From the pages of JUMP: Kindred The Family Soul: A Philadelphia Family Affair

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Kindred2013Text by Niesha Miller. Images by Michael Bucher.

This article originally appeared in JUMP

Aja Graydon and Fatin Dantzler sit beside each other in their studio near 60th Street and Baltimore Avenue in Southwest Philly. Their creative space is painted sky blue and is home to an old piano, keyboards, racks of clothing from local Philly designers ,and sketches and abstract oil paintings of the duo.

Before they were noted neo-soul artists, Kindred the Family Soul, were two musicians waiting on their big break. The two met during a studio session with The Roots in New York City.

KindredTheFamilySoulSmallThe introduction was simple. He was writing and producing a song and she was singing. They later became songwriting partners.

“We just had a similar way of thinking and upbringing that really came together when we met,” Graydon recalls.

Dantzler remembers attending the Philadelphia School of Creative and Performing Arts with Amel Larrieux and members of Boyz II Men and The Roots. He had an interest in production but he could also sing and play both the saxophone and clarinet.

“There are a lot of people who went to that school who infused the creativity of everybody by just being around them,” he says. “It was a great experience.”

After spending two years at CAPA, he moved to Overbrook High School. Those two years, however, strengthened his interest in music.

“That experience helped shape and mold who I became,” he says. “I got more serious and focused about my schooling and my education, as well as my music.”

Graydon grew up in Washington, D.C., and spent her childhood participating in children’s theater, even acting in a Shakespeare play while she was in the sixth grade. Because go-go music was popular during the time of her upbringing, she knew a lot of kids who played instruments and were a part of go-go groups.

It was hard for an artist to stand out in her city who wasn’t a part of the music culture, so she found inspiration elsewhere. She remembers the big names from Philly who played D.C..

“We had a connection to Philly in the sense where Philly artists were very loud and accepted in D.C.,” she says. “Frankie Beverly and Patti LaBelle would come to D.C. and sell out three or four shows. There was a big appreciation for live music that we grew up really loving.”

Graydon grew tired of high school and acquired her diploma after attending night classes. At age 17, she moved to New York City with her manager and his wife and she took vocal classes, danced and recorded music.

Dantzler and Graydon worked on projects together but Kindred the Family Soul didn’t officially form until after they married. With new responsibilities of marriage and later parenting, the two decided to hold off on pursuing music professionally. They took real jobs and lived like normal folks. The two moved to Philly while Graydon was pregnant with their first child.

After struggling during the loss of a job, Dantzler suggested they start a group and make music again.

“If we’re going to struggle, why not struggle doing this,” Graydon recalls saying to Dantzler.

They started performing at hot party nights like Blue Funk at the Clef Club and the Black Lily at the Five Spot.

They knew they wanted their group’s name to have something to do with family, so they took suggestions from friends and did some research.

“We opened up a thesaurus and just landed on the page,” Dantzler says of finding the word kindred. “It jumped off of the paper and we got a magnifying glass.”

Many people think the duo was discovered by Jill Scott, but Dantzler knew Scott from growing up in the city. Graydon met her at Sigma Sound Studios before Kindred formed.

“It wasn’t the sense that we’re in this smoky club and Kindred’s playing,” says Graydon, “and Jill Scott happenstances upon this little group and says ‘You know what I’m gonna do? I’m going to save you guys!’”

But Scott and her then boyfriend Lyzel Williams did connect them to Scott’s label, Hidden Beach Recordings, who signed Kindred in 2001.

While many successful artists leave Philadelphia during the height of their success, Dantzler and Graydon decided to stay. The two work on nonprofit programs in the city and they created Philly Jam Session, a monthly talent showcase that takes emerging artists to different cities to perform.

“We’re connected to the city,” says Dantzler. “Everything that we do comes from us being here, so to leave it is the sense that you’ll be disconnected from that.”

“Being a transplant, I love this city,” says Graydon. “I came to live here because my husband is here and it’s such a family and community environment here, period.”

In March 2013, Kindred the Family Soul released their fifth album, a 10th anniversary edition of Surrender of Love. The project features live versions of their 2003 debut album performed in London.