TORONTO FILM MAGAZINE INTERVIEW
VAKA is a short documentary about the energy and resilience of the Tokelauan people as they weave their customary-wisdom regarding the environment with modern eco-technologies to respond to climate change. Tokelau was the first nation to aim for 100% of its electricity to be generated from solar as a result of the New Zealand funded Tokelau Renewable Energy Project in 2012. Their coral island atolls contribute a minimal amount of global greenhouse gas emissions, yet they are the first to be impacted by climate change. Tokelau's resilience in their daily response to the climate crisis exemplifies how they are leading by example. Vaka is directed by Kelly Moneymaker.
Vaka was an official selection of many film festivals in the past year. Kelly Moneymaker was a singer-songwriter since she was eleven. She later developed a passion for documentary filmmaking, indigenous storytelling, and sound design. It was our pleasure to interview her regarding the making of her documentary and her work as a filmmaker.
How did you start making films and what was the first film project you worked on?
VAKA was a student film for our Bachelor of Creative Media Production degree at Massey University in Wellington, New Zealand. This is the first film I had the honour of directing.
What was the inspiration behind the making of your film?
I am interested in feminist and indigenous aspects of filmmaking and creative technologies. For our 3rd year final project, I expressed my interest in indigenous storytelling. Massey brought businesses in to work with students on major projects as clients and/or mentors. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) and the Ministry of Oceans, Resilience and Environment (MiCORE) presented an opportunity to film an environmental documentary in Tokelau, a coral atoll in the Pacific threatened by the climate crisis. We were required to make a pitch and they accepted our approach of documenting Tokelau’s combined use of cultural knowledge and modern eco-technologies to respond to climate change.
What is the most challenging aspect of being an independent female filmmaker in the film industry?
I am a lifelong learner who’s career experience has primarily been in the music industry, where the challenges as an indigenous/female creative are the same. We are often not granted equal opportunities or pay and even after we’ve been successful, we have to prove ourselves every time we step through the door. It can be tough, but I’ve never been one to give up on anything I’m passionate about. Also, we’ve got to have each other’s backs. Quite often. Women want to be part of “the boys’ club” to access opportunities, but it’s important to look out for our sisters. There is strength in numbers so let go of the fear that another woman will take your opportunities and start creating jobs for each other.
How difficult is it to fund indie films?
We were fortunate with VAKA because MFAT and MiCORE gave us a grant and Massey University lent us the equipment. I’m working on a new indie film now and it’s incredibly difficult to fund projects. I have applied for several grants and I’ll be doing a kickstarter campaign shortly. I’ve been told to ask friends and family for funding, but when you are consistently doing so, especially after COVID where many haven’t worked
for the past year, it’s understandable that purse strings might be tied. With that said, I do feel that if I’m passionate about a story it is contagious and I have been successful with crowd-funding projects throughout my career.
Please name three of your favourite directors. How have they been influential in your work?
May I please name four?
Kathryn Bigelow (Hurt Locker) is the first woman to win an Academy Award for Best Director. She’s an incredible director and she proved that women can tell the hard tales — we’re not just soft and fluffy.
Catherine Bainbridge from Rezolution Pictures (Rumble: Indians That Rocked The World) shares my philosophy of “Hire the best and get out of the way”. She has created a production company focused on making indigenous documentaries.
Maori filmmaker, Becs Arahanga, (Vai, Hinekura) is known for “encouraging more women in positions of power and deconstructing outdated thoughts and structures that create inequality”. Her films are honest and empowering.
Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape of Water) blends fantasy and reality in the most spectacular way. There’s always a central theme rooted in reality. But he takes you places you’d otherwise only experience in dreams.
How did your project go into production and how did you finalize the cast and the crew?Our two female producers (Rebekah Curtis-Motley and Jessica George), remained in New Zealand while the DP (Ben Dickens) and Sound Recordist (Mason Rudd) accompanied me to Tokelau. We took a 5 1/2 hour flight to Apia, Samoa then boarded the Mataliki for a 55 hour boat ride to Tokelau. There are 3 atolls — Fakaofo, Nukunonu and Atafu, so we had to take a high-speed boat from one to the other. We spent 2 weeks on location, then Ben and I shot a few interviews with MiCore representatives and scientists in Auckland and Wellington.
How was the film received by your audience and film festivals and what is your plan for further distribution of the film?
It was an honor to work with the Tokelauan people. They practice talanoa which means the people share ideas, skills, and experiences. They also practice inati, (communal fishing and distribution) so every person in Tokelau is provided for. The most humbling thing I’ve ever experienced is the joy of Tokelauan audience members singing and dancing at the premiere of VAKA as a gesture of support. I cried like a baby.
I was humbled by the opportunity to introduce and premiere VAKA at the UNFCCC Cop 25 in Madrid at the Moana Blue Pacific Pavilion which represented NZ and Tokelau. We’ve been well received on the film festival circuit and so far, we have received laurels
from Best Design Awards NZ 2020, Montreal Independent Film Festival 2020, Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Festival 2020, Krakow Green Film Festival 2020, Environmental Film Festival Australia 2020, Sydney Short Film Festival 2021, Climate Action Film Festival 2021, London Mountain Film Festival 2021, World Distribution Award 2021, Houston Asian American & Pacific Islander Film Festival 2021, Indie Shorts Awards New York
2021 and your wonderful Toronto International Women Film Festival 2021. We are looking forward to holding viewings for Tokelauan communities throughout New Zealand a nd distribution through cultural and educational outlets.
What do you recommend to other filmmakers regarding the making and the distribution of independent films?
Don’t take no for an answer. Use that same passion you had for making the film to find ways to distribute it.
What is your next film project and what are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on Drum Song: The Rhythm of Life, about Alaska’s Yup’ik climate crisis transplants. COVID restrictions have introduced many challenges, but again — where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Why do you make films?
I make films for the same reason I make music — to foster joy through human connection.
Call to Board the VAKA - Otago Daily Times
Kelly Moneymaker is in Madrid with her film about Tokelau's climate change efforts. "It’s time to get in the vaka and help with the paddling", Kelly Moneymaker says.
The message is for anyone with ears to hear, but the documentary maker is already broadcasting it to those in the best position to respond.
Moneymaker is in Madrid for the COP25 talks, the latest United Nations-sponsored climate change conference, where she is unveiling her documentary Vaka, about the remarkable efforts of the people of Tokelau to meet the challenge.
Moneymaker spent three weeks in the island nation earlier this year with a documentary crew from her Massey University film-making course and came away with a story about how a combination of indigenous knowledge and modern technology is mapping a way forward.
"What we found is the Tokelauan people, they have this long-term data from their ancestors because they pass down information from one generation to another and they know what their environment looked like before humans started to impact it.
"Also, even though they have all this long-term knowledge, they are embracing modern science, data collection and assistance from New Zealand to help them support their cultural wisdom. "The combination of the two, I feel, could be the key to solving climate change issues."
Tokelau’s unique "inati" system, in which the atolls’ resources are shared equally, provides the platform for the approach.
"It is always about sharing and taking care of each other."
Moneymaker, of Samoan and Inuit heritage, says the inclusive culture allows them to access knowledge from whoever holds it, whether that’s from different groups within their own community or the wider world. They come together, talk, share and decide what to do. "We call them solutionists."So far, that’s included a rapid transformation of their energy system, away from diesel to solar and wind, shrinking their already minuscule greenhouse gas footprint, building seawalls and re-nourishing their reefs, building raised garden beds and getting about in electric golf carts. "They are not giving up, they are giving it everything they have." The associated message is that if they can do it, everyone can do it.
"What we are asking is for people to watch this [documentary] and learn from their resilience and their problem-solving skills and get in the vaka."
Massey students tackle climate change with Pacific documentary - Massey University News
Three Massey University students have returned from a trip to the remote Pacific nation of Tokelau, where they filmed a documentary on the effects of climate change.
Bachelor of Creative Media Production students Ben Dickens, Kelly Moneymaker and Mason Rudd spent three weeks filming and interviewing locals on the islands of Tokelau, along with College of Creative Arts Pacific advisor Herbert Bartley, and a local guide.
The film, Vaka, is being made in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the government of Tokelau as part of the students’ third-year programme, where they pitch and create projects for real-world clients.
Vaka explores how climate change is affecting the community of Tokelau. Tokelau is made up of three small low-lying coral atolls that are three to five metres above sea level and at critical risk from the effects of climate change. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern recently returned from a historic trip to Tokelau, and the New Zealand Government has announced it will contribute $6 million dollars to the upgrade of the solar electricity network.
Ms Moneymaker says the opportunity to go to Tokelau, which is reached via a 52-hour boat ride from Apia, Samoa, was an adventure she had to take. “The society is really beautiful. They gather food together, share the catch, and live collectively.
“They’re solutionists as they have to keep evolving. Their resilience is very inspiring, and I learned a lot about my Pasifika roots.”
The students have named the documentary Vaka (waka or canoe), after seeing how integral the vaka is to life in Tokelau. Ms Moneymaker says, “The vaka is central to their community and to their survival. It’s their main tool for fishing and food gathering.”
Mr Dickens says filming on a remote tropical island had its challenges. “Filming in 100 per cent humidity in 35-degree heat with full gear on our shoulders and a language barrier was challenging, but we met the kindest people you’ll ever meet in your life.”
The students say that life in Tokelau is changing rapidly, and Mr Rudd says the trip opened his eyes to the effects of climate change. “It’s a community of change. You can feel it transitioning where women are moving into leadership roles. Everything is changing quickly.”
Mr Dickens says that growing up in cities like Wellington or Auckland; "you always hear about climate change and you know it’s a problem but you don’t see it. I’ve always known it was an issue, but to visually see it, and to visually see people having to deal with this day-to-day, it just brings the problem so much more forward. That’s what we are trying to show, and we are trying to show how the Tokelauans are responding to it amazingly.”
Team members and fellow students Jessica George and Rebekah Curtis-Motley are producing the film, while discovering how to plan budgets, travel itineraries, and how to promote the film via marketing and social media. Ms Curtis-Motley says “Not a lot of students get the opportunity to manage a sizeable budget so it’s a huge learning experience for us as producers as well.”
The team hope their film will help people to understand the urgency of climate change. Ms Curtis-Motley says “Climate change is real, and if anyone questions that, they just need to go Tokelau and see how their atolls are eroding. They (the people of Tokelau) want the world to know that they’re trying to preserve their homeland for their children."
The students will spend the next few months editing the film, which will be shown at their end-of-year exhibition, Exposure, along with a series of portraits of everyone involved in the documentary. They also hope to screen the film at various climate change conferences around the world, and are fundraising to enter the film into international film festivals.
Climate Change Resilience - SPREP
by Nanettew, Dec 2019
(Image: The Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change Plus Project in Tokelau included the repair and upgrade of water tanks, as well as new tanks, resulting in the availability of water for people in Tokelau increase by tenfold)
9 December 2019, Madrid, Spain – The premiere of VAKA, the story of Tokelau’s response to climate change was launched at the Moana Blue Pacific Pavilion during the Twenty fifth Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change in Madrid, Spain from 2 – 13 December, 2019.
Tokelau is a global leader demonstrating its commitment for a better world. Despite its very low greenhouse gas emissions – Tokelau contributes to 0.040% of New Zealand’s total emissions - Tokelau is also the first country in the world to source 100% of its electricity through renewable energy.
With a population of over 1,500 – Tokelau consists of three atolls in the Pacific islands – Atafu, Fakaofo and Nukunono. It has a total land area of 12km2 and an Exclusive Economic Zone of close to 320,000.
A documentary filmed in Tokelau that tells the story of their response to climate change at COP 25 was produced with support from the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade by Massey University film students.
“Since 2017 when Tokelau asked New Zealand to extend the application of the UNFCCC and Paris Agreement to include Tokelau, we stepped up our joint engagement in the multinational climate change arena in the UNFCCC and we are one team,” said H.E Kay Harrison, New Zealand’s Climate Change Ambassador.
“Our shared mission at the UNFCCC is to experience New Zealand’s commitment to standing with the Pacific on climate change. While both New Zealand and Tokelau may be small, leading by example to reduce greenhouse gas emissions bolsters our ability to create change, New Zealand wants to amplify Pacific voices to give them the microphone on the climate change that’s why we seized the opportunity to work with Massey University in New Zealand on this project.”
Five students from Massey University, including Director Kelly Moneymaker, spent two weeks in Tokelau filming, creating the 20 minute documentary launched at COP25 in Madrid, Spain.
VAKA tells the story of how traditional knowledge and customary wisdom is interlinked with modern technology in Tokelau’s strive for resilience and response to climate change. As the three small low-lying atolls of Tokelau are three to five metres above sea level, the people of Tokelau are striving to adapt to the impacts of climate change enhancing their resilience.
“It takes a village to build a future, and it took a village to make this film,” said Ms Kelly Moneymaker, Director of VAKA.
“A vaka or boat is an essential tool in Tokelau for fishing, harvesting coconuts and transportation it’s about whose in the vaka with you for support love and guidance. It’s about moving toward the future together. We were inspired by the resilient problem solving skills of the Tokelau people who combined their use of cultural wisdom and mod technology as they respond to climate change.”
VAKA was developed by Kelly Moneymaker, Ben Dickers, Mason Rudd, Jessica George and Rebekah Curtis-Motley of Massey University with funding from the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The VAKA premiere screening was held on Saturday 7 December with a special event at the Moana Blue Pacific Pavilion. The UNFCCC COP25 is held in Madrid, Spain from 2 – 13 December. To learn more about the Moana Blue Pacific Pavilion please visit www.pacific-pavilion.com or download the Attendify App, search for Moana Blue Pacific Pavilion and create your profile to join.
Massey students document climate change in Tokelau - Dominion Post
by Kate Green, Nov 13 2019
Five creative media students from Massey University are releasing a documentary on the effects of climate change on Tokelau.
Director Kelly Moneymaker, cinematographer Ben Dickens, and sound/editor Mason Rudd spent two weeks filming on the island earlier this year.
VAKA follows Tokelauans and New Zealand scientists as they weave customary wisdom and modern technologies in response to climate change.
The students crowd-funded $4000 alongside an MFAT grant, and their film has been on display as part of Massey's Exposure exhibition.
Moneymaker moved to New Zealand three years ago with her husband and young daughter, after a music career in the United States saw her touring the world with the girl group Exposé.
VAKA documentary makers from left, Ben Dickens, Kelly Moneymaker and Mason Rudd spent 55 hours on a boat to reach Tokelau.
She sung with Meatloaf, Ringo Starr and Diana Ross before discovering a love of film and turning her hand to directing.
The students took a 55-hour boat journey to the island, encountering some frightening storms on the way, and spent 15 days on the island.
"When you get there you really see their plight," Moneymaker said.
Plastic waste would constantly be washing up on the beach bearing labels from all over the world.
Kelly Moneymaker came from a background of singing and songwriting, and has only recently found her passion for film.
The sea walls, built to keep wave damage under control, were being eroded before their eyes.
The islands have "zero elevation - they're at sea level", Moneymaker said. "But what's amazing is the Tokelauan people's resilience."
Despite contributing little to global emissions, "every single day they work together to think of a solution to climate change".
The VAKA team, from left, Ben Dickens, Kelly Moneymaker, Rebekah Curtis-Motley, Mason Rudd, and Jessica George.
VAKA hopes to celebrate Tokelau's resilience and heart for preserving their islands, and inspire the world to follow their environmental leadership.
"Vaka" means boat, which is essential to the Tokelauan way of life, providing transport, safety, and food. "What we want people to think about is; Who's in the boat with you?" The story "couldn't be told without the visual aspect," she said, making film the perfect medium.
After such an awakening experience, leaving the island was like "cutting the umbilical cord".
"I went through the blues when I got back." The footage was cut from 13 hours to just 20 minutes. "It was very, very difficult to whittle down," Moneymaker said.
The film-makers spent 15 days in Tokelau.
Vaka: Tokelau's response to climate change
From Nine To Noon, 9:20 am on 8 November 2019
New documentary Vaka shows people from the remote Pacific community of Tokelau doing everything they can to proactively respond to climate change, weaving together customary wisdom and modern techniques.
The film is made by Massey University Media Production students, and is screening at Exposure Hi Kanohi Kitea, at Massey's Wellington campus until November 16th.
Kelly Moneymaker, Ben Dickens, and Mason Rudd spent two weeks as a small team filming on Tokelau earlier this year. They tell Kathryn Ryan theirs' is a relatively positive story about climate change.
VAKA Documentary is currently being featured on Coconet TV.
Moana Blue Pacific Documentary Interview
Moneymaker was interviewed by filmmakers, Francesca Sewell and Alice Toomer for their COP25 Documentary called, Moana Blue Pacific. "This documentary showcases the activities and impact of the joint New Zealand-Fiji government-hosted Moana Blue Pacific Pavilion at the COP25 UNFCCC climate summit held in Madrid in December 2019. It shows how Pacific nations – particularly their leaders and youth – are coming together to tell their climate change story and advocate for their future in the face of climate change." https://youtu.be/IYX1gLoSbpw
"I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to the release of Kelly's new album. The girl opens her mouth and it's an insta-celebration! It's like someone put Janis Joplin, Etta James & Tina Turner into a blender & came up with a stunning Kelly Kocktail! Give me more because I'm parched!"
--Paul Antonelli, Grammy Winning Music Supervisor & Associate Director, NBC's Days of Our Lives
"THAT VOICE! I swear this woman is channeling Janis Joplin! I'm blown away EVERY TIME I see Kelly live...and can't wait til the next time!"
--Lisa Foxx, Radio Host www.1043myfm.com
"With her wildly energetic and ultimately sexy voice, Kelly Moneymaker bring life to all her music! She captivates an audience while moving the listener through new worlds of beautiful story-telling and melody."
--Dan Silver, Producer Silver Sessions; Sr. Creative Director RipTide Music
"Moneymaker is one bizarre, strangely seductive singer-songwriter with a voice and an album that demands to be listened to."
--Music Scene Magazine
Review By Andrew Greenhaulgh, Liverpool Post UK
Singers are a dime a dozen these days, particularly with the rise of reality shows like American Idol, The Voice, and The X-Factor. And while there are plenty of great voices out there, singers who’ve done their time in vocal lessons, singing through scales and fine tuning their pitch, it’s the rare artist that comes along who was truly born to sing. Theirs is the voice that captivates from the first note to the last and, whether they’re singing from the Great American Songbook or the Los Angeles Metro Yellow Pages, listeners are drawn in, enraptured and unable to turn away.
Fairbanks, Alaska native Kelly Moneymaker is one of those rare individuals.
Chances are, you’ve probably heard Moneymaker’s voice but just didn’t realize it as she’s been in the music business as a professional since the age of thirteen. She was a founding member of platinum selling pop trio, Expose, and has worked in multiple genres, seeing her work showcased in a variety of places like “Days of Our Lives” and “Grey’s Anatomy” as well as on the big screen in “American Pie,” among others. And along the way, she’s shared the stage with some illustrious talent, performing alongside artists as diverse as Keith Urban, Meatloaf, Stevie Wonder, and Ringo Starr, just to name a few.
Now, Moneymaker is joining up with a few musical friends, dubbed In the Black, for her latest record, Race Against the Sky. And as far as “session bands” go, it’s a pretty remarkable lineup. Featuring Gabriel Moses (Macy Gray) and Bruce Watson (Foreigner) on guitar, Michael Mennell (Kenny Loggins) on bass, Kim Bullard (Elton John) on keyboards and B3 organ, Herman Matthews (Tower of Power) on drums and Lenny Castro (Rolling Stones) on percussion, the band’s lineup is like a “who’s who” of music. And each and every player does their part to highlight the record’s highest point in Moneymaker.
And Moneymaker truly is the star here, as she should be. Her voice is smoky and whiskey soaked, rich and resonant. She sings with a powerful energy that recalls fellow vocal greats like Janis Joplin and Tina Turner, as she swaggers through thirteen solid tracks of blues-rock goodness, shining all the way.
“Swampy Things” get things off to a powerful stop, Louisiana-flavored imagery accented by moody, dark blues notes that undergird the artist’s rich tones and sensual delivery. “Eyes” lightens the mood a bit, a touch of dreamy guitar accented by plucky percussion notes while the title track is a slow builder that showcases the best of the whole ensemble, In the Black holding sway with rocking guitars and a swelling sonic vibe while Moneymaker just wails, her guttural screams bringing serious emotion and passion on the highlight track of the album.
Another great track is “Best Kind of Friend,” hot southern rock blues elements colored in by Moneymaker’s playful innuendo, her voice continuing to shine as songs like “Hello Beauty” and “Fall in Love” highlight the artist’s softer side, the ballads providing a quieter respite before Michael Mennell’s funky bass chops bring the feet to dancing and the boots to knocking again on “Drivin’ in the Rain.”
“No, No, No” begs for a Mick Jagger cameo with it’s rich swagger and chorus of background voices while “Bang a Drum” makes it’s case for song of the record with its building progression, the arrangement anthemic and epic as Moneymaker sings her way skyward through a powerful chant supported by killer guitar work and booming drums. Hearkening back to a sense of funk, “L.O.V.E.” closes things out on a high note, smooth harmony vocals merging over B3 swells and chunky bass.
Kelly Moneymaker may be the best artist you’ve never heard and that’s not an overstatement. Gifted with a voice that is simply stunning and surrounded by a recording band that’s as strong as any out there, Moneymaker makes full use of each and every element on Race Against the Sky, crafting one of the tightest blues rock records heard in a long, long time. Don’t walk, but run to your nearest record store and grab this record now. You won’t be sorry…
Review by Heath Andrews, ReviewYou.com
Kelly Moneymaker and In the Black
Race Against the Sky
Reviewed by Andrew Greenhalgh
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
After being a part of the popular ‘90s pop trio, Expose’ during its heyday, Kelly Moneymaker has carved her own path by writing songs for television, appearing alongside legendary artists on stage such as Todd Rundgren, Meatloaf, Stevie Wonder and Ringo Starr, and pursuing her own career as a solo artist. Moneymaker’s latest album, Race Against The Sky is a far cry from her days in Expose’. Moneymaker has put together a slamming, rocking blues/rock album that has some of the most soulful singing this side of Aretha Franklin.
Indeed, Moneymaker’s singing is one of the strongest parts about the album. From the first note to the last, she belts out everything with forceful authority. Without exaggeration, Moneymaker is an incredibly powerful vocalist; her full-throated gusto is just as effective in her impassioned cries for love as it is in her moments of emotionally vulnerability. Naturally, it helps that In The Black is an equally talented and powerful band, comprised of Gabriel Moses and Bruce Watson on guitar, Herman Matthews on drums, Lenny Castro playing percussion, keyboardist Kim Bullard, and bassist Michael Mennell. Moneymaker’s deep, resonant tone packs a wallop, and everyone else has to play accordingly.
The blues elements at work can be heard more clearly on the opening track, “Swampy Things.” Moneymaker sings a portrait of a southern bayou at its down and dirtiest; voodoo, hoodoo, catfish, and swampy things in general, set the mood. While Moneymaker is setting this up, her guitarists grind and slide away through notes that are as raw and bluesy as they get. Of course, Matthews stomps his way through the track, but this time in a more restrained fashion. He doesn’t overplay anything here as he just keeps that steady blues beat that all the instrumentation revolves around.
There’s a softer side to Moneymaker as well; she takes the time to belt out some slower songs, “Hello Beauty” and “Fall In Love” amongst them. While neither of them are necessarily less forceful than the rest of the album they do have a more relaxed and emotional sound. The latter of the two tracks almost takes on a mournful tone from the guitars, though this is accented by the soft keyboards in the backing track. “Hello Beauty” on the other hand is a more uplifting number that features a distinct, chiming guitar sound, not used elsewhere on the album. Not only do they represent a good change of pace for the record as a whole, but they’re yet another example of the versatility of Moneymaker.
The album closes with the strongest song, “Bang A Drum.” Fittingly enough, it does start with the snap of a drum, but the more identifying feature is the exotic nature of Moneymaker’s singing. The song itself draws off of a kind of Native American vibe, placing emphasis on passing down knowledge, love, and stories. The arrangement doesn’t start out all that differently from most of the other tracks, but as the song progresses it builds up remarkably and culminates in a veritable symphony of guitars, drums, and singing.
Race Against The Sky is a major accomplishment for Kelly Moneymaker. As opposed to her work for television scores and soundtracks, this is a cohesive collection of powerful blues-rock that has her in incredible voice, backed by an incredible band. This is far removed from the days of Expose’ and represents a stunning achievement in musical growth and ability. Race Against The Sky is an album that can easily be heralded as much as it can be enjoyed.
Artist: Kelly Moneymaker
Album: Race Against The Sky
Review by: Heath Andrews
Rating 5 Stars (out of 5)
Review by Luis Alexander, Martinis & Bikini’s
Rating 4.75 out of 5 Stars
of Kelly Moneymaker CD Release Party at The Mint Los Angeles
October 1, 2013
I attended an Expose’ show 20 years removed from tonight that was a highlight for me as a 21 year old straight out of college. I reviewed that show as an intern for a rather large music newspaper, I gave that show back then a pretty good review – but this time – fast-forward 20 years and it’s not Expose’ but one of its former leading ladies gone solo – Kelly Moneymaker – all I can say is WOW, say it backwards – WOW!!
I was not expecting this amount of POW from the petite singer/songwriter. If you are thinking sappy love songs or an electro pop sound reminiscent of the trio, you are most certainly mistaken. Erase that delusion. This was pure unapologetic soul, R&B, blues, and some southern rock’n roll...and Moneymaker proudly hails from Alaska!
The song list set she performed is from her newly released CD, Race Against the Sky. She opened with “Swampy Things” and sounded like Bonnie Raitt right out of the bayous to the self-titled “Race Against the Sky” ballad – which by the way brought the crowd to their feet with applause at the end of the song. She then belted the toe-tapping, butt-slapping (pun intended) “Black Magic In Blue Jeans” a song about her husband’s behind, which frankly got us all wanting to SEE that behind!
She closed with Koko Taylor’s “Wang Dang Doodle” in her own Moneymaker version that I only wish was included on this new CD.
Holy crap, can she bring it!
The show was a graduate-level workshop on powerful rock & roll vocals. Her unique raspy wailing came full force in most all of her tunes. I swear she was channeling Joplin on several occasions. She may sound like a Janis Joplin or a Bonnie Raitt but Moneymaker has her own definitive sound, mark my word - including her own distinctive growl that had me saying “Yes, Yes, Yes!” on her “No, No, No” performance. I look forward to the day when I review another artist and report “she has a voice like Kelly Moneymaker!”
Throughout the show she demonstrated an absolute command of the stage. Even when she wasn’t singing, you had to remind yourself to pay attention to her as-talented tour band, The Black.
She revisits Los Angeles on November 1 at the House of Blues Foundation Room – 11pm. Race Against The Sky can be purchased on iTunes or her website at www.KellyMoneymaker.com
Review By Dan MacIntosh, POPMATTERS.COM
Artist: Kelly Moneymaker
Album: Race against the Sky
Review By: Dan MacIntosh
Rating: 4 Stars (out of 5)
If you take a moment to read Kelly Moneymaker’s bio, the first question you’re likely to ask yourself is, ‘How could this girl possibly be from Fairbanks, Alaska, of all places?’ That’s because her album opens with a song called “Swampy Things,” and then proceeds to present a number of other swampy little numbers.
Although Moneymaker’s biggest claim to fame may be the brief period she spent as a member of the all-girl vocal group Exposé, she’s also had a fairly eventful career both before that and after it, as well. She initially worked with those crazy guys, The Tubes, but then went on to collaborate with artists ranging from Beatle Ringo Starr, to lounge acts such as Wayne Newton and Connie Stevens, to un-categorize-ables like Meatloaf.
All of that is history, of course, which brings us to Race against the Sky, a wonderfully soulful album. As a performer, Moneymaker just doesn’t seem to know the term half-hearted because she goes at these various soul and rock songs like her very life depends upon her performances. The way she sings “Hello Beauty” is a lot like the great Tina Turner might have done it – like a full force gale.
Moneymaker also has a way with the turn of a phrase. The title to “Black Magic in Blue Jeans,” for instance, just rolls off the tongue perfectly. The track, speaking of Tina Turner, also has a gospel-y power complete with black gospel choir-like backing vocals. The track’s passion is also heightened by its Stones-y electric guitar solo.
She follows the rollicking good time of “Black Magic in Blue Jeans” with a gentle ballad, “Fall in Love.” On it, she sounds like someone that’s been burned one too many times. “I don’t wanna fall in love all by myself anymore,” she warns a lover she is obviously falling in love with.
Along with the Tina Turner comparisons, the music on this album will also likely appeal to Bonnie Raitt fans, as all these Race Against The Sky songs feature old school rock and soul values. In other words, there are no obligatory rap sections or annoying electronic dance elements. You get the impression Moneymaker went into the studio with the stubborn goal of making a record the way they used to do it. The result is an organic and satisfying collection of music.
Just the way Moneymaker does such a cool call-and-response thing during “Best Kind of Friend” will make you feel super good inside, if you’ll let it get under your skin. Once again, Moneymaker combines churchy vocals, with gutsy guitar, all filled out with warm backing vocals.
In other places, Moneymaker gets really funky – you know, she shakes her moneymaker, so to speak. With “Get Your Love On,” she pours out a cry for love and social justice, the same way Staples Singers used to do it, all the while putting these timeless words to a groove-centric electric guitar riff.
In a world where Miley Cyrus’s tongue gets more attention than almost anything of true musical value, Moneymaker’s Race against the Sky is such a breath of fresh air. This is music made from the best ingredients on Earth (sorry Snapple), and when you create a meal out of top shelf elements, it’s nearly impossible to go wrong. This is not trendy music. It’s likely not music for the hash generation that only wants the newest of the new. Instead, it’s the kind of music you still see performed during PBS TV fundraising nights; the kind of soul music that stands the test of time.
It’s not fair to merely label Kelly Moneymaker as a former member of Exposé because she is so much more than that. It’s safe to say Moneymaker is writing and recording the best music of her life. We can only hope and pray these songs reach an appreciative audience – they’re just too good to waste.