Hi Miriam, welcome to VENTS! How have you been? Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Who We”? Did any event in particular inspired you to write this song?
Doing great, thank you! So excited to connect with VENTS! “Who We” is really a call to draw on inner strength and courage throughout the quest for freedom, and was originally inspired by my time working in post-conflict Uganda. Every human is born into a set of circumstances beyond their control, and those circumstances shape their reality and journey. I think we have this idea that we’re trapped within our circumstances, or the constrains of our beliefs or society- but I’ve seen people from all backgrounds, in even what may seem like the most dire situation, find different ways to empower themselves, and bring meaning to their own lives- which to me is freedom. I found my freedom when I moved abroad and slowly let go of all of the societal rules, constraints and judgments I’d grown up with- when I opened myself up to the physical and emotional journey.
Please tell us about the video for the single – where did you film it? You really look like you are caught up in the music and the rhythm of the song and enjoying yourself. Did you find yourself getting carried away in the music during filming? Was it as fun to film as it looks?
What a labor of love! This was a true team effort with my dear and talented friend Liv Colliander, who directed, edited and brought the whole magical crew together. We scouted incredible landscapes throughout Southern California to inspire the nomadic narrative, and ended up shooting in Idyllwild, Glamis Sand Dunes, and the Salton Sea. We actually ended up having some extreme weather during the shoot- it was absolutely freezing, and we were dodging rain and windstorms! The highlight was definitely running barefoot through the dunes at sunrise in wild winds with that long fabric train! To keep the shots clean, I couldn’t retrace my footsteps, so I had to cross a lot of dunes! There were definitely a couple faceplants, but it was a blast- really fantastical!
The single comes off your new album Firedance – what’s the story behind the EP (and song) title?
I wrote the EP when I moved back to the US, after living in Uganda for 5 years. A large part of the reason I moved back was to more fully pursue my music career, but this was still a major transition. I had recently lost my best friend, so I was in a compounded state of mourning her loss, mourning the loss of my life in Uganda, in a long-distance relationship with my Ugandan partner, and trying to build a life and career in Los Angeles. I was processing a lot of emotions, trying to hold onto the values I’d embraced in Uganda- being present, being connected and open- and trying to grow, to keep pushing on in the journey, even when it’s hard- this collection of songs was my catharsis. Firedanceis the title track because it’s my rallying cry, for myself and for others, to fight for your fears and go for it- chase your dreams, “jump into the fire.” It’s about self-empowerment.
What is your general writing process?
My best ideas come to me almost out of nowhere- in the car, in the shower, in the middle of the night. I’ll just hear a chant, refrain or line in my head, then repeat it over and over until I can find some paper or my phone to record a voice memo! I take these seeds and write more sections of the song, and then I usually like to build the rhythm bed with some simple instrumentation to more fully develop the concept before I complete the lyrics. For me, lyrics are part of a textural landscape- so I’m always imagining what will the percussion feel like? What’s the mood, the imagery? When I’m collaborating, it’s often more of a reverse-engineering situation, where you have an instrumental first, and you have to build the melody and lyrics around what already exists.
How did you record the album? Were all the musicians in the studio together or did you record parts at a time? It sounds live.
I worked with my producer, Michael McGregor, for several months exploring different worldbeat fusion sounds and building the tracks. From the start, I knew I wanted live percussion and live bass, as those live elements add so much vibe, energy and soul. Michael played some of the keys live, and once we had solid rough tracks with rough vocals, we brought the bass and percussion into the studio together to record live. After that, we finished building the tracks and I recorded the final vocals.
How has your upbringing influenced you as an artist?
Both of my parents are in the field of mental health, so we grew up talking a lot about feelings- both in terms of being introspective, and being empathetic! My father worked on a lot of international child development programs, so he traveled quite a bit, and always shared stories with us. We went on some pretty incredible trips as a family, and when I was 9 we went to South Africa. We visited some programs in the Townships, and I was so struck by the extreme poverty, set against the explosive colors, vibrancy and sense of aliveness. This was my first taste of the power of human resiliency- and it’s something that has stuck with me. It lead me to study Peace & Justice Studies, and to work and live abroad in East Africa, and now to make music that explores themes of empowerment, shared humanity, self-discovery and resiliency.
Was there a big shift when you went to Uganda or did you find it to be more of a building process / evolution?
I had already dipped my toes a bit into East African life- I volunteered for two summers during university, and studied for a semester abroad in Tanzania. But moving to rural post-conflict Uganda, and trying to build a sustainable peace education program with local partners- that was a whole new experience. But it wasn’t just the work- it was trying to build a life, a find a sense of belonging and community, as this was my new home. There are so many stages of cultural immersion- the longer I stayed, the more I learned, and the more I realized there was to learn! I think there are the immediate physical things that you have to get used to- like cold tap water, unreliable electricity, limited internet, new food, the heat…But then there’s an evolution where you learn about the culture, and can appreciate how the society operates, and their value system, and you can reflect on this. This evolving set of perspectives, with so much diversity and beauty, really energized me and opened my mind.
How did you choose which genres and styles to play and write?
I’m inspired by so many genres. While I was in Uganda, I worked with a traditional percussion ensemble fusing world and pop music, and I wanted to try to recreate some of that infectious sound. I love dance and soul music, anything that makes you groove a little, and I think electronic sounds and synths can add really amazing atmosphere. So I guess it was really just figuring out how to best blend all of these sounds, and bend that to the identity of each song’s lyrical content. My writing is highly personal- so whatever is going on in my life or the world surrounding me at that time, that’s what I write about.
You brought some special guests – did you handpick them based on something in particular or how did they come on board?
Yes! It was such a gift to have Keith Jones and Leon Mobley on my album! I met Keith during the early stages of the project at one of my producer’s backyard BBQs. He’s one of the kindest and grooviest guys you’ll ever meet! He and Leon have worked together for years, so he was able to bring him on.They’re both so incredibly talented, have worked with countless legends, and across many genres, but most importantly for me, have outstanding work in areas of world and world fusion music. I knew they could really elevate the album- they both really brought so much energy and heart. Leon has this huge van with a trunk full of like 15 drums, and 5 suitcases filled with every kind of percussion instrument you could ever imagine and beyond- he played so many layers, anything we might possibly want to use that fit the vibe of each song!
What aspect of peace and life struggles did you get to explore on this record?
Firedance explores experiences of shared humanity- we’re all on a journey, and there’s always struggle and sorrow along the way, but we have to find the hope and the love that provide us with a sense of meaning. For me, human connectivity is the ultimate form of peace. I used this record to push myself and others to go beyond borders, and into the unknown, hopefully with an open heart.
Any plans to hit the road?
I love performing live! I’ve got a show in NYC at the Electric Bowery on April 5th, and my team is working on booking shows and festivals, so please check my website for updates! If you can’t make it to my shows, I have live videos of my EP coming out soon!
What else is happening next in Miriam Tamar’s world?
I’m always writing and looking for opportunities to collaborate! Super excited that I’m about to head to Washington D.C. to write and record an African fusion album with Ugandan hiphop artist GNL Zamba, Ugandan kora and multi-instrumentalist Kinobe, and Congolese guitar and mulit-instrumentalist JajaBashengezi. Then the journey continues!