Tanita Tikaram Biography
Last updated: 05/03/2009 12:00:00 PM
Tanita Tikaram: the name is as memorable as her music -- distinctive, idiosyncratic, exotic. And it's that same haunting originality that comes to life on Lovers In The City, the singer and songwriter's latest release on Reprise Records.
As an eighteen-year-old, fresh out of school, Tanita Tikaram swept into international prominence during the New Waif era of the late Eighties, and has since pulled out far ahead of the pack with a sound and style completely her own. While her emergence might seem like the quintessential bolt from the blue, in point of fact, Tanita's remarkable musical history stretches back considerably further.
Tanita Tikaram was born in Munster, Germany where her father, an Indian-Fijian British Army officer, was stationed with his Malaysian wife. It was Tanita's mother who gave her daughter that euphonious first name, for no other reason than its melodious sound.
Melody, along with harmony, lyrics and rhythm, were a central part of the Tikaram household from Tanita's childhood on. "My brother would do Elvis impersonations," she recalls, "and I would back him up on the harmonies. I loved The Beatles as well as soul and country music, with all those wonderful tragic tunes and straight-from-the-heart lyrics. I grew up listening to a whole range of women singers in the '70s, from Karen Carpenter and Linda Ronstadt to Rita Coolidge and Crystal Gayle."
The Tikaram family relocated to England when Tanita was twelve, settling in suburban Basingstoke. Her sense of isolation in her new environs drove her further into music and by the time she was sixteen, she was writing her own original songs. Characteristically, her lyrical and compositional influences were eclectic and wide-ranging, from Virginia Woolf and West Side Story to the confessional musings of Joni Mitchell and John Lennon.
Taking a year off before beginning her college studies, Tanita secured a day job selling advertising and used the proceeds to finance a demo tape. It was that tape that fell into the hands of agent and manager Paul Charles, who, after seeing Tanita perform at an open-mike night in a London club, immediately took her under his wing. Literally within weeks, she had landed opening spots supporting the likes of Paul Brady, Warren Zevon and Jonathan Richman. The next step was inevitable: a record company bidding war that ended when the young artist signed to WEA in the UK and Reprise for the U.S. By the summer of that year, 1988, she had released her first single, Good Tradition, an immediate Top Ten hit. Tanita was eighteen years old.
The song was followed by her first album, Ancient Heart, produced by Peter Van Hooke and Rod Argent. It went on to sell four million copies worldwide and launched Tanita's career as a world class performer. Two more albums, The Sweet Keeper (1990) and Everybody's Angel (1991), consolidated her reputation as a singer and songwriter of rare range and resonance.
The 1992 release of Eleven Kinds Of Loneliness -- its title taken from a classic collection of short stories by American author Richard Yates -- was Tanita's first solo production and served as an homage to still more of her favorite artists, including Nina Simone, Phil Spector, The Beatles and Ry Cooder.
After so prolonged a period of creative activity, Tanita took a well-deserved sabbatical over the next two years, but typically for this prolific artist, she used the time to further refine her songwriting skills. And when not putting her own words to her own music, she found herself increasingly in demand as a collaborator, contributing tracks to the Bronte Brothers' album, The Way Through The Woods, and teaming with Christie Hennessy for his album, Lord of Your Eyes. She was commissioned by the BBC to set music to the poetry of Stevie Smith and contributed to the annual Abitare III Tempo exhibition in Italy.
With so busy a schedule, she naturally limited her live appearances to a choice few, including a Nanci Griffiths appearance at the Royal Albert Hall. It was also a period of extensive travel for Tanita, including sojourns in China, France, Romania, Italy and San Francisco. Eventually, she settled in Los Angeles, to begin work on what would become her fifth album, Lovers In The City.
For a woman who had written her second album while touring for the first and who'd taken just a month to write her third, the opportunity to spend nearly two years writing and recording was an entirely new experience. "When I started this album, I had to work hard to recover some of the confidence I'd lost over a period of time. It didn't take long to regain it, and I used that momentum to go on and produce half of the tracks myself. I find that I'm no longer afraid to say what I feel."
Those feelings have found their full expression on the ten new tracks of Lovers In The City with the able assistance of co-producer Thomas Newman. A film composer with such enviable credits as Scent Of A Woman and Fried Green Tomatoes, Newman was a key factor in bringing a new richness and emotional authenticity to Tanita's work, without sacrificing the elliptical and often even mystical elements of her earlier work. "One hopes as one gets older that your work becomes simpler, more direct," says Tanita. "A song like Happy Taxi is just about looking forward to leaving one place and arriving at another. Feeding The Witches is a simple metaphor about prejudice, while Bloodlines was inspired by living in Los Angeles. People say this city is cursed with riots, fire and floods. But it's also a city where people go to create a new life."
The consummate creativity that comprises Lovers In The City has already attracted critical raves. Released earlier this year in the UK, the album marks, according to London's Hot Press, "...her evolution into one of the finest female singer/songwriters of the present generation." "Tanita is back," enthused The London Times, "with what sounds like her strongest album yet," while New Musical Express singled out Tanita as someone "worthy of sharing lunch with Tori, Björk or Kate Bush."
Lovers In The City, featuring the brand new single I Might Be Crying, is indeed a musical feast. Its arrival marks the long-awaited return of one of the most engaging, intuitive and richly gifted artists on the contemporary musical soundscape.