undo those protective actions you’ve been crafting so carefully over the years to protect your feelings.
One of the things I appreciate about Aja and Fantin is the very obvious love, respect and genuine affection they have for one another. They are married with six children and that bond as artists, business partners, husband and wife and parents is strong and battle-tested, but their love is genuine and you can still feel them flirting with each other during songs, and even looking on with pride when the other person hits their solo part of the show.
Through their music they lay out the good, bad, ugly and mundane but always bring it back to not wanting to do the ups and downs of life with anyone else but each other.
There have been several times as a black woman, exasperated I’ve asked my friends over drinks and brunches and dinners and international vacations, “Where is black love? What happened to it?”
Aja and Fantin were holding up the banner last night and every night they perform. And their light attracts other couples who are holding on and holding on to each other, and I saw them last night in the audience dancing, singing along, or leading each other through the crowds and keeping each other cool in the heat.
Their lyrics are loving and honest. From day one in their classic hit “Far Away” they lamented working 9-5s and wanting to hold on to that loving feeling, but having to sneak in sexy time while their baby naps.
In other songs, they discuss doing the work to stay together and grow together and that deciding to stay with someone for decades and for the rest of your life is magical, but like a great magic trick– there’s a whole lot going on that the audience will never see, to create the illusion. They ask each other to hang in and to not give up, they remind each other that it’s worth it.
And boy do we need more music like that.
There is a validity that Aja and Fantin bring to their performances that only comes from having a front row seat to each other’s lives. I’m glad they share vulnerability in their songs and remind people of their own vulnerabilities and that loving another person is indeed a risk, but one worth taking each day. One that is necessary if we are to ever truly enjoy the sweetness of life.
It’s often impolite to ask probing questions of the couples we know in real life. Most couples won’t pull back the curtain on their relationship, because it’s not always what we are seeing when folks post those “couples’ challenge” social media posts. And while most couples would be afraid to be so transparent, at least we have Aja and Fantin giving us the real and sharing their journey with us so we can all grow. They are the type of couple who seem like they’d be at the BBQ giving the younger couples the truth about love, and reminding them that it’s worth fighting for and to above all choose wisely.
The gems in Kindred’s body of work aren’t hidden. They lay it all bare. But like love, it’s all about an individual’s willingness and readiness to accept all that comes with it.
And that BBQ advice session was exactly the vibe I felt with my larger “family” of music lovers all day yesterday. Aja and Fantin held court, while I hung on to every note, listening carefully to every word.
Yup, I’m going to take a closer listen to the subsequent albums after “Surrender to Love.” Because you can’t stay in one place. You have to grow, you have to be open, you have to listen and you have to learn.
And growth certainly looks good on Aja and Fantin, and that’s worth emulating.