Kenya Hall is pretty satisfied if you call her music soul, or funk. R&B or blues, however, not so much. She knows what she is, and that’s smooth and funky, with a little bit of grit. The Kenya Hall Band, a seven-piece outfit with Hall, of course, on vocals, is one of Portland’s most popular bands in the soul and funk realm. They’ll perform on the Dispatch ME Stage at the KahBang Festival, with their gig set for 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 13.
“I realize there are so many derivatives of funk and soul and R&B out there, but I think what we do is definitely in the neo-soul category,” said Hall, 31. “I love Erykah Badu. I love Jill Scott. I love Stevie Wonder and Sly & the Family Stone. That’s what we’re all about. As I get older, my tastes turn to older stuff. Old soul is still really exciting and inspiring to me.”
Hall is an Ohio native who came to Maine in 2001. She comes from a musical family, but singing in a band was never something she realistically envisioned herself doing, until friends heard her sing and encouraged her to perform.
“It’s just not something that’s in the back of your head when it’s just something that you love doing and have always done,” said Hall. “Like, how could I make money doing that? When I was younger, it never seemed like something I could pull off.”
But Hall’s warm, inviting, powerful voice was just what the Portland music scene needed. In the mid-2000s, she started singing with bands including Soul Movement and the funk-rock outfit The 151, which performed in Bangor a number of times. After those bands went their separate ways, Hall began performing with what is now the Kenya Hall Band, which is comprised of Calvin McElwain on guitar, Dan Capaldi on drums, Frank Hopkins on keys, Josh Robbins on bass, John MacLaine on trombone and Adam Montimony on sax.
Maine isn’t know for its thriving soul and funk scene, but Bangor’s Juicebox and Portland bands like the Sly-Chi (who are also playing the Dispatch ME stage at KahBang), Mama’s Boomshack and the Kenya Hall Band are changing that. KahBang this year in particular is bringing more soul, funk and hip hop to Maine than any other festival in recent memory has seen, making it one of the most musically diverse festivals in the state.
Still, Hall and others have a little educated to do with their audiences, who nevertheless appreciate her voice.
“I had someone call me a blues singer once. I was like, really? That’s like calling a rock singer a country singer,” said Hall. “It’s still a new thing up here. But we’re working on it.”
Follow Emily Burnham on Twitter at @rockblogsterbdn.