Interview: Tamar Kali

Tamar Kali is fierce. She's also obervant, intelligent, worldly, artistic and maybe even a little bit of a romantic. A few years ago I caught her pyscho-acoustic set up in Harlem and it felt like going to church. At least my fictionalized dream of what church should be. Join her for a drink or see her live show and you realize that she is who she is. There's no front and there's no room for pretense. 

How would you describe you what is it that you do?

I’m a performer, composer, vocalist and songwriter.

Is there another artist from whom you draw inspiration?

Many. Musically my inspiration ranges from Beethoven to Bad Brains with some Riot Grrl and Grace Jones in between.

Have you ever had a mentor? If so, who was he/she and what was the single greatest lesson you learned from them?

I have a range of artist mentors in ‘the business’ from older more experienced artists to programming directors at cultural art centers who have helped to facilitate the space and opportunities to broaden my forms of expression.

You’re creative vision spans different musical style and includes dance and other theatrical elements. Sometimes, but not always, these elements overlap. How much do integrate, or separate, your interests from one another?

In terms of the different mediums I use for artistic expression, they do overlap out of necessity or serendipity but I have never made the conscious decision to integrate them.

I am first and foremost, a musician, dance is my second art and I use it as a means of buffering the hazards of doing music professionally. It’s all love, no risk, no stress. I am also inclined in the visual arts and get to utilise that expression in designing promotional materials for my music: cd covers, flyers etc.

Have you always done this for a living or did you transition from something else? What triggered your decision to make a change?

I am a second generation musician and ran from the thought of being an artist initially. I went to University to pursue a BA in education but that was short lived. I worked in retail in my 20’s while playing out in bands and when dance came back in to my life I was able to transition into a full time working artist as a group fitness and dance instructor to supplement when I wasn’t gigging or on the road.

What is the most challenging thing about practicing your craft? How do you deal with that challenge?

NYC is one of the most expensive cities in the world. The hustle gets in the way of the practice. It can be a struggle to balance managing the cost of living while trying to immerse myself in the work. Full immersion is what’s on the golden pedestal for me.

Do you still practice? If so, what do your practice sessions look like?

My ‘practice’ is in a constant state of reconstruction (as per my previous answer) I mostly prepare but hope to be able to say that I practice daily soon.

Where do you find inspiration?

Through life experiences but I’ve learned that I really have to engage to receive it. I can’t be a bystander in my ownlife or just muddling through. When I am fully engaged whether in challenge or celebration, wholly giving myself over to the experience of live as opposed to just going through the motions; I am inspired.

Where are you when you have the most a-ha moments?

In the midst of problem solving or when being confronted with an unexpected challenge.

What do you do to maintain a creative flow?

Open up and dig in.

How much do you rely on feedback from other to help shape your ideas?

I share with folks I have a deep respect, for who I know will give candid, earnest love-based criticism.

What is the greatest obstacle to creativity?

Self doubt.

When you complete a project, how often does it resemble your initial concept or conceived idea? How important is this for you?

I feel very blessed to visualize and manifest my visions pretty spot on. It’s how I create imagery for performances and shows and write music. I hear everything as a complete piece in my mind, separate the sounds, transcribe and execute.

How do you know when you’re done?

When I’m empty again.

How do you resolve creative differences with clients or creative partners?

When entering a collaborative project I am very open and don’t usually meet challenges I think it’s because it is not a standard in the work I do as a solo composer and artist so when I do collaborate I have specifically chosen my partner based on synchronicity.

What keeps you motivated even if you don’t connect personally with the project?


What do you do when you are stuck and have some sort of deadline or other pressure?

Push through!!! I can’t allow myself to be burdened by the fear or anxiety. I just go in hard ‘til I’m done.

How do you achieve your creative vision with a limited budget?

Adapt it becomes a work in progress with room to grow into the complete vision.

What are the top 3 tools in your creative tool kit? ie. software, pencil, paper, journal etc.

Heart, my voice and my guitar.

What are the top 3 creative habits that have proven to be the most useful for you in your career?

Funny enough I believe it is personal life practices that have helped me the most in my career, time and space to breathe and release or enjoy the creativity of others the afford me the opportunity to problem solve and create from a clear space.

If you could offer a single piece of advice to a budding professional, what would it be?

Be clear and very honest as to what it is that you actually want to create/do and then work backwards from the ultimate goal sketching out the steps required to achieve it. Things will ebb and flow but that clarity (truthfulness with yourself) is everything.

Learn more about Tamar Kali