Grammy nominated vocalist, songwriter and producer Malika Tirolien has been taking the world by storm for almost a decade, ever since she sang the lead role in Cirque du Soleil’s show La Nouba and caught the attention multi Grammy award winners Snarky Puppy. Her performance on ‘I’m not the one’ from their album Family Dinner, is stunning and this was followed by the release of her debut album (self-produced and composed) Sur La Voie Ensoleillée and the formation of the super group Bokanté. Their most recent album What Heat led to being nominated by the Grammys for best world album last year.
She has recently released her new album Higher which is the second instalment of her tetralogy with four albums each representing an element. Her first album was earth, and this new album is air. Malika explains “It is like a map through the world of somebody’s mind. I see that person as a black woman navigating between being a warrior and wanting to cultivate her loving side at the same time. Struggling to find balance between her will to fight and her desire to surrender to love, the necessity to stay grounded and the calling to elevate and fly. Her journey which started with “Sur La Voie Ensoleillée” is continuing with Higher where she no longer walks but levitates.”
Talking to Malika was an experience I will never forget. I am continually overwhelmed by the inspirational people I am fortunate to interview and each one inspires me in new ways. The first thing that struck me was her energy and positivity. The warmth in her voice and the passion for her work. The new album is described as ‘showcasing a new genre called “Highsoul”, mixing r&b, soul, hip hop and jazz to create the soundtrack of a psychedelic trip from anger to forgiveness’. I had many questions here, but firstly, I asked Malika to explain the anger and forgiveness element.
MT: The album starts with a with a song called ‘No Mercy’ and it’s a song about anger and wanting to get revenge. But the album is about elevating and trying to find the path of positivity and forgiveness. Going forward, always in the path of love and life and this is the journey through this album. The album ends with ‘Don’t Come Around’ which is a song about leaving procrastination behind and finding that positivity and the steps that you go through. Personal relationships…global humanity… it can be perceived differently by so many people and I don’t want to give it a direction. People can take it as they want but to me it was more of a global idea.
Born in Guadeloupe and based in Montreal, Malika’s roots are a significant part of her artistry. Her Grandfather, Guy Triloen, was an inspiration to many and was a poet of significance. He was part of the Négritude ideological movement whose aim was to raise, cultivate and promote an appreciation of the history of black culture across Africa and its diaspora. He is famously known for “Prière d’un petit enfant nègre” a poem written in the 1940s and included in his book “Balles d’or”. The poem is about a black child who does not want to go to the white school.
I am very tired
I was born tired
And I have walked a lot since the rooster crowed
And the hill is high up that leads to their school
Lord I don’t wanna go to their school
MT: Yes, my Grandfather was a poet, and, on this album, we have a song called ‘Prière’ one of his poems which is most known, and it was taught in the schools and still is. I’m really, really proud to be able to feature this on my album and it means so much to me. My father is an artist, my auntie is an artist… I grew up in this artistically rich environment.
The majority of the album is sung in English but there are a few songs in French and one in Creole and the diverse influences that are embedded throughout this album create an authenticity and uniqueness to Malika. Defined as creating a new genre ‘highsoul’ it is a perfect way to describe her music.
MT: I think everything shapes your creativity; everything is your life experiences, your moods, so many things that can come back and come into the mix. We decided instead of letting people put the music in boxes we would create our own box and we are calling this music highsoul.
I often discuss the box ticking mentality and the need for people, especially in Jazz to define where something sits. By naming her own genre, Malika has made a clear statement of strength, understanding and freedom, which is actually the perfect way to describe her artistry. It was interesting to talk about some of her biggest influences who she often names as Michael Jackson and Bob Marley.
MT: Yes! For sure! Michael Jackson, when I was a kid, was everything. Not just his creativity and artistry but also his work ethic, the way he is giving back to the community. Bob Marley also had that same vision, offering something that is completely new and to be really true in their artistry. Not trying to be like anybody else but still succeeding, so I really admire that. Of course I have so many women that have inspired me that are still inspiring me – Beyoncé, Lauren Hill etc.
FR: All incredible artists, so how do you feel Jazz comes into your work?
MT: Freedom – and that’s my favourite thing. Something that I find important but in music and creativity it’s so good to feel that freedom. You don’t need to get into any box, and you can explore anything that you want to explore. It’s your music and that’s why I love jazz and what I find really beautiful and exciting about it.
Many artists discuss the freedom jazz brings and the space for exploration and it is fascinating to delve into why some artists are drawn to this need for freedom. I asked Malika if at times she felt she was not free and if in fact, a lack of freedom was partly why she was drawn to jazz, maybe even subconsciously.
MT: Always so many reasons why we like and dislike some certain styles and sometimes you’re not even aware of why. It’s a really good explanation. For sure, as a woman, growing up I was told, you are a girl, so you not allowed to do this and that… so maybe I’m looking for that freedom and to take back my freedom. It’s still such a big challenge at this stage, as a woman and I just hope it’s going to change with time. I feel like it is changing, it is just not there yet, but I feel a lot of hope and I feel like music is a big part of that change.
Watching Malika’s videos, I am inspired by the role model she has become. I visualize young girls across the world watching this powerful woman, exploring her thoughts, strengths and positivity through such incredible music and believing that they can do anything. This is powerful stuff. What becomes very clear from talking to Malika is how energetic and powerful her live performances must be. Sadly, due to the current global issues, she is not gigging but I spoke to her about the live performance element of her work and what she hoped audiences would feel.
MT: It’s hard because it’s actually my favourite thing. I love the studio but it’s really different to be live. My God it’s such an exchange with people that you don’t know because they connect to your music. It’s so beautiful to have all these vibrational exchanges with people and the energy…. So, for sure, let me! I miss it dearly but it’s only going to make it even more extraordinary when it comes back. I want audiences to feel inspired. I want them to feel like a living experience, that they were touched by the music and that they are hopeful.
If you had not heard of Malika Tirolien before, then do please explore her work. She is powerful artist that brings joy, inspiration and new hope and goodness knows, we all need that. A beautiful soul whose energy, talent and music needs to be heard and felt.
More information on Malika can be found at here website.
Here latest album is available on all the usual platforms including Bandcamp.
Last modified: April 28, 2021