Sometimes, a song written by a brilliant, insightful songwriter who’s been flying – and singing - way too long under the radar, rises to meet the sociopolitical moment in unimaginably provocative ways. After hundreds of gigs throughout the Southeast, performing all styles of cover songs with her band Kai Alece & Company, the fiercely gifted, multi-talented jazz, pop and R&B singer is quickly emerging with her new single “Raise ‘Em Up,” a rousing, deeply soulful anthem for our time.
With lyrics by Kai and music by the song’s producer, Derrick Waller aka Melodiak, the track powerfully captures the divisive, tension and anxiety-filled zeitgeist of 2020, while serving as a clarion call for all of us – “Sisters and brothers standing for one another” – to “get your hands up” and tap into our common humanity as a pathway to transcend our cultural, racial and political differences. She will soon be releasing a music video for “Raise ‘Em Up,” directed by Mike Michaels.
Lifted by hypnotic piano riffs and gospel-influenced vocal textures, Kai builds towards the irrepressible hook of “Raise ‘Em Up” singing rich poetic phrases that boldly assesses where we are as a country right now and what we can do individually and collectively to address it: “Change is a choice and I want you to believe/We all have a voice and sometimes we disagree/ Racism was a thing it was buried down deep/Wasn’t politically correct to put it on Front Street.” Then she offers some shards of optimism, in the hopes we will finally listen: “In this world, we’ve got all shapes, all colors and sizes/Come together, ‘cause we can’t be divided.”
Kai then bursts into the chorus with the impactful main message of the song, enhancing her call to “get your hands up, raise ‘em up” with incisive rhymes full of images from recent headlines expressing the spirit of racial injustice: “Get down on the ground, take a knee. . .raising our voices in solidarity. . .Fist up, raise ‘em up, stop police brutality.”
Taking the extraordinary step to include a total of three verses, Kai begins Verse 2 by poignantly asking us all: “Who will take a stand and demand equality/Honestly, apologies are unsatisfactory/Level-headed people know right from wrong.” As with Verse 1, she leads into the chorus with a hopeful exhortation: “In this world, we need more love, more joy, more kindness, just a smile.” Verse 3 finds the singer rooting the call for change in the need to achieve justice for victims of racism, systemic and otherwise, and their grieving loved ones: “Families crying, saying goodbye and wondering will this ever end/It’s been a long time coming/So we have to say something.”
In the spiritually empowering bridge, Kai takes us to church musically while invoking the spirit of many classic social justice anthems and what should always be the American value of freedom of speech: “Lift every voice and sing till earth and heaven ring/Ring with the harmonies of liberty/Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies.” Complementing her prayer for solidarity, she calls for collective action with the fiery repetition of “Let us march on, are you with me?”
Over the past 20 years, The Florida based Kai has amassed an impressive resume gracing the stages of countless regional venues, wedding, corporate functions, festivals, special events and parties in the U.S. and abroad – including doing shows for U.S troops stationed in South Korea. She also released one independent album (Reason, Season or Lifetime). Though she had settled into the flow of day to day life punctuated with gigs here and there, the highly publicized acts of racial injustice and the intense protests of these past months inspired her, as she says, “to say or do something.
“For me, making music and writing felt like the best, most important and cathartic step I could take to come to terms with and address everything that’s been happening,” Kai continues. “Having three unique verses in a song is unusual, but I probably could have written six to get everything that was on my mind in there. What I was trying to do was come up with a way for people to come together. There is so much division right now, and ‘Raise ‘Em Up’ is my way of saying that we can all have our separate opinions, but we don’t have to be mean and hateful to each other. I can’t believe that anyone could look at these tragic incidents with police and not see that they are not morally right and unjust. The song is my way of saying, let’s come together in solidarity and make changes as a united people, where we don’t think in terms of the black race or the white race, but the human race.”
“Raise ‘Em Up” evolved out of an earlier collaboration between Kai and Melodiak titled “All Lives Matter,” which the two wrote several years ago for an independent film about one family’s experience with racial injustice called “Black and White.” Amid the protests that erupted in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, Kai reached out to her fellow songwriter with the suggestion that they revamp the song to address the present situation, perhaps retitling it “Black Lives Matter.” As they exchanged ideas, it was clear that the moment called for a brand-new song based partly on the concept and sentiments of the original but filled with the urgency of present times.
“I knew it needed to be an anthem of sorts, something people can move to but not necessarily dance to, where they can bop their heads while singing along to the message,” Kai says. I believe this collaboration was divinely inspired because I wrote the chorus independently of hearing the music, just a melody in my head. When he sent me the music for that hook segment, my words and melody fit perfectly. I then wrote the lyrics to two other verses, and then the third when he suggested it. I hadn’t done a recording in several years, but singing the song in the studio in Orlando once we had ironed it out was like riding a bike – it all came right back and the vocal passion flowed nonstop.”
Kai is currently working on a follow-up single to “Raise ‘Em Up” - and promises a holiday track just in time for Christmas as well. “I love this song and it’s wonderful to feel that momentum again,” she says. “It’s the musical equivalent to the way people describe the wind in their hair when they’re riding a motorcycle. You just let the air, the music, blow right through you. Nothing brings me more joy than when I’m sharing a song and connecting with people. When people hear
‘Raise ‘Em Up,” I want them to know that this divisiveness has to stop, because we’re all in this together.”