Songs in the key of life

Mar 10, 1999 at 12:00 am

Many local soul music aficionados will argue that, despite public perception, the sound still lives in Detroit. They may, in fact, wager that it’s taken residence in the body of one Kem L. Owens.

Kem is one of those rare musicians whose music really is a reflection of his life, whose melodies are just as much healing medicine to him as they are ear candy to you. Once faced with homelessness and addiction, Kem made music his crutch, then his cross. Then he offered it to us.

"Throughout my life," he says, "throughout my addiction, music was the only thing constant. I could absorb myself in that. When singing, you let all your inhibitions to the side. You’re in the groove."

A physically and emotionally cleansed Kem released an EP in 1995 entitled Can’t Figure U Out. The project caused a buzz thanks to cuts such as "Love Thy Neighbor," a jazzy song with a spiritually tinged message. It caught the ear of Me’Shell Ndege Ochello, whom he opened for twice. Kem is now preparing to release a new independent project this summer. His is a mature sound that, through its sheer sincerity, escapes the hypersexed boredom of pop music.

"Music is a spiritual thing. There’s also spirituality lyrically," Kem says.

"My music is very versatile. It’s funky. Visual. If I’m lucky, it’ll make you feel … something.

"Love is all I talk about. Love, God and money. Not always in that order."

Kem’s music presents love as two-way communication between giver and receiver. It’s real enough to last through fads, and fluid enough to quench the thirst in y’all’s lonely-ass hearts. Drink up. There’s plenty for all.