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Amythyst Kiah brings honest and dazzling music to Calgary’s Folk Festival

By Ansharah Shakil, August 9 2023—

At this year’s Calgary Folk Festival, American singer-songwriter Amythyst Kiah performed a concert on July 28 and collaborated in two sessions on July 28 and 29. With her powerful voice and unique sound of a banjo and acoustic guitar, Kiah was an excellent performer at this year’s festival. 

In an interview with the Gauntlet, Kiah shared that for her, having the chance to be a part of Folk Fest was especially important for her since she was once scheduled for the cancelled 2020 festival.

“I have been wanting to play here for several years,” she said. “I was slated to be here in 2020 and obviously that didn’t happen, so I ended up doing a virtual performance, which while I’m glad I was able to still share music with people, it really means a lot, three years later, to finally be able to be here and be part of the festival.”

Kiah’s diverse discography includes two solo albums, one EP and the album Songs of Our Native Daughters, created by the supergroup Our Native Daughters. But her favourite album is her newest one, Wary and Strange

“I had a lot of personal stages in my life and went through a lot of producers before finding someone I thought could pull together the vision I had for [the album],” she said. “With Wary and Strange I was really able to just focus on singing.”

Kiah delves into personal feelings and moving past struggles on Wary and Strange, like in the track “Wild Turkey”, a stirring song with stunning vocals which centres around her trauma over her mother, which is the perfect introduction for a new listener. 

“I wrote [“Wild Turkey”] after I started going to therapy, and just like all the other songs I’ve written, it allowed me to process, […] and realize that all I could do now was know that there’s always a way out,” she said. 

Music has often been the way out for Kiah, who desires to create a connection with her audience that expresses the best parts of music. 

“To be able to see people after the show and have them tell me how my music has affected their lives in a positive way or have them heal has been really rewarding because that’s how I’ve always used music,” she said. “To be able to give that back to someone else is the biggest gift from all of this.”

Kiah’s identity influences how she approaches music — like her roots in old-time music and Black string band tradition — as do her personality and interests.

“What’s important to me is my ability to be introspective and my interest in philosophy,” she said. “I’m fascinated by human experience and how our experiences can shape how we see the world. I love watching films and reading books and listening to music, and [seeing] the art of human expression, and how it has that ability to portray ideas in a new and fresh way.” 

That introspective quality creates an intimacy in the way she sings, and draws the audience in to deeply feel the things she writes about. 

“What really drives me to [play music] is my want to express my thoughts and feelings about the world around me,” Kiah explained. “One of my favourite things to do in the world is to sing and play guitar and so I think being on stage and sharing that and engaging with the audience in a meaningful way is my favourite part of it all. Sometimes I’m able to share the stories behind the songs, and being able to communicate with the audience is my favourite part of it.” 

The universal relatability of Kiah’s music, the fascinating mix of genres she plays with and the unique connection she forms with her audience make her a welcome and exciting addition to the artists who have played at Folk Fest. 

More about Kiah can be found here. All of her music is available for streaming through services like Spotify.

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