New Zealand-bred keyboardist Kimbra had no idea that her third album — the upcoming, tribal-thumping “Primal Heart” — would be influenced by, of all things, an ancient skeleton.
But when, out of curiosity, the double-Grammy winner visited the 3 million-year-old remains of early human ancestor Australopithecus (affectionately known as Lucy) at the National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa, she was deeply moved.
“When I saw Lucy, the first human being, I immediately felt this sense of origin and this intense personal connection to Africa. I think I’ve got a heart that’s primal,” says Kimbra, who appears at the Regency Ballroom this week.
Kimbra (offstage surname: Johnson) first went to Africa as part of Tirzah International, an organization that helps impoverished and/or HIV-positive third-world women launch sustainable businesses. She had to get away.
Trying to conceive a suitably energetic follow up to her 2014 sophomore album “The Golden Echo,” she hit a brick wall in her adopted hometown of Los Angeles.
“So I made some decisions for my spirit,” she says. She ditched her manager of eight years, moved to New York City, set up home-studio shop and took off on two philanthropic Tirzah trips to Ethiopia and Kenya, without revealing her rock-star identity.
Lucy gave Kimbra an archaeological frame of reference.
“Because of course we all came from Africa, since that’s where the first human beings were ever found,” she says. But as she got personally involved with the locals — many the same age as her, 27 — she marveled at their resilience and unflagging optimism under the direst of conditions.
“Some of these women had already had five children but lost two to leukemia,” she says. “But they were up at 5 a.m. every morning, carrying the wood they needed uphill on their backs, and they did that for their kids, for the hope of a better future.”
When the singer — who won her two 2013 Grammys via her appearance on Gotye’s worldwide smash “Somebody That I Used to Know” — returned to Ethiopia, she was stunned at how Tirzah-protégée endeavors were flourishing.
“It actually gave me a lot of hope. If people in those kinds of environments can prosper, then maybe the world hasn’t completely gone to hell,” she says.
“Primal Heart” echoes that sentiment, in the Lucy-alluding “Human,” the pounding “Top of the World” and cheery synth-rockers that close the disc on an uplifting note: “Recovery,” “Right Direction” and “Real Life.”
Reinvigorated, Kimbra thinks her record crackles with a sense of urgency, even protest.
“But maybe the more experiences you have, the more fearless you become,” she says. “So my songs might sound like love songs at first, or R&B slow jams. But I’m kind of touching on some pretty heavy stuff here.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Regency Ballroom, 1300 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 13
Contact: (888) 929-7849, www.axs.com