Carolyn Malachi: The Challenges of Being an Indie Artist & How to “Rise”

Carolyn Malachi is a household name in Washington, D.C. An independent R&B, hip hop, and jazz singer all combined into one makes Malachi’s sound hard to pin down. KQED described her music as, “a mix between Sade and Lauryn Hill with a touch of Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) and Radiohead.” Oh, so the picture is clear now.

Her story is equally as full of depth. Malachi grew up in the Brookland neighborhood of Washington D.C. Her roots in the District’s music scene date back even earlier than childhood: Her great-grandfather, John Malachi, was one of the most renowned local jazz pianists of his time, backing the likes of Billy Eckstine, Sarah Vaughan, and Dinah Washington. And later, he taught Jazz Studies at Howard University, according to Washington City Paper.

And now, another generation of Malachi music has flourished in DC with Carolyn. Word spreads fast when you meet people and leave an impression like Malachi does. It certainly helps that Malachi, as an activist and artist, walks the walk much more than she talks the talk. She is a member of the D.C. Grammy chapter, uses her art to give back to kids in the local community, and hopes her audience will take away one message of hope: “Beautiful dreamers, it does get better.”

And with so much success, Malachi says it still hasn’t been easy. Labels still didn’t come knocking – even after her Grammy nomination – but while the process of being an independent artist is stressful, her team doesn’t see what labels have to offer them. “At this point, we’re self-sufficient and we have a groove so it makes sense to just keep flowing in the way that we do. I’m uninterrupted,” she said. And big names like Chance the Rapper are proving this model can be done.

When I asked her about her favorite part of being a musician, she said, “I enjoy the act of creating music, whether in studio or on stage. Managing my time to meet the demands of the business of music has been a true challenge. Good thing I like challenges and know how to turn them into opportunities.”

Michael J. West from The Washington Post recently told a bit of Malachi’s story of living a double life in Washington, D.C.:

Carolyn Malachi was living a divided life. The lifelong Washingtonian had a 9-to-5 job in corporate logistics; at night and on weekends, she was building a reputation as a singer-songwriter. But the split was no longer working.”

In her own words, Carolyn Malachi said, ““My weekends and any vacation time I had were dedicated to touring,” she says. “And on my lunch breaks I was always working on getting my music out into the world.” Now, she’s taken the leap. Her advice to anyone trying to do the same:

“Take the leap, but if you’re transitioning into music from a traditional job, have an exit strategy. Know that you’ll work 3x harder after you leave that job.”

Malachi is currently in the middle of releasing a planned trilogy of albums that she calls “Rise of the Modern Natural”. Its first part, “Rise: Story 1,” was released in December 2016.

Play RISE: Story 1 here on YouTube:

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Carolyn Malachi’s Girl Gang Music Picks:

1) The Tuneyards

2) Yemi Alade

3) Meshell Ndegeocello