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February 2021

Getting to know... Elan Tamara

Elan Tamara is one of the standout acts in London’s jazz-for-people-who-don’t-usually-like-jazz scene.
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Published: 10:42 am, July 20, 2020
Getting to know... Elan Tamara

BRIT School? Check. Studying music at university? Check. Notable team ups and plenty of co-signs? Check. Elan Tamara is a force to be reckoned with. Collaborating with label boss Kwes and pop fave Georgia for her intimate-yet-playful new single ‘My Eyes’, she’s on the verge of something very exciting indeed.

Hi Elan Tamara, what are you up to? Launching a new song must be a bit nerve-wracking.

I've been doing a lot of gardening at my allotment which has been a great way to spend life in lockdown. Watching so much YouTube foodie, music and gardening channels! Also have a nine-month-old baby so she keeps me extremely busy, which has kinda meant no time to be nerve-wracked!

Where did 'My Eyes' come from? Is it a personal one?

It came from a long-distance relationship I was in (at the time) with my now-husband. It really came from a piano composition, and I tried to weave the words to fit the mood of the music.

What do you most enjoy writing about? Do you have any themes or feelings you find yourself returning to?

That's a tough one! To be honest, I would write about anything. Primarily I find myself writing from observations of ourselves, behaviour patterns and how our world views inform that.

It sounds like your new material is really collaborative, how did you team up with both Kwes and Georgia? Have you known them long?

Yes, I love to utilise the skills of other friends who are musicians, I am not really a believer in trying to do it all yourself if you aren't the best person for the job!
I met Kwes via MySpace (way back when) and Georgia I met via our train journeys to Brit School together. We used to jam in the foyer a lot! Georgia also went to SOAS with me, we have all known each other for a very long while!

How's Walthamstow for up-and-coming musicians? Is there a lot going on?

I've actually found that quite a few industry types live in Walthamstow these days. There are quite a few jazz musicians too. When I was growing up the music culture I experienced largely came via my Dad and secondary school, I had a very enthusiastic and encouraging music teacher.

When you're not making music, what do you do for fun?

I spend a lot of time gardening at my allotment plot. I also love making clothes for myself (although with a baby I have very little time for that)! Baking and cooking. Having a 9month old baby is a lot of fun too, lots of smiles!

"I met Kwes via MySpace..."
Elan Tamara

When did you first realise you had a talent for music, did it come hand-in-hand with wanting to perform?
I actually started playing sax when I was in primary school, and I think that is probably what really really got me into music. Before that my parents had bought me a little keyboard and I spent a lot of time learning the songs from its memory bank, I think that's what started me off on the musical journey.
I also used to hate performing, my parents always wanted me to play piano pieces to guests who would come by, and I would always refuse. However, I think all the performances I did at Brit School were what helped me to really enjoy performing.

did you listen to while you were growing up, have those musicians stayed with you as an adult?
Wow, my Dad is the music man, we listened to a lot of varied music. Steely Dan, Tito Puente, Fela Kuti, Simon and Garfunkel, Shakti, Stevie Wonder, Rick James, John Martyn, Parliament/Funkadelic, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan... the list really goes on and on and on!
Yes, I still love and listen to music from my childhood all the time. Dad has good taste.

Studying ethnomusicology at SOAS sounds fascinating, had you already started to break into music as a career at that point?

My Dad was actually the one who suggested the idea of going to SOAS. At the time he saw that I found music from difficult cultures really interesting. I got exposed to so many different types of music while I was there and developed a real love for Balinese gamelan. While I was at SOAS I was playing quite a few gigs, a great memory was playing at Gilles Peterson's Worldwide Awards.

How did the course impact you, has what you learnt influenced your sound or way of working at all?

I'd say the course further opened my mind to different music from different cultures, it definitely influenced my sound. The interlocking layers of piano I tend to play are heavily influenced by Balinese gamelan and gamelan gender wayang (shadow puppet gamelan), which I was also playing so much of at the time.

What or where is your favourite place to look for ideas?

The piano is my favourite place, doesn't matter where it is. Ideas/songs tend to come from improvising with chords, which eventually become sequences that I feel fit nicely together. Lyrically it's quite similar, it develops quite organically, I often have no idea what subject matter I'm writing about until I actually start adding words.

What have you got coming up?

Lots more singles, an album too, so keep your ears peeled. Other than that, lots of chasing after the baby! Haha!

Taken from the July issue of Dork, out now.

July 2020
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