When Kelela heard that a muralist had recently painted her face onto a brick wall mere footsteps away from the glow of Washington’s historic Howard Theatre, the Washington-area native went to see it. Then she wept. “It makes me feel a sense of belonging,” the singer says, an entire spectrum of emotions flooding into her voice. “If a weird black girl like me — a second-generation Ethiopian — can be on a wall, it means everybody can.”
About those emotions: I think I heard gratitude, pride, magnanimity, excitement, humility and maybe two or three more. And although it shouldn’t surprise us that an artist this expressive feels all of those things, it’s still astonishing how good Kelela is at transposing them into such eloquent, futuristic R&B ballads. All throughout her seamless 2017 album, “Take Me Apart,” she makes her hazy, multi-emotional bombardments sound so lucid, so vivid, so precise. How?
“I know what I love,” Kelela says of her trial-and-error songwriting process. “When I hear the thing that I’m supposed to be doing, it’s so crystal-clear. The doubt overwhelms me before I start, but once I begin to put things into action . . . it’s all momentum, and it takes care of itself.”
So although Kelela remains “terrified” about the unforeseen creative hazards that await once she finishes touring behind “Take Me Apart,” she insists that her most devoted listeners have nothing to worry about. “I want people to know that I experience fear alongside courage,” she says. “That’s what courage is.”
Show: March 1 at 7 p.m. at the 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW. $30.