Nataal exclusive: Tawiah shares her video Back Again featuring Wanlov and discusses debuting new music at Africa Utopia
Tawiah blew the proverbial doors off when she first stepped into the UK’s alternative soul scene in 2008. Then only 18, her self released debut EP In Jodi’s Bedroom received rave reviews, earned her Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Awards for Best Newcomer and secured a two-year world tour with Mark Ronson supporting Jay-Z. She went on to collaborate with numerous musicians including Cee-Lo, Wale, Guy Chambers, Wiley, Dev Hynes, Ghostpoet, Corinne Bailey Rae and The Guillemots, not to mention grace every stage there is from Glastonbury to Coachella. There has been more singles and her name resonates with anyone with a love of authentic, experimental music. But she’s also been notable by her absence over the past couple of years. That is about to change with her performance at Africa Utopia’s Friday Tonic this weekend and soon-come, long-anticipated debut album.
“I’ve been off the radar working on my album so Africa Utopia will be the first time performing the new material. It’s going to be a fresh experience for me and my band,” she explains. “It’s exciting to be sharing again, doing shows again. This is a super honest, super raw album. I really wanted the foundation to be live so I got all of my wonderful musician friends into the studio for a week’s lock in.” The results are two EPs and an album encompassing 21 songs produced by Sam Beste. The first fruits Dirty Water will surface in November.
“Chapter one is quite reflective. It talks about the struggles I’ve been through as an artist. Life is so real!” she says, laughing softly. “But it’s hopeful too; a listening EP. I speak about being in a position where I had a label and management who weren’t on the same page as me. Staying true to my artistry meant stepping back. I took time out and I went to New York with my guitar to do solo shows. Feeling absolutely naked in my self-expression and building it back up has been an interesting journey and one I’m very grateful for. So chapter two is more up-tempo and then on chapter three you’ll get it all.”
Born in south London to Ghanaian parents, she started singing in a church band brilliantly titled Sisters of Praise. Her mum loved gospel, her dad jazz and blues and her uncle introduced her to hip hop. (“At primary school I was listening to Erykah Badu while everyone else was into the Spice Girls.”) An all-rounder, she was also selected for Chelsea Football Club’s ladies team but choose music over the beautiful game when accepted into the famed Brit School for performing arts. She hit the live music circuit well before she was of legal age to be attending the venues she played in and spent several years on the road before taking that much-needed time out.
“It’s exciting to be sharing again, doing shows again. This is a super honest, super raw album”
She has always found respite and inspiration in Ghana too. “We’d go as kids and have fun chasing chickens around the compound. Then when my first record came out it was MySpace times and I got a message from a radio station in Accra asking me to come through. It blew my mind that they were playing my music over there. It was an amazing feeling. I’ve been building up relationships ever since.”
Her last visit in 2014 was for her great grandmother’s 100th birthday (“She’s still going strong now at 103!”) but she still found the time to make a song and video with Wanlov the Kubolor of FOKN Bois fame. The results of which, Back Again, have gone unseen… until now. Nataal exclusively debuts this video as a taster of things to come. “I'm putting it out there now as a one-off vibe because the song is so in line with Africa Utopia,” she says. “Wanlov and I recorded with (producer) Kweku Ananse and then shot the video with (director) Mantse Aryeequaye. You see me picking out some fabric and get a shirt made by a tailor and it gives a real snapshot of what market life is like in Accra. The song itself is a bit of a rant about the music industry but it’s also saying that we’ll always bounce back and find peace, happiness and joy in our creativity.” See you down the front.
Tawiah presents Friday Tonic at the Royal Festival Hall Centre Bar as part of Southbank Centre's Africa Utopia on 2 September at 5.30pm. She then performs at the Ace Hotel in London on 7 October
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