I approached Tahirah Memory’s Pride knowing only that she is from Portland, Oregon, and has an amazing voice. Amazing is an apt description. Tahirah’s voice is at her whim, whether that be big and bold, soft and sultry, bouncy and playful, or all of the above. She seems to have absorbed everything she heard growing up the daughter of a jazz trumpeter, and retooled it all to create her own sound. Pride is the first of what I am hoping will be a number of albums.
The album opens wih an intimately buoyant title track, with Tahirah’s smooth voice pairing with a bright piano, like raindrops scuttling together down a cement staircase. “You should put down your gloves, accept this love / Embrace the day with ease, swallow your pride,” sings Tahirah, repeating these lines as the track fades out, voice, piano, guitar, and light percussion melding with background vocals that bind every sound together like the eggs in a batch of decadently chocolate brownies. “Pride (Reprise)” serves as an instrumental transition to “Alright,” an upbeat ode to the tendency of love to equalize everything to Good. The bassline is fast and progressive, as if to hint at the passage of time while Tahirah floats, suspended in a rose-colored cloud, listening to the voice of her beloved. I imagine there are a lot of people in the world who feel the same way listening to her. To say this woman has chops would be an understatement. This is the sort of vocal prowess that transfixes live audiences, and makes even the most annoying guy with the popped collar in the room stop mansplaining and listen, because this voice has something to say.
With a funkier, staccato rhythm, “Nice Guy” shifts the album down to earth. Within the lyrics, Tahirah provides real-life examples of the wonderful things that this man does for her. Foot rubs followed by new shoes, sending birthday flowers to her mother, this guy really is a “Nice Guy”. “You Should Make Me Cry” is the next song on the album, and showcases Tahirah’s vocal range in emotionally honest lyrics that put on aural display the strength and flexibility of her laryngeal musculature. What a sultry dance, her arytenoids do.
“Pride (Interlude)” gives her throat a break and allows her to do some digital cardio on the keys before the next track, “Time,” floods your ears, mind, and body with a warmth that could vanquish the most persistent mid-winter chills. The keyboard bumps in a smooth way I never knew keys could bump, and Tahirah’s voice is delightfully delectable like going down a snowy hill on a sled, the sled track having been packed down by earlier runs. There is something in her expert voice that tells you that she loves what she does, and that makes her even better at it.
“All The Time” opens with piano and shimmering cymbals, before ceding to Jarrod Lawson’s sumptuous vocals. Mmm-mmm-MMM! is all I have to say about his lines, delivered with a passion that could break through a brick wall. When Tahirah comes in, I feel almost as if she is interrupting a moment I, the listener, am having with Jarrod. Almost. Her incredible vocals join his like a mortise and tenon. In a beautiful diapason, the two bend and stretch their voices, ending the duet
“Beautiful Disaster” has a beautiful beginning, as a cascading melody, punctuated by a rain stick gives way to Tahirah’s voice pondering what happened in her recently ended relationship. “Even when it wasn’t right / it was so beautiful,” she admits. Painting the picture of a relationship that is so wrong but at the same time so appealing, Tahirah displays self-awareness and critical thinking about the partnership that was so difficult to grasp when she was floating in that pink cloud of infatuation. In “Again” Tahirah entertains the possibility of revisiting the “Beautiful Disaster,” but ultimately rejects a rerun of the failed relationship. As she sings, “I just can’t do it again,” the music conveys a sense of moving on, prospective propulsion into the future, and Tahirah’s inclusion of her cover of Andre 3000’s futuristic “Prototype” from OutKast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below romanticizes the relationship into the sort of thing that is okay when you’re wearing a white wig, but just can’t fly in the real world.
Facing a new day, content with herself and a funky beat, Tahirah opens “Puddin” with the confident line, “I’m puddin my love away.” She knows what is best for her and I suspect she understands that a good dessert is far superior to a mediocre relationship. Tahirah brings back the intimacy of voice and piano in the penultimate track of Pride, “I Can’t Change.” With strong, steadfast vocals, she unapologetically affirms who she is and how her experiences, good and bad alike, have served to mold her. With a meaningful nod to her past (“We forget to forgive”), she moves forward, eyes wide open, refusing to dwell in the territory of what was and fulling intending to sojourn towards the impenetrable future. She brings the album home with “Pride (outro),” a pairing of piano and percussion that falls on my ears like a bookend on my Complete Works of Shakespeare: solid and not really necessary, but nice to have, nonetheless.
Tahirah Memory does indeed have an amazing voice. While I am biased toward the East Coast, I will admit, good things come from Portland, Oregon, and Tahirah is one of them. If you have to opportunity to see her live, I strongly urge you to take it. Even if you can’t make it to one of her shows, Pride is a great addition to your Music Library. It can keep you warm this coming winter.
Interview Tahirah Memory
A year ago on your blog you mentioned that you were self-managing your career. Are you still taking this approach?
Absolutely. Although I’m not opposed to the right fit in terms of booking and management, I’m completely content handling things on a smaller, slower scale in order to insure my freedoms creatively and financially.
How did you and Jarrod Lawson join forces?
February 1, 2014 I was singing on a gig with my father, Grammy winning trumpeter, and mentor/teacher of Esperanza Spalding, Thara Memory. Jarrod was called last minute to substitute for another singer on the gig. My father had never heard of him, and I hadn’t heard much of him either. We both had viable solo careers working prior to meeting. However, once on stage, we felt a synergy, and found a mutual respect and love for each other, and vowed to work together moving forward.
“All the Time” is a great duet. Could you tell me how that song came together?
All The Time was actually a quick result of that encounter … Jarrod wrote a verse of the song and sent it to me via a phone memo, and I completed my portion of the song. It was our very first writing collaboration and was written on February 14th, just two weeks after we met.
Was this tour with Lalah Hathaway you first major national tour? What are some highlights and learning experiences from tour?
The Lalah tour was all Jarrod’s doing, he was just gracious enough to feature me. What a surreal situation to be in! It seems like we’ve rubbed elbows with many of the greats frequently in the past couple of years, touring alongside them all over the world. I’m always absorbing, always in awe, always learning. It’s a beautiful perk! We’ve done several shows in the US promoting Jarrod’s project, festivals and the like. I’ve just returned from a summer stint in the UK touring my own project, PRIDE. I’m looking to lock in more opportunities for myself, stateside.
Do you perform locally in Portland? Where can we see you live?
Yes, yes! I perform in Portland! I do gigs with my band every couple of months at Jimmy Maks Jazz Club. I also participate in gigs, as a hired vocalist for jazz cats, and party bands. I try to stay working, and vocally active. I keep my upcoming dates on my website, TahirahMemory.com. I also promote heavily on social media. Facebook, Twitter @Missmemory, and Instagram @MissMamaMemory.
What was the first album that you added to your personal music library?
Whitney Houston, was the first album I collected. It was on vinyl, I listened endlessly.
What was your most recent addition to your personal music library?
Most recently, Solange’s latest release, A Seat At at The Table.
What was your first live music experience? Which venue and which artist(s)?
Whitney Houston was my first concert in an arena. My first live music experience was my father though. He played year round and some of my youngest memories are in a park watching him play jazz with his septet, at a summer festival, when I was only a toddler. That was a very frequent occurrence. I’m sure it helped solidify my love.
If you could cover one album in your music library which would it be?
It’s hard to say who I would cover.. I’ve daydreamed about covering Amy Winehouse, or Anita Baker.. Totally opposite ends of the vocal spectrum. [laughter] But that’s why music is so crazy amazing. It can touch parts of you that you don’t know belong to you!
What artist do you wish more people had in their music library?
I highly recommend Moonchild. Dope band, and musicianship. Both of their records are to die for.