Tiawa – Interview

For two decades the Brighton based record label Tru Thoughts has been a prolific force amidst electronic music, jazz and hip hop, with artists such as Bonobo, Rodney P, Ty, Quantic, and Alice Russell gracing their books. Still headed by founder Rob-Luis, they continue to find, and nurture new talent. Tiawa Blackhorse has just signed to the label, and is one of many acts performing at Tru Thoughts 20th birthday celebrations, along with Hidden Orchestra, Anchorsong, Wrongtom, J-Felix, and many more. Tiawa took some time out from touring to have a chat with Jeff Hemmings, about Brighton, music and her musical partner Jack-Chi (Jack Kingslake).

Are you Brighton born and raised? Either way, tell me about your upbringing.

I was born just outside of Brighton and have lived here since I was 7. Prior to that I was back and forth living with my Grandma in Portugal. I have a strong connection to Portugal, as most of my family on my mum’s side live there. Listening to conscious music has always been a strong foundation in my life from an early age, and I thank my family for that.

Tell me about the city you live in, and what you like about it.

It’s always been a town that stood out on the south coast, and held its originality. It’s a great place to make music, as there’s so many different scenes. There is something for everyone.

How did you get into music, what inspired you?

I was raised with a family that would listen mostly to reggae, so I know it well. I have always loved all types of music, especially the kinds of rebellion music that has a strong sentiment and integrity. Other music has inspired me though I’ve always made sure my songs are unique and didn’t sound like anything anyone’s heard before.

You went to Audio Active, which is where you met Jack. Tell me about him, and what he did (does) at Audio Active, and why the relationship works!

Jack is like family to me. We met when I was around 14, ten years ago. The people at Audio Active gave me a solid grounding to pursue my passion for writing rap music and singing. I always got on well with Jack, and I feel that he understands me musically, which is not easy to find when you have a strong and particular vision of what you want your music to sound like. He’s creatively diverse, and I find his styles are a perfect mix for my melodies and writing style.

is it the music first, then the words, or the other way around, or what?

It depends. I sometimes come up with the melody first and then write the words, other times my producers will send me an idea and if I like it I will write to it, and we build the rest of the instrumental from there. If I have my guitar with me I tend to write the lyrics to the chords.

You released ‘Pain Killa’ via local bespoke reggae/dub label Roots Garden, which must have felt good. A 7″ single no less! Was that odd in this digital age? Did vinyl factor into your upbringing at all!?

Yes! It wasn’t too odd for me as I’ve grown up listing to tapes and records as well as CDs. I feel it’s great to not just rely solely on digital form as a release method. It feels good to have the record in your hand, there’s something special about it.

Can you tell me about other releases and collaborations?

I have a new song with Roots Garden coming out in the next few months. We are also going to release an acoustic EP featuring remakes of some Alton Elis and Wailing Soul music, alongside a selection of my original acoustic songs. I am also currently making a hip-hop EP with some talented members of Audio Active that I will be releasing before the album comes out.

Tell me about your style and lyrics. Is there any improvisation? And what inspires your words?

I tend to be focused on writing music that is directed towards liberation for anyone who has been through true struggles in life. I like to write about personal experiences. Music has helped me so much in my life that I feel it is important for people to share their stories through my music in a positive way. I feel that a positive mind state can free people of all kinds of pain, and music can help you get to that.

I understand you have just signed with Tru Thoughts. Tell me how that came about.

We had some mutual friends who were doing a publishing deal with them, and they passed on some songs of mine to Paul Jonas and Rob-Luis. I had been thinking for a while that the album I was making would suit the Tru thoughts label. Once they had heard the songs, and expressed feedback, we arranged a meeting. We all got on well instantly. They embraced the project and it all started from there.

Were you ever aware of them before talk of signing?

Yes, I’ve been aware of them for quite a while being Brighton based, I’ve always loved the music that they put out, I used to listen to Bonobo a lot. When I was a kid I always had a feeling that one day I might work with Tru Thoughts. It’s nice to know my music is going to be looked after by a label with lots of experience in the industry. And knowing that they have worked with a diverse range of artists with many different styles is ideal, as I find my own music wouldn’t fit with a label that focused on one genre alone.

How does it work live, what is the set up?

Usually I would do a PA set. When I first started performing I would play with my guitar and voice only. I like working with bands too, but for this album the production is a mix of live instruments and digital, and it’s nice to hear the backing when on the stage. I plan to perform with bands more frequently in the future, but for now i will be mostly performing with a DJ.

What is in the pipeline? What can we expect in 2020?

I’m very excited for 2020, I will be releasing my album with Tru Thoughts, and travelling to different parts of the world to promote and share the album. We’re currently putting the finishing touches to it, and I cant wait to share our work with everyone!

Jeff Hemmings