Tamar-kali: A Punk Artist with Soul Brooklyn native Tamar-kali heads her own rock band. In her lyrics and her own personal style, she blends feminist politics and afrocentricity in a way that give her hard-rock sound a soulful edge.

Tamar-kali: A Punk Artist with Soul

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TONY COX, host:

So, now we go from sports to music. Not too long ago we ran a piece about "Afro Punk," a film about blacks and punk and hardcore. Now, New York City's black punk rockers tend to be the do-it-yourself type and don't always take kindly to leadership. Still, the black hardcore music scene there is inspired by a few musicians, including Tamar-kali, who leads her own band.

Here's NPR's Cheryl Corley with a profile.

(Soundbite of song "Boots")

Ms. TAMAR-KALI (Singer): (singing) I have a soul(ph)…

CHERYL CORLEY: In her lyrics, in her own personal style, Tamar-kali blends feminist politics and Afro-centricity in a way that gives her hard rock sound a soulful edge.

(Soundbite of song "Boots")

Ms. TAMAR-KALI: (Singing) (Unintelligible)

CORLEY: Tamar-kali has been touring Europe recently and joins me now from London. Welcome.

Ms. TAMAR-KALI: Thank you.

CORLEY: Well, tell me first of all how does a black woman from Brooklyn who grew up listening to a lot of hip-hop come to head her own rock band in New York?

Ms. TAMAR-KALI: I actually grew up listening to a lot of rock, so that's why it's a very organic, sensible progression. I've been doing music now officially since '92, and this is about a music that spoke to me at a time in my life very clearly around the time of about 19, where I think a lot of young African-American people in America start questioning their identity, looking towards their history.

And hardcore definitely was a music that I could express my frustrations and the anger that you originally come to when you learn from your history and you're dealing with society's ills and things like that.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. TAMAR-KALI: (Singing) I say I love you. Am I in love too? The fear of losing you would make me cry. Unnatural…

CORLEY: We can imagine all sorts of obstacles and the way of an independent artist, a black female musician. What have been some of the biggest obstacles you've faced and maybe still face on the way to getting where you are?

Ms. TAMAR-KALI: Pretty much loud rock, hard rock, however you want to call it, is a white male dominated genre. And I have yet to see a woman - never mind a black woman - getting that type of recognition in that scene. But I feel like for anyone who loves music, you're never trapped by genre or what a person looks like. If you hear something and you dig it, you dig it.

I've never heard something I dug, and then after I saw who the messenger was say oh I don't like it anymore. You know what I mean? Either you feel it or you don't. And I wish that the industry was based on that, as opposed to having to classify things down racial lines.

CORLEY: Well, tell me a little bit more about today's music scene and the black punk and hard-rock community in New York; and whether or not it's important to you to bring blacks who are in hard rock together, and what your role has kind of been in strengthening that community.

Ms. TAMAR-KALI: Well, it's always very interesting when people kind of choose me as their idea of a leader of a scene, and I totally cannot claim that identity. There was a time I was involved in the New York, you know, little hard-core scene, going to shows, jam with people, eventually being in a band. But I think as you develop and grow as an artist, more than likely you're not really in a scene. You extend beyond that. And I believe that that's where I am today.

CORLEY: Well, in the documentary "Afro Punk" you also said you were aiming for a new kind of audience.

(Soundbite of movie "Afro Punk")

Ms. TAMAR-KALI: There's a community that's been hard for me to reach, and they're black. You know what I mean? Like it's not that indie rock scene but the jiggy Negroes. I want you - you know what I mean? I want to turn your (bleep) out. You know what I mean? Open up your mind.

You know it's a (unintelligible) own community. That's the hard part. And not the Bohemian Negroes or the artists, you know. A lot of artist comes to see me too. You know, its folks on my block. You know what I mean?

CORLEY: Tell me about who's coming to your shows these days?

Ms. TAMAR-KALI: What I noticed was that when I used to front a hard-core band, there were a lot of hard-core kids at the show. That's because it was a community collaboration thing. But once I became a solo artist it was like people have fear, like, they don't want to come because they don't know what was going to be like. All of a sudden it was just going to be like R&B or something, like, I was going to turn into Mary J. Blige because I didn't have - no, you know, I'm not discriminating, I'm just saying that coming from hardcore and people then assuming just because I'm black woman, like, my solo project is going to be Mary J. Blige. Like, why they would think that I don't know. So my audience changed immensely and it became permanently black artist. And as of late, a lot women are coming to my shows…

CORLEY: Are those the folks you're trying to reach with your music?

Ms. TAMAR-KALI: I'm trying to reach anybody who could benefit from it. You know what I mean? Like, if you like this kind of sound, then I want you at the show. If you are relating to my lyrics and you feel like some of your stories are my story, come to the show. If you just think it's a spectacle and I'm a freak and it interests you, come to the show.

I really don't have any criteria for my audience. I just feel like anyone who would benefit from seeing or hearing what I do, I want them to be able to have access to it.

CORLEY: Thank you so much for joining us.

Ms. TAMAR-KALI: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

COX: That was New York musician Tamar-kali speaking with NPR's Cheryl Corley. You can check out more of Tamar-kali's music on the NEWS & NOTES Web page at npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

COX: Well, that's NEWS & NOTES for to day.

COX: You can visit us at npr.org. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium. Farai Chideya is back on Monday, when we look at new strategies for ending HIV/AIDS in the black community.

I'm Tony Cox. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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