by Serena Zets
[originally published spring 2020]
On Saturday, February 8th, the Cat in the Cream kicked off its spring semester of programming with a headlining performance by Kaina. As the Cat’s Facebook event of the Kaina show states, “Kaina is a first-generation Latina, born and raised in Chicago. Apart from her parents and brother, she didn’t grow up around any other blood family in her hometown, which ultimately led to a detachment from her cultural identity. From her debut EP 2016’s sweet asl. to 2018’s 4U, and her anticipated album Next To The Sun, Kaina has continued to push this narrative through her brand of sweet-hearted optimism, which she uses as a means to connect with and lift her listener’s spirit. From collaborating with peers like Saba, The O’My’s, and Sen Morimoto, and through multidisciplinary work around the city with various organizations, she has found a sound for herself that is gentle, yet full of intent.”
Kaina’s Cat show demonstrated her gentle yet intentional nature through her frequent tender interactions with the audience, camaraderie with her band, and effortless set. Kaina’s band included a surprise guest in Sen Morimoto, an artist returning to the Cat in the Cream. Last spring, Asia America Art Collective brought Morimoto, and his close friend and longtime artistic collaborator Kaina came along to open for him. Her performance blew the Cat’s audience away, putting her on the radar of Cat bookers and Oberlin students alike. Kayri Craig, a third-year Cat staffer, was the primary booker and point-person for the Kaina show; Kaina was the first artist they’ve ever booked! When interviewed, Craig said the process was fairly easy because “I had heard she would be in town and I knew a lot of people here liked her. I listened to some of her music and liked it, and once I looked into past interviews, I knew I liked her as a person.”
My favorite moment of the show was when Kaina and Morimoto harmonized their 2019 duet “Could Be a Curse.” Their voices flow together so perfectly that it’s hard to believe it’s two separate individuals creating music together; the compatibility of their voices echoes the sentiment of the song itself, which is about feeling alone while still being together with other people. In the song, Kaina has a verse in Spanish and Morimoto has one in Japanese. After the song concluded, Kaina said “Could Be a Curse” was one of the first times that their parents could understand what their lyrics said, which made it all the more special.
Most of Kaina’s commentary was met with cheers, sentimental murmurs, and even some ever-popular co-op knocks. Overall, the audience seemed entranced with her every time she opened her mouth, whether to sing or to talk. The sentiment Craig expressed of liking Kaina as both an artist and as a person seemed resonant throughout the audience. Kaina and Sen hung around the Cat after the show to work the merch table and interact with the crowd. The crowd totaled over 150 people, remarkable numbers for the first weekend of the semester. Craig said, “I felt like a lot of people came out, which is nice.” The show began as a sitting show, but “after urging the audience, people stood up and danced and enjoyed the music and got comfortable.” The show was upbeat, and the band was lively, providing plenty of opportunities for dancing with friends. It culminated in Kaina inviting the audience to dance on stage with her during the last song. As a Cat staffer, seeing that many people on the Cat’s stage dancing and singing along with her made for one of the most joyful moments I’ve shared not only in the Cat, but in all my time in Oberlin.
Craig said, “I think that this show will set the tone for the Cat this semester of Oberlin students coming, having a good time, getting comfortable, and listening to good music.” On that note, Obies, make sure to come to the next show at the Cat in the Cream and dance your hearts out. It’s what Kaina would want.