The first thing that strikes you when seeing a Kaia Kater show is the sheer dedication poured into a chosen art form. This is the culmination of a young Canadian artist heading south to answer a calling from her ancestors and utilising every inch of an innate talent to bridge the generations. The mining of Appalachian song heritage has probably been less contentious than other associations with this term and there is a clear lineage through the music made by Kaia. The sweetest of sounds gently seeps from her delicate banjo playing and a leaning towards original songs marks her out as a serious poet rather than just an old time interpreter. Every facet of a vast artistic locker was on display in Birmingham this evening as a premium roots practitioner lifted the spirits on a chilly Midlands night.
A packed house was shoe horned into the Kitchen Garden, many likely attracted by Kaia’s previous performances in the city during 2017. These involved a low-key slot at Moseley Folk Festival and a higher profile set when supporting Rhiannon Giddens at the Town Hall. There were distinct differences between these two slightly pre-determined roles to this occasion where the platform was focussed and more conducive to an artist opening up big style. Watching Kaia and her stand-up bass playing sidekick Andrew Ryan do this rolled out to be a compelling and absorbing experience. Primarily majoring on a raft of songs from her two albums formed the bedrock of the show, but informative and increasingly affable chat led to a greater understanding of what drives her music.
Across a brace of sets, an array of excellent songs put down a marker on this being an evening not to have its memory extinguished too soon. It was tough to pick a standout moment, but two songs particularly resonated towards the latter stages of each set. ‘Paradise Fell’ featured the innovative Andrew Ryan taking a break from the bass to excel in the art of body percussion, while ‘Rising Down’ projected Kaia’s own position on the Black Lives Matter issue that is prevalent across the land of her Southern neighbour.
There were occasional blurred lines in this gig between Kaia’s proud Canadian upbringing in the metropolitan surroundings of Montreal and the immense musical education that she received in the outreach parts of rural West Virginia. Essentially, both have a staunch influence on the music Kaia makes. This ranges from family orientated original compositions such as ‘Saint Elizabeth’ to celebrating the work of an Appalachian banjo-playing pioneer in Ola Belle Reed.
Kaia’s vocal style at times is so reminiscent to Gillian Welch, another example of outsiders immersing themselves in timeless traditional music and emerging as true keepers of the flame. However, Kaia is quite capable of carving out her own career and positive reports of this UK/European tour suggest ‘full house’ signs are set to be a permanent feature as word of her exceptional talent gets around.
Whether advocating the awareness of her African-American/Canadian heritage or the virtues of her beloved banjo, Kaia Kater is an artist sealing the deal as an influential performer of old time roots music. This is with the added twist of a contemporary lyrical focus and a natural charm to ensure those choosing the Kitchen Garden on the first Monday of February had an evening to cherish.