In Conversation With Gunakadeit

Natasha Kozaily, the name behind Gunakadeit, talks about her exploration of new approaches to pop music and culling the experiences of a life lived in the Cayman Islands, Wales, New York, San Diego and everywhere in between.

As the Skype call starts and the camera comes to life, Kozaily appears on screen sitting in a garden. From what I can tell online, it looks like she’s always by a beach or in a garden. After initial small talk (we’ve Facebook-known each other for a couple of years, but have never spoken), I find out it’s the backyard of the house she shares with a family of hippies in San Diego. Kids start walking into view and wave at me. Everyone is beaming smiles at the camera, as I sit thousands and thousands of miles away.

Kozaily has lived in San Diego for 4 years, initially moving there from Wales, where she was studying ethnomusicology. If that already sounds like an odd trajectory, consider that she actually grew up in the Cayman Islands, and has a Lebanese father. In that complex mix, she most readily refers to herself as Caymanian. There were other stops before San Diego. At one point, when Hurricane Ivan hit the Caribbean in 2004, and her family was hiding out in Miami, she decided to move to New York to become an actress. That was short-lived, and she quickly found her way coming back to music. That was why she had moved to Wales, pushed by her British citizenship (a product of the Cayman Islands colonial past). Studying the world through its music left a lasting impression on her, on the ability to decode so much about people from the music they leave behind, but it didn’t make her self-conscious about her own creativity. “I’m not worried about what people will think when I’m dead,” she says reassuringly.

Kozaily’s first public musical incarnation was as a smiling Caribbean singer-songwriter. With Gunakadeit, she’s going somewhere different, and more interesting. In keeping with her multiple identities and city-hopping personal history, the influence for the project is rooted in the desert blues of sub-Saharan Africa, whereas the name itself is that of a North Pacific sea monster. She clearly enjoys digging into other people’s cultures, and has a very malleable interpretation of what pop is supposed to be.

When she talks about Gunakadeit, she sometimes says ‘we’. When I ask her if Gunakadeit is a band, she answers, “No. I don’t know why I say that sometimes. It’s just me. But even with myself, I want to break free from my singer-songwriter past. I want to throw myself into this fully, even if it sounds weird sometimes.” That ‘we’ might be the amalgamation of all her identities. Besides moving in a new musical direction, she was fed up with putting her name on everything, so she wanted a new one. Why Gunakadeit though? “I wanted something that meant something to me. That’s it. It’s like a tattoo. You have to give it meaning for yourself.”

Early reviews of South, her first single (and only public track), compares Gunakadeit – very favorably – to the likes of Dirty Projectors, Tune Yards, St Vincent. I don’t think they’re entirely accurate comparisons. Comparisons are rarely accurate anyway, but in this case they’re appropriate shorthand for atypical harmonies and the spaciousness in the tracks. The rest of the EP is yet to be released, and Kozaily is currently looking at which track to put out next. Having heard a cut of it, I can assure you the rest of the track are just as atypical, and lyrically & structurally interesting. There are definitely a multitude of interesting and dynamic layers to Kozaily and her musical explorations, whatever she chooses to call herself.

Speaking to her on Skype about the music industry, Kozaily seems poised and determined. When I tell her empathetically that I know how tough it can be to make it through the grunt work before you get noticed by a label – or anyone – as she is trying to do now, she says “Yeah. I thought of quitting everything yesterday.” After a brief silence, she flashes a smile.“But I didn’t.”

Gunakadeit on Facebook & Soundcloud

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