Already championed by the likes of AXS who have called her voice “intoxicatingly sweet” and following a number of stunning performances in France, the Caribbean, Monte-Carlo and the United States, the name Kendra Black is sure to be one of the hottest and most talked about in the coming months.
Born and raised in Italy, Black has spent her life surrounded by music by which she has always been heavily influenced. A classically trained ballet dancer, following her graduation from the Kirov Academy of Ballet of Washington DC in 2012, she then relocated to New York to focus on her own musical ambitions and, having teamed up with the producers at the acclaimed Trend Def Studios in LA, she’s now put together an EP, titled The Edge, due for release later this year.
Before she shares the collection with the world however, ThisIsTheLatest are delighted to premiere the official video for her new single “Rude”, which was produced by Mills Miller Media and is a collaboration with Snoop Dogg. Asked the creation of the song, which was written by Lachi, Black says:
“Working on the production of Rude was a very fulfilling process that also helped me find out a lot about me. It’s amazing what happens when you step out of your comfort zone and explore new sides of yourself.”
Check out the video for “Rude” below and for more information on Kendra Black, visit her website give her page a like on Facebook or follow her on Twitter. You can also watch the video on iTunes.
After wowing a TV audience of millions as a contestant on The Voice Israel in 2013, which she went on to win, American Israeli-Palestinian singer-songwriter Lina has gone on to have millions of YouTube views and has a growing army of fans around the world, with a few celebs including Alicia Keys, being among them. Having just released her new single, the star is now on tour in the UK supporting chart-toppers Little Mix, and ThisIsTheLatest caught up with her to chat tour highlights, social media and the power of dreaming big.
TITL: Hi Lina. First of all, I’d like you to introduce yourself in a few words please. What would you say your unique selling point is?
Lina: I love music – I can’t live without it. I’m a very hard working dreamer and that’s it. I’m a US born, Palestinian blood and Israeli citizen who is a singer-songwriter.
TITL: You first came to public attention after winning The Voice Israel. How has life changed for you since that moment?
L: Completely. When I started on The Voice, I was still in my first semester of university, studying biology as I wanted to be a doctor. After The Voice, I quit to focus on my music and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. I toured Israel and for the last few years, I’ve been focussing on the UK market. I’ve been signed by my amazing manager who owns a label and I’ve since gone on to support Queen and Adam Lambert, Will Smith and now Little Mix, so it’s been amazing.
TITL: Do you think you’ll ever go back and finish your degree or is it music 100% for you now?
L: Hell no. It’s music all the way for me now, definitely. There’s no way I’d go back to university.
TITL: You’ve already earned yourself a number of A-list fans including Alicia Keys and Will Smith, but which band or artists’ support/admiration would you most like to receive and why?
L: The list is SO LONG. Let’s say right now I would love to get the support of Ed Sheeran. He’s such a phenomenal song-writer and performer and artist. I would love to be noticed by….this is such a tough question! I wish Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson were still alive and Eminem. Every time I say Eminem, people are like “Really?” I know a lot of his songs by heart and whenever I’m angry or needing some motivation, I just play his albums so yeah…those four for now.
TITL: I have to say I was not expecting you to say Eminem either…
L: Like, why? Am I too cute? (laughs)
TITL: You’re currently supporting chart-toppers Little Mix on their arena tour. How did that invitation come about?
L: My management is familiar with their management and they sent them some of my performances and songs; things that I’d written or co-written and they liked it. They thought I was very suitable to support Little Mix so yeah, that was it…
TITL: How are you finding the tour so far? Any favourite moments or highlights?
L: Every show is amazing. I just told Leigh-Anne from Little Mix that their crowd is fantastic. They are so supportive and so loving. On and off stage; all over social media – they’ve been the best. I think every time I listen to the crowd singing along, it’s phenomenal. Those moments are my highlights every night.
TITL: For those who have never seen or listened to you before, what can they expect from your set?
L: You can expect to see many sides to my personality. I start the show with a ballad on the piano – my custom made pink Lina piano which I’m still very excited about – and then I perform “Can’t Keep Falling” which was number 1 on iTunes Israel and number 4 on the Music Week Chart. There’s a bit of dancing and I do a special version of “Symphony” by Clean Bandit, with an ethnic spin. I think what comes next is the favourite part of my set for the Mixers – I do a cover of “Hair” by Little Mix but as a very, very emotional ballad. I then close out my set with my new single “I Wore It Better” at the end of which, I take my red sweater off and throw it to the crowd. On the last couple of shows, people have been coming towards the stage just specially for that moment – to try and catch my sweater. If you come to one of the shows, you’re going to have so much fun; I promise!
TITL: Which of your songs would you say is the most well received on this tour?
L: People really seem to be liking the new single, yeah, but even when I start the show with my ballad on the piano, which is called “Forget”, the crowd just goes crazy, and I never expected that because, you know, they’re Little Mix fans and I think I thought they’d like more of the up-beat pop songs.
TITL: Has being on this run of shows with the girls got you thinking about maybe doing your own headline tour here in the UK in the near future?
L: Of course yes, that’s the dream. I hope that it will happen soon. The album drops at the beginning of 2018 and is called Walking On A Tightrope so hopefully some tour plans can be made in support of that.
TITL: Can you actually walk on a tightrope?
L: Not yet! (laughs) But I will try to do it on my own tour.
TITL: You mentioned earlier that you’ve toured with Queen and Adam Lambert, but you’ve also performed at number of festivals all over the world, so if you could put together your dream show line-up, with four bands or artists who can be living or dead, would you most like to stage a stage with?
L: Freddie Mercury for sure. I would learn so much from him. Watching Queen on stage and being with them backstage was like a dream come true and I learned so, so much, but I think that if Freddie was there, it would have been insane. I think he’s the best performer the world has ever seen. Him and Michael Jackson…
TITL: Can you imagine a mash-up of those two?!
L: Oh my gosh! (laughs) Let’s see, who else? Beyonce, of course – she’s like my queen for ever and ever. Taylor Swift who is the queen of pop and Eminem. That’s it. I got all the music genres in there I think!
TITL: Just imagine the collaboration you could come up with on stage…
L: I can surprise everyone. I can rap, I can be classical, I can be pop, I can be rock…that’s why I love the stage so much. You can be whoever you want.
TITL: Taking into account the millions of YouTube views your performances on The Voice alone received, to what extent has social media impacted your career and how much of a vital tool do you believe it to be for bands and artists in this day and age?
L: Social media has a lot to do with my career, and my life too. I’ve grown up with social media and can’t even remember a time before it, or what life looked or felt like before it was around. I think that I wouldn’t get or have the recognition I do in the international market if it wasn’t for Alicia Keys sharing one of my videos. That helped a lot and people getting to know me and my music through the tour with Queen and Adam Lambert had a big impact as well. A lot of people get to know me; who I am, what I like, the music I make…all through social media. I try to do my best to show the real me to everyone. I share both the personal and professional sides of me and I try to connect and communicate with everyone on social media. I just think it’s very important and has a great impact, not just on my own career but everyone’s.
TITL: Do you think we as a general society, need we be just every-day people or artists such as yourself, are too reliant on social media? Do you think you’d be able to promote yourself and your music in the way that The Beatles and others had to back in the day and still be as successful?
L: I don’t think that’d be possible today. The biggest artists in the world right now can’t beat The Beatles’ record sales or popularity in that way. But that’s how life is right now. When The Beatles rose to fame in the 1960’s and started selling their millions of records, if you look back to 20 years before that, the way in which music was created and promoted was again totally different. I can’t even explain it properly. It’s as if every era has created or developed its own way of making bands and artists popular, need it be through a focus on touring or regularly releasing music.
Artists do what they have to do – that’s how it’s always been and how I believe it’ll always be. I wish I could have a career like artists did in the old days – when music was more focussed on the voice, on the performance and what you delivered as an artist. Today you have to have the full package; you have to look good all the time as you have no idea who is going to take photos of you, you have to be nice to everyone, you have to deliver on both social media and the stage, both personally and professionally. It’s tough, but I’ll do it gladly because every time I go on stage, I think “Yeah, it’s all worth it.”
TITL: What does the rest of the year have in store for you? What happens after the Little Mix tour is over?
L: We are in contact with another very big artist and I might join them on their tour. Aside from that, I’d like to do a tour of my own and of course, I have my album coming out next year too.
TITL: Away from music and away from the media attention, what do you like to do when you’re just being you?
L: The first thing I love to do is sleep. I love to sleep and then Netflix and chill and have a great time with my family and friends; I don’t care where.
TITL: What have you been watching on Netflix lately?
L: Reign and The Tudors. I love anything connected to royal history. Even now on tour, I just ask my tour manager Serena, every time we’re near somewhere that has a castle, like in Scotland, if we can stay in one.
TITL: Finally then, where would you like to see yourself 5-10 years from now and what’s your ultimate ambition as an artist? What would you most like to be remembered for in terms of your music?
L: When they ask me what I want to be remembered for in the Middle East, I usually say that I want my music to be so good that no-one ever bothers to ask me about my political views, but here, no-one cares about political views from the Middle East and so I would say I want to be remembered for making good music that people loved to come and see performed live. That’s a very big deal for me; the idea and the fact that there are people out there who spend their hard-earned money to come and see me. That’s exciting and heart-warming for me, but I think sometimes people take that – meaning the support they get from fans – for granted. I want to touch the hearts of as many people as possible with my music. In 5 to 10 years, I want to see myself touring the whole world as much as possible.
TITL: You’re ambitious; I like that.
L: Yeah, I told you I’m a hard working dreamer. I always tell people “You can dream for free…so dream as big as possible.” Dream big – and if it doesn’t work out, dream less big, but NEVER stop dreaming.
You can catch Lina on tour with Little Mix now. A list of remaining dates and venues, as well as ticket information can be found here. For more information on Lina, visit her website, give her page a like on Facebook or follow her on Instagram.
Amy James-Kelly is not only talented but hugely ambitious. Having first come to notable public attention starring in Coronation Street and Jericho, she’s now added the titles of writer, producer and director to her resume thanks to her impressive independent film Last Summer, described as a project “with a history” and one which “addresses current themes and issues.” TITL caught up with Amy to find out more about the production process of the film, the importance of crowd-funding in its creation and what other projects she has in the pipeline.
TITL: Most people will likely know you best for playing Maddie Heath in Coronation Street from 2013-2015, but what exactly made you want to branch out into film-making, producing and directing?
Amy James-Kelly: A lot of my friends have done similar things and because I missed out on the whole going to university experience where a lot of people will do film studies, make their own stuff, that kind of thing and take all that they’ve learned over those years and put them into practice later in life, I didn’t get to do those things.
But I’d heard the story of Last Summer as it was a play my mum had been involved in. This all stemmed from a conversation had with me while she was washing up and she was reminiscing about this play that she did. As she was telling me, I had a mental image of what would later go on to become the last shot of the film. It just kinda happened and I thought ‘I have to do this now.’ It was always something I thought about doing, eventually – having a go at writing, directing and generally film-making – but it wasn’t until that moment that I said to myself that I was definitely going to do it.
TITL: You had a bit of trouble trying to get the backing and the funding for the film. Do you think, given all those problems, now that the film’s done, that you were able to make it at the right time? Do you think Last Summer would have had the same relevance and impact two years ago as it does today?
AJK: I am so glad we did it this time around. The quality’s better – all aspects of the film are better. The script was edited a lot and I feel like by the time Last Summer finally began production, I’d grown as a producer and was more comfortable with that role than I might have been had we tried making this film when we first began looking for backers and funding. I was learning things throughout the whole process, and I’d learnt a lot of lessons from when we first began working on the film before the problems started to arise, which proved immensely beneficial in the long-run. I think it was a blessing in disguise that the film didn’t work out first time round because it has ended up being ten times better.
TITL: How easy or hard was it to bring everyone in terms of the cast and crew back together after the funding and everything fell through first time around?
AJK: I think we managed to get about 50% of the original team back – some were unavailable and a few others simply decided it would be better if we parted ways. I’m really lucky that, myself included, on the team, there are 5 of us that all go to acting school together and we all have a similar interest in producing our own work, acting, writing and everything like that. It’s just really great to see that individuals from acting school, can do and are doing something outside of class to help them grow not only as actors but as people. We all just thought ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ We got together and we were all throwing around different ideas – it’s been really great having that unit of people who are in the same boat as me, so to speak, and who understand what it is I’m passionate about and why.
In terms of finding the other crew members, that wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. There are loads of Facebook groups around these days where, once approved by the page admins, you can simply put a post up explaining who it is you’re looking for and a little about the project you’re working on, and receive responses from people all over the country, including industry professionals with all their own gear, who are willing to jump on board with you. I think social media is going to launch the next generation of film-makers.
TITL: What would you say your team all brought to the creation of the film?
AJK: The film would have been completely different if one member of the team hadn’t been a part of it. I’m so lucky to have worked with them all. We had people who are very much industry professionals and some people who are just starting out, all working together towards the same goal and I think that really comes across in the film as well. The professionals brought their experience and the newer individuals brought their enthusiasm – when that came together, it was amazing to watch and be involved in. It was fantastic to see someone who has like 100 film credits pass on their advice to someone who was standing on their first ever set, or show them how to do something a certain way.
TITL: Last Summer was largely crowd-funded – did you expect the reaction and support that it got?
AJK: After what happened first time around, there was always a worry that the same thing would happen again. I kept telling myself that it was going to work and it does stun me, at least once a day, to think that there are people out there who not only put their own money into this project but also sent me messages telling me they were excited to see it, or who had been following my progress. There were people I hadn’t spoken to for years getting in touch to pass on their well-wishes and support and that touched me, it really did. To think that an idea I had as a result of a conversation with my mum was all-but brought to life mostly by people I don’t even know is mind-blowing.
TITL: How big would you say the impact of social media has been in general in terms of how it helped get the film made and its promotion?
AJK: Social media is and has been an invaluable tool to myself and the Last Summer team, as made evident by the crowd-funding campaign launched to help get it made. People have obviously always made films and started their own production companies etc. long before social media existed, and full credit to them because I don’t know how I’d have done it, but I relied on social media a lot; I relied on people sharing news about the film, posting the crowd-funding link and things like that. I had people who donated to the film living in the States, in Sweden – if social media didn’t exist, there’s no way I’d have had the ability to reach them.
TITL: You wrote on your crowd-funding site that a lot of the money donated by individuals around the world would be going to Reuben’s Retreat. Why that charity/organisation in particular?
AJK: I’m an ambassador for the charity and I’m always trying to champion them whenever I can. They’re a group of people very close to my heart. I always try and do something with and for them every year, be it the Manchester 10K or sorting out their stationary cupboard laughs One if the filming locations, Howard Park, is right beside the retreat, and it wasn’t until I was at the retreat one day just helping out, that I went into the park with Nicola, Reuben’s mum, and I just said “Oh my God, this is perfect.” Everything I’d pictured in my head was suddenly visualised right in front of me, and I knew that, if we were going to work so closely to the Retreat, then we had to give them something back. They helped us out so much – they sorted out our catering on the first two days and I felt bad about seeing them help us as much as they did, but the Retreat team just said to me: “We know you’ll always give something back.”
TITL: You held a screening in Manchester – how did that go?
AJK: It was amazing. It was so great to finally show people the finished product – I’d seen it about four million times in various stages of post-production – and that was the first time the majority of people had seen what myself and the team had put our time, energy and passion into creating. I was nervous…I was so scared, and when I stood up to thank everyone, my mind just went completely blank. I had to type something up later and send it to everyone – I have no idea what I ended up saying.
TITL: So what are the plans for the film now? Are you looking to get it out to a few independent or even major film festivals?
AJK: Film festivals are the main aim, yeah, and I’m also wanting to get it onto DVD for people.
TITL: What sort of message do you want people to take from Last Summer, both in terms of the production and the film itself?
AJK: The film itself is hard to say without giving anything away. There is a message with it, but it would give the story away. As for the production, certainly in regards to people who want to do something like this, I think the main message is that they simply need to tell themselves they CAN do it; that it can and WILL happen. Simply convince yourself that nothing can stop you and that the project you’ve been dreaming about will become a reality. It’s as simple as that. Self-confidence, and confidence in others, in the team you’re wanting to and going to work with, is key.
Absolutely anybody can be a part of this industry – actors, producers, directors, writers – they might all come from different walks of life, but when they’re all set on making something a reality, and bringing an idea to life, none of that does or will ever matter. Plus, the feeling you get when you finally achieve your dream and bring your idea to life is amazing.
TITL: Now that Last Summer is out there and your baby has flown the nest, so to speak, what’s next for you?
AJK: Off the back of Last Summer, people who worked with me on that, or who have just caught wind of the film, have got in touch asking if we can collaborate, and that to me is really, really exciting as I never expected it to happen. I honestly thought that this would just be a little thing that I did, and obviously, I always wanted the kind of reception that it’s had, but I never expected that people would love it as much as they have and to get the reaction and response that it did at the screening in Manchester.
I’ve also had messages from people in my acting classes getting in touch saying ‘It’s so cool to see someone from class doing something…let’s do something together.’ As for what’s next, I’m in the early research stages of a short film I’m currently doing with a friend of mine and I’m producing a short film that one of the guys on the team is doing.
TITL: What do you say to people out there who think actors and actresses should stick to those specific roles, rather than branching out into producing and directing as you have?
AJK: I think that’s really blinkered. This industry is so accessible and everyone works so closely together. It’s so easy to have an interest in another aspect of being on set, and just networking or picking up the skills and knowledge you need to give those aspects a go. If you have an idea and you want to turn it into something, need it be a play, a film…whatever – there is nothing to stop you. I think directors can try acting, actors can try directing…anyone can try anything and no-one should be able to or want to stop them from doing that.
TITL: Now that you’ve found your producing/directing feet with Last Summer, can you see yourself going back to TV in the near future?
AJK: I’m currently working on Harlan Coben’s Safe with Red Productions for Netflix. I think acting is always going to be my first love – I eat, sleep and breathe it and I get a really big geeky kick out of it, but I’m definitely going to continue making projects like this – I’d start one again tomorrow.
To keep up to date with Amy James-Kelly, follow her on Twitter. Header photo credit: Lee Johnson Photography.