Konisa prepares for her moment

by Jordan Green

She sits at a small piano in a coffee shop on High Point Road just outside of Greensboro, working through some figures for her own satisfaction as she waits for a reporter to appear. Straight black locks fall over her shoulders and her long turquoise skirt sweeps beneath the keyboard.

Audio file: Konisa – Somebody Else

It’s 3 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon and the temperature is a notch or two below stiflingly hot outside the air-conditioned suburban break room. Konisa Rhone has wrapped up her day at Atlantic Aero, where she works as a customer service rep lining up limos and catering services for pilots and clients who use the private jet fleet at Piedmont Triad International Airport. That frees up the rest of the day for Konisa the artist – for a visit to the gym, some music networking and the subtle alchemy of gathering material for songs that might some day be recorded and performed before an audience.

“I don’t like big groups, so I was like, ‘I’ll be a songwriter,'” she says. “I wrote my first song when I was eleven. I wanted other artists to do my songs. Then I figured I have to sing them to get people to notice. It’s my song; I can feel it. Nobody’s going to get this across like me. The only way I can really perform when I’m up there is to have lived it.”

She possesses a winning smile, and an ability to instantly engage with another person. It’s part of what appears to be an unstoppable positive attitude – an ability to recognize and seize the possibility in any given situation. This disposition ties in nicely with her second day job as a promotional model, a gig that has taken her to car dealerships and on a tour of area ABC stores to hand out free samples of a non-alcoholic Bailey’s Irish Cream.

All that dovetails into a single purpose: creating the conditions to showcase her craft. And the songs – they are exquisite refined gems that cover a wide emotional and stylistic spectrum. There’s the sultry funk of “Natural High”; the portentous overtones of “City,” a piano-laden ballad that reflects on a friend’s jagged emotional journey; the high-energy sass and fuzz-tone guitar of “Somebody Else.”

Konisa’s performances are economically distributed across the calendar, but they show a progression from the produced tracks of her self-released 2004 CD, Mountain, to a more fully realized vision. She got the opportunity to open for Boyz II Men in March, and for the first time pulled together a band.

She found Kevin, guitar player for the veteran funk praise and worship band Free Expression Changed, on MySpace. A back-up singer named Boogie – as befits a one-name artist such as Konisa, she knows many of her creative collaborators solely by their first names – had been performing with a band at Churchill’s on Elm Street. Konisa credits a second back-up singer, Angela Coon, as her voice coach; Konisa’s upbringing as a military brat in Germany has had the curious effect of instilling in her an overly proper speaking and singing style.

At Kevin’s request, Konisa performed with the band at the Rock Da Block festival at Barber Park earlier this month. With the band switching easily between rock and funk, Konisa gave her songs a soulful workout with Boogie and Angela cooing behind her.

The girl likes to rock by the way; she’s not constrained by either of the neat hip-hop and R&B categories of which the industry has lately reduced black music. And on that sunny Saturday before the city turned up toxic elements in the soil and closed off the park, Konisa corralled dozens of children on the stage, utilizing them as a chorus and dancing with them as she projected her million-watt smile.

“I listen to a lot of alternative music,” the statuesque singer says. “I’m in love with House of Fools. I want this alternative soul sound. I like Pink. There’s Kina. This chick – if you can imagine Tina Turner and Alanis Morisette. She’s got this awesome soulful voice, and it’s rock music. She kind of opened the door to me, thinking I can do rock and not just R&B.”

Konisa feels lucky.

But for a twist of fate she might have ended up in the military. Though she considers herself pro-military – she corresponds with soldiers deployed in Iraq to show support – she aborted her own military career in 1999 because of a sexual harassment incident with a recruiter. In hindsight, it might have been a blessing in disguise. She realized her heart was more in singing than soldiering.

“Before I get up on that stage,” she reflects, “I just say, ‘How do I like to see people?’ Down to earth, full of energy. I want to share what I’ve experienced. Maybe it will help people.”

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