In all things great, one never seems to be enough. Aja Graydon and Fatin Danztler are the Philly-based dynamic duo you all know and love as Kindred the Family Soul. Their voices marry together in a way that has created a dynamic vibe you want to hear over and over again. As we listen to music we pay close attention to the lyrics, but we also want to feel the songs and have a true connection. The authenticity of the music they have created over the years allows the listener to relate and groove at the same time. Celebrating 20 years since the release of their debut album, Surrender To love, this married duo gives us an inside view to the start of their careers, the importance of maintaining the love, their latest and 7th album release, what they are working on next, and much more.
This year marks 20 years since the release of your debut album, ‘Surrender to Love’ which received a Soul Train Award and BET Award nomination. What was it like to release your first album and were you nervous about how the world would receive your music?
AJA - It was very exciting because both of us had been in some facet of the business since we were teenagers, trying to find our identity and our place in the business. Finally, we'd reached the point where our art would be presented and so we naturally felt nervous and relieved. We had 2 small children by then and much was riding on the success of it. I also remember a great sense of accomplishment, it made us that much closer.
FATIN - Surrender to love turning twenty makes me think back to a much simpler time in our lives but one that was full of a lot of great creative energy. We were overwhelmed with gratitude and joy to release a record that was literally born out of the live performances we put on weekly in a small club. So to try to translate that LIVE energy and bottle it up for sale was difficult and challenging but has been a true blessing to our lives. It stands as a time capsule to a milestone period in our lives. We certainly were nervous as to how it would be received, but also confident in the ways the material had resonated with the audience we had earned early on.
Music is a soulful feeling that tells a story in the most unique ways. The way that your lyrics and voices come together is always a head-shaking, and vibe-induced moment. When you are writing the lyrics to your songs, how do you know once you have created something magical?
AJA - We just listen for what clicks. No matter who takes the lead on an idea, it's about a vibe. When it connects authentically to us, we feel pretty confident it will resonate with someone else.
FATIN - I wouldn’t say you know lyrics are magical but you do know when they speak to you and that’s the first step of being confident enough to record them. You hear it back many times before anyone else does so you begin to believe in it before it’s critiqued. Sometimes it’s golden and sometimes not so much, but it always comes from the heart.
To say that you have been in the music industry since you were young is quite literal. Tell us about your musical journey and how you two got started before Kindred The Family Soul was born.
AJA - I was a performing arts/theater kid from as early as 8 years old. I did that pretty consistently until I was 14. I got my first record deal then. I thought I'd have a similar trajectory as Aaliyah or Brandy as we were very close in age. That album never came to be and I moved on after 4 years of changes in the company and artist development. Near the end, I decided to go to NY to breathe some life into the material I was doing and I met my husband, who was the first songwriter I met there.
FATIN - We both have a story that’s in some ways unique but also similar. I started early in performing arts high school and playing instruments and it wasn’t till about 10th grade that my voice became my focal point of interest and developing my writing and recording songs with producers and some local groups in my city. It lead me to producing songs for other artists. Bell Biv Devoe was my first major placement on a record and it boosted my confidence to go full-time in that direction. I didn’t circle back to really trying to be an artist for nearly 8 years after that first taste of the business. Meeting Aja and becoming a family put things into a different perspective and gave the artistry a totally different feel. Suddenly we had a real purpose and message to what we were creating.
The Five Spot. Does the mere mention of that small club from back in the day take you on a trip down memory lane?
AJA- Absolutely!!! Our first child was a baby and we would catch the trolley down to the club to get on early. It was the place we developed as a group, built our first fan base, and had the benefit of the community. It will always be so special to us, a moment in time, a beautiful milestone.
FATIN - The mention of The Five Spot was that groundbreaking moment that we have as the development of our sound and the framework of the audience we built over time so it’s a special place we will always hold dear to our hearts. Those Tuesday nights we spent cutting our teeth and entertaining folks. So much got worked out in that room.
It’s easy to embrace all things that are of love. Your story is a beautiful tale of two teenagers and their love of music. As artists, songwriters, lovers, parents of six children, and now grandparents, how have you maintained the love while balancing your family life and your careers?
AJA - Much of what we've done has not been intentional but we lived and we learned. Spending time together has been a great thing for us. Over the years we have carved out time to just be a couple and we know that has helped us. It is difficult to give each other critical feedback because of all the ways we are connected but we have learned and are still learning to trust each other's intentions and remind ourselves that we are always on the same side. Giving each other space is also essential. There is a lot of pressure and responsibility in our lives. Quiet time to think is priceless.
FATIN - Maintaining our life is a daily practice of loving each other despite our flaws but also so many people praying and pouring into us and our relationship as well. Without God, family, and the people who have embraced us as a village we surely would not have made it this far but one thing that has always been present is our desire to be together and love one another thru good times and bad it has truly sustained throughout our years as a couple.
Your 7th album, Auntie & Uncle was released in 2021. Tell us how you came up with this name.
The original name was "Auntie and Unc's Revenge: A Black Love Story" …lol…it was an homage to Blackploitation films. We even had a short film idea to go with it. We scaled down the idea, mostly because the pandemic made it difficult to execute. The Auntie and Unc part was really just a way to signify that we'd reached a level of respect and age in the game.
We all need to unwind every now and then. When you are not on tour or in the studio working on new music, what do you two love to do for fun?
We spend time with our kids. They are a lot of fun to be around. Spending time with our new granddaughter. (Fatin) has taken up DJ'ing.( Aja) loves to read and all kinds of arts.
I was introduced to Neo-Soul in the early 2000s. The feeling, grooves, and energy of this genre of music left an impression that I have treasured throughout the years. How would you describe the true essence of Neo-soul and how important it is to the culture of music?
Neo soul was the result of young people who were deeply influenced by the instrumentation/vocals of singer-songwriters of the late 60's through 70's but strengthened their chops in the tradition of hip-hop freestyle, sensibilities and cadence. It's important to culture because it reintroduced a bit of sophistication, critical thinking, and lyricism to youth music. It appealed to a wide age group and fit into both hip hip R&B and Adult formats.
They say the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. Have any of your children expressed an interest in music?
Our oldest son has released his debut album "Born to be Loved". He is currently working on his second.
It’s time for a short road trip. What would we find in your CD player?
We have multiple playlists. Jazz, 70's r&b, hip hop, afrobeats. We also listen to my husband's mixes!
Can you give us a peek into what you are working on next?
We are working on several projects together and independently. Fatin is currently perfecting his craft as a DJ. Aja is co host on J.ill the podcast with Jill Scott and Laiya St. Claire. We are producing digital content (3 shows and a documentary). We will be on the road all year celebrating the 20th anniversary of our debut album Surrender to Love.
Reflection is a necessary part of life. It helps us to remember the reasons why. As you reminisce about your amazing career, is there anything you would have done differently?
That's hard because you never really know what is connected to what. Take away one decision and it totally changes your trajectory. I think we are content with our careers and the choices we've made, even the ones that appeared to be bad. Life will have them all. It's the nature of things.
In closing, if you had to describe your life story in one song verse, what would that be?
"We've come so far, the stars look up at you baby".
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AJ is a creative writer and storyteller writing from her home in Indiana.
"This is how you do it; you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it's done. It's that easy, and that hard." -Neil Gaiman