The soulful sounds of Kristen Walker
Kristen Walker is extremely happy to just let loose a capella at the drop of a hat. The 18-year-old, who has an associate degree in music from the Barbados Community College (BCC), has a voice that can switch from husky jazz to smooth sexy R&B to rogue reggae-tinged timbre.
“I love everything, but reggae is my passion. I grew up with my dad Chris playing Bob Marley and such in the house every day. I also love the classics like Ella Fitzgerald (“sounding like an old soul”) but I also like R&B and hip hop, she said, laughing.
The teen said from age five she has been singing, holding impromptu concerts for dad, mum Suzanne and younger brother Joshua.
A former student of The St Michael School, she started going to voice training at age 12, and it was only in her last years at the school that her talent was seen by her fellow students as she was too shy to open up.
“I am a pretty laid-back girl, I spend a lot of time in my room and the other times I am at the beach. Only my close friends knew I could sing.”
Kristen went through the rigours of high school, sitting her subjects at the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) but all along she knew that her career path led her to music, and if that wasn’t feasible it would be Broadway.
To get in the BCC programme, though, you had to have exam passes in music.
“I didn’t do music at CXC and I wanted to get into that programme. I did a crash course with Kellie Cadagon for the entire summer and did voice training also. We did basically up to Grade 8 in CXC music. It was difficult, one of the hardest things I have ever done. But I hung in there and got through it,” she said proudly.
Kristen said taking the course was the best decision she ever made.
“You can enter the programme on instruments, production and so on. I entered on vocals, but I also learnt music theory, music history, Caribbean music – it was wide-ranging. When I got there it was a heavily jazz-influenced programme and we did a lot of jazz songs. That had a big influence on my voice.”
Kristen, who said she was extremely happy with the programme, came to the public spotlight by way of the Honey Jam stage last year after being urged on by her friends and family.
“People kept saying go and audition and after much hesitating I said why not. So I went one day after music class and did the one-minute audition. I was so surprised when I got the call saying I got in.”
Kristen had high praise for the Honey Jam platform, having been taught how to work on stage presence and song writing and more.
“It was an amazing experience. I soaked it all up . . . took it all in.”
The teen, who left for New York yesterday, is spending two months there to get a “different feel of the international music scene.”
“I want to go to a couple studios . . . take in a couple concerts . . . . I want to see how that side of the business and industry works,” she stated.
Kristen, who plays a bit of piano but is eager to learn the guitar, is working on releasing an EP by the end of the year with accompanying music video.
“I have books and books of songs that I have written. I just keep writing and writing and writing. . . .My best times to write are 3 a.m.,” she said giggling, confessing she is an insomniac.
“I get inside my space. I go inside my heart, go deep down inside and freestyle a lot and then I go back and rewrite and do a cleaned up version.”
She is currently working with producers Mohammed Hanif and Chris Rose.
Kristen, who loves to sing Corrine Bailey Rae’s songs “because she is so soulful” said she doesn’t want to be compared “although comparison is inevitable in music world”.
“I have been told I sound like other singers but once you know who you are it is easier for you to do what you want. I like to have fun with my music. People say ‘oh you have the image to be a pop star, you have the image to be so and so.
“My advice to others is don’t let anyone put their vision of what they want you to be in your head. Learn the music side of it. Be involved in everything . … Keep learning. Learn instruments, learn music theory. Work hard because talent can only take you so far,” said the singer who has performed with saxophonist Arturo Tappin and renowned trumpeter from the Ray Charles band, Marcus Belgrave.
Kristen, who is active on social media where she says she gets many requests from fans for her original music, says she is surprised at the reaction of people to her singing.
“Bajan crowds are tough to please and it gives me goosebumps to see their reaction. I love performing and seeing their reaction.”
The teen has big plans for herself, hoping in five years’ time to be on major shows with a couple of albums under her belt. Who knows, even a duet with Corrine Bailey Rae.