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:: Spotlight :: MC Tali - The world's first female MC in drum 'n' bass

By: Carmine Pascuzzi

MC Tali has pulled off something unique. The New Zealander has made her mark by becoming the world’s first known female MC in drum ‘n’ bass. She has become a real star on the international club scene and acclaimed Reprazent producer/DJ Roni Size has been the person influential in seeing Tali’s star rise. She attended a Melbourne Big Day Out where Roni was performing. She approached her hero and he took her under his wing after she pulled off an impressive impromptu performance for him there. Tali was then connected to Reprazent. Roni loved Tali’s style. Tali is now based in Bristol, England and even has her own band. She performed a great show last year at Sydney’s Gaelic Club and has now released an album “Lyric On My Lip”, with beats from Roni Size. She is very ambitious, determined, and is her own person. Above all, when I spoke to her in Melbourne while on a recent promotional visit, despite being jet-lagged, she came across as extremely friendly and affable.

Q. Tell us about your musical beginnings?

A. My mum sent me to piano lessons when I was ten years old and singing lessons when I was eleven. I soon started singing exams and competitions. I enjoyed musical theatre because I liked dressing up in costume. I loved the idea of being somebody else for a while.

Q. What triggered the idea of becoming an exponent in drum ‘n’ bass?

A. As a child playing classical music, I was more inclined to come home and put on hip-hop or something like EMF and Jesus Jones – something totally different. From about eleven years of age I was into the rebellious form of music. I used to wear a beanie and jump around to Public Enemy, etc. Then in 1996 I went to performing Arts School in Christchurch. You learned a lot, but it stripped you of your individuality. There was no make-up, jewellery, all those things that characterised me. I spent years at high school confused as to where I fitted in and what sort of person I was. I was small and skinny, and made up for it by being very loud – learning the power of words. With the singing and talking attributes, those were my strengths that I had to develop further. It was dramatic to have my character stripped at the school. So then I got into dance raves. It’s so extreme: the music, the way you dress (shiny clothes, glitter, pig tails), etc. Everyone gets down to the one thing. I love the unification that went on through dance music, but I didn’t necessary like the music. It was just the love of raving. Drum ‘n’ bass got introduced in New Zealand around 1995. In 1996 it started to kick off and come into its own. I can remember staying back until 4.00am and the DJ would drop a drum ‘n’ bass tune. I hadn’t heard a breaks-orientated drum ‘n’ bass sound before. At this particular rave, the beat was so addictive. It changed my life.

Q. You mentioned how hard you studied, and how rigid it was. How hard has this quest for success been?

A. Maybe for some people it would have been hard to follow through. I’ve always taken things in my stride. As much as I’d been a bit of a drama queen at home, in a situation of pressure, I respond well. I have a problem in saying “yes” to too many things and not enough “no”. Mentally, you can get exhausted. I give so much of myself without getting a lot back. A year ago I’d check the drum ‘n’ bass websites and saw comments as to how I looked, rather than how I sounded. I had to endure stuff like that through high school. There was an attitude towards females and music.

Q. There aren’t too many females in drum ‘n’ bass…

A. No, it’s very light on. If you want to make a go of it, you need to be gutsy. I don’t get pushed around but I’m also a very humble person. I take advice from my elders. I give respect when it’s due. I believe that I fair amount of talent. You need to have passion, ambition, and drive. You’ve got to have the right crew and associations. Fate has delivered these things to me. That’s why I’m thankful to be where I am. It takes a special kind of person to do what I’ve done. I’ve done more in the last two and a half years than any female MC, or any MC in drum ‘n’ bass has ever done. I’ve come from the other side of the world, fast established myself with one of the labels and the best producer in the world. I have an album out now, and I’ve toured all over the world.

Q. It should inspire others to follow your example…

A. The whole thing blows my mind. I know that I’ve been lucky. S**t just falls in my lap. It always has. I keep waiting for the day when something really terrible is going to happen. Maybe I’m just lucky. It’s a funny feeling with friends because I seem to give them a positive outlook with what I’ve done, whilst they’ve experienced occasional bad things. Their words give me confidence and not an ego. I can use my platform to help other people.

Q. Tell us about the makings of the album, and the Full Cycle record label?

A. Roni Size and DJ Krust started the label. The reason why they’ve worked on the album is because everyone was really excited to see this female who had an extensive knowledge of music. Everyone wanted to be a part of it. I wanted them too, because they’ve all inspired me in different ways. It just came down to time. In the end, Roni did the majority of tunes. For the next album, there is already much in the pipeline. I find it easy to work with those guys.

Q. The music scene is strong in Bristol. I am aware that artists from the area include Massive Attack and Portishead. Was it always your plan to make a career in the UK?

A.It’s an amazing area. There is Massive Attack, Portishead, Neneh Cherry, and Tricky, just to name a few. It has real history and a great vibe. Everybody says there’s something in the water in Bristol. It has churned out many new DJs and producers. The atmosphere is chilled. London is so wanky and tacky. Everybody supports one another. It’s a vibrant scene and one that I enjoy working in.

Q.What’s your formula for a good live show?

A.My backing singers and I say a little prayer before a show and hype each other up. It’s nice to have two other females to bounce off. It also depends on the crowd capacity. I’ve got lots of energy to give to so many people.

Q.How important is fashion and image for you?

A.It is really important. I’ve always been into fashion – ever since I was a child. I saw this gig recently with a female MC. She had a pair of jeans and dark top. To me, it didn’t embody anything. I felt it lacked something. I would want to be visually excited by her, not sexually, but I like someone who has taken time with their appearance – putting on performance clothes. I love that aspect for being on stage. It is important to be healthy and look after yourself. I have lots of water and sleep, and I eat well.

Q.What other performers would you like to work with, and what do you see ahead for you?

A.I would love to work with people like Kelis, Missy Elliott, and Dr Dre. I want to get into production, more than the performance. I would like to mentor and write more songs.

Q.Your immediate touring plans?

A.I’ll be busy working during the summer festivals – Glastonbury, Homelands, Global Gathering, and others. I’m also going to Japan and the USA. Hopefully, I’ll be back in Australia for the Big Day Out next January and bring my whole band to Australia and New Zealand.

Q.What can we expect top see in your band?

A.We have a drummer (from Soul Coughing), a bassist, sampler, and two backing singers. You’ll like the show very much.

MC Tali’s album “Lyric On My Lip” is out now through Full Cycle/Shock Records.

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