Tanita Tikaram

Signed to a major label as a teenager, Tanita Tikaram’s debut album ‘Ancient Heart’ released in 1988 sold over five million copies and established her as a major worldwide artist. Tikaram was defined by her unique voice and her direct and haunting self-penned songs such as ‘Twist In My Sobriety’ and ‘Good Tradition’, folk pop songs written as an escape from her studies. This British voice defined a generation and now she is returning with arguably the best album she has written in 20 years.

She recalls her fast rise to fame;

“Being famous was a huge shock,” she remembers. “But I always kept a certain distance from it. Being successful gave me freedom to make the records I wanted and, just as importantly, to not make the ones I didn’t want. It’s much harder being famous for those who make it now that it was for me. I could keep my privacy.”

After ‘Ancient Heart’, she built a formidable, widely respected body of work that is reminiscent of Laura Marling, Adele, and Gillian Welch among others.

“I was influenced and formed by old records from classic singers like Nina Simone and Ella Fitzgerald, and those sounds have become part of music again.

You know what they say: good things take a little longer. It’s been seven years since ‘Sentimental’, Tanita Tikaram’s sixth and most recent album. Now, at last, comes ‘Can’t Go Back’, her most rewarding album yet.

She was inspired by her new found love of Americana, by the union of country and soul by Motown and Chess, and by singers such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Dusty Springfield, Don Williams, Paul Simon and the long-lost Marie Knight, Tanita went straight to the heart of what moved her heart.
“I can’t put anything out until it’s good enough, it has to feel right. It took a year to find the right producer!”

I wanted to merge sincerity of performance with movement and groove and then to merge English originality and quirkiness with American warmth and openness. I’m not a poet and I didn’t want something that sounded like I was reciting poetry. Paul Bryan who produced the album has worked with Allen Toussaint, he’s a consummate musician and he understood straight away. I made him laugh and he made me feel involved.”

Paul Bryan (Aimee Mann, Grant Lee Phillips, Nina Nastasia), keyboardist Keefus Ciancia (B.B. King, T.Bone Burnett, Elton John, Everlast), Ray LaMontagne’s drummer Jay Bellerose and guitarist Mark Creswell (Tanita’s creative partner and co-songwriter since before she had a deal), lovingly crafted ‘Cant go Back’ in the Sound Factory Los Angeles. It proved to be a musical coming home for Munster-born, Basingstoke-raised daughter of Fijian/Malaysian parents. The finished result is a warm, uplifting convergence of Tanita’s fabulously sensual voice and an often raggedy sound, full of joyous clatter courtesy of Bellerose’s World War II-era wooden drums.

“He plays very quietly,” explains Tanita. “But he gives this big sound. Unusually for a drummer, he follows the lyrics before anything else. Keefus played nearly everything live and Mark has this love of old soul and reggae records.”
And, perhaps unusually for a Tanita Tikaram record, ‘Can’t Go Back’ is mostly happy.

“It is, but it’s full of sweet melancholy too,” she purrs. “There’s sex, there’s nostalgia and there’s freedom. The song, ‘Dust On My Shoes’, is all about how you can be free from people’s conceptions of you, if you want and how, while I don’t have faith, I do believe and I do strive to have an open mind. More than any other, that song encapsulates me.”

The courtly gentleman that is Grant Lee Phillips adds his vocal voodoo to ‘All Things To You’ and ‘Keep It Real’, but the real joy is that voice of Tanita Tikaram’s set against those mesmeric soundscapes.

“It turned out more even special than the ideas I’d originally had,“ she smiles. “It feels like I’ve finally grown into my voice, y’know. That’s a great feeling.”

Tanita Tikaram hasn’t played live British dates since 1991′s ‘Everybody’s Angel’ album and is excited to be playing live once again.

“I can’t wait. It’s dipping my toe into the water since I don’t know what it’s like to actually sing to people any more and it’s as if there’s been a connection missing in my work.”

‘Can’t Go Back’ is Tanita Tikaram at her peak;

“I’d like it to be successful,” she explains. “And there’s no shame in that, not least since I feel like I’m leading a team these days rather than being on my own. I’d like people to be listening to it in a decade’s time, but most of all I’d like to have made an album people love. That’s all, really.”

Tanita Tikaram will release her new album in 2012.