Thursday, September 29, 2022

Tulani: Soulful R&B Harpist Describes Her Sound and Style

Courtesy photo

*Today EURweb founder Lee Bailey speaks with soulful artist Tulani in a candid interview where the harpist explains her inspirations and most importantly how she is able to transform the low key, stationary harp into a soulful expression that is blended with her up-tempo singing style and musicianship.

Oh yeah, you can catch Tulani live on Saturday, December 1 at the Peppermint Club in Hollywood. For more info:  http://www.peppermintclub.com/

BAILEY:  I’m excited to talk to you because I’ve never seen someone like you before. Let’s talk about your name.  Is that a stage name or a given name?

TULANI: Actually, it’s a given name.  It’s a Swahili name. The definition is, ironically, peaceful.  

BAILEY: Okay, give us some background.  I assume you grew up … born and raised in and around DC.

TULANI: Yeah, I started in music, taking harp lessons at the DC Youth Orchestra, which is a big youth program that teaches kids orchestral instruments.  Singing was something initially very separate.  

It was just like I sang choir and the two were totally different. Because I was learning classical [harp], and then singing was more soulful. So  I just wanted to bring the two together and not separate them, but find a way to marry the two.

BAILEY: What age did you start performing?

TULANI:  You know, I started in the third grade. I’ve always loved music. I can’t imagine not doing music in my life.  I’ve always loved it and my performances were different singing verses with the harp, but I wanted to kind of combine them together. I love soul music so much and figured out a way to make the harp soulful.

Tulani playing the harp.

BAILEY: What attracted you to the harp?

TULANI: Growing up around music, I played different instruments.  It was my mom who actually came up with the idea of me playing the harp.  She’s basically told me, “Hey, you have a harp lesson. So I went to my harp lesson and I fell in love with all the strings and this big beautiful instrument.

BAILEY:  Did your mom play an instrument?

TULANI: No, she’s not a musician, but she just kind of had this inkling and so she just knew that was the one. And it was amazing. Because when I first saw, it was just like, literally, like, my heart skipped beats and I fell in love with it.  

BAILEY: What were your musical influences?

TULANI: I grew up around music.  I grew up singing in the choir. I really like old school music. I like watching James Brown, Whitney Houston and Tina Turner, and Aretha Franklin and Sammy Davis. Jr. definitely, where it was also about entertainment.  Sammy Davis Jr. was just more than just a singer, he did everything.

James Brown was electrifying on stage.  The vocal prowess of Whitney Houston. Listening to old school songs and old school music really has been a tremendous influence on me.  Even my album, that came out this year, definitely reflects the influences of the 60s, 70s and 80s music.

Cover art for Tulani’s 2018 album ‘Unscripted.’

BAILEY:  So that’s where that exuberance and raucousness of your stage show comes from?  The way you sit at your harp and do what you do kinda reminds me of Jerry Lee Lewis, that old rock and roll pianist, and even Little Richard, to some extent.  

TULANI:  As an artist, I am deeply inspired, and I literally take notes on old-school musical performances.  Being able to look at those performances and seeing how those artists really touched their audiences with their performances.  The music that I make now is a reflection of the past and a new take on it. But defiantly in the heart and the gut and the soul, [I am influenced] particularly by the music from the 70s.

I study and take notes from performances.  Being able to look at those performances and seeing just how those artists really touched their audience is a beautiful thing.

BAILEY: Do you consider yourself an “old soul?”

TULANI: Oh, yeah definitely, I love all the greats like Sam Cook, the legend.  I feel I still enjoy music up today, but in my artistry, I’m very influenced by the music of the past.

BAILEY: Checking you out on photos and videos, you wear pants a lot.  Is that a practical decision?

TULANI: Yeah, It absolutely is. I definitely like to be comfortable for the stage for one because when I go on stage, I want to give everything that’s inside of me. I want to pour out my whole soul. I don’t want any restriction. So, that’s definitely a comfort zone to be able to wear pants or to wear like, shorts and rompers and it’s also a part of my style.  If you see any of the videos, you’ll probably see the consistency of that.

BAILEY: So you’re a female who plays the harp.  What are the challenges that you have to deal with?

TULANI:  You know, the challenges that I’m faced with is that I think sometimes people think about the harp, they have a preconceived (notion). I know, I definitely understand that because when I first began playing the harp, I studied classically and, you know, I didn’t even imagine when I first started that end up somewhere different with it, but I think a lot of times people say the harp that they are going to assume you are playing a lullaby or ‘put us to sleep’ music.

People come after the performance and they tell me that, “Oh, it was so totally different from what I thought it would be.”  I kind of like that, in a way. Have people thinking one thing, and then I will come and do something totally opposite.

BAILEY: Do you observe people, when they’re watching you when you strike up a note, and begin your show?

TULANI:  They’re not quite ready for what happens, because I feed off of the audience. I 100% feed off the looks and stares.  I feel it. That’s why I love being on stage so much because I’m a people person. When I’m on stage, I feel like I draw from their energy and it’s a kind of synergy between me and the audience.

I want when people to come and see me perform. I want them to take away any stressful worries and at that moment for it to be able to escape all of the craziness.  That’s what I’m doing on stage. I’m escaping all of the other stuff in life and just making it about them. When I’m on stage, I feel that I’m there to serve the audience.  I go on stage full and leave the stage empty.

I’ve performed songs and it touched my heart.  I have performed an original song that I never put out, and that no one has heard it. Then to go on stage and an audience starts midway through the song singing it with me.  It’s such a great feeling!

BAILEY: Well, you’ve opened for what I would say, is an eclectic list of artists, from a lot of different genres, so what do you think your secret or appeal?

TULANI: Yeah. You know, it’s been an honor for all these opportunities that I had to open up for those artists, especially artists that but I always looked up to, admired and sang their songs in the mirror with the brush.

Then to be able to open up for Chakra Khan.  That was that that was incredible. I love that because it puts me in front of different audiences with different demographics.

BAILEY: What can those who haven’t seen your show expect?

TULANI:  It’ll be a night to just let go of any worries or troubles and just come and just have a good time.  I’ll have the band backing me. We are going to go through the album. The album is called ‘Unscropted.’  We going to throw in a couple cover songs but we are sticking to mainly the album. The goal for me is to be able to reach everybody and touch somebody in some way.

BAILEY: What’s your vision for the future?

TULANI: My vision is to be able to put out more albums.  To travel and perform internationally. And to continue to make music that inspires, and touches people.

For more information about Tulani go to: www.tulanionline.com and/or www.instagram.com/iamtulani.

For more information about tickets to her December 1st show at the Peppermint Club in Hollywood, go to www.peppermintclub.com or https://www.eventbrite.com/e/tulani-with-symphani-soto-and-jurni-rayne-at-the-peppermint-club-tickets-49394890447.

Tieuelium
A writer, illustrator and photographer.

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