K'Lee turns tables again (+video)

By Kristin Macfarlane

The term superwoman can easily be used to describe Rotorua-born Kaleena McNabb - the pop star, the entertainer, the radio announcer and the single mum who juggles home, life and business to make it all work.

As a teenager Kaleena - better known as K'Lee - was a successful pop star who burst on the music scene in 2001 with her cover of the 1980s Mr Mister ballad Broken Wings. The single soared to No2 on the national singles chart.

Her subsequent self-titled album debuted at number seven in the charts and included three other top 10 singles - 1+1+1 (It Ain't Two), Can You Feel Me? and Lifetime Left To Wait. She was the first female New Zealand artist to achieve four top 20 singles off a debut album.

She has toured with Busta Rhymes, Missy Elliot, Cypress Hill, Pink and Coolio, travelled overseas, performed at major festivals and lived in America where she was given opportunities many in the industry could only dream about.

"It was heaps of fun," K'Lee says.

She spent seven years in the US music industry and also had two children, now aged 3 and 4, with her former partner.

Career highlights have included singing at the famous House of Blues in Hollywood and at Jamie Foxx's Conga Room. He even asked her why she hadn't been snapped up yet.

"Seeing him perform and watching him watch me perform, it was scary and a thrill."

"It's so nervewracking. They [American singers] are amazing ... they're making millions doing what I'm doing."

But she wanted to come back to New Zealand. Early last year she started working as an announcer for R&B; and hip-hop radio station Mai FM's Mai Mornings. Now at 28, K'Lee is making her comeback with a new single on iTunes - an R&B; track called Tables Have Turned featuring Tyson Tyler.

"This is me and this is what I'm doing for me. I have two beautiful children that I'm trying to show that if you work hard you'll [have success]."

After all those years away from the Kiwi music scene, K'Lee says she started to miss it.

She says while people around her age remember her, it's today's teenagers who don't know who she is or her past. She says she's having to win over different fans and different age groups. "I was getting hungry to do music again."

She says making music again has been hard. But, "I'd never get through it without Mum and Dad and my sisters".

She says she has also had to decide whether she was ready to accept criticism all over again. As a teenager working at a Jay Jays store in an Auckland mall, K'Lee needed to be escorted to her car after work because of all the taunting from people who, despite not knowing her, didn't like her. "The best way to explain it is bullying. Security had to walk me to my car all the time."

Today, older and thicker- skinned, K'Lee says she's prepared for the kind of criticism that comes via social media. "There are your haters out there "Social media has made it so much easier for people to grow balls."

Despite the negativity, K'Lee has a lot of support. The response to her music has been good and her single is doing well on itunes. Some comments on itunes include: "Love this new song by K'Lee, I'm sure everyone can relate to it, I know I sure can. Very catchy, and I can't wait to hear more,".

You can guarantee K'Lee will release more music. She is focusing on singles and is glad Tyson Tyler worked with her on her first release because she is a fan of his musical style. "It all just came together like a jigsaw piece really. Singles is the way to go unless you have a lot of money in New Zealand, which there isn't. There isn't a lot of money. We do this for enjoyment and love."

Kiwi artists she would love to work with include Stan Walker, Rob Vegas and Three Houses Down. "I'd love to really work with a reggae band. I've never ventured into that."

Having had the experience of working in the US, she says the talent here is on par with it. One of the biggest differences between music in NZ and in the US was the support musicians got. She says in America, musicians have nutritionists, PR staff, vocal coaches and teams of writers penning their next hits. But that in no way meant they were better than our homegrown talent.

She says hip-hop artist Fortafy is a talented Kiwi we should keep an eye on. "I wouldn't be surprised if his fans help bring him through the ranks."

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You can buy K'Lee's latest single Tables Have Turned featuring Tyson Tyler on iTunes for $2.39.

- Hamilton News

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