By Linc Bradham
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“Music saved my life,” explains D.C.-based jazz-pop artist Flo Anito. “In my hardest times, music has sat beside me on the floor, my best friend, holding my hand, offering tissues, reminding me to breathe. Singer-songwriters like Ani DiFranco, Fiona Apple, and Jewel and artists like Nina Simone let me know I wasn’t alone in my pain or loneliness. Composers like Chopin, Ellington, and Gershwin were able to bear their souls through music in ways the spoken word could not convey, bending time and space to mirror the shape of emotion.”
“Their sorrow, their joy, their fear, their hope, they released it through their music and then shared it, letting people like me know that someone else had felt all of this and lived to tell the tale. In the worst of times, music lulled me to sleep at night and dragged me out of bed in the morning. And it was there for the best of times as well. I hope that my music can do this for someone. If it touches even one person the way this music helped me, I will have made an impact. In my music, I’m striving for the vulnerability, emotion, and strength that comes from writing honestly,” she adds.
A lifelong appreciator, contributor, and producer of music, Flo Anito is that special kind of artist that you know has something deep and real to share, always giving her absolute all in whatever setting she might find herself.
She’s been one with music nearly since her life began, studying classical piano, voice, and cello for many years, and eventually beginning her endeavors of songwriting at the age of 16, when she received her first guitar. As she continued to write, produce, and play music live, Flo graduated from Wesleyan University in Connecticut with a B.A. in Musical Studies.
Flo’s career continued to blossom after she moved to the DMV following her graduation from Wesleyan. She opened for Eli Mattson and Emi Meyer at the National Cherry Blossom Festival, along with sharing festival bills with Joan Jett, Blues Traveler, and Andy Grammer.
Her recent performance credits include: the Barns of Wolftrap (2016), the Fillmore (2016), Rams Head (2017), and the Birchmere (2018, 2019). She got to play at the Keystone Corner in Baltimore this year (2021), which she describes as “pretty exciting!”
In 2008, Flo released her debut album, No Dustbunnies, a sonic adventure of songwriting, simple times, deep feelings, and impeccable arrangement. For this release, Flo channeled honesty in approach and execution, bringing truth in her delivery.
It would be remiss to only compare her to other artists, but upon listening to No Dustbunnies, there are shades of Regina Spektor, Gwen Stefani, and even Carole King. Flo took all of these influences and created something truly new, however, showcasing both her penchant for songwriting and her
virtuosity of singing, piano, and guitar.
One of the highlights of Flo’s musical journey came in 2014, when she embarked on a tour across Europe. Flo recalls playing a show during the tour in Switzerland where more than a couple of the patrons came and asked her during a set break, “Do you think the Swiss are too serious?” Flo decided to go above and beyond just answering the question and try a little experiment, remembering this question and subsequently asking late in the show for the crowd to sing along to her cover of Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop.”
Until that point in the night, the spectators had been intently, and even somewhat seriously, watching Flo. So when she asked for this audience participation, Flo wasn’t expecting much of a sing-along at all. But instead, the concertgoers completely surprised Flo and sang along for the entire tune! It just goes to show how things can always surprise us, sometimes for the best.
On another show in the European tour, Flo performed in Oviedo, a small town in Spain recommended by a fellow musician who had also performed in Europe. Flo was blessed to have her father join her for this leg of the tour, and for this particular show, Flo’s performance was supposed to be from 10 p.m. – 1 a.m.
When 10 p.m. rolled around, the barkeep told Flo, “You don’t want to start yet. You don’t want to start yet. People are still coming.” At 11:15, with the house nearly packed, Flo went on for about 40 minutes, with the crowd still wanting more, but the barkeep told her, “You need to take a break to create suspense, but you have to play again, because they’re loving it and more people are coming.”
Sure enough, Flo went back on around 12:30 and played until almost 2 a.m., at this point with the house fully packed with guests remarking things like, “We came to see you.” “We want to listen to you more.” “We adore you.” And one of the best, “Do you have any vinyl for sale?”
In 2016, Flo experienced what she describes as a “musical shift,” after meeting Seth Kibel, who she’d first approached about performing some jazz tunes with her at Amp powered by Strathmore. Inspired by this new sound, Flo applied for a Memorial Day performance at the Lincoln Theatre as a jazz artist, adding Seth and his bandmates she’d only met once to the application.
She got the gig and then told the other musicians about the application – luckily, they were down to play and jazz started to become more central to her live performances. Later that year, Seth asked her to sing on a political album he was working on, Seth Kibel Presents: Songs of Snark and Despair. A year after that release, Seth sent Flo some lyrics, and eventually Flo and her husband, a political scientist, found themselves up until the wee hours of the morn one evening, sipping on Negroni and bouncing lyrics off of each other until an entire EP, “Tiny Hands, was born.
Tiny Hands was released in 2019, coming out of the initial lyrics Seth sent to Flo. It is a poignant snapshot of the feelings many Americans felt during the political turmoil of 2016, masterfully crafted, with a whimsy and seriousness all compounded with true artistry.
After the release of Tiny Hands, Flo found her career moving from the personal inner-workings of a singer-songwriter into that of a political artist, performing at many political functions in the DMV. Leading up to the pandemic, Flo was playing swing shows as well, and remembers asking her fellow artists, “Are they going to stop these because of COVID?” Three days later, lockdown happened, and Flo lost all of her bookings for 2020, feeling, in her words, “numb.”
She didn’t give up, though, and started teaching piano, guitar, and voice online, eventually having the most productive year of her teaching career that she’d yet experienced. And now with live music coming back, Flo has shows regularly scheduled once again.
She will be honoring the music of George and Ira Gershwin with longtime collaborator Seth Kibel at 7:30 p.m. on November 18 at the Edlavitch Jewish Community Center of Washington, DC (1529 16th St NW, Washington, DC). Masks and proof of full vaccination are required. Tickets, along with more details, can be found here.
Linc Bradham is an American multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, audio engineer, and songwriter originally from Savannah, GA. He has resided in the DMV for the last three years and has served in the active-duty Army for the last 12 years. He is in the process of switching Army careers into the Army Field Band as an audio engineering professional, with long-term goals of promoting music education in America and the Middle East.
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