She switches outfits at lightening speed to ensure that all the looks can be photographed in the time set aside. Tkay Maidza jumps out of platform boots which almost double her diminutive height and into print dresses with an infectious charm and energy. No more time for the interview? Never mind, we’re invited to join her in her rented apartment nearby in the Marais, accompanied by her British manager. Briefly acquiescing to the suggestion of takeaway sushi, she answers our questions without ever ceasing to smile. Tkay has been in Paris for three days to promote her eponymous album, and she leaves for London tomorrow to do the same, racing from interview to television show.
Talented and hyperactive
A month before meeting her, we hadn’t heard her name. Then internet rustled with the fresh sounds of her bright hip-hop, capable of holding its own against the global electro-pop scene. Her sound owes as much to Diplo’s productions for M.I.A. (“Tennies”, “Carry On” feat. Killer Mike) to the tropical dance of Kungs or Flume (“Stimulation”). Tkay sings as much as she raps across syncopated beats scattered with sharp-sweet sounds. Her own definition of her music breathes freedom: “It’s basically about me doing what I want.” Tkay Maidza was born into a mining family who moved from Zimbabwe to the countryside around Perth, Australia when she was five years old. She grew up in the desert then moved east before settling in Adelaide six years ago. Her outlook is still part-urban, part-rural, with a taste for seaside cities that allow the opportunity to escape. A fairly nomadic life, in short. “I haven’t really been at home in the last two years. I’ve toured a lot, which I love because it means I can discover new places that I never even knew existed, like Calpe near Valencia in Spain where we shot a video. But I’d love to live in the USA, where everything is easier than in Australia, where shops close at 5pm and nothing happens outside of working hours. In the USA, you can do your shopping at midnight, things are much simpler. My ideal city would be Los Angeles. The most important thing for me is the energy. I not a very patient person.” Aged barely 20, Tkay has already released the Switch Tape EP in 2014, lauded by Spin and Pitchfork. Precocious? She did skip two classes to graduate at age 16 and spent several years studying architecture, which she is keeping as an unlikely fallback plan should her musical dreams not come true. “When I was 16, my friends went clubbing but I wasn’t allowed to because I was still underage. I changed schools several times, and had to make new friends, so I never ended up having very many because I knew that I wouldn’t know them for very long. My parents told me to focus on my studies.” Her lyrics reflect this sense of striving for self-knowledge through solitude, the fact of trusting the wrong people or the loss of a friend… A depth rare in the current pop climate.
Though she writes her own lyrics, she doesn’t produce the tracks herself: “I’m trying to learn, but it’s easier to work with producers and to have that shared dynamic. I find them on the internet or they find me, sometimes the label suggests people.I’ve worked with Australians, Americans and even French guys, since I sing on Martin Solveig’s ‘Do It Right’”. Her musician father played in African folk bands but Tkay was still a child and only remembers the rhythmical influences. “My parents listened to reggae and my mum loved Lauryn Hill, who was a huge inspiration for me. They also listened to the radio a lot, which is also my my own sound is so pop. I love Missy Elliott, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Kanye West… who was my favourite rapper when I moved into hip-hop. My first track was a reworking of his ‘Power’.” If she had to choose future dream collaborations, they would be with Hudson Mohawke, Cashmere Cat and above all Pharrell Williams. Her energy also shines through onstage. Having already opened for Charli XCX or Mark Ronson, she loves big productions: “Those shows where everyone is into it and having fun. I’d like my sets to look like that. When I saw Major Lazer onstage I thought ‘Wow, that’s what I want to do!’. My dream show would be Beyoncé at the Superbowl in 2013, with dancers and those projections of her dancing, pyrotechnics, all that. I did my first show with choreography in New York in October. We rehearsed eight hours a day for two days. It was hard, but if you believe in yourself you can do it. I’d love to play at Terminal 5 in New York or at festivals like Glastonbury in the UK.” Her album has just come out and the accompanying shows are electric. Keep your ear to the ground: you’ll be hearing a lot more from her!
Album TKAY (Kitsuné)