By Mike Powell
Do you know Tanya Tiet? (Pronounced tee-yay) Perhaps you were in Spain last year, or France, Germany or Holland earlier this year. Then you may have caught her touring singing with Sister Sledge, with Kool and the Gang and Chic. No? Well maybe you caught her last fall at the Arizona Jazz Festival singing back up for Jamie Foxx. Still no? Did you see her in New York opening the funk rock band Living Color? No worries, just go to Michael’s Café most Friday evenings and you can catch the Tanya Tiet experience live and in person.
Tanya Tiet may be a new name to some but to connoisseurs of Neo Soul music she is a true virtuoso. She has a dreamy voice that is perfectly suited to the lyrical Neo Soul sound. Tiet is an accomplished performer who strikes immediate rapport with her audience and delivers the song, the message, and the mood with skillful dexterity. She can cover a wide variety of musical styles translating whatever she sings through her intriguing grace into her own sound.
I caught up with Tanya one day prior to her leaving for Geneva, Switzerland for another European set with Sister Sledge. This was as she and producer Paris Toon put the finishing touches on her new CD titled “Tanya Tiet” to be released in July.
I asked Tanya to tell me about her start as a singer, she said: “I knew I wanted to sing by the time I was five or six years old, but I used to be very shy. I used to perform in my room for my stuffed animals.”
When asked what brought her out of her shell she said: “I brought me out of my shell. I responded to an ad in a local newspaper, when I was back in New York, for a band that needed a singer. I said, I’m gonna try this.” She admitted that the audition was a disaster but soon afterwards she got another chance to audition and was able to land a job singing with a band.
When asked how she stays grounded in the volatile music business she told me: “It’s a conscious choice to remain who you are. How you maintain that, is to really make a choice to. The business is not easy. I’m a pretty even tempered anyway, so getting caught up in the nonsense of it doesn’t make it easier you learn that early on. I choose to operate on an even keel as they say. All creative people tend to be temperamental, I’m no different it’s just how you choose how to direct it.”
Tiet is featured on the New Sound Network compilation album titled “Paris Toon presents Mother’s Favorite Child.” The CD also features local Neo Soul artist IAM Jones, Nik West, Morris Alan, Meelah the Artist, and Ted Belledin.
On it, Tiet is showcased on songs “The Promise” “Gently” and “Until Now.” I asked her to take me in to the inner sanctum of the recording studio by letting me know if her bright and bubbly public persona had a dark side during recording sessions. Her response: “I’m pretty much the same on or off but in the studio I’m a little more quiet I’m not quite as animated … people tell me that I’m mostly smiling, I’m always happy, and that’s mostly true. But I’m more focused in the studio especially during writing sessions. I try to build off the mood I’m very much in the moment, I work in the moment.”
When asked about collaborating on songs with Paris Toon she said: “The song Promise was a collaboration. He wrote the lyrics and we sat in the room we listened to music and I came up with the melody and he loved it, thank goodness, I was pleased. My new CD is a collaboration as well, featuring some of my lyrical ideas because I do write and we are excited we are pretty proud of it.
Traditionally Black music is thought of as gospel, blues, jazz, R&B, and hip hop. Most of Tanya’s music is classified as Neo Soul; I asked her to help define this off main stream genre, by asking what does neo-soul mean to you? She answered: “Neo-soul to me maintains the elements of true soul music but also maintains the elements of jazz. The two flavors together somehow bring up Neo Soul. Another element of Neo Soul is that it tends to be lyric driven in a more creative way. Many poets can easily fit into the neo-soul genre…many people don’t know that Jill Scott is actually a poet, and she is one of the pioneers of neo- soul music.”
I asked to tell me more about the new CD. “I can’t wait to get it out there and share it with the folks.” Tiet added, “But I also have a couple of others (albums) on the burner. I think people will be surprised I don’t want to give out too much information about it. Paris (Toon) and I have been working very intensely on releasing music and writing a lot more music in many different styles. There will be some other stuff and suspires in store for anybody who follows my music. I can’t wait to expose them. Some of the newer songs will feature lyrics that are written by me.”
Finally, I asked Tanya to tell me what she wants to accomplish with her music: “I am really hoping particularly through my live performances that we can expose more and more of this music to the listening audience so they can become familiar again with messages in music and conversations through music and conversations with the folks in our community so they can start feeling good about themselves and about love.
“We are trying to bring positivity back to the music scene though lyrics through really good music, our spin on it, we’re trying to maintain the integrity of music by using live instruments. Live instruments that are beautiful the sound that live instruments make are beautiful…their voices, they should be utilized a lot more than they are. So we’re trying to bring that back which creates a better atmosphere for music for people – listeners of music. It makes you feel good when people feel good they want other people to feel good.”
Shortly after this interview Paris Toon announced via facebook that Tanya new single “Beautiful” reached #1 on the Neo Soul Charts. You can listen to samples of “Tanya Tiet” on her website www.tanyatiet.com or at www.azinformant.com. Give it a try it just might make you want to start a conversation or perhaps, just feel good!