Vagabon's Laetitia Tamko On The Making Of 'Vagabon' Laetitia Tamko has found a way to cram all of the sounds that personally move her — pop, punk, trap, African music — into Vagabon. "I feel like I made an amazing record. Why can't I say that?"
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'There Will Be No Darkness': Laetitia Tamko On The Making Of 'Vagabon'

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'There Will Be No Darkness': Laetitia Tamko On The Making Of 'Vagabon'

'There Will Be No Darkness': Laetitia Tamko On The Making Of 'Vagabon'

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Much of Laetitia Tamko's first album was her with a guitar singing about the search for home.


LAETITIA TAMKO: (Singing) I've been hiding in the smallest space.

CHANG: The 26-year-old records as Vagabon. She was born in Cameroon, but she's lived in and around New York City ever since she was a pre-teen.


TAMKO: (Singing) You know me better than that. You know I hate it like that. It really waters me down.

CHANG: Her second self-titled album is out this week. NPR's Jenny Gathright caught up with Tamko in New York, and they talked about how the record shows a new level of musical confidence.

TAMKO: I was feeling myself in a different way, to be honest. I went from not being sure I'd be OK to touring the world, like, a bazillion times and doing the only thing that makes me happy.

JENNY GATHRIGHT, BYLINE: Laetitia Tamko had long dreamed of being a musician, but her parents told her there was no room for a starving artist in the family. She studied engineering in college. Then she got a job in tech as a programmer. But while all of this was going on, she was also sneaking out of her parents' house to play punk shows in Brooklyn.


TAMKO: (Singing) So you moved to Colorado.

I would put my guitar in my car when everyone was asleep so that I wouldn't get questions about where I was going. And every show was practice until I got good.

GATHRIGHT: Tamko found an early musical home in New York's DIY music scene. But she felt different from almost everyone else in those spaces, which tended to be white and cliquey. Tamko's black. She's self-taught, and she hadn't been playing for that long.

TAMKO: I've had bandmates laugh at me because I didn't know how to, like, speak, like, music language. And a lot of these people went to school for it and studied jazz and had all of these, like, academic accolades to their musicianship. And I thought that was cool. I wanted to learn from them, but they didn't respect me enough to think that they had anything to learn from me.

GATHRIGHT: It felt like everyone was doubting her - her musical peers, her parents.

TAMKO: Everyone just didn't think I had it in me. And that pissed me off. And I went really hard.

GATHRIGHT: Tamko moved out of her parents' house. She quit her day job a month after she released her first album. And suddenly, the world opened up.

TAMKO: I felt free. I was free.


TAMKO: (Singing) Calling out for you.

GATHRIGHT: Tamko describes her new album as a flex. She taught herself the production software Logic Pro so she could arrange every song. And she plays many of the instruments we hear on it.


TAMKO: (Singing) When you know that it's done but you won't leave it alone, leave it alone.

What I want to do with any sort of power or influence that I garner is to just shout out the people who are also deserving but because of their race, their orientation, their sexual identity - because of all these things, they somehow feel slept on. We have to, like, stand up for each other. The others have to stand up for each other.


TAMKO: (Singing) I was invited to the party. They won't let my people in. Well, then, never mind, never mind, never mind. We don't want to go to your function.

GATHRIGHT: Tamko says making this record was hard because she was using tools that were new to her. But she also had fun with it, like on this drum fill.


TAMKO: (Singing) I know...

I remember showing it to a friend when I first, like, laid down the demo. And they were like, whoa, these drums are very Phil Collins. And I'm like, who's Phil Collins?

GATHRIGHT: It does sound a lot like that iconic drum break in Collins's 1981 smash hit "In The Air Tonight."


PHIL COLLINS: (Singing) Because I can feel it...

TAMKO: I still don't know who Phil Collins is.

GATHRIGHT: And that doesn't matter. Tamko's musical reference points are just different. At times, her sound nods to the African musician she grew up listening to, like the Malian multi-instrumentalist Ali Farka Toure. And to get pumped to go into the studio and record, Tamko listened to mostly female rappers - early Nicki Minaj, Lil' Kim. She likes how they don't apologize for themselves.

TAMKO: My faves are not humble bragging. They're humble in their actions, but they're not humble.

GATHRIGHT: It's an attitude Tamko's adopting, too.

TAMKO: I have no interest anymore of making myself small, to not be intimidating. I just made an amazing record. I feel like I made an amazing record.

GATHRIGHT: Jenny Gathright, NPR News.


TAMKO: (Singing) All the women I meet are fired up.

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