There’s no shortage of accomplishments under Anqwenique Kinsel’s belt. The versatile jazz, opera, and classical vocalist who uses the single, all-caps ANQWENIQUE as her stage name, has been a mainstay in the local music industry for over a decade.
Her resume boasts numerous teaching and director gigs — including with the Hope Academy of Music and Arts, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, the Pittsburgh Festival Opera, and Italy’s CLAZZ International Music Festival — as well as performances around the city and beyond. The Pittsburgh native also created Groove Aesthetic, a Pittsburgh-based classical, jazz, and hip-hop collective, and, along with her husband, BOOM Concepts co-founder DS Kinsel, became one of the first-ever resident artists at The Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg, Pa.
“I was always told I had to pick a lane, but I didn’t want to,” Kinsel tells Pittsburgh City Paper.
Fans and followers of the artist may have noticed that Kinsel’s name hasn’t been appearing in the creative scene over the last few years as often as it previously had been. After giving birth to her daughter Liberty in 2018 and laying low, as the world did collectively during the COVID-19 crisis of 2020, the Kinsels discovered they were expecting their second child.
“Whatever the circumstances were, because I wasn’t performing as much, because I wasn’t as active, I also wasn't well, mentally,” Kinsel says. “My mental health wasn’t OK. And that was a really hard realization for me because I didn’t understand what was happening.”
Kinsel is a performer. Kinsel is an educator. Kinsel is a mother. None of these conflict with each other, but this took some time for her to discover.
“In fact, it's my goal to figure out how these things work together and what I need that’s different now than it was before,” Kinsel says, “because I'm also supporting my family with my creative practice. These things have all helped evolve me.”
Recently, Kinsel had the opportunity to be part of The Equity Impact Center’s SCALE Fellowship program, which helps advance Black women in the music world by providing financial and professional support, as well as a platform to present their work. The program helped Kinsel understand what it meant to be strategic and how to juggle the competing demands of family and creativity.
“Performing and singing isn't just something I like to do. It's literally who I am. If I'm going to center my mental health so I can truly be well in this world, then music has to be a part of that conversation,” Kinsel says. “It has to be part of my decision-making and my priority. I'm doing it because it is in my lungs to sing songs and share them with people and to bring musicians together and create those beautiful moments.
She adds, “[SCALE] truly gave me a booster shot in the arm of knowing I'm worth it, that I'm worth fighting for, that my creativity is worth fighting for, and here's the support to do it.”
This validation came at the perfect time. Initially, Kinsel envisioned 2023 as her “return year.” However, things shifted with the discovery that the Kinsel family will soon add a new member; she’s expecting her third child at the end of September.
“It changed what we saw possible for this year, but it didn’t change everything,” Kinsel says. “My life is becoming more full, my captivity for things is changing. I’m not the 25-year-old Anqwenique who was at every single jam session, every event, everybody’s everything. So what does that mean for the type of choice I make?”
Everything didn’t have to be canceled. Kinsel just had to be more strategic.
“It meant that I had to spend more time planning and being realistic about time, and recovery, and do that self-managing,” she says. “That’s the work I’m doing currently and what I’ve been trying to figure out all year. What does it mean for me to fight for my practice and create boundaries that allow for me to be present for my family in the ways that they need me to be? How do I be strategic about my time and my capacity so that I can give fully to these things that make me well?”
Following a recent performance with the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra, Kinsel has set out to make August the month of getting onto as many stages as possible. On Sat., Aug. 12, she will perform twice, first at Pittsburgh Playhouse as part of a SCALE showcase, then at Pittsburgh’s Black beer festival, Barrel and Flow.
On Wed., Aug. 23, Kinsel joins Chamber Music Pittsburgh — a local music organization with which she has had a longstanding relationship — for a performance at The Highline on the South Side. The show completes the Just Summer series presented by Chamber Music as a way to highlight some of the city’s top musicians.
“I’ll be a little wobbly and out of breath on stage, but it’ll be great,” Kinsel says. “[I’m hitting] things hard in August, then I’ll be taking another step back to really focus in on myself to get prepared for birth and growing my family.”
Her music career, it seems, will continue to grow along with her family — this fall, Kinsel is set to start recording her very first solo album.
ANQWENIQUE presents The Summer Send Off. 7:30 p.m. The Highline. 339 McKean St., South Side. Free. chambermusicpittsburgh.org/just-summer-2023