Source: Oor magazine
Author: Oene Kummer
Date: June 1998.
Translated from Dutch into English and forwarded to the mailing list by T.J.A. van Eijl
With the romantic sensuality of The Cappuccino Songs Tanita Tikaram put a resolute end to her often quite sombre musical past. Younger than before, the 28-year old singer starts the second part of her career. "It was about time to bring out the ABBA-side of my personality" by Oene Kummer
"I was much older then
I'm younger than that now"
BOB DYLAN * 'My back pages'
Exactly ten years ago, in 1988, a only eightteen year old Tikaram breaks through to the big audience with the singles Good Tradition and Twist In My Sobriety, both coming from her debutalbum Ancient Heart. An appropriate title, for inspite of her age the youthfull singer-songwriter, who lives in England but whose roots lie in Fiji and Borneo, appears to have and old soul. Her songs are poetic of nature, her voice heavy as lead. Admirers call her an early adult, critics see an elderly teenager. However it may be, with four million copies sold, Ancient Heart is a cash-succes. How does T.T. (pronounce: Tie Tie) now look back at her lightning start ? "I think I had the luck of beingn such a serious child, because I let all attention just sort off pass me by. Only around '92, '93 it started to get though to me what all had happened. Then I felt a delayed shock-effect. But I slept through the earthquake itself." The (too) quickly after each other recorded albums that followed Ancient Heart; The Sweet Keeper (1990), Everybody's Angel (1991) and Eleven Kinds Of Lonelineness (1992) make, both artistically and commercially, gradually lessening impressions. The after a much needed rest-pause recorded Lovers In The City is a brave attempt to stop the decline, but the stilled result, with programmed drums next to neo-classic strings, is hardly noticed. Record-company Warner has by then long and gone written off the once so enthousiastically launched Tanita Tikaram and refuses to further support her attempts to re-invent herself. "I got clear signals that they found it inappropriate that I wanted to change musical style. That's about the worst thing you can say to an artist. But anyway, record-labels just are like banks: they just want to make a lot of money in a safe way. And Warner may very well be the worst of them. Although this only really got through to me when a friend in New York told me that even little children, who are just rookies in the music-business, know that you shouldn't sign with Warner. Then I felt like a bit of a fool." With a finishing Best Of-compilation her contract gets resolved. "After that I started to enjoy life much more. I did exiting things, like visiting museums, but I also went dancing and partying. I felt much younger then in the years before. If I was to make a new record, it had to reflect some of that happiness. I love the music of Leonard Cohen and Van Morrison, but at the same time I've always been a great ABBA fan. It was about time to bring out the ABBA-side of my personality."
"It's funny but I had no sense
Of living without aim
The day before you came"
ABBA * 'The day before you came'
And so it doesn't have to surprise one that a cover of ABBA's The Day Before You Came graces The Cappuccino Songs. "I find it to be a song with a strong erotic charge. It's clear that the person who has entered the singer's life, turned her whole life upside down. She sounds as if she has had her brains screwed out. But maybe it's just my perverted mind that wants to hear that in it. But that's why it fits so well between the other songs. Because The Cappuccino Songs mainly contains songs which breathe a sweet longing. 'Songs of seduction'. There are also tracks on it that are about the less pleasant things in relations, but the game of seducing and being seduced, has well been the greatest source of inspiration. Nothing is more pleasant than to go and drink a cup of cappuccino with a nice person and then just see how the meeting develops. The biggest kick for me is the moment that you know you're going to sleep with someone. The sex afterwards may be a real dissapointment after that, but the sensation that proceeds it, is just the best." Tanita Tikaram wrote almost all her Cappuccino Songs together with Marco Sabiu, a producer who, among others, worked with Kylie Minogue, Take That and Moby. The fact that Marco was of Italian descent, was more important however. "I love Italians and, eh, Italians quite like me also, in general. That's what my partner says anyway. I just found it important that it 'clicked' personally. Marco and I, we soon discovered that we find the same people and things sexy and that we share a slightly perverse sense of humour. Those are the things that are important. That he, next to all that, also is a classically trained musician and knows his way around in the studio, is of course a nice bonus. He made me sing much higher with my heavy voice than I ever deemed possible. And perhaps because we really wrote the songs together, I didn't feel stressed for one moment if they would be good enough, something I do have when I work alone. When people don't like it now, I'll just pass them through to him. Or not?"
"I'm happy to be here"
TANITA TIKARAM * 'Stop Listening'
Tanita Tikaram is happy to be back amongst the people, so it appears from the opening sentence of the first song on The Cappuccino Songs. Although the, also released on single, Stop Listening in principle is a song about the relation of two people who still love each other, but have nothing left to say, with some good will it can also be seen as a song about the relation between an artist (who has been away for a while) and her audience (who might have forgotten her). Sentences like "Stop listening...start feeling I'm here...I'll always be there," then get an unexpected double meaning. T.T: "That surely is a way in which you can interpret it. I'm alway very curious if these kind of coded messages really get across to the listener. I can imagine that people just put up the CD, start doing the dishes and don't realize that the first lines "I'm happy to be here/I'm happy to be with you" in fact are about my relationship with them. It remains quite an honor if people by your CD. I don't think lightly of it." The artist(e) as a housefriend? The Tanita Tikaram who presents herself as such, makes the loose, selfassured impression of someone who knows that her best time is yet to come. "I think that's because I, this time round, know how I'm made up. I'm one of those people who don't belong anywhere and nowadays I can handle it good. I'm of Asian origin, but was born in Germany and grew up in England. I've tried to feel English, but I've, also because of my descent and the prejudice I've encountered, never felt at home in England. I prefer living on the European mainland. There I feel more at ease, just because I'm a stranger there." Stop Listening a song bathing in a sea of swirling and waving strings, is exemplary for the goods offered on The Cappuccino Songs. Was T.T. aware that mid-1998 it would be very fashionable to work with strings? "No, but also for me it isn't the first time that I'm doing it. That's why I didn't think about it any further. I'm not surprised that it was just Madonna who was among the first to make violins hip again. She has a nose for those kind of things." T.T. appears to have a lot of appreciation for Madonna, perhaps also because La Ciccone in a recent interview mentioned to have listed a lot to La Tanita's albums. "Well, she just always had good taste, hasn't she?"
Although The Cappuccino Songs is a real pop-record, which, in spite of some modern aproaches, has little to do with dance, T.T. does have an outspoken opinion about why many contemporary dance acts are busy with strings at the moment. Resolute: "Strings are the only instruments which have enough warmth to compensate the coldness of those mechanical beats." With which T.T. doesn't want to say that she dislikes dance. On the contrary. "But instead of listening to something purposely difficult like intelligent bass - just the name of it, my goodness - I rather dance till I drop on something simple and soulful of Ultra Nate." She puts her words into action and starts to sing full-out: "You're free.... to do what you want to do!" T.T. grabbed the freedom to experiment with her own music with both hands, when she got hold of a record of the Finnish folkgroup Varttina. The sampled result can be heard in the song I Don't Wanna Lose At Love. "They're in the credits as co-writers, but i've never met them. I'm curious what they think of the song. Next to a new album, T.T. also found a new record-label (the once U2-founded Mother records, now mainly known because of Bjork) and, dare we say it, created a new personality for herself. But, in a time when Sharleen Spiteri of Texas is comfortably writhing herself against Method Man from Wu-Tang Clan and Natalie Imbruglia is allready lasting longer than many ever deemed possible, is there still a place for an other, still quite young, singer with brown hair and dito eyes? Tanita Tikaram is making a noticeably relaxed impression when she philosophisies about her chances. "It may be the Asian woman within me that can't be too bothered with that. I want to have fun in what I do, but it's not in me to get into drugs if things don't go the way I'd hoped. I'll never have the idea that I've failed because I had my biggest succes at eightteen. That just had to be, I think then. And after that it's time for a nice cup of cappuccino again."