Saidah Baba Taliba: True Colours

Photo by Wade Hudson

On a hot summer day at a studio in Toronto, Saidah Baba Talibah is getting her makeup done, clad in garments by American Retro and rocking Chanel combat boots. Her manager, David ‘Click’ Cox, sits nearby and is responding to an email.

“Would your mom be pissed if someone called her a blues singer?” he asks.

The content is for a book about blues. Talibah isn’t having it.

I wish my mom could talk right now. She’s not just a blues singer, she’s not just a jazz singer…”

Rather than succumbing to a sole label, the multi-instrumentalist, whose main tool is her voice, prefers to omit the word ‘genre’ from her vocabulary. Born and raised in Toronto, Talibah is one of the city’s most polytropic artists. She leaves eardrums ringing, wanting more, with an idiosyncratic mix of edgy, raunchy soul, but will always be the daughter of Salome Bey – “Canada’s First Lady of Blues.”

From being the frontwoman of 90s metal band Blaxam to her Chevy commercial hit, “Revolution,” Talibah believes that “whatever touches us, resonates with us,” regardless of chord and verse.

“We don’t listen to one type of music because those genres would not thrive. But because we are humans, we have to see certain colours or touch before we taste. That’s human nature, but if you don’t like it, keep it moving.”

Talibah is doing just that. Her next record is all about “finding your place, finding your voice and speaking your truth.” RedBlack&Blue, scheduled for release in 2014, is a sonic memoir of familial connection. The album’s concept is shaped by the influence of three women: Talibah’s mother, sister and daughter; and three animals: the red robin, Black Panther and blue butterfly. What the vocalist initially called a “crazy idea,” the animals aren’t necessarily symbolic of three people, and the context is neither good nor bad.

“It’s how they’ve influenced and inspired my life and how I have moved from that,” she says. “We are all dealing with different kinds of adversities and it’s about how we get through them.”

 The greatest challenge in Talibah’s life now is witnessing her mother live with dementia. Although Bey’s struggle has been an emotional journey, the singer believes that compressing inner battles isn’t a way to gain support and grow. For when she encounters rough waters, that’s when she finds clarity to write a good song.

But Talibah witnesses Bey on good days, too. The songstress that once belted “I Never Knew” can sing and groove when she’s present. This has taught her daughter the art of patience and gratitude.

“I miss my mother and miss spending time with her,” Talibah says, wiping water from her eyes. “I am learning to appreciate each moment as it comes as opposed to just taking it for granted because you can’t get it back.

When Talibah found out that her mother also had epilepsy, she was told to keep it on the down low. But the constant oppression of bottled-up frustration made her realize that RedBlack&Blue required the opposite. Hesitant to begin the project of raw, vocal expression, she valiantly decided to take the first step by discussing the issue openly in a status update on Facebook.

She pressed enter. Tears flowed. People responded.

“That’s when you figure out that there’s a thread that connects all of us. We all have to know that there is support.”

On the morning of the shoot, she walked by a homeless man asking for money, and realized: “How many emotions must you go through before you get to a place where you’re standing on a corner asking for help?” The artist now finds herself in his shoes, seeking the support of her fans to produce her next album.

RedBlack&Blue is funded by Pledge Music, a “direct-to-fan” project that assists the artist in creating the record while providing audiences with exclusive content. Talibah’s audience will choose up to six songs from three EPs – Red, Black and Blue – which will be narrowed down to 10 tracks for the final production.

(S)Cream, Talibah’s debut record, was also released through crowd funding. She has complete faith that RedBlack&Blue will be just as successful, if not more, as she reciprocates the support to a cause close to her heart

The artist will donate 10 per cent of the money raised to The Alzheimer’s Society of Canada. Talibah likes the format of Pledge Music because it shows a percentage, rather than a dollar, which “gives a sense of being a part of a big picture.” Currently over quota, things are looking pretty good.

The search won’t be over, even after the album is released. With a surname that means “seeker of knowledge,” Talibah lives up to her name in all aspects of life and is guided by her craft.

“It’s the ability to bring a sense of unconditional love to the surface,” her voice says with vigor. “That’s what I am seeking through music; talking with and connecting to people.”



This piece was first published in the Fall 2013 issue of CHLOE Magazine



So happy I could die: Catharsis, growth and music with Bif Naked

Photo by Kim Akrigg

Bif Naked loves herself today, not like yesterday. For Naked, born Beth Torbert, yesterday is an assemblage of adversity. Yesterday spans the last four years: a battle with breast cancer, a crushing divorce, recent kidney failure and open-heart surgery. The Juno Award-nominee and Vancouver native pop rocker believes that these hard times have finally made her sanguine in her own skin.

“Breast cancer turned me into a woman,” Naked says, clad in what she considers “little boy clothes” of a crisp pink dress shirt, purple skinny jeans and vegan Doc Martens loafers. “Before breast cancer, I really don’t believe I was an adult. I don’t think it was because of my own suffering, or physiological experience. I think it was because of my proximity to other women and their experiences.”

The other women Naked refers to are those she met while volunteering at a local hospital. Stating, “Emotions are worse than anything you can go through physically,” she felt a great source of positive energy from being around fellow cancer patients and survivors. Living by the motive that everything happens for a reason, Naked is grateful for her diagnosis, as she discovered “new passions,” along the way.

Naked has documented this gratitude in her new single, “So Happy I Could Die,” from her latest release, Bif Naked Forever: Acoustic Hits and Other Delights. The album is a collection of re-recorded acoustic classics and three fresh tracks. Like the singer’s moniker, the music is stripped down, both natural and vulnerable, showcasing Naked at her core.

“As a lyricist, I have been able to tap into my feelings and its very cathartic,” she says of writing new material with producer Ryan Stewart. “Emotionally, I envision myself as a resilient lady. I think (in a Yankee accent) ‘Ah, fuck it; I’ve seen it all. I’m tough as nails.’ But not at all, yet I had a completely open-heart writing with him.”

The heart is both a literal and figurative symbol for Naked. In the summer of 2012, her kidney failed. It was the crisis of the year, and having dealt with real heartbreak from a divorce in 2011, the artist faced an array of life decisions, yet a strong will to move on.

This strength-turned-solace is audible on “So Happy I Could Die,” a track evoking the gratitude Naked has practiced since the beginning of her career.

“I couldn’t believe how fortunate I was to hear my song on the radio,” she says of her big break that led to a tour with Life of Agony and a performance on the Today Show. “It didn’t matter if I got hit by a car.”

After several years of success and radio domination with hits like “Let Down” and “Spaceman,” crises arose, but with the help of her family and a clear mindset, Naked was full of fortitude.

“Life can be stressful and I get that,” she says. “But at the end of the day, reconnect with yourself, your surroundings, your gratitude and reality.”

The artist considers this to be her greatest insight and a value deeply rooted in her upbringing. Born in New Delhi, India and adopted by Canadian missionaries, Naked grew up in a multiethnic home. A “self-identifying Indian,” Naked found belonging in the Hindustani Khana Indian food her parents made, paired with the worship of Hindu deities and Christian faith. Now straightedge, vegan and an avid yoga enthusiast, she says that her path was guided not by religion, but by spirituality through music like Krishna Punk.

At first glance, Naked’s heavily inked body forms many misconceptions. The artist admits that people would never know that she loves the colour pink, doesn’t drink alcohol and is politically active with the City of Vancouver Women’s Advisory Council. She even has a house music side project under the name Jakkarta, in all of its “filthy, fun” tenacity.

Regarded as a role model, Naked’s biggest piece of advice emphasizes one of her most prolific songs.

“Love yourself today,” she says without pause. “For women, our biggest hang-up is ourselves and only we can know that self worth, self honour and self love is the biggest struggle we have.”

Among other endeavours, these feminine battles and a slew of adverse situations may be compiled in a book Naked is writing, set for a 2013 release. This may all seem a bit much, but for now, she’s cool, calm and definitely okay.

This piece was first published in the Winter 2013 issue of CHLOE Magazine