Tiana Major9 Is The New Face of London's Underground Youth
TianaMajor9 is fresh. Her style, both sonically and visually, has an indescribable vibe that she carries with minimal effort. It’s intrinsic, and only a thorough-bred East Londoner who, essentially, is the culture, can rock that badge of honor. Looking at her influencers, from Erykah Badu, to the late Amy Winehouse, you’ll come to know that her music, and how she delivers it, is an incarnation of the modern greats. She’s and a slew of others, most notably Blue Lab Beats, are remixed version of history, a new movement called nu-jazz: synth-heavy, raw, and seeping in a mix of different genres, from hip hop, classic R&B, to garage, and even grime, the music of London’s underground youth.
There’s a massive push towards this new genre and scene bubbling in London as of late. But if you know Gilles Peterson, if you listen to NTS, or if you’ve been to Camden Town’s Jazz Café, then you know it has been around, for a long time. As far back as the ’80s, you remember the iconic British group Soho, and their infectious single, “Hot Music”, right? London is the hub for experimentation. So, it’s no surprise there’s a collective of young, fresh, talent who making waves and writing a new chapter.
We caught up with the singer to talk about the new movement and where she fits in it. Read on for more.
You have a mature voice and a baby face. How old are you and where did you get that voice from?
Damn, really? I’m 20-something and I’m confident I got my voice from my creator!
There’s a strong Erykah Badu and Floetry influence in your voice; even some Amy circa her Frank album. Did those artists influence your sound during your earlier days?
They definitely did—Amy especially! Her voice was golden, her writing was genius and she’s from London. Erykah opened my eyes up to deeper thinking and self love, all things I champion and incorporate in my own writing.
What is your writing process for your music?
I like to start with a melody and build the lyrics around it. Then I’ll bring that melody to a session and tailor make the music to fit that idea. I also have a list of concepts that I like to work from. Pretty straightforward really.
How do you determine what producers to use for your music?
I tend to work with producers that are not only jazz, gospel and hip hop fans, but are also musicians first. This is important to me because above anything else, I need strong original chord progressions and grooves to make a song that I’d like to perform live. Having fun on stage is super important to me, so the instrumental can’t be too basic.
You came onto the scene by entering the MOBO Unsung competition in 2014. Who or what persuaded you to make that decision?
I got a DM from someone on Twitter who made me aware of the competition and I entered it literally the night before closing. I had no idea it even existed, ha. I’m not the biggest fan of creative competitions but I saw the opportunity for greater exposure of my music, so I said, “Why not?” and recorded my entry. Didn’t expect much from it, to be honest—because that’s how you get disappointed—but I’m super appreciative that I got as far as I did. S/O MOBO’s.
Tell us about your progression since that milestone.
Since the MOBO Unsung competition, I have supported Ray BLK, featured on Blu Lab Beats’ Blue Skies album, appeared in i-D Magazine and continued to write, network and perform anywhere that’ll have me!
There are a few prominent black female UK artists like Estelle and Floetry’s Marsha Ambrosia who felt they had to leave the UK to experience true success. Do you feel those times have changed?
Yes, I do agree that America seems like the place to be if you’re not as pop as the other artists here in the UK but I try not to focus on that because I’m determined to shake things up in the new wave of UK music first. Times have changed though, I feel like we’re becoming more independent ‘cos its cool to be Black and British—the world is watching us more so than before.
What is your view on the state of black music right now?
Black creativity is booming, whether that be in the UK or the US. We all have very unique experiences that are translated into our music and our visuals, making us diverse and strong in our own right. It’s beautiful to witness. I’m so glad I’m a part of it.
Is there anything you’d like to see more of in your industry as you develop as an artist?
I’d love to see more unorthodox collaborations and a greater appreciation for the art as a whole.
A lot of people have said for years that jazz is a dying genre. What is nu-jazz and where do you fit into this new sound?
I don’t think it’s a dying genre at all. Jazz just isn’t at the forefront of today’s media, right now. “Nu-Jazz” is a fresh take on an already amazing style of music that is often modernised through electronic production and lyrical content. I believe I come under this umbrella because I like to fuse all of my other musical influences together when I’m writing. The honesty that I get from hip hop, the vulnerability that I get from R&B, the melody lines and not to mention the grooves I get from jazz, all make up the Tiana Major9 sound!
What does it mean to you to be the voice of a generation?
Being the voice of a generation means that I’d have the responsibility to help steer the scene and expose it to a wider audience.
What would be the ultimate “mama I made it” moment for you?
When D’Angelo reaches out to me, we write and perform our song together live at the Grammy’s or something. He’s really the greatest, man.
What does Major9 stand for?
Maj9 (stylised as ‘Major9’) is one of my fave chords in music; I thought it had a cool ring to it at the time when I started thinking of myself as a brand so it kinda just stuck!
You have a side gig in retail. Have you ever pulled an Irene Cara a la the classic film ‘Fame’, and started doing a musical number in front of customers?
[Laughs] Nah, I haven’t actually tried that you know, but it’s in the cards! I usually just talk music with the customer that recognize me. Always the best part of the shift.
Have you had any embarrassing moments in front of a crowd yet?
Ha, yes! I had a performance at Hackney Empire which was going well until I wiped off half of my makeup on stage, forgetting the amount I had on at the time. That was the first time I ever got made up for a show—I had eyeshadow and mascara streaks everywhere [Laughs]. The show had to go on though!
Who is your Instagram guilty pleasure?
Ah, I have so many, but I love @Daquan ‘cos they’re always posting funny videos. I share a lot of their videos with my homies.
Images courtesy of Tiana Major9
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