There are rare occasions in life when you meet people for the first time and they open up to you without a moment of hesitation. These people are unafraid to show their vulnerability to you even if you are a stranger to them. And then, in those moments, the invisible social barrier that exists between all of us fades and you talk like two human beings who have nothing to fear. I walked into Bar Lunatico to meet Rosita Kess. Rosita is a wonderful musician, a dedicated mom, as well as the owner and co-founder of this incredible music bar in Bed Stuy. She greeted me warmly and led me through the back of the bar and up the stairs to the apartment where she lives with Richard Julian (co-owner and founder of Bar Lunatico) and their five year old son Floyd. We sat down to talk and she said "Ask me anything. I am an open book." And that is how we began.
Rosita is originally from Venice, Italy, but she is a wanderer at heart. She has lived in Berlin, Paris, Barcelona, London, New Orleans until finally settling on New York. She carries with her a zest for life, love and creativity, as well as a European understanding of the importance of appreciating time.
Walking into her home, you can see African art and musical instruments everywhere, and I wanted to know where it all originated for her. She said it probably started when she would travel to Kenya with her mother as a little girl. Her mom was a member of Doctors without Borders and she would travel to Africa for weeks and months at a time, often with Rosita joining her. Her first trip was when she was 3 years old and she vividly remembers how these trips stayed with her. The music, the rhythm, the sounds, all entered her subconsciousness, and while she always felt them on an instinctual level, she never explored it in her own songwriting until now. She is currently in the process of working on a new record, a departure from her previous work and an exploration into the African music and influences that have captivated her mind since she was a little girl.
I asked her about her creative process, wondering how different it was to work on this record vs her previous ones and she shared that this one in particular came after a few years of not writing a single song. There were personal struggles that she was experiencing that had consumed her to the point that she was unable to be creative and then, when it felt like she could no longer take the pain she was experiencing, something broke inside her and everything began to flow. Between February and May of this year she wrote 25 songs. She said this process of pent up emotions brewing until the dam breaks is common in her songwriting. Whether its her body's defense mechanism or a vehicle for creativity, this is her process.
The way she started to write this time was by picking up the mbira, an African instrument often referred to as a thumb-piano. She began collaborating with Tiga Jean Baptiste , jamming together and exploring different rhythms and sounds until one day she came home inspired to write her first song. Later she assembled an incredible team of musicians to play on her record, many of whom have passed through the doors of Bar Lunatico. Although she usually has specific arrangements in mind, this time, she wanted to leave room for the artists to contribute their ideas to the record.
I asked Rosita what it must be like to be a musician and constantly hear other musicians play. She said it is both incredible and difficult at times. It's hard not to measure your music to the incredible calibre of talent that plays at Bar Lunatico, and at the same time, this beautiful music fills you with such inspiration and a continual desire to create, how can you not be thankful for that?! I would be remiss if I did not point out how truly special Bar Lunatico is. From the physical space itself, to the decor and of course the diverse lineup - this places breathes music. You feel it when you walk in from the genuine appreciation and care that is given to the musicians. It is so very rare to find a place like this, even in a city like New York. Rosita said sometimes when she's working, people come up to her and suddenly hug her, thanking her for opening up this place.