Kaia Kater fights the patriarchy w/"The Witch" feat. Aoife O'Donovan

Article Contributed by HearthMusic | Published on Wednesday, May 1, 2024

The new single from Kaia Kater's upcoming full-length album Strange Medicine is out now! "The Witch" is a piercing look at how men have labeled women over the centuries. Here's Kaia's own words about it: "I specifically wanted to write about the way men historically have branded women as temptresses, harlots, sirens and shrews, and then sought to reflect this visually – the letter A for adulteress, the burning of flesh to symbolize evil.  The first woman labeled a witch in Salem was a Black woman by the name of Tituba. Usually these women died nameless and scorned. In my narrative, the woman who is branded a witch and burned at the stake survives her pilgrim’s punishment, and now seeks her revenge on those who sought to destroy her."

For No Depression's feature article on Kaia Kater which just came out today, Aoife O'Donovan talks about Kaia's singing: “I love her voice. The way she plays, and how she tells a story. [Her music feels] wholly unique, yet with deep and scrambling roots, spreading in many directions.”

Kaia Kater’s new album, Strange Medicine (coming May 2024 on Free Dirt Records), opens with a haunting vision. Accompanied by Aoife O’Donovan, Kater sings of the women burned at the stake as witches in 17th century Salem, Massachusetts and their wish to strike back: “I dreamt I moved through you and / Burned my name into your chest”. It’s an opening salvo from an album that celebrates the power of women and oppressed people throughout history as they rise up and turn the poison of centuries of oppression into a strange kind of medicine. Kater’s songs are dialogues with these historical figures and meditations on her own modern life as well. In the years since her 2018 album, Grenades, on Smithsonian Folkways, Kater has taken time to reinvent herself and hone her skills, first attending film school to learn composition, then diving deeper into her songwriting to come up with her most personal album yet. Feeling the pressure as a talented young songwriter, banjo player, and bandleader with three successful albums and an NPR Tiny Desk Concert under her belt, Kater struggled initially with the expectations of her adopted genre, Americana. “I was factoring everybody else's perception into my songwriting,” she says. “Would I write more honestly if I knew that no one would ever hear this?” With that in mind, Kater retreated to her apartment in Montréal. Sitting at home with her banjo, the songs unfolded in personal intimacy, revealing windows into the perspective of women and revolutionaries through history. Co-producing with Joe Grass (Elisapie, The Barr Brothers), Kater invited close friends and colleagues O’Donovan and Allison Russell to sing on the album, along with longtime hero and American legend Taj Mahal. With lush arrangements and unexpected musical ideas drawn from genres as surprising as minimalist composition, jazz drumming, and film scores, Strange Medicine is the bold next step in Kater’s career. It’s an album made beyond the white gaze of Americana, unbeholden to a music industry that so often tokenizes and silences marginalized voices, a Black Feminist perspective on a genre that refuses to cede power to Black women. But ultimately it’s a celebration of the self. The words of the poem “won’t you celebrate with me” by Lucille Clifton echoed in Kater’s ears throughout the process of making this album:

“born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?”

For all the personal narratives of resistance on the album, ultimately the songs on Strange Medicine are all about the stories for Kaia Kater. “The through line for me,” she says, “is just stories. It was the story of my dad on Grenades, and on Strange Medicine it's the story of people in history who might not have had their proper shrift. It’s also my chance to finally write about the times in my life when I didn't feel like I had a voice, in order to give myself one now.“ As an uncommonly gifted songwriter, Kater excels at telling stories through song, drawing from her love of poetry, literature, and composition to fold these stories into a larger narrative of the people who have been left behind by history. She’s tapping into the full kaleidoscope of her emotions to create a place for collective grief and celebration, inviting the ancestors to a place of honor at the table.

Kaia Kater on Tour

May 17 Groton, MA 
Groton Hill Music Center

May 18 Cambridge, MA 
Club Passim

May 21 Hamilton, ON 
Mills Hardware

May 22 Toronto, ON 
TD Music Hall

May 23 Montreal, QC 
La Sotterenea

May 24 Kingston, ON 
The Broom Factory

May 26 Ottawa, ON 
Red Bird Live

June 1 Brevard, NC 
NC Guitar Celebration

June 5 Evanston, Il 
Evanston Space

June 6 Ann Arbor MI 
The Ark

June 7 Paw Paw, MI 
The Lucky Wolf

June 9 Frankfort, KY 
Josephine Sculpture Park

June 12 Brooklyn, NY 
Union Pool

June 13 Philadelphia, PA 
World Cafe Live Upstairs

June 14 Baltimore, MD 
Creative Alliance At The Patterson

June 16 Washington, DC 
Pearl Street Warehouse