Always Soulful, Always Inspiring


Austin singer-songwriter and straight ally Serafia talks about her inspirations, her father as a role model, and her relationship with the LGBT community in Austin. "I, for the first time, feel like a star and it’s because the LGBT community has accepted me for everything that I am." - Serafia

She’s jazzy, she’s soulful and she’s inspiring change as a straight ally of the LGBT community. Her name is Serafia, a vibrant soul with an equally refreshing smile and an unmistakable confidence that spoke long before she could on the night I first met her in downtown Austin. After our first encounter, I got the impression that not too many things could deter this vivacious songstress from anything she puts her mind to.

Photos courtesy of Serafia

Photos courtesy of Serafia

It turns out her determination and bravery runs in the family. Originally from California, Serafia grew up with two things that still heavily influence her to this day: a passion for music and her own personal hero, her father, Rev. Dr. George F. Kohn. An LGBT advocate and Episcopal Priest he’d been on the frontline fighting against Prop 8 and never wavered on his stance, even when it wasn’t popular. As for Serafia, who moved to Austin in 2006, the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree. The singer uses her music as a way to connect to the LGBT community, one she says “chose her.”

With a new album out, Touching My Soul, and a newfound presence on the Austin scene, Serafia continues to follow in her father’s footsteps, but in her own way, exercising her artistry and using her soulful voice both on and off the stage to inspire change, community and, of course, good music.

What drew you into music? How long have you been singing for?

Music was just something I always wanted to do. I was always into arts as a child: acting, painting, anything artistic, I was into it. My parents had a bunch of instruments around the house and naturally as a kid you start tinkering around and doing your thing. I’m an artist so I’m just naturally drawn to art.

I started singing in front of audiences around 12 years old. Any chance I could get to perform, I did it. I was in a group in middle school called Vocal Motion and we got pulled out of school to go on little tours all throughout California. It was really cool. I thought, this is awesome, I want to be on stage all the time.

How would you describe your music?

As far as my music goes, it’s an eclectic mix of everything I’ve ever listened to. I’m a mixed human being. I grew up in a mixed environment and my music is mixed. It’s obviously soulful. I started off with jazz and soul. My new EP is electronic, but the vocals are still jazzy. So, everything I do is always soulful, but the backdrop will be a little different. Even if I’m doing popular music, it’s going to be a little retro.

My new music has [led] me to perform at a lot of LGBT clubs. For the first time, I felt like I could really be myself: big, bold, bad, fabulous and soulful as extreme as I want and I’m not going to be judged.”

Who are some of your musical influences?

I have a group of artists that I grew up listening to that I’ve taken little nuances from and inspired my own art. One of them is Etta James. Amy Winehouse, Lauryn Hill, Mariah Carey – if I hear they have new music my ears are going to perk up.

You recently released your debut dance album, which is a bit different from your past work. What inspired that shift?

I always like to stay creative. I love change. I love new adventures. I love exploring different things. I was just ready to do something different. I was doing the jazz thing for a while, doing R&B and I just wanted to utilize every aspect of my musical abilities.

Shifting gears a little bit, your father, who’s an Episcopal Priest, has an interesting tie to the LGBT community – he publicly advocates for same-sex marriage, he actively fought against Prop 8, and even performed the first same-sex wedding at the legendary Pebble Beach Golf Course – as a straight ally yourself, how has his activism influenced you?

I think he’s influenced me to stand up when it’s not popular or maybe when you shouldn’t. My own personal Martin Luther King is what I call my dad. He was out in front of masses of people wearing his priest collar saying no to Prop 8, no to the ban of gay marriage.That’s the type of boldness I see in my dad that just makes me want to do everything that I can to show the world how I feel about certain things, how I feel about equal rights in the LGBT community and across the board.

Photos courtesy of Serafia

Photos courtesy of Serafia

You performed at Austin Pride this year. What was that experience like?

It was a dream come true because I saw Pride the year before and I said, “I’m going to play Pride next year,” and I did. It’s so much more for me getting to play Pride because I can play at any club and it feels great exercising my artistry and I feel good as a person and my soul is full, but when I get to play at an event that’s supporting the community, supporting the LGBT community, it’s soul [fulfilling] times ten.

I read in a HRC Equality magazine once an interview with soul singer Jennifer Hudson. She explains how she started her career in gay clubs and bars and thats it’s one of the bolder audiences to get in front of, but it really groomed her. What’s your experience been like performing at LGBT venues and has it added anything to you at all as an entertainer and musician?

My experience performing at LGBT venues has been amazing. My new music has [led] me to perform at a lot of LGBT clubs. For the first time, I felt like I could really be myself: big, bold, bad, fabulous and soulful as extreme as I want and I’m not going to be judged. Everything about myself, my femininity, my artistry and everything I bring to the table musically, I feel is completely celebrated.

Photo by Robert Mead PhotographyI was actually having a conversation with my dad about this not too long ago and he said that’s a part of the gift that the LGBT community gives to the world. When you come here you’re not going to be judged, we’re going to accept you with open arms, and I found that very interesting because that’s exactly how it feels and how it felt when I played Pride. The reception I got afterwards from people who recognized me from playing at Pride is something I’ve never felt. I, for the first time, feel like a star and it’s because the LGBT community has accepted me for everything that I am.To this day, the LGBT venues are the first to respond when I send emails and are the first to pass my name on to another venue.

Maybe it’s kind of like the “you don’t choose it, it chooses you type of thing,” but I’ve naturally steered in the direction of the people who have accepted me the most. It has been phenomenal and it’s very nice to know that Jennifer Hudson, who is a fantastic artist herself, went through the same thing.

Who’s your favorite artist out right now?

Sam Smith. He has a great soulful voice that’s kind of like a throwback to the good old days of soul music. I do appreciate him and his voice. I think he does vocals very, very well and I like the songs that he has out.

So what’s next for you?

Right now I’m really focused on performing. My goal is to be an independent artist who travels around the world playing Pride festivals. That’s what I’m working on right now, refining my live performance. I’m fine-tuning.

I’m really going with the flow of where my day-to-day musical life is taking me. Always being really creative, always staying different and new, coming up with new ideas.

Serafia performs every Wednesday at 7pm, Highland Lounge, 404 Colorado St., starting back Jan. 7. Listen to Serafia’s newest EP Touching My Soul below. 

Interview by Megz Tillman.