Nine Songs: TĀLĀ
TĀLĀ's deft fusion of Western dance music and global influences is the product of a multicultural South London upbringing. From her earliest releases on indie label Aesop right through to the major label clout of her most recent singles, the songwriter and producer has always allowed the Persian sounds of her childhood to shine through.
Able to marry together the seperate strands of songwriting, musicianship and production wizardry required, TĀLĀ is the central presence throughout every step of her songs' construction. In conversation, this mastery of her craft is abundantly clear. She turns tracks inside out as she searches for the elements that elevate a ground-breaking artist head-and-shoulders above their peers; picking out individual samples by name and singing back iconic refrains mid-thought.
The rich textures of her own music seem obvious once she reveals her broad palette of inspiration, ranging from the funk-inspired seventies vibes of "Madonna of Iran" Googoosh, right through to the "raw beauty" of 2015 collaborator Banks. Innovation and creativity are recurring themes, with emphasis on sampling techniques and preservation of organic emotion through electronic media.
TĀLĀ is quick to express admiration for artists such as Kanye West and Timbaland, whose contributions to the modern canon have rippled across popular music in recent decades. As such, she also nods to Imogen Heap's iconic "Hide and Seek" – a track that's "informed pop music" as much as TĀLĀ's own choices from J Dilla and Kanye have impacted on the world of hip-hop and beyond.
Whilst TĀLĀ's choices reflect an almost deferential acknowledgement of these modern icons, newer voices such as Teyana Taylor also resonate strongly with her commitment to owning her craft. "She’s ballsy with it!" she exclaims, admiringly referencing the Harlem artist's response to mistreatment whilst on tour with Jeremih. Like TĀLĀ, Taylor knows how to reference the greats who came before her – recent single "Rose In Harlem" quotes from 2Pac's post-humously released poem "The Rose That Grew from Concrete".
When you're able to identify the emotional truths that underpin the very best examples of any musical genre, your own music will reflect that same level of genuine authenticity. TĀLĀ's ability to cross-pollinate between genres, eras, and continents may be unique, but it's a reflection of a life spent listening.
"Googoosh is a legendary Persian artist – she was pretty much the Madonna of Iran. I've always loved her, because my Dad used to listen to her a lot and we'd always have her playing in the house. This song is from the golden era of Persian music. In the '60s and '70s there was a lot of amazing Persian funk, and her music, particularly in the '70s era, is amazing. It transports you back to that era it's set in.
"This era of Persian music particularly is so interesting, because you have all those funk elements. It's different. I always like to play with things like that: a pop song structure, but bringing in a different scale, like an Arabic scale, or doing something different with your vocal melody. It's different to our ears, in Western music. I think there's a really interesting thing that happens with merging the two – and also I think it’s quite nice to throw people off for a minute!
"Googoosh as an artist is an icon. Her artwork and her image changes throughout the decades are insane. I used to have moodboards of all her artwork, just for inspiration! All the mad '70s vibes. When we were doing "Talk 2 Me", we had a concept around this kind of artwork. We used to play 'Khabam Ya Bidaram' when I was a child. I remember the sound of it. There's a vocal melody that she does, and it's insane! It gives you goosebumps. It's definitely one of her really powerful ones. I like the scales and the melodies – I always find it really interesting, the scales and the instrumentation that they use are so beautiful."
"Bon Iver's self-titled album is the only album that makes me cry. It's mad! I don’t understand it. I don’t even know all the lyrics – it's quite hard to understand sometimes, because of all the harmonies – but I don't even care! It fills me with emotions. Everyone I've shared that self-titled album with, even if it’s not their kind of music, they’re like, "Oh, I could get into this." It's nostalgic, almost. You feel like you've heard it before, even when you haven’t. Every time I come back to that album, it takes me back to a different memory or nostalgic moment.
"The chord movements in 'Perth' get me every time. The guitar! And when those marching drums come in, I'm there! I’m in awe of that album, it’s just perfect, from start to finish."
"'All of the Lights' is always going to be a favourite for me. The production, especially at the time when it came out – everyone was like, "This is crazy!" The harmonies, the chords, everything. Coming back to it now, I love it just as much as I did the first time I listened to it. I feel like that's really rare. Especially now, I feel like music is very quick. It's made for quick attention spans. There’s something about 'All of the Lights', it never gets boring. It's not dated.
"Kayne as a producer was a really big influence for me. He is that all-encompassing artist. He's the producer, he's the artist, he does the visuals – he's behind everything. I've always admired that. To be in it like that must be incredible: fully creating your project. I've always found it really inspiring that that was possible.
"Kanye is a real artist. He's not interested in doing something just because it will be popular; he's doing it because he believes in it, and I like that. I respect that. I like the fact that it provokes opinion, because that's what art is. If we all go to an art gallery, and there’s something really controversial on the wall, it's the same kind of thing. Some people will be like, "it really offends me", while someone else can see another view to that.
"I'm always going to be a biased Kanye fan. As a musician, as an artist, I'll always look to him for inspiration and appreciate his art. I can't help that, despite what his opinions are, despite the fact that I don't agree with them. My friend told me about [a theory] that there's a performance artist he's really inspired by, and he's based his whole thing on that – provoking a reaction and saying the things you don't want to hear. I wouldn't put [running for US president] past him. If anyone could become president, I think Kanye could!"
"Untrue, the album, is insane. It doesn't age, it has its own sound. I discovered this later [than its release], someone showed it to me. It was released in 2006 – that's mad! 12 years ago! If you listen to this now, it still feels timeless.
"I always loved this whole album because it sounds like a soundtrack to London after hours: 3, 4am, coming home from a club, everyone's a bit drunk, the party's ended, that kind of thing. Like when you were younger, on a night bus at that time. It's a very special, magical time, when the sun's coming up. People are on their way out to work, and you're going home. You've not slept, and everything's a bit wired. This album is the soundtrack to London like that.
"Everywhere has its own vibe – you can't recreate that anywhere. You could have that same night in a different country, and it won’t be like London. That's why I love this album so much. 'Archangel' so represents London to me. There's also a sample he uses – a Ray J vocal – and it's so clever. The way he samples vocals is so creative. You wouldn’t necessarily know it’s Ray J at first."
"Another older one! For me, it's that Timbaland/Missy era at its best. Once again, timeless. You can drop that in a mix, and when that beat comes on, everyone’s like, 'Oh my God!'
"I remember the first time I listened to this song. Timbaland is just crazy, the way he samples, and – for me – a massive inspiration. I love how he fuses different music and samples from different genres. Indian samples, and kinds of music you wouldn't expect to hear in hip-hop and R&B – not keeping everything so straight! I always loved that kind of sound. Truth Hurts has the same kind of thing; that Indian sampling. Loads of those early Timbaland songs have that same kind of vibe, those Missy Elliott albums, "Get Your Freak On". They never get old! They’re always fun, they always make people want to dance.
"I heard this story once – I don’t know if it's true – that Timbaland came over here and wanted to go and get some records to sample. Someone took him to a record shop in Southall and was like, "this is the shit! You can get amazing old Indian records here," and he went crazy! Just went into this random shop in Southall and bought up all these records! You can imagine him doing something like that. He’s looking for something different, to bring that flavour into his music.
"I go back to that Timbaland era all the time. I always find it really exciting. He was switching it up and doing something different at that time. You see all the things that have since been inspired by that. As time goes on, we’ll see more. There are certain artists that set trends that are so strong."
"'Jasmine' has got a very Prince vibe to it. It feels very live, the way it's played. When you're making a song, and you have a moment, and that moment is amazing, you have to keep that moment in the record. Whatever you do, whatever process, however many versions you do, when you lose that, it's gone. You need to come back to that. I've recorded my vocal for the first time, on an okay mic, then re-recorded it on an amazing mic and the vibe isn't right. I have to go back to the demo version. They're real moments in time. There's something really powerful about having something real in a track, especially in such an electronic age of music. You can't just plane in shit!
"Again, Jai Paul's an influence. He's influenced music. A lot of the artists I’m talking about have their lanes, and they've created something that they're the first to create. You can't copy that. That's what's magical about Jai Paul; he just created his own lane for himself. People resonated to it because it was honest, and because it was real. All these counterfeit versions of him that came after, no one resonates with. I believe you can always tell honesty in music. When it's forced, or done to be perceived in a certain way, people see right through that. Fans see through that, and they know."
"This is quite old HudMo. He was big as a DJ [when this came out], but he hadn't blown up in pop music yet. This is when I really got into him. I loved Butter. Someone gave me a copy of it. I hadn't heard it before, and I was like, "this is insane."
"The reason I really like HudMo is that it's electronic, it's innovative, it's different, it switches it up. His drums are always sick. You can tell that he's into his drums. It always feels so live, it's not someone being, like, "I wanna drag and drop that in." I saw him at Field Day a few years ago. He was headlining, and he had two drummers. I was really blown away. It sounded so good live, because his drum grooves are so sick."
"J Dilla is one of my all-time favourite producers. They just don't come like J Dilla anymore. I love that whole album, Donuts. Someone shared it with me – it's like a good book; you'll pass it on. Listen to it start to finish. It's like a beat-tape, it rolls one track into the other, and it's beautiful. I'm all about that: it sounding coherent and rolling through like a story. I definitely don’t have the greatest attention span, but when it's an album that I really want to hear, I have to listen to it from start to finish. When you buy into the artist, you want the whole journey.
"So much of hip-hop is owed to J Dilla. What he was doing back then is so now. He's one of those artists that didn't get really really famous while he was alive, and he died pretty young, but there were so many tracks that came out – even after his death – that shout him out. He was everyone's inspiration. You'll hear so many tracks that have been inspired by J Dilla. For sampling, and for artistry, Dilla is amazing. I'm really lucky that someone shared that with me.
"I got to it late, but I remember hearing Donuts for the first time. It was the last thing he ever made. He was dying at that point. All the tracks have messages in them. “Workinonit” is a classic, and it shows his sampling. You'll hear so many tracks that have pulled from that."
"'Warm Water' is one of Banks' earlier songs, and it was one of the first that I heard. I was like, 'Ooh, I feel this, I really feel it!' It sounds real, it sounds honest. It's rare! I don’t feel like that every time I discover a new artist. It's one of the reasons that we worked together.
"I love Banks as an artist. We're quite similar in the sense that we're vibe people – we work off energy and vibe. I picked that up straight away from her music. You can just tell: she recorded that in the moment and it's real, she's that kind of artist. She records something, that's the vibe, that's how it is, that's the vocal that’s going to remain. The first time I worked with her, she had that energy. You don’t meet people like that every day: it's rare. Finding an artist like that is rare. She has a very distinct sound.
"Again, Banks does things that she really stands behind as an artist. She could have taken certain routes to commercial success, but it's a testament to her that she's stuck in her lane and done what she does best. It's raw, and beautiful. It will give her more longevity."