King Kimbit embodies a soulful intelligence, empathy, and resilience that shines through clearly. The Daughter of Vietnamese refugees, musician and spoken word poet King Kimbit, known also as Kim Nguyễn, has a lot to say and teach about connections and personal growth.
By Evan McKay
In her music and poetry, Nguyễn explores personal challenges she and her parents have faced, exploring their exodus from Vietnam post-war. “I feel it’s important to know where you come from,” Nguyễn said. “If you don’t know where you come from, you don’t really know what you’re doing.”
In her newest release Life Lessons Poetically, Nguyễn flexes her creative muscles and speaks on a variety of very relevant issues such as the tragic deaths of Trayvon Martin and Abdirahman Abdi. Stylistically, Life Lessons Poetically switches between hip hop, jazz, and spoken word throughout the course of the album, all of which Nguyễn and the accompanying band Black Wax excel. At the beginning as a spoken word poet in the Ottawa slam scene, Nguyễn slowly integrated music into her performances as she gained recognition for her poetry.
“I remember back to Grade 5 and Mr. Makinde gave us notebooks to write in,” says Nguyễn. “He would teach us some poetry but the notebook was more for us to write whatever. Just encouraging us to write period. That was my first memory of being able to be creative in that way.”
Her parents encouraged her to explore music. “I used to play sports in highschool and then I got injured in grade 11. My mom got me to start learning guitar at the community centre,” she explained. “My dad would take me to Umi Cafe where there were open mics and I would play cover songs. I saw people sharing their poetry and my mind was blown! Like, woah, people read this stuff out loud!”
After her first exposure to slam poetry, Nguyễn became infatuated with the local scene and began to perform. She went on to win the 2012 Urban Legends Grand Slam and started to make a name for herself. This was when music rejoined Nguyễn as part of her performances.
On the new album, Life Lessons Poetically, King Kimbit seamlessly transitions between the jazzy powerhouse opening track, “Purple Hearts”, to a powerful and personal poem on “Still Here”. “Still Here” provides context for the listener about Kimbit’s family history and their struggles as Vietnamese “boat people.”
For those who may be unfamiliar with the term or the Vietnam war as a whole, Kimbit fills you in, explaining her family’s personal diasporic experience and how it has shaped her identity today. The track is humbling, to say the least; giving listeners context to Kimbit’s past is a critical aspect of the album, it sets up the story. What is possibly most compelling about the track is that it offers one of the first real life lessons on the album: that nothing in this life can be claimed.
Kimbit acknowledges her occupation of traditional unceded and unsurrendered territory of the Anishnaabeg Algonquin people. She expresses gratitude to all, not only for her personal freedom but for the good fortune of being born into such freedom.
Life Lessons Poetically is a humanistic album and chronicles the growth and social awareness that Kimbit has undergone since her birth. The album serves as a syllabus, a starting point for listeners to learn and expand their own social consciousness.
In her own words Nguyễn says:
“[The album] talks about me and my experiences and experiences that I witnessed as well. Even if something is happening far away, I’m not unaffected by it. Because I believe we’re all connected. In one way or another, when things are happening and we feel like it doesn’t affect us or we don’t acknowledge it, it still does whether we realize it or not.”
* Visit King Kimbit website for more: www.kingkimbit.ca