Khamari has always been a lover of music.
In his days as an adolescent growing up off Blue Hill Ave., the singer, born Khamari Barnes, played instruments ranging from the guitar to the French horn. An alumnus of Swampscott High School through the METCO program, Barnes has lived in Dorchester for years, along with his family. He studied classical music, piano and jazz while bumping the likes of Stevie Wonder, Usher, The Beatles and J.Cole. His early exposure to the arts and love for music made one thing clear to him – he had to be an artist.
Though he studied for a short period of time at Berklee, he left to pursue music full time in 2017 and eventually moved to LA to integrate himself with the entertainment industry.
Now, with a voice that embodies the essence of rhythm, blues, and soul, the Dorchester native is headlining “A Brief Nirvana Tour,” named after his debut album released in 2023. It kicked off on Monday of this week with a show in Houston. He’ll be traveling across the country to cities like Atlanta, New York City, and Chicago, along with his current home of LA, and then across the Atlantic to the UK. The singer is so in-demand that tickets were nearly sold out prior to the start of the tour.
At the top of the year, he was added to Spotify’s 2024 R&B Rising Artists to Watch list, an unexpected and surreal experience. He’s excited to share his music – including some new tunes – with fans on his first headlining tour.
“It’s been a long time coming, so I’m hype,” he told the Dorchester Reporter. “I’m ready.”
Khamari Barnes, who performs simply as Khamari, finds inspiration in artists like Stevie Wonder, Usher, The Beatles and J.Cole. “I’m ready,” he says of his first-ever headlining tour of the US and UK. Rachel Blackman photo
Khamari sees music as an expression, and a huge part of his love for the medium stems from a genuine interest in all parts of what makes a great record. A multi-hyphenate, he is a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer.
“Being able to pick up and put down different parts of musicality and putting things together in different ways, in different parts, and at different times is really interesting to me,” he said. “I like one minute being hyper focused on the production and studying producers and what moves they make, and then the next minute, [studying] songwriters like Billy Joel and Stevie Wonder. I just like figuring out ways to improve in that aspect.”
“A Brief Nirvana” has been well-received. Not only did he have an opportunity to perform one of the record’s most popular tracks, “These Four Walls,” on A COLORS SHOW, but he also performed at New York’s S.O.B club for R&B First Nights, a showcase presented by Spotify Stages, last September. Prior to the release of his debut album, he released the EP “Eldorado” in 2020.
“I think as you go along in creating things, you get very good at collecting influences and collecting things that inspire you … and as you go you get better at kind of digesting those things and then spitting them out in your own interesting way,” he said.
“I felt like it was very early for me on ‘Eldorado’ in terms of where I was at creatively,” he said, “and how I wanted to vocalize some of the things musically. ‘A Brief Nirvana’ was just a step up from that.”
His growth as an artist is clearly drawn, with tracks like “Doctor, My Eyes” and “A Sacred Place” expressing a vulnerability and rawness that most lovers of R&B look for. He most enjoyed working on “On My Way,” a song that samples Al Green’s “Love and Happiness” and paints a picture of his journey to LA– one where he questions if he’s running “to or from” as he works toward love, happiness, and success in the City of Angels.
“Production-wise, I felt like that was when I was in my pocket,” he said. “That’s when I felt like I was really confident in terms of my production and my level of taste.”
In a 2023 interview with New Wave Magazine, he described “A Brief Nirvana” as “a moment without all the things that make you anxious.” Now, as he treks along his headlining tour, he hopes to not only evoke this sense of calmness but also curate an authentic moment to truly experience the album.
“It’s like we’re all going through those emotions that we went through when we were listening to it on our headphones, but live,” he said. “It’s just like a present way of going through those experiences, whether it’s like moving to LA, losing relationships, growing through relationships; all the high and low points on that album.”
To young people from his home neighborhood chasing big dreams, he advises them to expand their horizons as much as possible– even if it means leaving the familiar behind for new experiences.
“I think it’s really important to not just get lost in doing the same thing or seeing the same people. If you want more for yourself, you have to find it– no one’s going to hand it to you,” he said. “Make sure that you’re growing your taste and growing your palate in terms of experiences.”
Though he would describe “Yesterday” by The Beatles as the soundtrack to the current phase of his life, it has been through the continual pursuit of tomorrows that the singer has seen successes he would not have imagined a few years ago. At times, he misses that East Coast energy, but this Dorchester kid is taking the world by storm– one melody at a time.