Photos by Luis Antonio Ruiz of Larufoto
Kristianne Bautista, lead vocalist of the rising indie band Kan Wakan, has a sugar and smoke voice backed by a
haunting orchestral ensemble.Signed to the
renowned major label Verve Music Group, (home to heavy-hitters like Yuna and
Alice Coltrane), this L.A.-based band’s trance-inducing strings make for an epic listening experience. They weave elements of Americana,
psychedelia and post-rock, recalling the likes of Phillip Glass, Etta James and
Moondog. I caught up with the songstress at the band’s center during the band’s
debut CMJ performance in NYC.
“Kan Wakan is derived from the Tagalog word kalawakan, a loose term for atmosphere, space,” says Bautista. “Two
of us in the band, [Bautista and bassist Ian Anderson] are Filipino. [The word
Kalawakan is] vague, but it means something really big.” As she speaks, she
lightly pulls on an American Spirit, readying her voice for the night’s show.
She emanates a shy, 90s teen-dream vibe. Every now and again, she smiles warmly.
Born and raised in the L.A. area, with short stints in her native
Philippines, Bautista embraces family ritual and history—it’s a connection to
her lively, bi-country, family-oriented upbringing. “Instead of eating dinner
together, my family would listen to records together. Nina Simone is my biggest
influence. Anything that comes out of her mouth is pure conviction.”
“I wanted something with big, orchestral elements,” says Bautista. “I
grew up listening to Andrew Lloyd Weber, jazz and punk. Put it all together,
and that’s what my voice is.” The interstellar meaning of Kan Wakan might very
well be a metaphor for the scope of their multi-instrumental sound. It’s the musical brainchild of composer/producer Gueorgui
I. Linev, a Bulgarian-born musician who met Kristianne in a coffee shop. Linev has
likened Bautista’s voice similar to Nico’s in The Velvet Underground, but with
more sultry undertones.
KanWakan Performing Live
On stage, Baustista sheds her shyness, giving way to a full-on torrent
of soulful evocation. She exudes
confidence, lightly shaking her tambourine, but during the band’s musical
interludes she moves away, cornering herself. It’s as if she’s being swept by
the music. She becomes a blur that diminishes her as the sole point of focus,
which she so often is. Kan
Wakan’s signature minor piano chords, coupled with a dissonant saxophone and melodic
violin creates a private, sonic den that the audience watches almost voyeuristically.
Her bandmates—all guys—play their instruments, entranced, and even switch it
up, playing each other's keys, guitars or sax. This versatility shows off the
band’s immense talent, and you start to get the feeling that you’re watching them
build something huge.
Only one year in the game, Kan Wakan has released their debut
EP, Forever Found, in September, a preview of their upcoming full length
record in January 2014. The title single, “Forever Found,” showcases
Kristianne’s storytelling prowess and Linev’s flair for cinematic arrangements.
The lyrics trace words of wisdom from Father, Mother and Brother—it’s an allegory
about being in love, being lost and found through love’s experiences. “Moving
On,” features electro breaks that feel like a Little Dragon record. “Midnight
Moon Part I and II” is a ballad of yearning and reveals the band instrumental
chops, including a dazzling saxophone solo at the song’s climax. At the heart
of Kan Wakan’s refreshingly grandiose splendor is the Metamorphosis Chamber
Orchestra, conducted by Linev’s uncle, Stefan Linev, of the Bulgarian Virtuosi
“I like things that remind me of the past. I like bringing that with
me,” says Bautista, gently plucking a pearl pendant from her chest. I look more closely, and there’s a delicate
map of the Philippines engraved upon it. Along with her talented band of
musicians, her family and friends in Manila and L.A., Bautista’s voice etches
eons of history that has come before her.
Check out Kan
Wakan’s Forever Found EP streaming here.
Kan Wakan embarks on a
sweet West Coast tour with Argentinian-American folk singer Diego Garcia. San
Francisco, find them at Café du Nord on November 6.
Hyphen's music editor. She is a writer, youth educator, and performance artist
based in Brooklyn, NY. She writes for Elle.com, Fashionista.com, The Feminist
Wire and Afropunk.com. She is currently an Open City Fellow with the Asian
American Writers’ Workshop in NYC. Her debut novel, Bright Lines, is
forthcoming by Viking Penguin in 2014. Follow her @tanwinandini.