Malika Tirolien was on my radar as I scanned the acts in performance at the Toronto Jazz Festival. Originally from Guadeloupe, I thought of Zouk and Gwoka and Snarky Puppy and decided this was an artist to go see.
I enjoyed the band, I dug the vibe. All about coming together and living with kindness, peace, and happiness. I even joined in the song, “Don’t Come Around,” the audience at the Toronto Jazz Festival did backup vocals. A powerful tune!
So I reached out to Malika and her management and here we are.
TCM: Hi Malika and thank you for taking the time out to do this interview. I had no idea what you were all about, no idea you were a Grammy winner with Snarky Puppy. When I heard you at the Toronto Jazz Festival I was impressed and I really enjoyed your music.
I am always curious as to how artists fared during the recent pandemic. The long lockdown in Canada gave people time to consider and reflect on what’s important to them. Malika, any epiphanies from that moment in time?
MT: Right before the lockdown, we had just been nominated for best world album with my band Bokanté at the Grammys and I was about to embark on the biggest tour ever with them but also with Jacob Collier as a part of his band. I would basically have been on the road for the next six months when the pandemic killed all these plans.
During lockdown, I was thankfully with my family who was visiting Canada at the time and got stuck at my place. Being together all this time got us even closer than we already were. The pandemic made me put my priorities back in order and also reminded me that life doesn’t care about your plans. We better enjoy each moment we have, good or bad because they might be the only ones we got left.
TCM: Your music has a joyful vibe very reminiscent of, what I call the island chill sound. Tell us about some of your early influences, growing up in Guadalupe.
MT: I grew up in a house where you could listen to Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, Jimmy Hendrix, Kassav and Debussy. Of course, I would also listen to gwoka, zouk, mazurka, biguine, because it was playing everywhere.
But the minute I was able to choose what I wanted to listen to; it was hip hop, r&b, soul, and neo-soul that I wanted to ingest the most. I think you can hear these influences a lot today in the music of my second album HIGHER.
TCM: You have a beautiful voice. Your phrasing is wonderful, I think you have mastered many genres. On the tune “Sisters,” you blend all those genres together. Funk, Jazz, R&B, Rap and Hip-Hop. Did you, or do you, have musical, or vocal training?
MT: I learned to sing by myself because the teacher my parents went to see when I told them I wanted to sing, told them I had no future in this field because my voice was inadequate. So I sang in my bedroom, with my best friends at the time. We broke our parents and our neighbor’s ears as often as possible, (laughing).
And then, my parents sent me to study jazz in Canada, where I finally received some vocal training for the first time.
TCM: Leading your own band and touring. How is life on the road different now from the perspective of being in the band to leading the band?
MT: Life on the road as the leader of the band is way more tiring. When I tour with Bokanté, we have a driver and a tour manager, and someone for the merch, I just need to sing, have fun, and rest. It’s pretty amazing!
However, when I tour with my band, I want to participate in all the fun activities but I also have to make sure everyone stays alive, (laughing). I have to make sure we reach all the destinations on time, find the right places, make the setlists, and make sure the backline is on point. The rider is respected. I have to know what is happening with the merch, with the payments for each show, and answer a million emails but stay happy and ready for the fans…
It is a lot of work because we don’t have a tour manager or a driver. But luckily, the members of my band are like family. They are the easiest and the best people to tour with.
TCM: What’s in the works? Are new projects on the horizon? Please let us know what we can look forward to.
MT: I am so happy to let you know that we have a brand new album out with Bokanté! This is our third album and it is called History.
On the first album, Strange Circles and on our second album, What Heat, Michael League and I were mostly the ones writing the songs. But this third one is different because we all wrote the songs together, all nine members of the band, Bokanté.
Malika Tirolien (Lead vocals)
Roosevelt Collier (Steel Guitar)
Michael League (Guitar)
Chris McQueen (Guitar)
Bob Lanzetti (Guitar)
Weedie Bremah (Percussionist)
Keita Ogawa (Percussionist)
Jamey Haddad (Percussionist)
André Ferrari (Percussionist)}
We were together in Michael’s house, jamming, writing, so happy to be reunited after the pandemic. You can feel all this joy in the songs and hopefully, have some of it enter your heart.
So this is the biggest news right now but I also have more new music on the way. Stay tuned!
YouTube Video – Malika Tirolien: Grow