Melismata: Tālā Produces Border-Hopping Multiculturalism
Tālā does things on her own terms. The London-based singer, songwriter, and beatmaker first appeared online in April 2014 with “The Duchess,” a tightly crafted track of textured drum patterns and skittering synths, and has been on the rise ever since.
Most reports on Tālā’s music so far have focused on her mixed heritage—her father was of Iranian and Arab descent, while her mother is English—but she prefers to be judged on her songwriting rather than interpretations of her perceived exotic background. She’s the type of artist who knuckles down and works on her craft while the hype builds.
“I read somewhere that I was born in Iran, and ‘escaped’ to England for a better life,” she says in a snug London café, giggling and stirring brown sugar into her coffee. “It’s such a weird thing, how people have been leading their stories on my nationality. I’m about the music, that’s it.”
That simple approach has stood Tālā in good stead as she has developed her musical identity. She found solace in music at a young age, growing up in southwest London’s Kingston suburb and attending an all-girls convent school in the area. Piano became her first instrument, and she was classically trained before she started writing songs.
When Tālā discovered the production software Reason in her early teens—“I literally thought I was the next Timbaland!”—she began her journey towards the sprawling and evocative synth-driven songs that now epitomize her sound. Given her tendency to integrate throaty and ululating melisma, personal field recordings from her travels, and U.K. garage-inspired bass throbs into her releases, the focus on her music’s border-hopping multiculturalism starts to make sense.
“At first, songwriting is a bit chaotic because I’m pulling in all these musical influences,” she says, flicking her expressive eyes skyward as she briefly pauses to think. “But then it becomes like a sculpture, where I’m carving it and shaping it until I end up with something I like.” Tālā’s diverse signature sound layers manipulated recordings of her own voice over the types of beats more typically associated with male British bedroom producers like Lapalux, James Blake, and newcomer Oceaán.
But blurring boundaries and usurping people’s expectations seems to come effortlessly to Tālā. She happily talks about how studying music between the ages of 16 and 18 at the BRIT School, a renowned south London performing arts institution with Amy Winehouse and Katy B among its alums, helped hone her creative abilities.
“Being around other creative people there was great, even when sometimes we felt completely cut off from what was going on in the ‘real world,’” she says, laughing again. “We just lived and breathed performance, and it’s where I learned how to lay down a vocal mix and put it into the songs I was writing.”
It took a few years for Tālā to share the tracks she’d been tweaking in her bedroom, but once she’d pulled together her three-track EP for a June 2014 release on Aesop Records she moved onto the visuals.
On two separate trips, Tālā flew out to Morocco to shoot videos for singles “Serbia” (directed by Katia Ganfield) and “Alchemy” (directed by Kate Moross). In both cases, she relied on pastiche and subtle hints of Middle Eastern imagery to translate her genre- bending sound into moving images.
“I met both Katia and Kate around the same time, and they immediately understood how I wanted to couple modern cultural fusion with the chaotic culture clash in my music,” she says.
With an EP planned for mid-November, Tālā wants to tighten up her live show. Holed away in her studio, a “safe haven” and solitary sanctuary in lieu of the childhood bedroom where she used to write her songs, she’s devising the best ways to take her one-woman show onstage. In the meantime, what’s her one WILD Wish?
“To continue to do this. To be on this journey, to keep feeling inspired, keep travelling and making new music. I want to continuously grow.”
TALA wears leopard print jumper and jeans by JUST CAVALLI,
crocodile hand cuff by & OTHER STORIES, and her own necklace
Photographer: Arved Colvin-Smith
Stylist: Sabrina J Henry
Hair Stylist: Louis Byrne at The London Style Agency using Oribe hair care
Makeup Artist: Emma Williams using MAC