VAGABON – ” Minneapolis “

Posted: March 16, 2017 in MUSIC
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Tamko: “Part of the appeal of making underground music is you can figure out your voice as you’re performing."

At a Vagabon show in February at Baby’s All Right, in Williamsburg, 24-year-old Lætitia Tamko stood onstage dressed in black, toting a sunburst Fender Stratocaster and facing an audience who looked nothing like her. A handful of Black faces in a sea of white ones. Still, the place was packed, and the crowd was there to experience her.

Tamko uprooted from Cameroon to Harlem at the age of thirteen, then again to the suburbs of Yonkers. She started writing songs in high school, after her parents gifted her with a guitar and she used an instructional DVD to teach herself how to play. She spent her time at the City College of New York studying electrical and computer engineering — a career path with enough promise and practicality to appease African-immigrant parents. But Tamko picked up pen and guitar again, secretly crafting her album while working full-time. She quit engineering, moved to Brooklyn, and stumbled into the New York’s indie rock scene, forging her own space there.

The chords she once played in the dark took the spotlight that night at her album release show. The stage is where Tamko’s passion and skill meet, and where her worlds collide.

The familiar yet fresh music of her debut, Infinite Worlds, revolves around the nostalgic sound of alternative rock from the Nineties to the early millennium. It’s charged by songs that take us inside her outsider world. She’s hiding, revealing, traveling, unpacking, and affirming that the discomfort of it all is worth the journey.

The delicateness of her speaking voice is matched by the soft strength of her singing, which she calls a “learned skill.” “I taught myself how to be good,” she said. “I don’t think I was bad but, like anything, it can be learned. And part of the appeal of making underground music is that you can kind of figure it out — you can figure out your voice as you’re performing, as you’re making music. You don’t have to be as seasoned. I haven’t taken vocal classes. I’m sure they’re super helpful, but I have found a way to use my voice the way that I want to.”

The bellows, yelps, and harmonizing on Infinite Worlds were a product of her dedication to honing imperfections. Tamko played nearly every instrument on the album — guitar, drums, synth, keyboard. On the surface, it’s indie rock. Underneath, something different is happening. Tamko doesn’t subdue her narrative, nor relinquish the weight of it. Growing up, Tamko didn’t see artists she could identify with, who looked like her and represented the skilled, unpolished musician. But the subtleties in her vocal riffs, polyrhythms, guitar strokes, and synths reflect the inner layers of the music she consumed through the years. The discography of her childhood included everyone from Cameroonian songwriter and novelist Francis Bebey and Malian guitarist Ali Farka Touré to Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, and Mariah Carey. These days, she plays Migos on repeat, vibes out to Solange, and takes in as much pop music as she can, too.

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