Naama Kates: “An Unexamined Life Is Not Worth Living”

It’s time to put your life under a microscope and risk all like Naama Kates in her new album
 Naama Kates
is an artist that seems hell bent on breaking the rules. With the current music scene otherwise saturated with synthesized cookie-cutter radio hits, Naama Kates’ debut album “The Unexamined Life” is different, because it’s risky. Written like diary entries, and sung with an honesty as if no one were listening, Naama’s work is hard to categorize, but easy to love. When I listened to the first song, ‘Before You Lose It’, I was struck by the way her lyrics are simple and direct but are also lurking in the shadows. Let me explain: the aforementioned simplicity calls for layered examination that makes the track more meaningful and deeper in significance each time you listen to it. She gives you a rare intimacy, a haunting moment into her vulnerable life. And each time I heard the track I felt like I had a clearer understanding of the story in the song. Just like ‘Before You Lose It’, each track is an opportunity for people to examine their life experiences. She confronts the heartache of loneliness and the whispered pressures of perfection in one fail swoop- captivating audiences along the way.

Naama Kates, photo by James M. Graham

To be a fan of Naama Kates, is to know that her music often eludes commercial categorization, giving each song on the album the unpredictable edge so often escaping artists in their quest for musical prowess. The captivating unpredictability of her compositions combined with her jazzy vocal stylings bring to mind great artists like Fiona Apple, Diana Krall, Alanis Morissette, Girl In A Coma, and Natalie Merchant, yet her style is distinctly of her own making. She definitely pushes listeners beyond their normal comfort zone, calling them to question not only their relationships, but their lives and raison d’etre. It’s often an arduous, trouble-filled journey, but according to Naama Kates, it’s one worth investigating.

Naama Kates, photo by Farley Magadia

The honesty expressed in each song on her album was born out of an impulsive and risky move to Los Angeles from New York City in order to pursue acting. I think it is this very risk that also allows her to be risky in her music. If you are writing about a time of personal risk, then it’s fitting for the music to employ a similar sense of daringness. When talking about the process of discovering and turning to music, Naama explains, “After a year of grueling auditions and Los Angeles anonymity, I went and bought an un-weighted 61-key Yamaha keyboard on impulse to keep me company. Hollywood started to feel more like home, and I began playing and writing songs. It felt like I was settling back into my soul.”

However, it wasn’t as simple as she had imagined it would be, revealing that “eventually the Hollywood adrenaline rush wore off - and depression set in – and I rediscovered my obsession for music.” Her little keyboard was an ever-present ‘confidante,’ and she started using it as her personal journal, a healthy way to unburden emotions which had been building up inside. Describing her keyboards as “playful and profound, sensitive and sensual, and purposeful and pure,” she says “I spent night after night alone with it, losing track of time. Luckily, I amassed a ton of fully-penned songs.” 

Naama Kates

These songs, seemingly written without the intention of ever being heard, have come to compose her debut album, “The Unexamined Life” whose title is a tongue-in-cheek interpretation of Socrates’ famous quote “An unexamined life is not worth living.” It doesn’t take but one listen to any of the songs on this album to realize that Naama Kates is very self-aware, a quality which speaks of a maturity well beyond her 27 years. At the same time, after listening to her album, her maturity and self-awareness isn’t actually as surprising as one would think. What I love is the way her hyper-intellectual nature is beautifully fused with artistry, creating little doubt of Naama Kates’ staying power.

Her music speaks for itself, but then again can you really separate the two? When you write songs so personal and expositive, your very heart and soul are out there for all to see. Naama Kates allows her own emotional exposure to carry the music forward, breaking the confines of stereotypes and the pressures of fitting into a musical mold. It is an incredible album, definitely one that is thought-provoking but also beautifully composed.

Naama Kates consistently plays shows in the Los Angeles area; check out her website for more information on upcoming performances. She is fantastic live, so make sure to go out for a show!

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