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  • Olivia Köhler

Strong nature imagery and the general magic of Kae Tempest's lyrics

Recently two specific songs of Kae Tempest, a prolific poet, author and spoken-word artist with hip-hop connections, caught my attention. Both evolve around love - the love for ourselves, for others and this beautiful world.


I would like to share them with you and put some meaning and interpretation around the context.


Kae Tempest with her new song Grace from the album The line is a Curve by Wolfgang Tillmans
Kae Tempest captured by Wolfgang Tillmans

It was next to the magic of their words in general that especially the nature metaphors and nature imagery they use that took hold of me and touched me. I'm a very visual person and I can relate to these images so deeply. They evoke a graspable sensation within my body.


The two songs I'm speaking about are:


Hold Your Own by Kae Tempest


It's a song about the purpose of life and how one should pursue and spread happiness over everything else. "The lyrics to the piece are a universal ode to love. A call to love the world, to love each other and above all to accept oneself." writes Deutschlandfunk Kultur (1).


Hold your Own is also the title of Kae's book of poems from 2016 inspired around a figure from Greek mythology: Teiresias. He is a prophet who, as the result of an altercation with some magical snakes, was transformed into a woman for seven years.


At some point Zeus and Hera asked Tiresias to settle a dispute they had over the question of who had more pleasure during sex. Hera arguing that the answer was men, by far. When Tiresias replied that women had greater pleasure than men, Hera was so enraged that she blinded him. Zeus, in thanks for his support, gave Tiresias the gift of prophecy and long life (2).


Tiresias has been both men and woman and therefore qualified to answer the question over which Zeus and Hera fought. At the same time this figure is most interesting to Kae who came out publicly as non-binary, someone whose gender identity isn't exclusively male or female, in 2020 (3).


"Tiresias, you hold your own.

Each you that you have been."


In the song Hold Your Own she picks up that line, which also gives this piece the title, again. You can already find it in the very beginning. Throughout the whole song it is being repeated, almost like a refrain.


"When time pulls lives apart

Hold your own


When everything is fluid and when

Nothing can be known with any certainty

Hold your own


Hold it till you feel it there

As dark and dense and wet as earth

As vast and bright and sweet as air

When all there is

Is knowing that you feel what you are feeling

Hold your own"


They encourage you to stay strong and at the same time to "hold it till you feel it". Feeling it - something you and also I may have tried to skip here and there in situations if we are honest. Even though we know that: the only way out is through.


Kae describes this feeling in her lyrics with the help of strong nature imagery: "As dark and dense and wet as earth. As vast and bright and sweet as air". It's almost impossible to not have an embodied sense of what they want to get across with that.


They end the song with putting you into another scenery out there in nature, on a freezing beach where you breath deep and where you taste the salt of shellfish. Perhaps you can picture yourself easily in a specific beach landscape. It will look a bit different for each one of us. Standing there, freezing and tasing the salty air. Loosing yourself to this song. A bit of magic.


"So hold your own

Breathe deep on a freezing beach

Taste the salt of shellfish

Smile at a stranger and mean it

Lose your shit to your new favourite English rapper

Hold your own

And let it be

Catching"


Enjoy the full song in the video below, where a dance company of young dancers performs it with great expression.

Hold Your Own [full lyrics]




Grace by Kae Tempest


This is the closing song of her latest album called The Line is a Curve. An album that starts from a place of isolation and dejection. As it progresses the instrumentation and Kae's lyrics become lighter and more optimistic and turn towards love, especially with that last song Grace that really caught me (4).


"What's my problem? I'm always drawn back to that wrestling match Ten thoughts in the ring of my mind playing catch I can't live for the noise in my head I just want to dig a big ditch in the soil of my breath and bury my brain there"


I love how Kae brings in this sense of embodiment in many of her songs and lyrics. In the lines above they refer to the duality of the mind and the body. Our mind that can cause us problems with all its thoughts and on the other hand the breath as a representative of our body that just is.


"I just want to dig a big ditch in the soil of my breath and bury my brain there". A beautiful reminder for you and me that the breath is our friend and can can bring us back to presence so easily - when we pause and pay attention.


"It was Grace Stunned by the last light of the sun We were swimming in a green sea, as deep as a drum There are things I must record, must praise There are things I have to say about the fullness and the blaze Of this beautiful life"


Kae invites you into a specific scenery in the very beginning and in the very end of the song. A landscape very descriptive of its kind. A place and a moment in time outdoor in nature that equals grace and that brings forth the beauty of this life we are living. What a beautiful closing of this song and the whole new album that I can highly recommend.

Grace [full lyrics]




Now it's your turn


Put on some headphones, go for a walk, let yourself sink into Kae's lyrics and melodies and feel the words in your body. I hope you enjoy these songs as much as I do.




 

Sources:

1: Kate Tempest Album „Books of Traps and Lessons“: Eine universelle Ode an die Liebe. https://www.deutschlandfunkkultur.de/kate-tempest-album-books-of-traps-and-lessons-eine-100.html

2: Britannica: Tiresias. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Tiresias

3: The Guardian: Kae Tempest: ‘I was living with this boiling hot secret in my heart’. https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2022/mar/12/kae-tempest-i-was-living-with-this-boiling-hot-secret-in-my-heart

4: Pitchfork: The Line is a Curve: Kae Tempest. https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/kae-tempest-the-line-is-a-curve/


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