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The beauty of being extra: Roxanne Tataei on heritage, independence and taking it slow

18 Oct 2018

“At the end of the day, I’m interested in truth…I always go back to this quote from Father John Misty: ‘what everyone wants in this lifetime is to see and be seen’”, says South London musician Roxanne Tataei, as we sit down to discuss the release of her transcendental sophomore album, Full Moon in Aries. Released on September 24, the album takes its name from this date exactly: the release itself is a release, marking both a transitional moment in the lunar calendar (a Harvest Moon) and for Tataei herself – now as a fully fledged independent artist.

Tataei (whose first name means “day dawning” in Persian) loves what the Harvest Moon represents – it’s a time for  sown seeds to grow. But, as something she has been living with and working on for the best part of four years, the release is “coupled with excitement, fear, anxiety…a whole world of emotions”. As we settle into October, and Venus goes into retrograde (marking another period of intense emotional work for us all), it’s refreshing to find someone embracing the process and the time that it takes. In the age of rush and hurry, breezy patty and fresh air pie, Tataei’s hypnotic 12-track offering is a vital testament to the power and strength that comes from taking the time to build a more truthful container for yourself. Full Moon in Aries is Tataei’s own affirmation.

An Aries sun with a Gemini moon, Tataei is learning to love the full intensities of her own character; “all the tracks are reflections of me, I am all these things, I have all these feelings, I have been to all these places…this is me exercising different parts of myself.” Full Moon in Aries is a full rotation, an organic blush capturing the fun, alluring and sexy parts of Tataei (listen to ‘Perfect Fit’ – a light, rocking melody fusing dream-pop, funk and arguably a little nod to lover’s rock), as well as the sulky, the moody, and the spiky (check ‘Crimson Eyes’, below – the term itself a play on the Jamaican term “red eye”, meaning envy, with Tataei’s languid vocals like jealous fingers tracing curls).

Previously signed under the moniker Rox, Tataei was touring internationally and supporting the likes of Grace Jones and Florence and the Machine. But with all the appreciation she has for those experiences, she knew something wasn’t aligning and ultimately made the decision to become independent. It’s a decision she admits has been a steep learning curve – especially the admin side. Working with a distribution company, timing things, crediting everyone, and signing up to royalties…the process has undoubtedly taken longer than she would have liked – but she’s a firm believer that anything great takes time. The biggest compliment you could give her? That her work finally looks and sounds “just like her” – and it really does.

Now thirty (which she calls the “age of accountability”), instead of radio play and chart success first and foremost, the goal has become the process: being present in it, and being as expressive and unfiltered as possible. “You don’t have to regurgitate things just because it’s the thing to say, the thing to do”, she says, “find another meaning, find another truth that is true to you.”

Grounded in Tataei’s soaring, soulful and operatic vocals, the album samples recordings from her own time with a spiritual healer, and features collaborations with saxophonist-come-prophet Shabaka Hutchings (‘Perfect Fit’) and soul singer Liam Bailey (‘Dancing with the Devil’). Production comes courtesy of nomadic German producer Patrice (based between Paris, NYC, and Jamaica), whose previous collaborations include Cody Chesnutt and CeeLo Green; the LA-based, Grammy award winning Al-Shux, who has worked with the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Kelela; and indie-man Nick Trepka. From the brooding electronic textures of ‘Forever Green’ (Tataei’s “stoner song”), to the high drama of ‘Without Me In’, a stormy power ballad that recalls ‘The Lady of Shalott’, painter Kehinde Wiley’s shipwrecked protagonists, and alt-rock angst queen Alanis Morissette –incidentally, one of Tataei’s biggest musical influences: “a woman that just used all of her voice,” Full Moon in Aries is a much-needed tonic and an ode to unmasking it all.

“That’s what I love about Jamaica”, says Tataei as we touch on her dual Jamaican and Persian heritage; “Everyone is a character. As black people, we’re often not allowed to be everything, but we come from the most opulent, extra lineage – the way we carry ourselves, the way we move, our food, the way we colour language.”

While Tataei identifies more strongly with her Jamaican heritage, she also sees herself a lot in Persian art: “sometimes I see the most extra Persian woman doing a handstand, playing the lute, with a wine on the side, and I’m literally like: this is my life in my flat…”

Tataei credits all those who held up a mirror for her, reeling off her inspirations, including Jimi Hendrix, Kelis, Pharrell, Lauryn Hill, and Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight. Closer to home, she lists Deptford-based music community and event Steamdown (“like church”), and some of the many POC players of the South London creative scene making space to tell their own stories – photographer Adama Jalloh, Favour J, filmmaker Jenn Nkiru, and collectives BBZ and EAST.

Though her first unconscious musical influence was gospel music, with its multiple-part harmonies, Tataei is a self-proclaimed former “lone soldier”. She admits it took her a while to realise that being independent doesn’t mean being alone, but instead means building a community and investing in each other’s visions. Accordingly, she enlisted a variety of creatives to produce the above visuals for the album’s lead track, ‘Crimson Eyes’. Directed by Maiye (Hamed Maiye, initiator of the Afroportraitism movement), ‘Crimson Eyes’ is a sensual and surreal faux opera, which also sees work from creatives including Haast Culture, artist Kobby Adi, movement director Paleta CalmQuality, and many others. The video further pushes the role of fantasy in design and world-making – or, as Roxanne puts it, “the importance of imagining things beyond reality not only a means of escape, but as a way to make reality even more beautiful.”  

With a new video coming out soon, directed by Nwaka (with more acting and movement this time, in a nod to her “low key theatre baby” roots), a show towards the end of the year, and exciting collaborations with avant-garde experimentalists Dean Blunt (the track ‘Dum Draco’ on Blunt’s latest release Muggy Vol.1) and Lord Tusk, Full Moon in Aries, and Tataei, are proof of the virtues of slow time. Perhaps this is also a lesson taken from her Persian heritage and it’s considered, slow cooking – a cuisine that you can’t rush: “I don’t want us to do a disservice to ourselves because we were tired, or hungry”, concludes Tataei, “some people want to finish early, but I’m like…why?”

Full Moon in Aries was released on 24th September 2018. Download or stream the full album on Spotify and iTunes.