R&B vocal artists Adria Kain and Janette King sing of queer love

The musicians perform locally through a Queer Arts Festival and TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival co-presentation


Coastal Jazz and Queer Arts Festival present Adria Kain + Janette King on June 24 at 7:30 pm at Performance Works on Granville Island as part of the 2022 TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival

OFFERING A LUSH exploration of queer love and identity, Toronto-based R&B singer-songwriter Adria Kain and Montreal vocalist, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Janette King will take to the stage in a local first: the musicians’ performance marks the first time that Queer Arts Festival has partnered with the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival.

Both of the artists’ most recent projects—Kain’s debut album, Where Flowers Bloom, and King’s What We Lost, a blend of alternative R&B, house, and pop—dive deep into the nuances of self-exploration, queer relationships, and how we present in the world.

While Kain’s release came out this year, the artist says that creating the work was a process that began in 2016. The pandemic helped her realize the direction the album would take.

“I went through the typical relationship stuff—learning about accountability, about who I am in a relationship, and my expectations,” Kain says in a phone interview with Stir. “During the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, I allowed myself to tap into what all these things mean for me and how I want to show up moving forward.”

Where Flowers Bloom is the first time she has been open about her sexuality in her music.

“For a long time I was writing music in a less literal sense; I would never mention gender in my songs; I wanted it to be something that everyone could relate to,” Kain says. “I never really had the opportunity to say ‘This is who I am, this is me in my queerness.’ I just kind of wrote from whatever I was feeling. This album was the first time where I got into the specifics of queer experiences.”

Being open about her sexuality hasn’t come without challenges, however.

“It has been interesting being a Black queer musician in Canada, because oftentimes people don’t know how to react to me, they don’t know how to perceive what they’re seeing immediately,” Kain says. “As exciting as my music sounds to many people, they don’t know how to market me.”

Kain isn’t the kind of artist who enjoys branding herself or fitting her identity into a box. She enjoys the pureness of self-expression and is at times frustrated by the superficiality of the music industry.

“Being a musician can be exhausting for me, especially the performative aspects of it,” Kain says. “I had an epiphany recently that made me realize that music has always been something that’s embedded in me. The thing I love most about my singing voice is that it feels more like my language than my speaking voice does. The way my emotions come through in my songs when I perform live is the thing that allows others to understand who I am as a person.”

Similarly, King tries to genuinely represent herself through her music.

“My music centres around themes of self-reflection, especially in my song ‘Mirror’,” the alt-RnB artist says of a track off her 2021 album, What We Lost. “As a queer person, I’m always looking at my internal world, my internal self, because there’s always a magnifying glass on me. There’s a lot of stereotypes about queer people in the media, and I’m left to question where I fit into that. In my music, I’m always going internally, I’m always questioning if I’m portraying the person I am honestly and whether I can show up as my authentic self.”

What We Lost delves into King’s inner world and sense of identity. Consider the song “Mars”, a self-proclaimed celebration of queer Black sexuality, for instance.

“The whole album is a homage to love and the different forms of love,” says King, who started out in Vancouver. “Like how you can feel so enamoured by someone when you first meet them, how you feel when you lose somebody, how you feel in the centre of a relationship when everything feels so good, or when you start to feel someone pulling away. It’s an album exploring everything it means to be in love.”

King made her debut in 2019 with her album EP 143, which was followed by a North American tour and several performances in the UK that same year. She says that the album was well-received by the public despite the challenges the pandemic presented. This summer, she’s kicking off a nationwide tour, playing at a multitude of festivals across the country.

King’s journey as a solo artist initially made her feel vulnerable, she says, but after the release of EP 143, she was able to gain greater confidence in her artistry and sense of self.

“It’s so important to be proud of who you are,” King says. “I wish I had that advice as a younger person more. It was something I had to learn by myself over time.”

By pursuing authenticity and self-exploration through music, both Kain and King are making space for queer people to exist and thrive, both in the music industry and the world at large.

“The advice I would give to someone who looks like me is to do what you can to figure out what you want,” Kain says. “Don’t worry too much about what other people think. As long as you know who you are and how you want to be represented, then that’s the most important thing.”