Band Interview: Saidah Baba Talibah, October 2009


By Aaron Binder

Photography by Alexis Finch


You’ve never quite met someone like Saidah Baba Talibah.  You’ve never quite met someone like Saidah Baba Talibah.  It bears repeating because she has the ability to drop a room into silence just by entering.  Part of this is that she has spent her whole life on stage, exposed and creating a persona that she can be happy with.  Since time spent in the womb of her mother, renowned singer Salome Bey, Saidah’s pulse has been flowing with music and dance.

Her professional development has been all these years in the making; it has just been recently that she’s finally come into her own, after playing backup for so many other talented people over the years; she decided to pursue a path of her own design.  She is on the rise quickly; her quirky and raw The Phone Demos is poised for release on October 20th.  The premise of the EP is refreshing as well; every single part in every song was recorded using only her cellular.

This is only the precursor though, the groundwork has already been laid for her full-length (S)Cream, she is hoping that the release of her EP will allow her to fund the full-length project.  Most artists do try to keep their integrity intact while recording, but Saidah has taken her ability to do so one step further; taking the DIY route and attempting to put out (S)Cream without label support.  The young artist has wisdom, talent and personality beyond her physical years and it lends her the ability to be completely in tune with the music she is creating.  However, the biggest question that will be asked over the next few months is whether or not it will be enough of an effort to turn both the EP and the full-length album into critical and commercial successes.

Some people are willing to take a huge leap of faith to become successful on their own terms.  She makes music with her emotions and her experiences, almost everything she creates comes from something she has seen or experienced, and this is part of the reason it is so relatable to so many.  The style of music she writes is influenced more from the world than from musicians and that is part of what may one day make it classic.

For now, her plans have been laid out, the blueprint has been drawn up, and construction is beginning on the brand new addition to her life, Saidah Baba Talibah, the solo artist.  Here are some of her thoughts.

Aaron: So I’ve been following you for about…mmm…two weeks now…

(Both laughing)

Saidah: Ha-ha, I love it!

Aaron: I had heard of your name before Manifesto, but finally had a chance to check you out live.  It was amazing to see such a huge show, how did that all come together for you?

Saidah: I’ve always wanted a little orchestra.  I always thought it was really cool, I’ve been fascinated by orchestras and in high school I played tuba, that’s why I put the tuba in the band because I thought that would be really interesting to have that on stage.  Originally it was just cello and I didn’t have any of those parts, so it’s tuba, cello, keys and drums.  Even before that it was just keys, but it’s slowly been growing, I like the orchestra; I eventually want tympanis, and violin and all of that making soul and rock just live.

Aaron: That’s what I picked up on at your live show, it’s so lively.  Sometimes when you check out rock or even soul bands it all seems to be shoe gazing.  Is it just the flow that’s pushing you?

Saidah: Definitely it’s flowing through me.  I was in a band for 7 years when I was in my teens and we were a rock-fusion band as well.  It was the same kind of thing, 3 female lead-singers fronting and just giving that stage energy.  So you saw it and it was like ‘holy shit!’  Music moves me, so I can’t shoe-gaze.  I cannot shoe-gaze!  When the music moves me, I cannot shoe-gaze.

Aaron: So what causes that trigger in your mind to go off when you’re on stage?

Saidah: Music!  Hahaha…as I said, music moves me.  I’m all these different views of my personality on stage.  Of course I’m not going to be so crazy to kick you in the face or be all up in your face while I’m sitting here interviewing with you.  On stage it’s just a place where I can be free.

Aaron: So it’s just tapping into your most primal emotions.  I noticed that on The Phone Demos as well, it’s very basic, but there’s a lot of emotion there.  What was the deciding factor to put that out?

Saidah: Beside the fact that when I was recording it, it was just simply for song writing; just to make sure I remembered the idea.  When I heard it, I thought it was cool, and converted it, played it for a few people and people kind of got intrigued.  I thought that would be cool to put out, I kind of got the idea from hearing a PJ Harvey release, she put out a release called the 4-track demo.  I thought that was such a cool idea to release a 4-track and then release the same album polished and finished and everything because it helped me understand her process and I got to see all the little things she had already thought about before and things that came about after.  It just connected me closer to her.

Aaron: Interesting you bring up PJ Harvey, there were definitely a lot of classic styles.  It was a really cool recording, you couldn’t have added a lot of depth to it, but where you take that now, you have the chance to make something that just shines.

Saidah: Yeah, and I think it’s so important to make a good song.

Aaron: Before you make the big song.

Saidah: Yeah, and you can break it down into anything you want to break it down into.  If I want to break it down to just keys and voice, I could do that because it’s not the song that changes, the song doesn’t change, I can sing it any different way.  That’s what I love about a good song, it doesn’t matter what genre it is, if it’s a good song, it’s a good song.

Aaron: Great observation.  You seem to have this aura about you; it just looks like you’ve been doing this forever.

Saidah: I have…Honestly; my mother was pregnant with me when she was on stage, on Broadway.  She was rolling around, dancing; dancing up a storm, so this is my key into the world.

Aaron: With that background, where do you want to fit into the musical landscape?

Saidah: The world.  I don’t feel like I fit into one genre, I think there’s a lot of music out there that is just music.  People…last night we were in Montreal and I was about to introduce myself to Lee Fields who is doing sound-check upstairs and he was talking to guests and was talking to the tour manager and he was talking about performance.  He said ‘it doesn’t matter if you’re good or you’re not good, if you’re not having fun on stage, it’s not going to translate.’  So I think people innately gravitate toward something that touches them; it doesn’t matter the genre, just like a good song, it doesn’t matter the genre, if it touches you, it touches you.

I have so many influences in music that I gravitate toward; one day I would love to do a jazz album per se, or a straight blues album, but I don’t know if it would ever be great.  I’m not a straight person, I’m a curvy person, I’m a zig-zaggy person.  I don’t know where I fit; I just hope I fit in someone’s soul.

Aaron: Like you said, a good song is a good song no matter where it is coming from.  When you say, maybe you’ll do a jazz album or maybe you’ll do a blues album, it doesn’t matter if it is that or not, as long as the music is good.  So when you’re putting together a new composition, you’re not thinking about what it should be, you’re thinking about…

Saidah: How it feels.  That is exactly my motivation for writing anything.  How does it feel, what does it taste like, what does it smell like, what does it sound like, what does it look like.  I’m sensual.  Sensual yes, sensual sexual, sensual as in the five senses.  What does my intuition tell me to do with a song?  I’m not going by a formula; I’m going by how it feels.

Aaron: When you’re writing an album, it’s a gruelling process…what do you do to keep on track, to make something people relate to?

Saidah: I don’t want to sound not caring, but I’m not necessarily focused on what people can relate to…it’s what I can relate to and what I can relay to people.  I’m not writing an album for the people, I’m writing my story and I’m taking my stories and bringing them to life.  I know there are people out there that can relate to my stories because I’m not foreign from anyone.  We all bleed, we love, we hate, we have sex; we all do that, so I’m not writing a pop album, I’m not writing an album I want to shove down people’s throats.  I’m just writing songs that are my stories.

Aaron: So a lot of this is based on real life?

Saidah: Definitely.  Or life that I’ve seen outside of myself and that I can still relate to because I think I’m a very observant person and a very introspective person.  So I’ll see something or something will occur outside of me or inside of me and I’ll think about it, how does that relate to me?  How does that make me feel?  Hmm…I’m a Libra so I’m all up in my head a lot.

Aaron: You’re analytical.

Saidah: Very analytical.

Aaron: In a creative way.

Saidah: In a very creative way.

Aaron: So when you’re formulating an idea in your head, it doesn’t come out right away, it’s been sitting up there for a while.  How do you differentiate a good idea from a bad one?

Saidah: How it feels.  How it feels.  Sometimes I’ll put something out…I’ve actually learned co-writing with a lot of people that putting stuff out and then not editing it is very good for the song-writing process because once you start editing it, it starts to become contrived.  So just put it out there and work with what you’ve got and then…it’s like moulding something out of clay and making it and having an idea in mind and moulding it and then you stand back and you look and you go, this can come off here and this can come off there and it starts to shape into what you want as opposed to being so rigid and so un-flexible.  So rigid and like ‘no, it has to be!’, and then you end up screwing up because there’s no heart, there’s no flaws and no introspection and no idiosyncrasies and all that tasty stuff where you can just feel it.

Aaron: The dropped drumstick in the background.

Saidah: Yeah, I’m not touching auto-tune at all, but yes, all that stuff is great.  The crack in the voice or the little bit of growl or the air that comes out when you’re just exasperated because it has to do with what you’re singing about or what you’re talking about.  It’s just feelings and emotions.  Emotions connect because that’s what we have.

Aaron: Fantastic.  What would you like to add?

Saidah: Hmm…pre-purchase my album.  You can pre-purchase it at  That would help me immensely with finishing this album because I am…I’m not a starving artist, but I’m not an artist on a record label so I don’t have those dollars.  Yes, I have gotten FACTOR before, but FACTOR support is not enough.  The same way I connected with The Phone Demos, I thought that would be a really cool way to connect with people and there’s no middleman.  I’m offering concerts, t-shirts, different…ranges in prices, I’ll even come over to your house and sing.  Or if you’ve got Skype and you live outside of Toronto or North America, we’ll do a Skype concert.  I’ve seen a few artists do it, one of my favourite artists, Amy Korea, she’s doing that for her album, and I thought that was a cool model to connect with people and to make it so that you as the consumer, as a supporter, have a hand in creating this.


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