by Collier Meyerson
May 25, 2013
ART HAPS is excited to be the exclusive media partner for Four More Years: Recess Benefit 2013 on May 28th at (Le) Poisson Rouge. TECLA will perform live at the benefit.
I remember the first time I met TECLA. She was sitting with three girls on a couch in an oversized pre-war apartment on the Upper West Side that belonged to a rich white guy from her school. When I walked in I remember she looked up at me and smiled. After that we’d run into one another intermittently, but there was always a sense of familiarity, a sort of casual and subtle understanding that we had a shared experience. TECLA’s mom is Haitian and her dad was Italian. Both immigrants. Mine aren’t but they are black and white respectively. Once we really started hanging out I got to know a lot more about how that unique experience—that we share—of being biracial in our predominantly white world informed who we are and what we do.
Collier Meyerson: Can you tell me a little bit about how that experience, the one of growing up brown—not quite black and definitely not white—effects how you make your music?
TECLA: I remember looking up and smiling at you that day. I remember thinking “whoa! Another girl who looks like me and doesn’t quite know what to do with her hair but is so adorable and doesn’t even know it” because that was me back in high school. The whole process of my tragic mulatto “neither here nor there” upbringing in America has everything to do with my music. I still feel like I don’t quite fit into any musical category. I pick out bits and pieces of what i like about music and mesh them together into one song. I take the inspiration of the opera and Haitian voodoo music I grew up listening to and make them accessible within a danceable American pop song, if you can call it that. But also my lyricism always goes back to my childhood story. I was always different, and it’s what makes me different as a musician now.
CM: You play a lot with performing identity. Sometimes you “play black” and sometimes you “play white.” Where does this come from and what is the significance of it? What are your thoughts on performing identity?
T: To be blatantly honest, in order to fit into multiple circles, conversations, personalities, and scenes in NYC and throughout the world you have to perform identity in some form or another. I have super hood broke friends, and super wealthy sheltered friends. I try not to judge anyone, and form my opinions based on character. However, there’s a certain level of common sense that goes along with being adaptable, showing the different sides of yourself to different people, and if college wasn’t good for a single other thing, it taught me how to have comfortable intellectual conversations with a plethora of human beings. It’s not just black and white, sometimes I play Caribbean, sometimes I play Euro. They’re both a part of me, and by the way I AM white.
CM: You have a boyfriend, Kassa, a drummer and rapper. He a boy. But some of your lyrics and full songs you embrace a queer sexual identity. What, ma, you gay or something? What does it all mean for a brown woman to talk about liking girls too?
T: I love women and am extremely attracted to women. I have had sexual encounters with women, and he’s known that since before we got together. I also simply hate categorizing people by their sexual preference. It’s just not realistic in my world. We all have a little gay in us, even if it’s not sexually. I believe that men and women all have an affinity for humans of their same gender, just like humans of other genders, which is why it’s strange when weird male homophobic “jocks or thugs” can’t even admit liking another man’s outfit. I mean really? What’s the problem? If we all just admitted we were a little gay then we would be a lot more at peace with ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s not a game, I know there’s more to it than just “playing gay” and I am not trying to belittle the trials and tribulations of sexually alternative humans this country. it’s very limiting and difficult for people struggling to find their place, but I would like my voice to be a voice for those out there who choose not to live by one definition of sexual preference. I am in a loving relationship with a man at the moment because he is my soul mate—could have been a woman!!
CM: I have heard you described as aspiring to be the brown Bjork. Do you agree? Is she a role model for you? I tend to think that you’re something entirely different than her—that your attention to race alone makes you guys completely different. I’d say you’re more Josephine Baker meets Grace Jones fucking David Bowie and Prince at the same time. That is to say it’s hard to box you in. What do you think about that?
T: I’m everything. Brown Bjork can only be racial can’t she? Ain’t no brown Icelandic singer who’s not bringing up racial identity. But, Hell’s Kitchen is no Iceland and I have a very unique story to tell so that makes me stand out in a crowd of Bowie’s, Princes, and Bjorks. I do feel like I am Josephine baker reincarnated to the game though. And musically, I want people to understand that the notion of genre has to be abolished in order to understand where I’m going. I’m certainly not R&B, but I’m a brown woman with something to say, so I’m not accepted in the hipster electro musical scene either. So where does that leave me? You tell me please.
CM: What’s the most racist thing someone has said to you?
T: Hard to say. I’ll tell you my first cry over a racist thing said to me though. It was in elementary school, maybe second grade. There were two black girls: me and Tehira. So of course all the white teachers used to call me Tehira, who looked nothing like me. But this one day I was all excited to be singing a lead part in the music assembly, and the chorus teacher went and called me Tehira. Naturally I felt the strong need to rectify this immediately because he might have the wrong person in mind for this hugely important solo in my life. So I corrected “actually, I’m Tecla, not Tehira” and the chorus teacher looked at me and said, “whatever. All the same.” What a devastating blow to my first brown female singing experience. In conclusion, SHOUT OUT TO TEHIRA WILLIAMS.
CM: You play a lot with fantasy, most recently evidenced in your song, Moi. You say: “Tell me a story and escape from reality.” Can you talk to me a little bit about this trope in your music? And it’s not just the lyrics—the music itself has a lot of ambient whimsical sounds.
T: I strive to live my life sort of as one big Latin American fantasy realism novel. In high school and college drugs helped with this, but I also believe In Magic, Voodoo, Brujas, mediums, ghosts, past lives, genius psychos, psychics, levitation, and pretty much anything David Blaine claims to do. Why not right? Give me a good reason not to believe and I’ll consider stopping. Some of it is metaphor in my lyrics and some of it is struggling through painful moments in life. “I’ve been spending all my days pretending that it’s only me inside my head but what if I just wanna be somebody else?” Have you ever felt that way? Escaping reality and creating a new identity to become someone else? I like to play with that notion visually as well. In my music videos I create new identities for myself and strive to make them come to life. Sonically, I see myself as a future film scorer. Preferably horror. There is something so powerful to me about making people fearful with just a melody. Music has the power to make people feel so deeply they cry and don’t even know why. So, many of my songs have that intense sonic element. I literally can’t help it
CM: Who is your audience?
T: I ask myself that every time I finish a project. Is anyone listening?
TECLA is a first-generation New York City (Hell’s kitchen) native-born of Italian and Haitian immigrants. She has gone from being a classically trained child pianist prodigy to versatile performer in hip-hop, reggae, punk-rock, electronic, & funk bands. She has toured throughout the U.S. Canada, Europe, and Asia with Chrisette Michele, Das Racist, Gordon Voidwell, Chairlift, and more.
Collier Meyerson is the web producer for MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes and ran the blog carefreewhitegirl.tumblr.com
Celebrate Recess’ four years of ambitious artists’ projects at Four More Years: Recess Benefit 2013 on May 28th at (Le) Poisson Rouge. The evening will feature a musical performance by TECLA, DJ sets by DJ Marty McSorley and DJ AJ Slim, artist performances by Elia Alba and Jacolby Satterwhite, artist installations by Zach Gage and John Miserendino, and an editioned benefit print by David Horvitz. Purchase tickets here.