It’s not easy walking away from a comfortable situation to chase your dreams, your passion, your heart cry. But Grammy nominated singer Carolyn Malachi did just that. One Grammy nomination and several songs later, the tenth generation D.C. native who grew up in Brookland, is charting her own unique course in the world of music which includes a new song, “Blowing Smoke” that will certainly capture attention. She brings her own eclectic mix of music tinged with blues, jazz and R&B, just to name a few.
Malachi took time out from her busy schedule (she’s currently on a multi-city “Blowing Smoke Tour”) to share about her musical journey, her recently released single, “Blowing Smoke” and why she chose a vegan lifestyle.
“Blowing Smoke” includes lines like, “plantation days and paparazzi nights.” She shared the meaning behind the song:
“It’s really about encouraging yourself. I know the name “Blowing Smoke” conjures all kinds of ideas, especially the idea of blowing smoke up someone’s rear. I believe in speaking truth to yourself by encouraging yourself. I just wanted to put a twist on the concept, so for me it means encouraging yourself, believing in yourself even when people around you may not have the same confidence in you.”
The singer had been out of work for a few years and accepted a position at a community college. One week later she found out that her song,“Orion” had been nominated for a Grammy. This put the singer at a crossroads and she considered leaving her job until a good friend stepped in with some sage advice.
“She encouraged me to stay because Grammy nominations don’t come with any kind of compensation, just recognition. I didn’t have any backing so I needed to finance my craft. It really became a struggle because working for myself as a musician is a full-time job and then working for someone else became increasingly difficult to serve two masters. So I chose myself as my own master and took a leap of faith in 2014 and it’s just been beautiful ever since!”
Taking that leap on its surface may seem pretty scary, but Malachi has a different perspective.
“I don’t want to say it was scary. Every day is a new adventure and at the end of the day I trust God and that I’m walking the path that is destined for me. I trust that God is going to help me see it through and it’s going to be a blessing to everybody.”
A few days before this interview, Malachi had just finished the first leg of her tour which kicked off in Chicago. She described the experience as “magical.”
“I spent two days before the show at a local library with youth who are interested in hip hop and the music industry. I also participated in an open mic with Che “Rhymefest” Smith who wrote “Glory” with Common and John Legend which won a Grammy. Brittney Carter won that evening and performed with me on stage Friday night. It was nice to be in the community and the energy of the show was really lovely. One thing that I really like about my shows is that I can look out in the audience and a group of 18 year olds and a group of 80 year olds and everyone in-between. The fact that I’m able to make music that creates an environment for intergenerational interaction like that is beautiful. One guy even jumped on stage and started dancing with me. It’s fun, it’s a family atmosphere.”
Malachi has also taken her music internationally, performing at several sold out shows in China last year. This year she traveled to Haiti.
“It was incredible, so much energy with 45,000 people. We taught in colleges, we taught jazz, history, played concerts with students in St. Marc, and played at the ambassador’s residence. Our last concert was a community show at a convention center with 1500 people in Port au Prince. I was blessed to see as much of Haiti as I was able to see, the beauty and its people. I have so much appreciation now for their history and culture.”
Woven through the singer’s conversations is her joy in connecting with others and imparting knowledge to young people. She’s also supports STEM programs. Her commitment in this area harkens back to her upbringing.
“My elders taught me the importance of education and I feel comfortable talking about it. I’m also the eldest sister of all of the children.”
Speaking of family, Malachi boats a proud lineage. Her great grandfather was jazz pianist John Malachi. While she was very young when he died, she still has memories of him.
“I was 4 or 5 when he passed, but have memories of me being at the piano with him and I have the stories that my family passed down. I am the only one in his line that has pursued music. We all chose different careers. I think the impact of having a prominent musician in the family is that you have somebody who did something that was against the grain. His first career was a professional musician. It was his job starting at the age of 13 and he did that until he passed.”
So what led her to choose the path less traveled in her family?
“It felt natural. Sometimes it’s not your choice. Sometimes you’re just chosen and I feel that. I feel that everything was lined up. I have been writing songs all my life, I could always write a song, but it wasn’t until college that I got access to music production technology and that was through a class. I didn’t select that class; my adviser selected that class. I feel if I hadn’t been in that class, if I hadn’t received the assignment and learned the software I wouldn’t have started producing music. Once I started producing music, that was it. I could make music for myself, I could play. I went around campus performing with a deejay and one day this drummer asked ‘have you ever thought of playing with live musicians?’ We snuck into the music hall and I played some songs for him. He recorded it on his Walkman and the next thing I knew he put a little band together. Ever since then I’ve been playing.”
On the personal front Carolyn Malachi is a natural woman. She’s into everything natural (hair, skin, diet, etc.). In 2013 she made a decision to become a vegan. It all came about during a difficult period in her life.
“I had a horrible breakup. I was like ‘okay, this is like the fourth or fifth time that I’ve gone through this very same situation with a different person. I mean the problem is me! So let me figure this out.’ So one day I just went cold turkey and I went raw vegan, no cooked vegan food, no cooked vegetables; just raw. It was New Year’s Day 2013 and I was just like I’m going to strip away everything. I’m going to basically get rid of the middle man. I want to get all of my energy from the sun, metaphorically and spiritually. That’s what I want to do; get rid of all this processed stuff, no distractions, just get rid of it all and that’s why I went vegan and I haven’t gone back.”
The switch is permanent, but not without its challenges in a family that cooks great meals.
She recalls, “I wanted it all, but I really knew that my transition was going to more valuable than the temporary fix which would have been fix. I’ve looked at challenges as an opportunity to do things differently and I’m holding onto that.”
After successfully launching her career, the singer has some advice for emerging artists:
“Give as much of yourself to the moment as possible. There may be days or years of getting up early and going to work take care of your music business and hanging out very late at night. Give as much of yourself as you can to your craft and that is going to produce very positive results and stay positive.”
Carolyn Malachi’s final stop on the “Blowing Smoke Tour,” will be in DC on June 11, during the DC Jazz Festival. She will shoot the video for “Blowing Smoke” on June 12 during the festival.
“We are shooting the video with lots of dancing. I want to bring back things that are cultural norms for me. In my family we sing, we dance together, we play games and we converse with our elders. The video is going to bring those things to light, bring those things forward.”
This summer Malachi will release a series of EPs ahead of her full-length album. The EPs promise to be somewhat autobiographical in nature.
“They are chapters of the story. The quality and diversity of the music is off the charts. It’s really great. I think people will fall in love with the story and see a part of their own journey in the story. Chapter 1 will be about knowing who you are and what you want while Chapter 2 is about getting rid of baggage.”
No doubt, her intriguing journey will keep Carolyn Malachi center stage for quite some time. “Blowing Smoke” is available on iTunes, GooglePlay, Amazon.
For more information on Carolyn Malachi, visit her website.