By Onna Jaeger
Kalyna Rakel is a tiny girl with a voice that could fill up the room. With three albums out, she is a solo act with her acoustic guitar. Kalyna is bringing back the old school Ella Fitzgerald sound that gives you all those warm feels inside. Using her travels around the world as inspiration for her songs, she is currently sharing her music across the country. For more information, check out her website.
Onna: First off, your name is very unique. How were you named Kalyna?
Kalyna: Well, my mom used to teach school in Switzerland and one of her students was named Kalyna, so that’s how she got the name. Apparently it stems from Hungary (although my background is Swiss) and “Kalyna” is actually a traditional song in Hungarian about a berry tree… haha. But apparently Kalyna means flower. Growing up I didn’t like how difficult it was because teachers would always mess up my name when they were calling attendance! I wished I had a “normal” name, but over the years I’ve grown to really like it and it feels like I’ve grown into my name.
Onna: I know you started off your musical career with a hip hop song. What inspired that? Do you feel like you’ve branched off from hip hop or do you still keep it near to your heart?
Kalyna: In my teen years I loved rap and hip hop and the skill of freestyling etc. But Beyonce was one of my favorites! I loved to dance too and her dancing skills really inspired me. I’d spend hours in my room making up dance routines and singing.Then after high school I became very sick and lost all my energy and struggled with some serious health issues for quite a few years.. but then I discovered a lot about the human body and started to eat only what grows from the earth. And it healed me almost completely now and it brought me back into music again. During the dark time in my life I started really getting into old jazz and old romantic movies and just pretending I was in that world. I would imitate these jazz singers like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Julie London and Nina Simone and after a while I started a whole new persona and I called myself “Bowbie Bo.” I would dress up like the old jazz singers with a wig singing jazz standards at this little empty bar every Saturday night. I wanted to escape from who I was and the disappointment I faced so this was a way for me to start new. And along the way, I found myself. I believe that music evolves throughout your life, and why be restricted to one “genre” anyway? Just let out whatever it is that’s in your heart.
Onna: You described a bit of your trip to Europe, which sounded like quite the journey. Did the music there inspire you? Feel free to share any specific stories
Kalyna: Yes, Europe was a huge inspiration for me to get back into music and finding myself. Before that I was still “hiding” behind Bowbie Bo. When I left for Europe for the first time I had sold everything, I quit my job and started out on a grand adventure. So I went over there with not much at all. Just a pair of clothes and a toothbrush. The money that I had brought went missing within the first week I was there! Along with losing my passport and everything… but I didn’t care, I was excited to put God, and everything I had grown up learning, to the test! And I did just that. Every day I would say a little prayer and ask for food, shelter and a little surprise. And boy, was I surprised! I was open to everything because I had nothing. This led me to circumstances I couldn’t have ever planned! For example, when I was in Paris, I didn’t know where to go or why I was there. As I was walking in the park one day, these 2 musicians with instruments strapped to their backs called out to me for some reason (I don’t know why, but these are the things that happen when you’re open and in the moment, trusting the “spirit” if you want to call it). They gestured me to come with them and it turns out they were headed in the same direction I was going anyway – to the river! When we arrived, we were greeted by a crowd of all their friends, playing all kinds of instruments and juggling fire, etc. I was so amazed to be surrounded by all these talented and inspiring people. They invited me to play music with them in a festival and I ended up staying in Paris for a week, feeling like a local, with all these wonderful people I just happened to meet! That is what inspired me to start playing guitar when I came back from Europe. Beyond every fearful thought is a whole new world waiting to unfold.
Onna: After you returned from Europe, what steps did you take to start recording your music?
Kalyna: When I returned from Europe I picked up the guitar and wrote a song about Paris, and couldn’t stop writing since then! Experiencing life in all the ups and downs definitely keeps you with lots to write about. So while I was in Europe, someone in Italy had told me about Kauai, the northern island in Hawaii. When he told me about it, I got the chills and knew I had to follow that feeling. So I was home from Europe for a few months, started playing guitar, and brought a little kids guitar with me to Hawaii. I was already used to living off of very little so I only had my little guitar in my backpack and a couple pairs of clothes. I only brought 100 dollars with me and trusted that everything would work out and I would just come back if I ran out of money, etc. On my last few dollars, I was thinking about going home when this man picked me up hitch-hiking, who really needed help with his window washing business because it was a busy time around Christmas and he said he’d pay me too. So I ended up staying on the island for a couple months. Anyway, I kind of got a little off topic, but while I was in Hawaii I had a dream that I was singing this beautiful song and all I saw was a bright light. When I woke up, all that was repeating through my mind was “this is all I want to do, this is all I want to do”… Then I knew I had to go back home to work on music. So I booked my flight home the next day and started recording some of the songs I was inspired to write while in Hawaii, mostly about this guy that I had met. I ended up recording a whole album on my computer using Garage Band and then I got it pressed. It’s called “Red Shoes” and I wrote the title track while in LA on a long layover, flying back from Hawaii. Since then I’ve made 2 more albums with a family friend who also looked to music for healing. They are called “Win Me Back” and “Joanne.” It seems that since I made that decision to really pursue music again, things just kept opening up in the most unpredictable ways… from recording a single with a record label in Europe, to being here now in this interview. It’s really exciting and I’m so thankful to have music in my life again.
Onna: I know you are a solo act, but would you ever consider collaborating with other artists? If so, who would you collaborate with if you could choose absolutely anyone?
Kalyna: I would love to collaborate with other artists, I mean, that’s what creates the most magic …putting your skills together to create something more beautiful than you could on your own. But to answer your question… in terms of artists that are well known, I had a dream that I was performing with John Mayer… and The Eagles… I really like the stories that Ed Sheeran tells in his music. Taylor Swift seems like such a lovely person and also a great songwriter. Robert Plant and Lana Del Rey are also amazing. But I’ve met some really special and inspiring people playing on the streets. I’d love to collaborate with some of these wonderful people too and I plan on doing so.
Onna: What are your next steps in your musical career? Do you plan on staying around the New York area or would you like to travel overseas?
Kalyna: The next steps in music are always a mystery and a surprise. Depending on what are in my cards is where it will go. In the meantime, I’ll do all that I can and put myself out there and hope that people will enjoy what I have to offer. And now that I have a van that I’ve made into a “home on wheels” I’m free to tour around and go wherever the music takes me! But I have been dreaming about New York City for years now, since I was 15 when I went there for the first and only time. There was something magical about it there that has been pulling at me, so that’s where I’m headed next. I’ll keep playing on the streets because it keeps me grounded and I love seeing people smile day to day. It would also be really cool to play big shows one day. But I’m happy playing for any audience. If the music touches one person then my mission is accomplished.
For more on Kalyna Rakel, follow her on Facebook!