Author: Michael A. Lerner
Date: May 1, 1989
These days there are plenty of teen girl singers whimpering their way through the Top 40. But 19-year-old Tanita Tikaram is not knock-off Madonna of the shopping malls, and her debut album Ancient Heart, which topped the charts in Britain, is no pop retread. True to the album's title, Tikaram's deep, husky voice projects the world-weary maturity of a seasoned dreamer. Her music, soft, serious and intricate, seems to ring with years of careful honing. "People should just get on with their lives," says Tikaram, "and not think about about what age they are."
The eclecticism of Tikaram's music mirrors her background. Born to a Fijian British Army officer and a Malaysian mother, she spent her early years in West Germany. She moved to Hampshire, England in her teens and spent her free time devouring books; Virginia Woolf and T. S. Eliot were two of her favorite writers. Two years ago she retrieved a guitar she had lent to her older brother. "I didn't know how to play any songs, so I wrote my own," she says. Less than a year later, she audaciously booked herself into a London club and soon had the major record labels pounding at her door. Her tastes in pop music are characteristically highbrow: Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Van Morrison.
Tikaram bristles at the suggestion that she is part of a post-feminist movement of singer-songwriters. "There isn't a movement, although there is an increased public appetite for songs which are coming straight from the heart," she says. Her lyrics are enigmatic: "I need time to complicate you," she sings, "to make you hate the things you might have done." So is the way she described them. "One part elaborate code, one part of feet-off-the-ground logic," she says. Yet the public seems in tune with her. Ancient Heart has sold almost 2 million copies worldwide and is rapidly climbing the American charts. She is currently receiving raves on a five-week U.S. tour. Still, Tikaram remains unfazed by her sudden success. "This is what I do. I enjoy doing it. I don't really see myself as some sort of celebrity," she says. With that kind of levelheaded perspective, Tikaram seems destined to make defiantly untrendy music for a long time to come.