Kam Franklin and her ten-piece "Gulf Coast Soul" group write love songs that make us happy for a change.
Kam Franklin likes food. She likes to cook food, talk about food, and (most importantly) sing about food. Her band, The Suffers, will kick off this year’s Crescent City Blues & BBQ Festival on Friday, where there will be plenty of food. Surprisingly, though, she doesn’t seem too excited about the spread.
“I’m a barbecue snob, and I don’t like any of y’all’s barbecue,” she says. “Do not try and give me no Louisiana barbecue.”
Her air of superiority is at least somewhat earned. The Suffers are Houstonians, and Texas takes its BBQ seriously. Her bluntness is understandable too. As the frontwoman and only female member of a ten-piece band, she’s learned that saying what she means is always best.
“Early on, we made a rule where if I have a problem, I need to just say what I mean instead of expecting them to guess what I mean,” she says. “It’s made me a little, uh, let’s say clearer than I intend to be sometimes, but at least there’s no question.”
She takes the same approach to songwriting. “I have people that think my lyrics are dumb and too simple, but I like the fact that I don’t write in a complex way,” she says. “And I write love songs. One of the worst things in most relationships is a lack of communication. I’d be a really terrible person if I was making it hard by having someone listen to my love song like Hey, man. I’m gonna be vague with you like that girl you broke up with.”
Franklin's lyrics might be simple, but The Suffers’ music is quite complex, drawing from multiple distinct cultural influences. “Houston is the most culturally diverse city in the United States because there’s no real segregation among the neighborhoods,” she says. “It’s filled with so much life and culture and history and we try our best to convey that in our music. So when you hear that cumbia and that Latin percussion and that gospel, we’re doing it in a fearless way because we’re staying true to who we are.”
The band calls its sound Gulf Coast Soul. “It’s basically a soulful gumbo,” she says. “Soul being the roux, and then cumbia and reggae and jazz being the crabmeat and the sausage and the okra. I feel as though if you have a good base when you’re making a gumbo, you can add anything to it and it will still taste good.” The metaphor is a bit clunky (especially coming from someone with such a bad attitude towards other types of New Orleans cuisine), but it works. The Suffers make rich, flavorful music that draws from a million different places at once without coming off as derivative.
Even with all the extra ingredients thrown in, the end product is still unmistakably rooted in traditional soul, and Franklin is undoubtedly a soul singer. Since she refuses to eat Louisiana BBQ, it’s only fair that she steers clear of Cajun and Creole cuisine in her own kitchen. She cooks soul food because it makes her feel good, and she applies the same principle to her music. “It’s a form of therapy,” she says. “I think if it weren’t for music, my hardships would last a lot longer.”
So while the band call themselves The Suffers, their M.O. is to comfort the sufferers rather than dwell on the suffering itself. “I’m a pretty happy lady,” says Franklin. “Out of our entire repertoire, I think we have maybe two sad songs. I don’t have anything to be sad about at the moment.”
Growing up black in Texas, Franklin has witnessed her fair share of suffering, but she tries to keep it positive. “Right now, the biggest thing being preached to black people who are struggling is self-care,” she says. “I write music that makes you feel better rather than music that just reiterates what’s happening.”
The art of providing comfort will always be an important one. “It’s like medicine,” she says. “Someone’s always gonna get hurt, somebody’s always gonna be falling in love.” As long as this logic holds true, The Suffers will be there to provide a healthy serving of comfort music to anyone in need.