Having been raised under Arizona’s scorching sun, I find myself drawn to heated places but am averse to frigid spaces. Yet, Kajo’s album, “Cold Places,” feels just like home.
“As you listen, I hope you find something new,” the Filipino-American artist said on Instagram. “I hope you find something familiar. If you’re young, I hope that you will grow up with it. If you’re not so young, I hope it reminds you of something you grew up with.”
Kajo released “Cold Places” through Logic’s sublabel Bobby Boy Records. As I listen to its 18 tracks, a sense of nostalgia waves over me.
Through comforting vocals and whimsical melodies, the genre-bending songwriter reflects on his life and those around him. His soft voice juxtaposed against sharp percussion tells a story of finding peace within a cruel world. An introspective exploration of himself and the universe, Kajo’s “Cold Places” transcends listeners to another planet, one that offers soothing solace.
“I hope that it lets you escape,” Kajo continued. “Even for a minute or all 54.”
For Kajo, his place of escape was his father’s garage. Track three of “Cold Places,” “My Father’s Garage,” features Rapper Rebelle Perle and is dedicated to the space that kept Kajo safe. This chilly garage allowed a teenage Kajo to escape from the violence of his small town, get lost in his music, and shut out any pressures he faced.
“It’s a playlist on telling my former self ‘everything is going to be OK in spite of all the coldness in the world and the disappointments, rejections, depression and anxiety. Everything will work out,’” he said.
As Kajo grew older, he experienced love and loss. Several of his songs speak to heartbreak and letting go.
The album’s sixth and seventh tracks, “Hibernate” and “In A Week,” convey the struggles of moving on. On Instagram, Kajo described the songs as “a story about a moment in time that has lived its life but is hard to let go of.” In his “Hibernate/In A Week” combined music video, Kajo is seen in the aftermath of a failed relationship trying to forget the memories that his former partner left behind.
Shared experiences, like heartbreak, can connect people. Kajo hopes that his music will be healing for those who can relate to the emotions he expresses.
The challenge of writing songs about shared experiences, like happiness and sadness, is that those concepts, while true, are overdone. Kajo must find new ways to communicate old ideas, he said. However, when he does, it’s really rewarding, he added.
“I try to just be myself and try to speak universal truths,” Kajo said.
Even if someone doesn’t immediately catch on to his message, Kajo hopes that his words will remain true as time passes.
Kajo is still trying to make sense of the world.
“In a way, ‘Cold Places’ is about death — this state of suspended animation,” he said. “If you study mummies, remains and artifacts they will tell you about the past but there's no way to tell or confirm the absolute truth. We all just kind of make our own conclusions. We derive from things that are left to us and that’s with everything.”
Whether it's interpreting someone’s tone of voice or text message, it’s up to you to decipher what it means, Kajo said. In every aspect of life, people try to find meaning.
“No matter who you are, we all want to know our existence matters,” he said on Instagram. “We may or may not act accordingly but life is precious and each and every life makes an impact on another — be it in a big or small way. However intentionally you live or not, try to do it wisely. And even if you falter, there’s almost always a chance for redemption. Even glory. Leave a little room for mischief. But never malice.”
Kajo returns to this idea of redemption in his music video for his album’s sixteenth track, “Ötzi.”
Ötzi, also known as the Iceman, is a frozen mummy who was found by hikers in the Ötztal Valley Alps, according to the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology. Ötzi’s remains indicate that he was murdered, as he suffered an arrow wound and severe head injury. He was frozen for more than 5,000 years before being discovered in 1991.
Because Kajo has a love for history and the world that came before us, he transports music video viewers to the Paleolithic Age to follow Ötzi’s journey from beneath the ice, which Kajo described as an act of redemption.
“I used it as a metaphor for someone who didn’t feel like they had command of their destination or that their life was cut short,” Kajo said.
“Ötzi” is actually composed of Kajo’s favorite lyrics he’s ever written. The lyrics “This is what it means to be a human / it’s to be something special in somebody’s eyes” express how while we may never know life’s purpose, we can find meaning in others.
“We all just want to mean something and to know that we are making an impact,” Kajo said.
The following lyrics, “It’s to laugh and to cry, and to live and to die” suggest what Kajo believes is our purpose — living life to the fullest before it’s too late.
Kajo expresses that though life is limited, it is rich and you shouldn’t take your blessings for granted.
Other tracks on “Cold Places” continue themes of life and death, and loss and love. But you’ll have to listen to them yourself to interpret their meaning.
As Kajo wrote on Instagram, “The world is cold but it is only warm with you in it — warmer still when shared closely with one another.”
Born in the Philippines, Kajo was introduced to music at the ripe age of 4 when he started studying classical and jazz piano. A few years later, he moved to Los Angeles where he branched out into shoegaze, classic rock and other alternative music genres in high school.
He then began making Fruity Loops beats and posting them online.
Kajo’s exposure to different music genres inspired his multi-genre project and goal of encouraging others to learn about genres that most people don’t usually listen to, such as drum ‘n’ bass.
“There’s a whole generation of audiences who haven’t heard certain genres before,” he said. “Hopefully, I can reintroduce them to it.”
Kajo considers himself to be a genre-bending artist because he mixes classic sounds with contemporary music styles. As he blends genres together, Kajo adds dimension to his music and an otherworldly aspect to otherwise familiar strains. He describes his sound as “controlled chaos.”
While in the city, the singer-songwriter connected with music artists who would help further his career, including Odd Future, Toro Y Moi, Dom Kennedy and Thundercat. Rather than focusing on one talent, Kajo expanded his experience as a producer, instrumentalist, singer and songwriter. He is most known for his production work with Logic.
Kajo realized that his experience as a producer and a pianist helped him to curate his sound and better understand the music industry now that he is signed under Def Jam Recordings through Logic’s sublabel Bobby Boy Records.
“I got to be a fly on the wall,” he said. “I got to watch, I got to listen and I got to learn. It gave me an opportunity to slow things down and be able to experience it at a low-stakes first.”
Kajo also values creative control. He sees music in a visual way and self-directs his videos, taking inspiration from mummies to lizard people.
Most recently, Kajo has been integrating his Filipino culture into his sound by incorporating languages native to the Philippines.
Kajo plans to continue taking inspiration from the past to create new music that sounds like no other.
Kajo’s latest album, “Cold Places,” is available now on Spotify.
To keep up with Kajo’s musical journey, follow him on Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.
Photo by Ashley Mae Pulido
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