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Kaia Kater

Kaia Kater headshot


Kaia Kater’s new album "Strange Medicine" — released May 2024 on Free Dirt Records — opens with a haunting vision. Accompanied by Aoife O’Donovan, Kater sings of the women burned at the stake as witches in 17th-century Salem, Massachusetts and their wish to strike back: "I dreamt I moved through you and / Burned my name into your chest."

It’s an opening salvo from an album that celebrates the power of women and oppressed people throughout history as they rise up and turn the poison of centuries of oppression into a strange kind of medicine. Kater’s songs are dialogues with these historical figures as well as meditations on her own modern life.

In the years since her 2018 album, "Grenades" on Smithsonian Folkways, Kater has taken time to reinvent herself and hone her skills, first attending film school to learn composition, then diving deeper into her songwriting to come up with her most personal album yet. Feeling the pressure as a talented young songwriter, banjo player, and bandleader with three successful albums and an NPR Tiny Desk Concert under her belt, Kater struggled initially with the expectations of her adopted genre, Americana. She retreated to her apartment in Montréal. Sitting at home with her banjo, songs unfolded in personal intimacy, revealing windows into the perspectives of women and revolutionaries through history. Co-producing with Joe Grass (Elisapie, The Barr Brothers), Kater invited close friends and colleagues O’Donovan and Allison Russell to sing on the album, along with longtime hero and American legend Taj Mahal. With lush arrangements and unexpected musical ideas drawn from genres as surprising as minimalist composition, jazz drumming, and film scores, "Strange Medicine" is the bold next step in Kater’s career. It’s an album made beyond the white gaze of Americana, unbeholden to a music industry that so often tokenizes and silences marginalized voices, a Black feminist perspective on a genre that refuses to cede power to Black women. But ultimately it’s a celebration of the self. 

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