Kaia Kater's 'Strange Medicine' Is a Healing Epic

BY Stephan BoissonneaultPublished May 15, 2024


Back in 2018, Kaia Kater's third album Grenades sent a ripple through the folk and roots music world, earning her Polaris and Juno nominations and helping to reinvigorate the mesmerizing quality of banjo-focused music. The album was raw and stripped back, employing a more traditional western folk style for Kater to sing about her Caribbean heritage and her father's struggles as a young political refugee.

Now, six years later, Kater is back with Strange Medicine, which feels more like a cinematic odyssey than a straight folk album. The songs on Strange Medicine are fully realized, featuring strings, melancholic horns, R&B synth work, frenetic jazz drumming and of course, some expert banjo playing from Kater. Kater's vocals also feel more carefully considered this time around, sometimes recorded intimately enough to sound like she's whispering to you in a darkened, single-chair room.

The album begins on a strong note with "The Witch," a classic Kater tune informed by real history and somewhat rewritten as an ode to female empowerment. The story is inspired by the Salem Witch Trials, specifically the first Black woman literally branded as a witch — in Kater's version, she escapes and exacts revenge on her enemies.

The banjo becomes the star of the show during "Maker Taker," a hand-plucked journey that features minimal, wistful horn waves, leaning fully into the free-form, crestfallen jazz Kater is now working in. These horns make another appearance during "Mechanics of the Mind" and "Fedon." The latter might be the heaviest-hitting track on Strange Medicine, about Grenadian revolutionary Julien Fédon, who paved the way for revolt against the Britis. It features backup vocals by American blues legend Taj Mahal, an intergenerational vocal collaboration that's one of the more captivating surprises on Strange Medicine.

Kater and co-producer Joe Grass created little universes in these songs — It shouldn't be surprising to learn that Kater is now composing for film and television, as the music on Strange Medicine feels like the grand soundtrack for an as-yet unwritten film of epic historical proportions. 


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