Kali Uchis was born a star, but the rest of us are just finding out.
The Colombian-American singer released her first mixtape, 2012’s Drunken Babble, when she was just 18. And despite the rave reviews and consistent features on other artist’s tracks, her career has been a relative slow burn for the majority of the last six years – at least when considered with her direct peers in the pop/funk/R&B space. In fact, it took until the release of this summer’s Isolation – her debut album – that broader audiences began to take note of what fans have known for a long time: Kali Uchis is a force to be reckoned with. With an impressive vocal range, lyrical dexterity, and a seemingly natural stage presence, it’s a surprise that she’s lingered on the periphery this long. Despite that, she sold out the 9:30 Club last night, and is slated for a second appearance today – no mean feat for someone who has somehow flown under the mainstream radar.
There’s something remarkably magnetic about Kali Uchis, and it was on display last night. Combining doo-wop, R&B, and Latin music elements, she strutted around the stage with staggering confidence and self-assurance, basking in the adulation of her fans. And much like her, the audience was young, Latin, and proud – the average age was around 22, and while the floor was packed, the bars were deserted. Fans shrieked and roared every time Uchis twirled around stage; her dance moves and swagger a mash up of Madonna and Selena Quintanilla.
The Alexandria, Virginia native is in many ways the distillation of her generation: multicultural, multifaceted, and pulling from the widest variety of possible references. Isolation arrived in June to critical acclaim, and I recall being struck by how difficult it was to define the album’s sound, and how much better it was for it. Uchis played with pop, R&B, Latin, and funk expectations and gave us a record that showcases her skills and strong personality.
Uchis has been based in Los Angeles for several years, and it’s clear that she is both a muse and a colleague to many of that scene’s young luminaries, including Thundercat, Tyler the Creator, Jorja Smith, BADBADNOTGOOD, and Kaytranada. Truncated versions of all of the songs she’s appeared on in the last few years were performed by her four piece funk band – unfortunately removing the features meant that the show had a lean run-time of 65 minutes, despite the number of tracks. That being said, it was still an incredibly fun performance by an artist breaking out of her niche and earning the wider recognition she deserves.