Hope Tala Makes Neo-Soul that Warms Like a Ray of Light
Introducing the 21-year-old Londoner who makes break-ups sound far less horrible and teary than they feel, on new track "DTM."
Photo by Ruby Rose Gleeson
There’s nothing like being stunned by a piece of art. And by that I don’t necessarily mean that you're shocked – although good art can be shocking – but that you’ve been so taken aback by something on first listen (or watch or read or look) that it’s knocked you backwards. You’re present, you're here, and you’re taking every moment in.
Musician Hope Tala’s debut single proper “Lovestained” produces a feeling like that. Introduced with a bossanova tinged, hand-plucked guitar, it softly places you in a late afternoon, golden-hour setting that’s likely several air-miles away from wherever you're currently streaming it. Then Hope’s light but commanding vocal comes through, “I’ll make it better / I’ll make it better, you never have to worry about me,” coming in waves like a tranquilliser.
The song plucked the 21-year-old out of west London and nudged her into the spotlight, granting her international press from Rolling Stone as well as cross-coast collaborations (she's worked with the outrageously soulful US singer Raveena). When Hope and I meet in a Soho pub for a quiet catch-up, her English Literature degree at Bristol University is sliding into its last moments, her final essay handed in. At this point she had a choice: carry-on from the success of “Lovestained” or follow up with a Masters degree, where she’d been accepted, to study English at Cambridge. In the end she chose the former.
“It’s fine if one thing is a bit more hectic than the other but when they both become hectic at the same time I find it hard to compartmentalise things,” she says. Just as well she's focusing on music now, then, with new track “DTM” out today (premiering below) and a full EP of songs on the way, to follow 2018's self-released Soundcloud EP Starry Ache. “DTM” comes from the same warm pocket of sound as "Lovestained", and fits into the tonal canon of work by some of Hope Tala’s neo-soul faves. For more info on who those are, read on below for the next edition of our introductory Here’s The Deal With… series.
SHE GOT HER MUSIC TASTE FROM MUM AND DAD
“I had an eclectic taste as a kid because my dad listens to everything. Both my parents are obsessed with music, particularly my dad. He’d play funk, disco stuff – he loves Chic. But he also loves Foo Fighters. There’d be a lot of Red Hot Chili Peppers as well, then a lot of Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder. My mum has a narrower music taste – she listens to R&B and soul music – and when I was about 14, I remember she sat me down one day, put earphones on my ears, and played me 'To Zion' by Lauryn Hill. I’ll never forget where I was that day. It was the most transformative thing I’ve heard in my life. From that point onwards I just listened to neo-soul music and R&B. I was obsessed with Lauryn Hill, Indie Arie, Erykah Badu, D’Angelo. I felt like I’d discovered a new world. They never played that kind of stuff when I was growing up, so I didn’t understand neo-soul until then.”
BUT HAS A PARTICULAR SOFT SPOT FOR NEO-SOUL
“The thing I love about neo-soul music and become really fascinated by is that it’s all made by women. Particularly in black music, that’s quite rare. It’s not only dominated by women but it’s a very self-aware, intelligent genre of music. A lot of the lyrics are based on politics and world events and race – things that are interesting intellectually and culturally. That was something I was really drawn to.”
SHE'S OBSESSED WITH READING
“From when I was a young child my parents would read to me before bed, then we’d read ourselves. It’s all I really wanted to do: read. The first proper book I ever read was Matilda by Roald Dahl. I think I was maybe four, five, six, and she was reading it to my brother and I, and read the first few chapters then stopped to make dinner. But I was so invested in the story that I read the whole thing. Then after I’d finished it I read it seven times in a row because I was so obsessed with that book. I remember being on that sofa reading it for the first time. And then I was obsessed with Harry Potter and all the classic stuff.”
“I love Shakespeare a lot, I really like Shakespeare’s plays. I really like 20th century, 21st century stuff. I’m really into Zadie Smith. Françoise Sagan. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I really like JD Salinger.”
HER MUSIC CENTRES ON LOVE (FOR NOW)
“All my songs are about love. I’m the type of person – I’m very interested in politics and culture, and a lot of the music I listen to reflects that, but the music I write, I don’t have any interest in writing about that stuff. Some of my favourite songs ever, like “Drop That Thing” by Lauryn Hill or a lot of Kendrick Lamar’s music, it’s all super charged with politics. I love that. But I don’t think I’m capable of writing that type of music and it’s not what inspires me to write music, per-say. So I write about love.”
FOR EXAMPLE: “DTM” IS ABOUT A BREAK-UP
“It stands for ‘Don’t Tell Me’. I was in a relationship that ended at the end of last year and I wrote it about that. It’s one of those songs that’s about guilt at being the one to end a relationship. But it’s also saying to the other person, ‘I’m also sad.’ Just because I broke up with you I’m not like 'woo, sick!’ It’s basically asserting my own sadness about the situation, saying I’m sad. Although I broke up with you I’m still sad as well – that’s what ‘DTM’ is about.”
BUT SHE LIKES THE LISTENER'S PERSONAL EXPERIENCE MOST
“The whole thing about music is that it isn’t about the artist and what the artist is trying to portray. It’s all about the listener and the experiences that they bring to it. It’s the same as reading a book or experiencing any type of art. It has nothing to do, really, with the person that made the song or the piece of art, it’s all about the perspective individual experience the consumer brings. What I love about music is every time I put a song out I feel very disconnected from it because it doesn’t belong to me anymore. That’s what I feel like when I listen to other people’s music – because of the person I am, and the things I’ve been through.”