SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — Amid the weekend-long celebration of San Francisco Pride, a Bay Area favorite will entertain the crowds – Grammy-nominated artist Kehlani will perform Saturday night at the “Wild Things Queer Pride Party” in San Francisco.
While Kehlani’s name is Hawaiian, her roots are in the Bay Area. The 23-year-old performer grew up in Oakland and described her ethnicity as black, white, Native American, Filipino and Spanish.
“I think Oakland taught me that I can never compromise who I am, never compromise my heart, never compromise my soul never forget where I came from,” said Kehlani. “I think Oakland just has a knack for that. I think the entire Bay Area has just so much heart and soul.”
Kehlani is open about her sexuality. She identifies herself as neither bisexual nor straight, but queer. A personal breakthrough was her song, “Honey,” inspired by a lover.
“I spent a long time making music that wasn’t exactly true to who I was,” she said. “Not saying that the message wasn’t true, but sometimes I would change the pronoun that I used or I wouldn’t use a pronoun, just for the sake of making sure that the listener could put whoever they wanted into the equation.
“But I realized, you know what? I need to just be all the way thorough and give you exactly what’s on my heart so I made the choice to say “woman,” the choice to say “girl,” the choice to say “she.”
Writing the song, Kehlani said, was therapeutic.
“It helped me express myself more to myself,” she said. “It helped me become more open and more true with myself, I feel like a lot more free after the song.”
Kehlani’s father died months after she was born. Her mother struggled with drug addiction, and she was raised by her aunt.
It’s hard to believe six years ago, Kehlani was homeless and couch surfing. Today, the tiny singer is a big artist with Atlantic Records and a huge following. Her song “Gangsta” was featured on the soundtrack for the hit movie “Suicide Squad.”
She’s collaborated with Eminem, Cardi B, and Hayley Kiyoko. She’s also been nominated for three Grammys – the latest for her debut album.
“I just made something that I was proud of, that hopefully people could resonate with,” she said. “And the fact that somebody who was credible thought it was tight is like, cool. Keep your head down, keep working, keep doing your thing.”
A limited number of tickets to Saturday’s “Wild Things Queer Pride Party” at Public Works in San Francisco are available at the door. All proceeds go to the LGBT Asylum Project, which provides legal services to LBGT immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S.