@Carolyn_Malachi @klarock photo credit: Phylicia Ghee.

If there’s one name we can expect to hear a lot more of in 2011, it’s singer-songwriter Carolyn Malachi. She’s been one of DC’s best-kept-secrets for a while now, blazing onto the scene a few years back with a forward-thinking mix of jazz, hip-hop, spoken word and soul. Now, after three independent releases, head-turning live shows and a nomination at this year’s Grammys, the rest of the world is finally starting to take notice too.

If you missed it, Malachi was up for a Best Urban/Alternative Performance Grammy for her song “Orion.” Taken from her EP Lions, Fires & Squares, the track features Malachi’s otherworldly vocals floating atop sci-fi melodies as she sings about mermaids, astronauts and intergalactic space cowboys. It’s definitely not your typical R&B love song, but then again most soul singers don’t count Brazilian Girls, Stephen Sondheim and Kermit the Frog among their influences.

Malachi says “I wrote the song thinking about the distance between the person I was talking to and myself, feeling like a mermaid trying to reach an astronaut. I was really trying to express that feeling of ‘Wow, I really feel like it’s just too hard to talk to you.’ The person on the other end of the dialogue could be a co-worker, a family member, a lover.”

While the song didn’t take home any statues, the post-awards buzz has catapulted the singer far beyond DC, bringing her music to a wider audience and shining a light on the city’s growing indie clout. Her musical roots go deep here – her great-grandfather was legendary DC jazz pianist John Malachi – and she says, “DC is part of my legacy and my heritage.”

But pointing to all the other amazing talent coming out of Chocolate City these days, she adds that she’s not worried putting her hometown on the map. “Whenever someone asks ‘Why can’t we put DC on the map?’ I disagree with that. Take Kokayi, take Wayna, take Tabi Bonney. These are artists who are experiencing pretty great success. We need to change that paradigm.”

Watch Carolyn Malachi change paradigms in DC on March 24 at the National Museum of African Art. In New York, she’ll perform at the Inspired Word spoken word series at Le Poisson Rouge on April 14. Find her on Facebook here and follow her on Twitter here.

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