Artist and singer-songwriter Tamar-kali recently made her debut as a film composer, scoring the award-winning Mudbound. The film follows the lives of two veterans from the Second World War, one white and one black, who return to rural Mississippi dealing with the aftershock of war and the impact of racism in different ways. Starring the likes of Carey Mulligan, Mary J. Blige and Jason Clarke, the film received rave reviews and nominations at all the major film festivals in 2017, including Best Supporting Actress and Best Original Song at the Golden Globe Awards, and Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Song and Best Adapted Screenplay at the Academy Awards.
You have a very unique fusion sound, who would you say are your biggest musical influences?
I was really into Prince when I was young – he shirked convention and categorisation, and comes from the same ethno-cultural background as me. He was of an afro-indigenous background, descended from enslaved Africans brought to America, which is how our ancestors gave birth to jazz, blues and rock’n’roll. It makes sense that someone of that background would have a very eclectic way of presenting themselves. America is a place where there’s a convergence of a lot of cultures and as someone who is African-American you move between different worlds. I feel like it’s part of my lineage in a way.
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With an already varied career, as a performance artist and composer, what made you decide to delve into film music?
It was a matter of collaborating with the screenwriter and director Dee Rees. I got to know her work through Pariah, for which I was asked to lend some songs to the soundtrack. Through that process I ended up performing with my band as a cameo in the film. I then worked with Dee again on Bessie, and I sang a song for its soundtrack. From there, I ended up writing the score for Mudbound. Dee opened the door for me and enabled me to become an artist working across disciplines.
What did you learn from the process of writing the score to Mudbound?
As a film composer I wasn’t just taking care of the composition, but also of the recording, production and mixing. My role as an independent artist and experience in punk rock DIY have come into play, because I’m using those skills when writing for film. As an independent artist I’ve hired musicians and booked my own tours and gigs, but when it came to doing a complete film score I had to do these jobs on a much larger scale. I’ve worked with classical musicians before, but it’s always been for a small group when its music I’m composing for myself to perform, whereas it was completely different for this discipline. I also had to use much more technology, which helped develop a whole different set of skills. Plus, I had a whole new layer of creating in that I had to have my work confirmed by the director.
What projects have you been working on since completing Mudbound?
I have a project called Demon Fruit Blues, which is a multi-disciplinary project working with visual artists and ensembles. It’s a work in development, tracing the route of misogyny to Judaeo-Christian ideology and the story of the Garden of Eden to the present day. My work has always dealt with these themes, and I felt that at this point in my career it was important to give context to the subtext of my work. By doing this, people won’t be able to project a story onto me, which is especially important for me as a woman of colour – the ability to take control of my narrative and make it clear where I’m coming from.