Kaleena Zanders opens up about being a vocalist in dance music, PRIDEFEST2020, Black Lives Matter, and the community as a whole.
Vocalists are magicians in dance music. The production can be exquisite, but when you add a powerhouse vocal on top, magic happens. Kaleena Zanders is a vocalist that we’ve all heard and danced our precious hearts out to. Her soulful vocals are magnetic and create goosebumps on the skin. Everything she touches turns into pure gold, that’s why so many DJs are knocking on her door to collaborate with.
She’s worked with seemingly everyone including AC Slater, BIJOU, Fatum, Breathe Carolina, J. Worra, and so many more. Personally, I’m waiting for the day she collaborates with Duke Dumont—a girl can dream, right? Time and time again she’s showing the world that vocalists are an important ingredient to add in the dance music recipe. Today, she’s working on her solo EP and getting ready to blow us away with her livestream during PRIDEFEST on Saturday, June 27.
When it comes to Kaleena Zanders, it’s easier to go on and on about her like a proud parent. We had the pleasure of chatting with Kaleena Zanders about her experience as a vocalist in dance music, PRIDEFEST2020, and her experience as a black queer woman. Enjoy!
Stream BIJOU, Kaleena Zanders – One Life on Spotify:
Hey Kaleena Zanders! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us today, we’re stoked about this. There’s so much going on in the world right now and all of our plans for 2020 were put on the sidelines. Other than spending more time within the comforts of your home, what kept you busy during the shelter in place? Did you fall into the banana bread baking craze?
Haha, no, I didn’t do that. I actually don’t cook much. I’ve been practicing my guitar more, watching Masterclass online, connecting with friends through Zoom, journaling, long walks, and putting some finishing touches on my upcoming EP.
Let’s chat about you some more. You’re a powerhouse vocalist that many artists are lucky to work with. How did you start your career off in dance music?
I started, well I have to say it was sort of by accident. In 2014, I decided to quit music. I was really tired of the grind as a singer/songwriter. But like the week after I “quit” one of my best friends Andrew Reinfeld asked me if I’d be down to sing over a dance track. In a shrug the shoulder type moment, I said “yes” and he connected me to SNBRN. I drove to SNBRN’s apartment and recorded a vocal for his track. It took like 30 mins. We chatted and I left. Then like eight months later, it became the biggest track in 2015. After that, there was a tidal wave of requests from other DJs to collab and I’ve kept it going and I absolutely love it!
You’ve worked with a number of dance music artists like AC Slater, Breathe Carolina, Dropgun, etc. How has dance music shaped or influenced your perspective as an artist and an individual?
Dance Music has shown me the beauty of community and collaboration. Before dance music, I definitely felt like I was going at it alone. The dance community is very welcoming from fans to producers, managers, agents, etc. I had never even been to a festival prior to 2015 so, it was a unique experience entering on the performance side. There’s so much love and support that comes from the festival goers and I am thankful to have been transformed by that otherwise, I think I would be very bitter, I think. I am not saying that this business doesn’t have its challenges but I am thankful to have landed here.
Speaking of collaborations. You recently released another song with Bijou called ‘One Life.” Your friendship and partnership bring us so much joy. Can you tell us how your paths crossed and what’s it like working together?
I love Ben! I’m sorry BIJOU! We met in Arizona in 2016. I took a little trip with my friend to Arizona and we ended up at Bar Smith that night to see Dr. Fresch. BIJOU was opening for him. I remember he was playing the sickest g-house set. I went up to him, introduced myself, and said something like, in standard bro language, “You crushed it! WOW! Then we saw each other again at EDC that year where we both performed at Cosmic Meadows stage with SNBRN x Dr. Fresch. Then after that, we just became friends and we still talk just about every day. He’s kind of like my little brother. We have a very honest and easy working relationship. We push each other to do our best and we laugh a lot!
You recently celebrated a huge moment in your career, being on the cover of the ‘Dance Rising’ playlist on Spotify. Congratulations! When you saw your photo on the cover, can you tell us what you were feeling and what that moment symbolized for you?
THANK YOU! Real talk, I had an out of body experience! I saw flashes of moments from all the massive songs I’ve been a part of, all of the life-changing festivals that I’ve been fortunate to have performed at, and all the wild parties I’ve been too and so much love! I teared up a lot! It made me realize that, yeah I have been doing a WHOLE LOT in dance music and I felt seen. I’m always hidden in speakers around the world and on radio stations. I say my voice is like a happy virus that you can’t see but it’s always around attempting to make you feel good. Austin Kramer from Spotify dance has supported the records that I’ve been featured on but this is a highlight like no other in my opinion. Rarely do you see the vocalist or topliners get highlighted in this way and I am thankful to have the recognition from Austin and Spotify. I hope it continues and I hope it paves the way for other female dance artists, specifically vocalists to have this shine as well.
Besides slaying the cover of the ‘Dance Rising’ playlist, you’re on the lineup for PRIDEFEST 2020, a virtual festival celebrating LGBTQIA+ representation in music. What are you most excited about?
I am so stoked to be playing some new songs and showcasing these new visuals. I really got into production with this performance with the help of Mikul from Autograf and Thibault. Together they have an amazing space called Project Parallel where artists can do many things like create livestream content. I don’t want to give away too much but just know it will be tantalizing!
Not to get heavy, but we’re in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement during Pride. As a queer black woman, what are your thoughts about the movement and how everything is playing out?
I am extremely hopeful and happy that things are being brought to light. All of this has even made me uncover some truths for myself. I am learning just like everyone else and I also feel, IT’S ABOUT DAMN TIME! It’s sad that we have to still deal with extreme discrimination and police brutality but that means we have to keep up the good fight until things improve, change, and we all heal.
Music is the ultimate healer, something that helps people get through their darkest days. How has the current climate of the world impacted the music that you’re currently creating?
Glad you asked. Because I am a huge empath and I have had some traumatizing things happen being black and queer so I have decided to put out an EP that is about everything that is happening and then some. I realized I had written songs with some of my great friends in the past, that was deep and personal and I wasn’t ready to release them because of my heavy dance schedule, but now I feel empowered and it is a must that I share my story during this time. I feel that a few, if not all the songs on my upcoming EP, will be very comforting for others to hear. Lots of tear jerks incoming.
Together, the world is having a rough time. What are some of your self-care practices when you need to unwind and re-center yourself?
I do breathing exercises and now that we can go hiking, I do that. I share a lot of laughs with my girlfriend, she is a comedian, so she brings a lot of great energy in the house. Also, I have been playing with my cats, Roman and Dot more.
Lastly, on your Instagram, you call yourself the EDM Whoopi Goldberg aka Future Tracy Chapman. Can you give us the backstory on how you acquired the two epic references? The people want to know.
[Laughs] At first, I came up with it because, well I have dreads (I still have eyebrows). Whoopi is a Scorpio like me and she is funny and seems easy going but I wouldn’t want to be on her bad side. Then, BIJOU had posted a video of us performing at EDC 2018 on Instagram and someone commented, “Yo bro what, you brought out Whoopi Goldberg?” Then other people started commenting about it and so now it’s just a thing.
I hope one day to bring her out to one of my performances. As for Future Tracy Chapman, my friend Koil said that to me because of the realness and honesty in my voice but I do EDM which is maybe what she would’ve done if she was coming up now in 2020. Ha, it’s funny to think about!