Villainesse: What inspired you to write Powerful?
Tali: The song is a culmination of things. Firstly, I have had various conversations over the last year or so with several female colleagues of mine, who work in different sectors of the music industry. They have all told me they have experienced moments of being treated inappropriately, ranging from being spoken to in a sexist and demeaning manner, to actually being physically assaulted.
There was this overwhelming sense of fear that I got from all of them – a fear of speaking out about it because it may mean doors of opportunity in the future within our industry would be closed on them. No one wants to be seen as causing a fuss, even if they have every right to. We live in a society where unfortunately even if you have done nothing wrong, people can be very quick to create their own versions of what they think happened, and next thing you know, it’s your name that is being tarnished.
It absolutely infuriates me that ANYONE – male or female – should be forced to keep their mouths closed about injustices they have faced, for fear that they won’t be able to advance their career in the future. What sort of poisonous industry is that?
And sorry NO. Don’t give me that, “if you can’t stand the heat then get out the kitchen” bullshit. It should be more “fuck that kitchen! That kitchen needs to be remodelled!!”
Not only this but I find myself becoming more and more frustrated with the inequality I see regarding festival lineups, and radio playlisting etc. All these decisions that are being made about our art, that often determines our worth both to ourselves and to others, sometimes being made by those who don't even understand our music or scene, or who don’t take the time to see what it is we do – and who is making these decisions? Nine times out of ten it’s usually men.
I don’t necessarily think the men in these positions are deliberately sexist. Sometimes I think it just comes down to a lack of perspective. Failing to see how without inclusion, it only inhibits the future of our scene further. Or it’s people who are only thinking with their wallet. Yes I understand it’s important to make money, I have been a promoter too. But if you choose to ‘promote music’ – then promote ALL the makers of music. Male, female, trans, non binary, gay, straight, bi whatever!
Anyway… All that got me so fed up that I decided I wanted to write a song about it. And be truthful and confrontational in the way I wrote it.
In a genre that can be so heavily male dominated, how does it feel to release such an unapologetically feminist track?
Well going by the reaction I have had so far, and the messages that have been flooding my inbox all week from both women and men saying how much they appreciate the message of the track, it feels bloody great!! Especially as every time someone buys the track, the money goes to Women’s Refuge.
I know there will be people out there who find the message of the song uncomfortable for whatever reason – but that’s a good thing. If we can get conversations going, and get people thinking, then hopefully that can help perpetuate some change. I know there will be the usual mutterings of, “Oh here we go again, Tali on her feminist, equality rant” (and this will show in who chooses to support the track and who doesn’t) but news flash, truth be told if you’re saying that, you are actually an arsehole.
These conversations don’t happen because people want to cause a fuss, or start a fight or because they just want attention. They happen because these issues are REAL. They are issues affecting a vast majority of the population, and most definitely will have affected someone you know. If you're tired of the conversation or of hearing people like me bang on about it and you're in a position where you could do something to implement a positive change - then maybe you should think about doing so. At the end of the day, I’ve been in this industry for 16 years, I’ve been through it all, and have nothing to lose by speaking out about the things I see. If it helps make things that much better and fairer for those coming up in the scene, then awesome. :)
If you had to choose just one lyric – a phrase, sentence, even just a word – that you hoped listeners would take away from the song, what would it be? Why?
Umm that’s a hard question to answer simply because I put so much thought into every single line having its own meaning, its own power and truth.
I guess the phrase: “I’ve been doing this for so long, and still this shit’s going on, I’m not afraid to say, what I see happening every day…”
It kinda sums up that as I said before, I have been an international artist for 16 years and STILL I am having to put up with sexist crap in some form or another. And if it’s not me, it’s happening to someone else I know.
But also, that I’m not going to sit back and be quiet if I do see it. I will call people out on this and make an issue of it, because I’m so bloody bored of it.
Also the line, “Trying to make us compete, like there’s no room in the scene”.
I know of instances where certain female musicians have been turned down for a gig lineup because they already had another woman playing. Like you can’t have a lineup where two women are playing the same genre, or a similar sound, or God forbid, both have a vagina!!
It also does my head in the way that women are often compared and pitted against each other, a deliberate ruse to create division, rather than unification. Because unification would mean voices speaking out in support!
What was it like working with Melodownz? Did he just instinctively ‘get’ the song, or did you guys spend time talking about it?
I knew I wanted a male voice on this track as soon as I recorded it, and I knew Melodownz would be perfect because listening to his lyrics, he is a positive, conscious rapper. Someone I also know is respectful of women and supportive of equality in the scene.
I spoke to Melinki one of the producers, to tell him what I was thinking, and he agreed it would make the track that much stronger having a male voice on there. So I wrote to Melodownz and played him the track, and told him why I wanted him on there, and he was feeling the whole concept straight away.
I didn't want it to sound like some anti male track. I have a wonderful father, brothers, an amazing husband, and fantastic male friends who are all sensitive and supportive to the cause. That’s why it was important to have Melodownz as the ‘male voice’ on the track, and also the image of me standing with my husband behind me in the music video.
So that people could see it’s not just about us women raising up our voices and inspiring power within ourselves, but that we need our male counterparts to do the same alongside us. Change can only happen when everyone has a common, unified perspective and desire for a difference.
Sonically, the song has a kind of dark, gritty edge that to me really suits the subject matter, then the sung octaves in the chorus send a haunting chill down your spine. As a team of artists and writers, what was the creation process like?
I had originally written the beginning of the song for a loop I had made myself, initially thinking I wanted it to be like an intro track to the new EP I'm working on.
However when Melinki sent me the backing track him and Verva had made and asked me if I wanted to write something for it, its dark edginess immediately resonated with me, and I thought, “This needs something special lyric wise”.
I started rapping the lyrics I had over the beat and they just fitted perfectly. The way I delivered the rap was very deliberate as well. Low, with a hint of almost like disgust and anger in my tone, the same kind of voice I use when I’m telling someone where to go!
I said to Melinki, “Yo I’ve got these lyrics, but they’re quite full on, quite feminist,” and Melinki being the total Don he is was like, “Yeah bring it Tali! This is an important thing you’re saying!” Which was hugely encouraging.
When I saw dance crew Street Candee in the video I almost felt like I was witnessing a reclaiming of female sexuality and agency. What was the experience like, working with an all-female dance crew on a track about the power of women?
Street Candee are absolutely ALL about that, and that is exactly what I wanted to portray in having them in it. They are a super talented, and fierce dance crew who own every inch of their sexuality, unafraid and unapologetic.
Initially I thought I wanted them to wear more hip hop style clothes rather than sexy attire and heels as I thought it might come across wrong with regard to the message of the song. But then I saw them dance and I thought, this is obviously what makes them feel powerful, sexy, strong and confident.
And I feel that way watching them! And hell yes they should rock whatever makes them feel that way, because this is what the song is all about. And Rina the amazing choreographer said herself that they do sexy for THEM. No one else. They were the perfect choice.
How did the collaboration with the Women’s Refuge come about?
When I first wrote this song and told some of my friends about it, I realised that it contained the kind of message that sort of transcends my own personal feelings. Almost like; the theme is bigger than just me or my friends. It’s the sort of message that had the potential to touch a lot of people.
My New Year’s resolution was to give more, and so I felt that with there being such a feminist message to the song, perhaps we should donate the proceeds of the track to a charity that helps women. Then it just came to me that Women’s Refuge was the right choice. They help so many women and children in varying degrees of difficulty, who are often left feeling powerless and without anywhere to turn.
If people love the track and want to buy it because the message of female empowerment resonates with them, they in turn are helping those who need to find their power again. Something that Women’s Refuge tries to do, from as far up as Kaitaia all the way down to Invercargill.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
I just hope that people will understand, or connect with the message of this song and that it helps in some way to make a difference in people’s behaviours and attitudes for the better.
I also hope people will buy the single because all the proceeds go to Women’s Refuge and they are an amazing charity that is actually underfunded, and which relies a lot on charitable assistance. Every little bit helps!!
Thank you for talking to me xx
Tali’s single Powerful can be purchased on iTunes.Support Villainesse