The musician-healer-duo KMLN (pronounced “kameleon”) has been traversing the world for years—shape-shifting on the move, evolving, falling in love. They bring their message from culturally rich reaches of the planet to festivals and gatherings far and wide. KMLN’s message is pure and simple. “We are all one,” Christopher told SF Station, minutes after stepping down from the main stage at Lightning in a Bottle (LiB) 2018.
KMLN is an incredibly talented partnership between two unstoppable producers and lovers, Shawna and Christopher Tooker. Together as KMLN, they’ve been traveling the globe, nestling into cultures close to the Earth. They’ve engaged with communities from Tulum to Africa, Thailand to Bali, and beyond. KMLN has been connecting with ancient forms of wisdom and picking up indigenous practices in a sort of deep global jam session.
“I love Romanian and Bulgarian music,” Shawna shared, revealing a little of her background. “I studied Bulgarian folk music for a bit, but I love gypsy music. Like, hardcore Romanian shit.” As she recalls, “We were playing this weed farm party while fire dancers were swirling flames all over. David Sitori from Beats Antique reaches under the table and resurfaces. ‘Here’s some Balkan electronic!’ I listened to it and played it in a set. It was bomb!”
These lively interactions are mostly musical, often held on a beach or around a fire, and render impressive accomplishments. While KMLN’s distinct mystical sound—heavily influenced by syncopated African rhythms and “gypsy music”—is unifying people all over the world, their work extends beyond the music.
“Our fans really feel that we’re breaking down boundaries,” Shawna reflects. “They feel that we’re bringing cultures together. Which is why we love staying in different places.”
“We had so much fun playing percussions with a bunch of six-year-old kids in Africa,” Christopher added. “Besides just the music we try to get involved with social and cultural aspects and support the youth of the communities we visit.”
The Lightning Stage at LiB’18, Photo by Jessica Bernstein
For the benefit of sound isolation, we had huddled up in KMLN’s trailer behind the Lightning Stage, LiB’s main stage. It had taken nearly half an hour and a bottle of ceremonious mezcal to cut to the chase. As the trailer buzzed with smiles, laughter, and congratulations from family and friends, the bottle passed between Shawna’s old friends of fire dancing days to members of Dirtwire, who had just shared the stage with KMLN as part of their much expanded live main stage act.
“We’ve recorded with over twenty musicians from different areas,” Shawna resumed the conversation with SF Station. “We were in Kenya for 3 weeks, for example. We make music, then travel and share the music from all these cultures while making our rounds. And when we play this music for certain cultures, even though it’s not of their culture, you can see how their body reacts to it. It’s like this latent genetic reaction.”
KMLN’s crowd at LiB could absolutely attest to this innate desire to move to the beat. Due to genetics or not, everyone was shakin’ booties in the most dance-like-no-one’s-watching sort of way. And they did so in the company of thousands to the syncopated rhythms KMLN and friends commanded.
Christopher (left), Shawna (right) at LiB’18, Factual Photo
Once the dust settled after KMLN’s debut on LiB’s main stage, SF Station found the chance to hear KMLN’s full story.
SFS: Christopher, how did it all begin—this passionate musical romance with Shawna?
Christopher: A friend of Shawna’s; his girlfriend was living with me. They each said, ‘You have to come with me to Burning Man. You have to come.’ That’s how I first went to Burning Man—where I met Shawna. She had done eighteen years in a row of Burning Man. Then two nights before my scheduled flight back to Berlin [after Burning Man], Shawna’s car was broken into while she was performing at the Superhero Street Fair. My backpack was stolen with my passport in it, so I couldn’t leave the states. It took about a month and a half to get it sorted. Shawna’s mom had to come and testify that I am Christopher Wayne Tooker. After the process I kinda thought, maybe I was meant to stay here. Then, Shawna and I went to Tulum for four or five months… [Christopher’s voice suddenly slowed to add significance to this part of the story.] …where we fell in love. She showed me her dorky side.
We were together for a couple years before it clicked and then KMLN was born.
SFS: That answers the question about your connection to Tulum—you fell in love there! What about your connection to Bali?
Christopher: We want to buy land and live there. Shawna was in fashion and living there off-and-on for ten years. Also, a lot of friends, including some of the people you saw on stage, live there now.
Shawna: I connect with the magic there because I’ve always had a hard time conforming to the rigid square edges of social constructs we have in this world. And everything there is all circles and cycles. Cycles of nature and cycles of the moon. They have a 210, or 220 day calendar.
Christopher: They have different calendars. There’s a one-day, and a two-day calendar…each all the way up to 10 day. Each week is a cycle within a cycle. There are ten weeks happening at the same time.
Shawna: It makes you think about time in a different way. And that’s how they act and that’s why they’re so creative. It’s very freeing for a creative mind like mine. I feel very oppressed within our social structure over here.
The most interesting thing about Bali is that they’re not afraid of acknowledging dark energy. There’s a time when all electricity is shut off for 24 hours. They build giant beasts of parade structures to bring down the streets in show, in a way to give back to the darkness and promote harmony. That’s why every alter has black and white checkers to represent the light and the dark. Everyone there is incredibly happy.
We also have fans there now. We did a song there a couple years ago with a jazz singer from Jakarta. She sang in Bahasa, which is one of the many, many Indonesian dialects. She sang in Balinese to accompany the Gamelan song with the Balinese scale. She sang about ‘the different cultures of the world’ and ‘with respect for one another life can be peacefully beautiful.’ We played that song today. The last time we played [in Bali]—we have such diverse fans, some Muslim, some Balinese—they were are all partying together.
SFS: Walk us through your wedding on the Playa last year? Was that planned?
Shawna: As Chris mentioned, I had gone [to Burning Man] eighteen years in a row. Chris and I took a break one year. Then, we returned officially together as KMLN. It was amazing to feel the momentum of KMLN, but we weren’t really planning to do this wedding. When we were at Burning Man and amidst the magic, however, it came up several times that it had been our five year anniversary. We thought, ‘maybe we should get married here, Sunday at Disco Knights—the same morning, and the same location as when we first met five years ago.’
We were performing the sunrise set at the Tree of Ténéré, that Sunday morning on the Playa. Our camp sent this massive pirate ship to come pick us up. A bunch of our friends from camp were aboard. People caught wind of what was about to happen. Only a handful of friends knew the time and moment ahead of time. So there were a lot of cute surprises. Our friend Marques Wyatt heard about it and walked over. The pirate ship delivered us to Disco Knights. They were all breaking down so all was calm and quiet. Our friend, an acupuncturist and healer—one of my best woman friends in the world—had the certification to lead the ceremony. It was really beautiful.
Then, we held our ring ceremony later after Burning Man in the Circus Circus hotel in ‘Vegas, while we were in the area to perform B2B with Holmar of Thugfucker. We called our friends Isis and Eve—both super educated, spiritual, community-organizing women; also some of my best gal friends who produce the Compass area [at Lighting in a Bottle]. I called them up to ask for their help with our ring ceremony. They set up this adorable setting on a lake, up on a platform crafted from re-purposed wood. There were tons of fresh roses, and the scene was candlelit with copper propane roses which our friend Jan made. It was a neo-tribal, galactic experience under the stars, with the lake as the background. Our friend Spencer, an amazing artist, hand-poked triangles on each of our hands so when Chris and I hold hands, they make a pyramid.
SFS: I’m melting. That sounds so intimate and meaningful. Especially to have just a select group of such close friends involved. Earlier you mentioned those who were on stage with you tonight, can you tell us who they are?
We had Sonya and Evan of Stellamara. Evan also performs with Dirtwire. David Satori of Beats Antique would have been there too but they arrive tonight. Travis, who created Obscura Digital, was the one playing most of the time. His partner Jessica was also up there singing with us. We had Gabe, the trumpet player. Chachi of Belize. For the track “Goza,” Danny G was up there with us and intro’d the song. I think he said it really well. It’s about celebrating your loved ones and what you have right here, right now; not any other time. This is what you have. Be with that.
SFS: You ended the set with a tribute to Pumpkin [the late DJ-producer, aka Nicholas “Pumpkin” Alvarado] that was really special. You must have been close…
Chris: We ended up kind of touring with him one year, not billed together but we kept ending up in the same places. We saw his soul. We saw how aligned our missions were. The day he passed, we were living up in Humboldt. As soon as we found out, we created a track for him; we finished it that day. We played that track tonight with Evan of Everyman, who was Pumpkin’s partner. They had a record label together. We’re finally releasing that track and all proceeds will help develop community youth centers, because that’s what he was all about.
SFS: If you could heal one of the world’s ailments with your music, what would it be?
Shawna: Breaking down boundaries.
Christopher: Allowing people to learn that everything to ever look for is inside them. We are all one. All that matters is to be yourself, express, play, and create.
+++KMLN performs the “Permission To Land” Sunday party series at The Midway SF on Sunday, June 24. Warming up for Shawna and Chris will be SidiRum and the incredibly talented, Niki Sadeki (Deep House Vancouver). You will not want to miss a single beat of this lineup. Secure your tickets ($15) here.
KMLN at LIB’18, Factual Photo