Beyond the streetcars and concrete that inhabit our city, Toronto, lives a young woman who with strong words and passionate voice, has started a revolution, breaking down the invisible walls of genre and society standards for truthful music. Her name is Saidah Baba Talibah, and she is a musical artist to watch! Saidah has worked with Jully Black and K-OS, to name a few, and her first album (S)Cream showcased a talent that soars through personal lyrics. We were excited to speak with Saidah about her journey as a singer/songwriter, her influences, her views on music and her involvement with the TD Toronto Jazz Festival where she will be opening for Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue Wednesday, June 27 at Nathan Phillips Square.
Trying to find your way is a journey you start from the time you’re a baby. Finding the answer to ‘What is me?’~ Saidah
Q. You come from a very artistic family! How did this influence your choice to become a musician?
It was my biggest influence, seeing my mother perform! My mother’s a singer, Salome Bey and she was pregnant with me while performing on Broadway.That was a huge influence, In utero! Being born into that world was my first major influence. My uncle is a singer, my aunts, my cousins, sister. Being born into a world like that is like being born in a family of doctors. It’s like the family business.
It must have been great having the support of a family that knows exactly what you’re going through.
Definitely. I’m going to New York to do some song writing and I have family in New York and we just bounce things off each other and asking advice because we are all in different aspects of a music career.
That’s a very powerful thing, to have that support of an artistic family. You’re very blessed with that.
When I was growing up, I grew up on FAME (television series) and I said to my mom, ‘Mom, I want to go to a school like that!’ So she found me a school like that and there wasn’t a question of, ‘No, You need to become a doctor,’ because my mother wanted to become a lawyer, but music took over.
Q. Was it difficult for you to find your true voice & sound? You are a strong vocalist and songwriter, but we wonder if it was a process to to be where you are now?
I can say that I’m still looking for my sound. I know that on the first album people said it was all over the place while sometimes as people this is how we are. We listen to all different types of music. I listen to all types of music and it stirs my soul. So on my first album that is how I felt I needed to represent myself, you know? Like, ‘This is Me.’ I know for the next album, it’s not going to be necessarily a different sound, maybe evolving into a focused sound, a more consistent sound, but it’s a journey, a journey of life itself. One criteria for my music is it has to move me, in my body. Because I was a dance major in school, I just like the move. So if it moves me, I’m good!
Q. Fans and media alike say your are The City. You’re raw and urban like Toronto. How much do the streets of Toronto influence your songwriting?
I grew up in Toronto, so I’m going to be influenced and inspired by what’s around me. I write about the people around me, the people I meet, and the experiences I have, so yes. That is how Toronto inspires me! It nurtured me and bought me up into the family.
Q. You’re a very adventurous artist, always trying different things. You don’t stick with a formula. How important is it for a musician to experiment freely with music & words?
I think it’s extremely important to experiment and try to do things outside of your boundary because that is how you grow. That’s how you grow as a person. Formula, and I’m not knocking it at all, but Formula is safety. Formula is, you know you can make money, you’ve got a place for yourself on radio, you know you’ve got a place for yourself on The Top 40, you know that you don’t have to break ground. When you are experimenting and pushing boundaries and going to places where the popular people don’t go to, it’s a difficult road and it’s a very rewarding road, because you are doing it for yourself. I know that people that are doing something different are definitely doing it for themselves. People that are underground, and there are millions of people making music that millions and billions of people don’t even know! And they are brilliant musicians.
You are so right! There is, like, a creative boom going on. Many amazing musicians and artists are just out there doing it for themselves! They just enjoy doing what they do.
It’s almost like we’ve reverted back to the 1960s and 1970s where there was really a lot of really good music, but when I look back on each and every era, there’s always stuff that we all missed. In the 1980s there was great music that we missed under the surface and in the 1990s too! The stuff that made it to the surface was great, but the stuff below the surface, we hear it now and go, ‘Where the hell did this come from??’
Then you say, “How did I miss this track?”
Exactly! So there is a heap of music that is always discoverable, and this supports and encourages people to experiment because someone will hear you. Someone will discover you and love you eventually, down the line. If you want it now, go with the formula, but if you want it to simmer and live for life….
Q. Let’s talk a minute about your look and style. What does your style say about you and how does it help your entire performance?
I want it to say, Fearless, Sexy and Powerful. That’s what I’d like it to inspire, to be fearless, sexy, and powerful. I think everything is a part of the whole. The music, the look, all of it is repeating a mantra to yourself and pumping yourself up. If I don’t feel like I look right or feel comfortable (Fearless, Sexy, Powerful) I’m probably not going to walk up on stage with that feeling. If I’m not feeling the rehearsals I had with my band, or not comfortable with the song yet, I’m probably not going to feel fearless, sexy and powerful , so it’s all part of the whole.
Q. Would you ever consider a side career in fashion?
Oh my God! Really! I have never been asked this question before! It’s funny, because in a way, I always have. As a little kid I would draw things I liked but something that I love doing is cutting t-shirts. That’s me, in terms of reshaping something that’s already there. I’ve thought about starting a line of t-shirts cut by myself but yeah, that’s something that I’ll think about more. In terms of designing stuff, that’s a big possibility. Maybe.
Q. You are performing at the TD Toronto Jazz Festival this year. What can fans old and new expect from your live performance? Some will learn that Jazz isn’t exactly what they thought right?
I’ve had people come up to me after shows and say, ‘Your show and your music is not what I expected’. I don’t know what it is they expect, but it was not what they expected. In terms of the being in the Jazz Festival, I grew up in a house where the family was really based upon Jazz roots. My mother instilled in me that Jazz is not a genre, but a feeling, so people coming to a Jazz festival shouldn’t base it on a genre. Jazz is an expression. It’s about how am I going to move from this next, how am I going to improvise with this. We come back to life again. What is the decision I’m going to make? That is Jazz.
I know as kids, we had a perception of what Jazz was, but festivals like this opened our minds and we aren’t so closed minded anymore when it comes to music.
My guitar player Donna Grantis put out a jazz album, but when you listen to it, you would think it’s a rock album. If you get into genres, by the way I really hate genres because it really limits people and it give a preconceived idea of what is going on and it’s kind of like telling someone the end of the story before they had a chance to read it themselves and interpret it for themselves, so apparently there’s a hard-rock jazz category, but what does that really mean? We live in a world where Music is. It just is. You pull from influences and whatever you create is what you create!
Q. How do you keep things on track, keep strong and motivated with your music? Especially when people are in a way, watching you (fans, industry & media)?
I do feel like I put a lot of pressure on myself to achieve a certain thing. On the first album it was just as overwhelming as this next album I’m working on. In terms of trying to stay motivated and not so overwhelmed, I kind of almost have to forget everyone and just remind myself to focus on me and what I want to do and what makes me happy. Because once I get all caught up in other people and trying to please other people, again, back to life! It’s like we’re having a life conversation. When I get caught up in other people’s sh*t and all that, it’s less about me and everything becomes overwhelming. So, that’s my focus to keep me motivated.
Q. Lastly, how proud were you when you found out your song, Revolution, would be featured on the Chevrolet Volt commercials and how did the song get picked up?
The song was started for the commercial. So it was pitched for the commercial and then became a full song. For it to be picked up for the commercial before it was a song was just as great and exciting as a complete song being picked up for a commercial. I was super excited that it was for the Chevrolet Volt! I’m an advocate for healthy food and living as a way of life. It’s cool to be picked up by a car commercial, but that it’s in line with my values. I’m so blessed and appreciative of the people discovering me through Revolution. It’s such a heavy word and it stands for everything we stand up for.
See Saidah Baba Talibah LIVE June 27th, at Nathan Phillips Square!