Tamia talks music, #MeToo and navigating a male-dominated industry

From Quincy Jones to Gladys Knight and from Babyface to Brandy, Tamia – the six-time Grammy Award nominee – is an R&B powerhouse who has worked with some of music’s greats. Despite an impressive career that has spanned over two decades, the Canadian singer is probably best known for her angelic vocals on the perfectly sugary late-1990’s track ‘So Into You’ (the remix), with rapper Fabolous. I caught up with the R&B sensation – ahead of her London show at Koko this Friday – to discuss her favourite collaborations, her thoughts on the #MeToo movement and tips on how today’s up-and-coming artists can successfully navigate the patriarchy and forge a career of such longevity.

gal-dem: When was the last time you were here in London?

Tamia: I haven’t performed here in a long while but I have friends over here and love to hang out in London and go to dinners.

What artists are you really feeling right now? And do you have any favourites in the British R&B scene?

Ella Mai is doing really well! She’s awesome. I’m kind of all over the place – I listen to different types of music and I tend to still love what I love, so I still love Sade. I listen to groups like The Winans, you know, different types of music. And of course whatever my children love!

I’m sure you’re aware that there’s been a debate on social media recently about who is the real King of R&B and, considering your résumé – working with the likes of Quincy Jones, Babyface, Brandy, Eric Benét to name a few – you’re more than qualified to weigh in! Who do you feel is the real King and Queen of R&B?

The Queen of R&B would probably still be Mary J. Blige and the King of R&B… I actually think it’s Quincy Jones – he’s been around for so long and built so many careers that it has to be him.  

There’s been a real nod to the 1990s R&B scene recently, with the fashion and hairstyles back in vogue and even newer artists like Teyana Taylor recreating a similar nostalgic vibe in her music videos. As someone who started their career in the 1990s, what do you think made the era so special?

People wanted you to be creative and to try something new and innovative, and you didn’t have to follow anything – there were literally no mistakes. And if it seemed like a mistake, you owned it and kept it moving and it came across like it wasn’t! [laughs] R&B and hip hop artists were collaborating, and that was something new and fresh. I think that’s why people are looking back at that time and trying to revisit it.    

And the videos were also another level. Take the video for ‘Imagination’ that you did with Jermaine Dupri in 1998, which has performance, dancers… Plus a whole haunted house and a scary playground theme.

Yeah! It was super creative but that’s what they encouraged. People will always look back at the 1990s and appreciate how fun and creative we got to be.

Speaking of your collab with Jermaine Dupri and you and Fabolous’ remix ‘So Into You’ – who has been your ultimate favourite collaboration so far?

[My] ultimate, ultimate favourite would have to be Quincy Jones. He is a living legend and you don’t get any better than that. I’m so fortunate though [to have] worked with such great people: Babyface and Eric Bénet… Everyone is different obviously, but Eric and I shared a number one record together so that’s always great. Ultimately though, it has to be Quincy Jones.

With the rise of social media, the internet and reality TV, do you think there’s more pressure now on artists to give fans access to their personal lives? And how do you juggle the balance between the personal and the private?

I think that’s always the question, right? What to share and what not to share… Of course, several years ago, that wasn’t a thing. There was a mystique about artists, now you’re expected to share at least a bit. There are certain artists who feel comfortable sharing more – certainly the younger artists who have grown up around the camera and are very comfortable sharing, it comes easier to them. But of course, once you share, you can’t take it back…

With the recent #MeToo and Time’s Up movements highlighting the harassment women in the entertainment industry face, not to mention the recent R Kelly scandal, what are your views on the treatment of women in the industry? Have you ever faced sexual harassment?

I personally have never faced any harassment – but I think it is unacceptable. Sometimes I wonder if I’m being paid the same amount as my male counterparts who have the same [level of experience as me]. I’m still trying to figure that out. But it’s important that we include women (in this industry), and harassment [is just] unacceptable in 2019.

What advice would you give young women in music right now trying to have similarly long careers, and how to navigate this male-dominated industry?

It is a male-dominated industry, that’s a fact. But always surround yourself with good people and always speak up – never feel like you can’t tell people what’s going on.  Right now, some people are a little confused why so many women are coming forward and speaking out. But it’s because there is now more of a safe space for them to do so – they’ve been holding all of these things in, and a lot of people have been getting away with a lot, and now it’s just being brought to light. So I’d say: women, always speak up and never feel ashamed to do so.  

What does 2019 have in store for Tamia?

I’m enjoying bringing my new album Passion Like Fire [out in 2018] to life and performing. That’s the best part for me. It’s one thing to go in the studio and choose songs that you love and think are great, but the best part is going out on the road and connecting with people, whether it’s new songs from the latest album or old songs, like ‘Me’. It’s amazing to be able to connect with people through the music, I really enjoy that. So, in the first quarter of 2019, I’m just gonna enjoy getting out and performing.    

Catch Tamia at Koko, London on Friday 1 March 2019. Tickets available here.

 

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