How would you describe your music in three words?
Kei: Soulful, healing, and…today, I would say cathartic. I experience and relate to music
as this cathartic force, and today I’ve been feeling how resonant that word is right now.
What musical memory made you think, “I want to do that someday!” professionally?
Kei: I was 5, or 6, and my maternal grandmother would wake me up for youth choir rehearsal. I felt very resistant to that, as a kid, because it infringed on my Saturday, but I bring this up because music was always a presence in my life from an early age… But the memory that stays with me was when I was 13, or 14, watching a Destiny’s Child concert. I was in awe of the music, the lights, the dancing, I felt inspired by them in that moment to go down to my family’s computer, open up a Word Document, type “I wanna be a superstar,” print it out, and put it up on my wall. So clearly there was something in that particular moment, despite having music always present, that made me want to pursue music professionally in some realm. I even used Word Art for the poster! (Laughs).
You’re a pianist, guitarist, flutist, vocalist, songwriter, composer, and you’re a board-certified music therapist with training in vocal psychotherapy. How have these pieces of your trajectory shaped your music?
Kei: I like how I get to use these different musical sides to express parts of my life in versatile sounds, like with the guitar versus the flute. It keeps me curious and fresh, in a sense of exploration where I feel like I’m embodying freedom through sound. That shows up in my music therapy work and in the variety of ways you can use music in a healing context, including for ourselves. I just appreciate how far-reaching music and healing work can go, and how you never stop discovering what music offers. It’s about freedom of expression, authenticity, and different ways to communicate while being in our joy.
Allen Toussaint once stated, “Music is everything to me short of breathing. Music also has a role to life you up-not to be escapist but to take you out of misery.” With that said, how has music gotten you through hard times in your life?
Kei: I can say that through love, heartbreak, my first album (“Dark Fire,” released in 2017) talking about addiction and moments of celebration and joy, I go to music. Even when there are no words, in that place beyond words, there are moments when I can sit with my voice or with my instrument. Tears can start to roll, and having this medium to process whatever emotions are happening allows the feelings to have a place to go. A specific example was working with “Dark Fire,” (the title-track of Kei’s album) which dealt with addiction, personal traumas, and related events. I was able to use music to tell the stories, and the experiences surrounding the stories, created so much gratitude. Just simply gratitude in feeling that musical connection and having a space to share those feelings.
When you hear the phrase “Music for the Mind,” what does it mean to you?
Kei: Music for the mental body, the psyche. I hear it capitalized, like Music for the Mind-Body, for self-care, for psychological, spiritual well-being. And that’s the kind of music I like! That it’s connected, and it has purpose.
Music helps the mind, and also marks time, moments, different experiences. There are artists that take me to a place, or, for example, growing up in the church hearing gospel hymns now takes me to a place of connecting with my ancestral history of music, and provides a sense of comfort. There’s a certain kind of power in music, how it takes you back to high school, what outfits you wore, how cool I thought I was in my band uniform… (laughs). It all ties into “Music for the Mind,” to me.
In addition to music as a cathartic measure, what other resources or coping mechanisms do you use to care for your mental health?
Kei: Meditation, journaling, Netflix, Hulu (laughs)… No, but really spending time with people I care about and love, my partner, family, friends. Sometimes I like to “silly dance” in the mirror by myself or with friends – that brings me a lot of joy! And of course, being in nature, like the Singing Tree (at City Park, where this interview took place), sitting out at the water.
With your own music, what’s the message you hope others receive through your music?
Kei: Be free, be full, be authentic, be yourself. It’s not demanding that of the listener, but creating spaces for the listener to encompass all of who we are in our unique magic to shine all of that. Especially talking music and mental health.
Growing up in the church, growing up in New Orleans, very early on I knew I identified as a queer, non-binary person. Being a queer, black, non-binary artist-musician doing this work in this body, living this life, comes with its own set of challenges to really shine full in my own authentic voice and presence… and in terms of society, in terms of my family, in my own journey. So, I feel like anytime I’m writing, playing, sharing music it’s important to me to share senses of freedom and empowerment, being true to ourselves and inviting people into that kind of truth – whatever it may mean for them. To celebrate and affirm it in the fullest way possible.
Lastly, would you mind sharing with us a bit about your music healing practice, S O U L F O L K Sounds?
Kei: It is the project and platform that’s come out of my experiences growing up as a musician and music therapist, centering and focusing on communities that have been more marginalized. So, in my words, it emphasizes the concept of Queer Black Magik, and working specifically with queer and trans people of color and youth of color. It’s a healing practice and it’s a music production platform, too, so it integrates key features of my work and it’s about the people, about community building, liberation, and social change.
Kei Slaughter is a multi-instrumentalist, performer, songwriter, board-certified music therapist, healing practitioner, and pencil aficionado. With sincere, engaging songwriting, and a blend of rhythms from styles such as soul, folk, RnB, and pop, Kei’s music is a catharsis all its own. You can learn more about Kei at the links below, and click on S O U L F O L K Sounds for more information on Kei’s music-and-healing practice.
Official Website: https://www.keislaughter.com/
All photos by Jose Cotto for the Brett Thomas Doussan (BTD) Foundation.