Kalu & The Electric Joint Return To Houston

Kalu & The Electric Joint will perform this weekend in Houston including a special performance Saturday at The Continental Club.
Kalu & The Electric Joint will perform this weekend in Houston including a special performance Saturday at The Continental Club. Photo By Greg Giannukos
Austin has long had a reputation for being a central hub for music not only in Texas, but all over the world. For Kalu James of Kalu & The Electric Joint, originally from Nigeria, he knew it was a place where he could make his dream of a career in music come true.

“I am never interested in being a big fish in a small pond,” says James. “I want to be in a place where every single person challenges me to go back to the drawing board and I feel like Austin does that. I’m surrounded by people who I consider even greater musicians and that's what I need at all times is to not get complacent.”

Kalu & The Electric Joint will be coming to Houston for a weekend of performances opening for Neal Francis at The Heights Theater and then headlining their own show at The Continental Club the following night with their fellow Austinites Greyhounds.

“The Continental Club here is home for us in a way,” says James of the Austin location where the band previously held a residency. “That's really been a huge breeding ground for us and we haven't played Continental Club in Houston so we are beside ourselves.”

James and his band mate Jonathan “JT” Holt collaborate to create sounds like no other melting soul, psychedelic rock, R&B, hip hop, funk and African rhythms all wrapped together with deep and meaningful lyrics.

Their previous 2017 release Time Undone on Space Flight Records put them on the map and listening to songs like “Too Low To Get High” it’s easy to see why as the band layers multi textured sounds to create a dark yet dance-able groove.

For James, growing up in Nigeria provided him with exposure to not only musicians of his native country like Fela Kuti but also American and European artists always gravitating towards those who had “a thermometer on society.”

James audibly smiles as he reminisces the times of camping out by the radio just for the chance to record a favorite song to tape hoping that the deejay wouldn’t chime in and ruin the recording.

“The greatest export of America is not just its music, but its culture so people from outside know so much about this country versus in the reverse,” he says. As a young man he moved to New York and later Austin to pursue music where he cut his teeth playing open mics and happy hours around town and building a mailing list the old fashioned way using pen and paper.

James describes himself as having “no kill switch” and a hard working immigrant mentality and approach to life. “I’ve always just known that without any backing that it's going to be a grind and it's a grind that I have signed up for. Regardless of all the highs and lows, there's a huge belief I have in myself, my viewpoints and what JT and I are doing.”

He met JT early on when both were dating sisters and though those relationships did not last, his bond with JT did. “We were not even in the same band and during that moment itself we just became thicker than thieves,” explains James.

“What’s making it work is the amount of trust we have for each other and the amount of respect. JT has been doing this for over twenty years. He’s the best guitar player I know and one of the best music composers I know. He pushes me to find parts of myself that I didn't even know are there and it's been one of the greatest contributions to not just my life, but my musical career.”

“The style of what I do is heavily influenced by JT because of the connection,” he says, describing how both artists combine their different cultural backgrounds and all the influences that come along with each as well as a shared enjoyment of similar things. “You can feel that in the music when those two come together, it just creates something different yet familiar.”

“You can feel that in the music when those two come together, it just creates something different yet familiar.”

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Prior to COVID, the band was planning on releasing their follow up album Garden Of Eden but they decided to hold onto it allowing them another chance to revisit the songs. The band is still not sure when the album will be released but they are already working on the follow up album.

“It’s a very interesting time in the world of music right now and there's a lot of it that I have zero control over. My control is in just writing music,” says James. The time to study the tracks under a magnifying glass was welcomed as the band also had changes in their line up and could feel the songs going in a new direction.

Currently the band features Greg Clifford on drums of White Denim and Heartless Bastards, Johann Valles on bass and Pearl Z on keyboard, guitar and vocals.  The Houston show will feature the full band.

“We used a fine tooth comb going through it and got quite humbled because a lot of the messages that were going on were so current to what was happening with the Black Lives Matter movement.”
Kalu & The Electric Joint released their latest single “Downfall” this year and the track is a welcomed reflection on the power of love and the importance of taking people’s multidimensional existence into account, even when it would be easier not to.

Though it was written prior to the events of 2020, it encapsulates the movement in society and social awakening of last summer. “It’s about Martin Luther King,” he says. “It’s about his message and his life and I just felt in this world where we are being pulled apart in so many different ways that the message itself has to be out there.”

“In the past 18 months where we've just been separated and isolated, we can begin to take that as an identity and we have to get back to the point where we understand that we all contain multitudes. “Downfall” for me was definitely the moment where we have to remind ourselves that at the end of the day most of the time there is bigger stuff going on that we don't know and we can't just take it for what it is.”

Kalu & The Electric Joint will perform with Neal Francis on Friday, December 10 at The Heights Theater, 339 W. 19th. Doors open at 7 p.m. showtime at 8 p.m., $18-288 and Saturday, December 11 with Greyhounds at The Continental Club, 3700 Main, 8 p.m., $15-30.
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Gladys Fuentes is a first generation Houstonian whose obsession with music began with being glued to KLDE oldies on the radio as a young girl. She is a freelance music writer for the Houston Press, contributing articles since early 2017.
Contact: Gladys Fuentes