Saleka is without a doubt one of those artists that immediately captivates your attention with her strong songwriting and powerful vocal delivery. Despite only having a few singles out, Saleka can already boast about performing at Music Midtown and ACL which is, without a doubt, a testament to her amazing talent and hard work. We recently had the opportunity to talk to the Philly based artist.
I don't know why, but I usually get crippling anxiety when I have to do a phone interview. I can do email or in person interviews all day, but the idea of calling a stranger on the phone makes me feel nervous, very sweaty, and kind of nauseous. That wasn't the case this with Saleka. She was very warm and kind, and made me feel like I was catching up with an old friend. Plus she laughed at my very, very dumb jokes. So shoutout Saleka for being cool. Enjoy the interview!
1. What have you been listening to lately?
Ohh so much. Snoh Aalegra released an album recently, Vince Staples released an album recently, J.Cole's most recent album. ¿Teo? has an amazing album. Yeah! So much cool music.
2. If you had to start a band with 3 fictional characters, who would you choose and why?
I feel like I’m just thinking of the most recent things that I’ve seen. I was just watching New Girl, so I feel like Jess from New Girl, I feel like she’d be fun to hangout with. I feel like I want it to be an all girl fictional band. Hermoine from Harry Potter, because I feel like she’d be really organized and just have her shit together. I’m not sure! My mind is just drawing a blank right now.
Alright. I’ll be the third person. I’ll just wear a wig.
Yeah haha you can be the third. Please!
3. First concert you ever attended?
When I was young I went to see a lot of classical music concerts because my piano teacher was a classical pianist, so I would go and watch her shows sometimes. That's probably the first one. But my main huge concert experience that I have was when I was 10. I saw Beyonce and that was life changing.
4. What is something you are currently looking forward to?
Definitely ACL. That's kind of my next exciting thing that’s coming up.
5. When I was a kid I was really scared of Dave Chapelle’s character on The Nutty Professor (1996). What movie scarred you as a child?
Haha Oh my gosh, so I grew up watching a lot of scary movies. I wouldn’t necessarily say that it scarred me, because I’m just kind of used to that and love scary movies. But there's this movie called Audrey Rose, I don't know if you’ve ever heard of it. It’s kind of an old school movie made in the 1970s. Like psychological horror vibes. And I was kind of obsessed with it when I was a kid, but also terrified of it. There's a girl that's possessed by her reincarnated self. It’s creepy. That one definitely scarred me. I had a lot of bad dreams, but I also watched it many times.
6. What did you grow up listening to?
Just a lot of R&B, Hiphop, Jazz. You know my mom also watched a lot of Bollywood movies so when I was growing up we would listen to a lot of Bollywood music and Indian folk music as well. So that was kind of a part of my childhood.
7. Last song that made you cry?
Oh my gosh. Hmmm there's this song called Strange by Celeste. That song didn’t come out recently, but I heard it recently and it made me cry. The lyrics are so beautiful and heartbreaking.
8. When I die, can you do a cover of ABBA’s Super Trouper as they lower my casket?
Hahah that's the song you want as you die??
Yeah. I mean it’s going to have to be a really short version. Unless we dig a really deep hole.
Oh my gosh. Sure! Yeah haha hit me up. I would like to sing something a little more positive—
No. Super Trouper. That’s it. I have it on record now. SO yeah.
Haha You got me. I’m contracted now haha
9. What is the worst piece of advice that you can give me?
The WORST piece of advice? Haha that's a funny question. Be like everyone else.
10. Any local Philly bands that you think we should check out?
There’s so many great artists in Philly. One that comes to mind is Kinglsey Ibeneche. He’s also a friend of mine, but he has an amazing band. He does some really cool music that’s so different from things that you normally hear. It’s kind of like R&B vibes, but it’s natural sounding and raw.
To start things off, can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about yourself?
Sure! First off, thank you for taking the time to talk to me. I really appreciate it. To introduce myself, my name is Saleka. I’m a singer-songwriter. I live right outside of Philly. My genre is kind of R&B, but it expands kind of beyond that. I grew up playing classical piano since I was 4 years old, and that kind of informs a lot of my music and helps me write music. I have released a few singles, and I have an album coming out in the near future. And yeah. Haha I’m not sure of any other points I should hit haha
You mentioned that you started playing classical piano at the age of 4. As far as your sound right now, do you feel like your classical piano training was something you built on to find your sound or was it something that you had to break out of to find your own style/sound?
I would say a little bit of both. It definitely helps me to be able to write music because that's where I learned music, and I can understand theory and write all the different parts of the song, and arrange a string quartet. All the different kinds of stuff that you learn from studying classical music and just the discipline of that and the training of that definitely helps me be able to perform and sing and write my own music. But it was also a path that I had to break out of because for most of my life, my young life, I was kind of orienting myself to becoming a classical pianist. When I was about 16 I decided that I didn't want to do that. But at that point I was in highschool and I was playing piano three hours a day and that was my whole life. So it was really kind of a breaking point for me to kind of say “This is not exactly what I want to do.” and kind of stop this momentum that I had going towards this particular future, and reorient myself. It was scary, and my parents thought that I was giving up on everything at that point, but eventually it became clear that it was just a new avenue for music.
Was there a specific moment where you realized that you wanted to pursue music as a career?
It's interesting, because I started playing piano when I was 4. I don’t remember a time where I wasn’t really playing music, and since I was a kid it was taken very seriously by me, by my teacher, and my family. That was always something that I identified myself by. I felt like I was a musician and it kind of just switched from playing piano to singing and playing the piano. Then to songwriting and then to producing and singing. And all of those things combined. I feel like it more expanded than me kind of realizing that I wanted to do music. Because I kind of always did music and felt like that was my passion. As long as I can remember I really felt that way.
Was there anything specific that drew you to R&B?
I love listening to it alot. My parents played r&b music around the house, and I think that definitely contributed to it. You know, when you grow up you have defining moments and defining songs that you attribute to breakups or different huge points in your life. A lot of that music was r&b music. For some reason it just really connected to me, and I felt it deeply. I love the lyrical nature of it, and it really lends itself to blend with other genres that I love. Like blues and jazz music, hiphop music and that kind of production. So I think it was this avenue to kind of explore all these different sounds and textures that I really am drawn to. I wouldn't even necessarily— you know, genres are so arbitrary to me. I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m only an r&b artist because it's all kind of connected. Some of the songs that I’ve released if you look at them isolated you wouldn’t necessarily say that they’re r&b. But I do think that just the nature of r&b is just a crossover type of music and it lends itself to so many different genres as well.
Yeah for sure. That’s something I’ve noticed over the past few years. Genre isn’t that big of a deal or as big of a thing. Everything is so blended that you can’t really define someone’s sound by just genre.
Yeah, I think that's amazing. I mean because genre, the way it was set up—and this was many years ago. It was white men that decided “these are the genres” and people of color were all in one category and the genres that we have now and it still really informs what we call genres right now. I feel like it’s kind of a twisted foundation to base how we categorize music.
Can you talk to us a bit about your single “How Many”?
Yeah, so that was the last song that I put out. It came out about a month ago, it’s a little different from the other songs that I’ve put out. The other songs I did were more traditional music videos where I’m in them and there's dancing and all that kind of stuff. But with this one we wanted to do things a little differently, so we made a lyric video and this amazing animator named Rafatoon. His real name is Rafael Perez, he animated it. We worked on the concept together but he had this amazing team of animators and they created this beautiful lyric video to accompany the song. The reason we wanted to do that was because of the subject matter. It kind of came out of me witnessing racism and the systemic oppression that's been going on in our country for a while that people have begun to talk about more recently. Rafael has experienced that in his country as well, so I think we bonded over that and felt like we could create something that expressed both of our experiences in a way that would be metaphoric and open so people can see it and maybe attribute their own feelings and experiences to it as well.
While doing research for this interview, I noticed that you’re very vocal and active when it comes to social issues. How important to you is it to use your platform to speak out and raise awareness?
Definitely very important. I think that everyone that has a platform has the opportunity to kind of give back and talk about things that are important to you and stand up for what you believe in. I’m trying to learn how to use it properly. I don’t have that big of a platform, but I want to use whatever I have to talk about things that I care about. But it’s a balance because I’m not an expert on any of these issues, so I’m just trying to spread other people’s knowledge and learn and share the things that I’m learning. I’m not an authority figure on anything, because I really don't know much, but it’s been really great to connect. People are sharing their stories and sending resources, so it’s been really cool to expand the platform in that way.
Going back to your music, I think my personal favorite track is “Graffiti.” Can you give us some background on that song?
That song is a simple balad. It’s really just piano and vocals, and it’s the only kind of balad track that I’ve released so far. It’s super raw. It’s about the power of words and how the words of the people you love stay with you and affect you, and often contribute to how you see yourself and your identity. We made this ethereal music video that my younger sister directed. Which was an amazing experience. She's really insanely talented. Her name is Ishana Shyamalan by the way. We wanted to keep it really simple imagery so it's essentially just me playing and singing at the piano. There's this CGI element of these words appearing on my body as I’m singing this song. There's a lot of layers to go into there, but that’s kind of the general concept. The way that I recorded it was very raw. We just did a few takes and kept it. We wanted to to feel live sounding and natural sounding, and the music video does kind of the same thing.
Whenever you’re writing Do you usually write from personal experience?
Yes! Mostly. I’ve been writing for tv show Servant as well, so I released a song called The Sky Cries. That one was more inspired by what’s going on in the plot of the tv show and the characters. Also, personal experience comes into it when you’re talking about love and things like that. You write from your experience, but it was definitely inspired by the plot and the characters. Writing for Tv and film has started to open my mind to be able to write from a character and not necessarily straight from my own life which has been a really cool process. I also released a song called Remain which was featured in the movie Old which came out in July. That was another song that I wrote based on the characters.
Whenever you write from personal experience, Is it ever difficult to be vulnerable in songwriting?
Definitely. I think I started writing music because it was my way of processing things that were going on in my life. So that part of it is really cathartic and necessary for me at different parts of my life. Like I just don’t know another way to do it. That’s kind of how I just get through things. Then I think the sharing part of the song, once this really vulnerable creation is made that’s based on this painful experience that I’ve had. Sharing it with other people and producing it, editing it, making a music video based off of it, and pitching the concept to a bunch of people. That’s where it feels really vulnerable and kind of scary to talk about and share it with people. Because when I’m writing a song it’s pretty much just me on a piano in a room by myself, so it feels very safe. But then taking it out to the world is where it gets scary.
Does writing a song about something in your life change the way you look at it? Whether it’s a fear, a worry, a heartbreak, etc
I think in the sense that it’s kind of what helps me process it. I think there's definitely been times where I’m struggling to figure out exactly how I feel in a situation. Writing a song kind of helps me get to that place. There's always this breakthrough when you’re writing and you’re like “Oh this is the concept” or “This is what I’m trying to say” or “This is the unifying piece that runs through from the first moment the song starts, to the end” and everything is brought together by this theme. That process also happens internally when you’re trying to understand a situation when you’re hurt or something happened and you really don’t know how you feel about it. That self analysis process kind of has the same effect where you’re like “This is how I feel, this is why I’m upset, this is why this relationship feels this way” It's really connected in that sense, and that process is kind of intertwined with the songwriting.
This next question you don’t have to answer, BUT I feel like if I was writing songs that were that vulnerable or that intertwined with my personal life— I feel like I’d be crying the whole time. Do you ever cry while performing?
Haha well, writing yes. Definitely while I’m in the studio because it's a little bit more isolated. I can get a little bit emotional when I’m recording the songs for the first time because it’s the first time that I’m singing through it or hearing it in a recorded setting. So that can be a very emotional process. Performing, you know, I get so nervous on stage that sometimes I get there, but I have to pull myself back because I’m like “I don’t want to be crying! I have to sing!” haha so it’s kind of hard to balance that because I need to keep singing the song. I feel like there's a limitation there. I feel like once I get to the point to fully just cry on stage, that's when I’ll be free. I’m hoping to get there.
Do you still get nervous before performing?
Oh yeah. I have extreme stage fright, and I always have. I don’t know why I decided to do this career haha but I’m so afraid every time. But it's getting better! I’m starting to enjoy it more haha
What can we expect to see from you in the near future? You mentioned an upcoming album, right? Can we talk about that, or is that still on the downlow?
We haven’t really publicized the release of it, but it’s definitely coming. I don’t have a release date yet but we haven’t been posting about it or talking about the exact release. There’s a ton of things that are coming with the album release. There’s music videos and all that kind of stuff. So there's a lot of factors that are in play, but it’s coming soon!
Is there anything else we can expect to see from you in the near future?
I’m doing a lot of shows. I’m actually performing at ACL in Austin October 8th, so I’m really looking forward to that. I’m doing a bunch of shows on the east coast. Philly, DC, New York. I’m doing a set of residency dates for the months of October, November, and December. So that’s going to be really fun, I’m excited about that! I’m also working on a couple of more songs that will be featured in the Servant tv show on Apple TV in spring. So that's another separate project that will be separate from the album.
Is ACL the first music festival that you’re playing?
No, I actually just played Music Midtown this past weekend in Atlanta which was really fun. It’s so crazy to be back out in real life with real people and see such a huge audience that's all there. Just all these people coming together. It’s been a while since the pandemic so to experience that is really amazing. Just the power of live music.
Is ACL going to be your first time performing in Austin?
Yes! I’ve actually never been to Austin. It will be my first time going there, and playing.
Oh man now I have to go.
Yeah! Where are you based?
I’m in the Dallas area, but it’s not too far away. I mean if feel like in texas we say that, even if it’s like a four hour drive, but still. Not too bad.
Is there anyone you’re looking forward to seeing play at ACL?
Oh my gosh. Literally so many people. I’m so excited for the whole thing. I’m not sure how long I’m going to be there because it’s two weekends. I’m performing the second weekend on Friday. There's a lot of artists, I’ll have to go back and look at the page with all the names. I was looking at it the other day and I was like “Oh my gosh! I want to see everybody” I’m just going to stay and watch all the shows as much as I can haha
Man, now I’m upset that I didn’t get a ticket or a wristband. I’m going to have to sneak in.
Maybe you can finesse? You know? You got some connects here in the industry. Maybe you can figure out a way.
Yeah— or Yeah. I’ll try. I’ll just run in and see what happens. THIS IS OFF THE RECORD.
Is it completely sold out?
Yeah, I think so. Yeah.
I got WAY off topic, sorry about that. I’m just excited about ACL.
Haha it's okay.
Is there anything that you want our readers to know? Anything that you’d like to share.
I’m not sure. I guess I would say go out and support artists because the music industry is struggling and it’s really great to have live music back. Go see your favorite artists on tour and yeah. Haha music is great and we need your support haha.
To wrap things up, do you have any questions for me?
Hmm questions for you? What was your favorite music video? Was it Graffiti?
Yeah, I think so. Or Mr. Incredible! I listened to the song before I watched the music video. And in my mind I kept picturing Mr. Incredible from the Pixar movie. I kept picturing him in a 2000s black and white R&B music video. And I was like that’s what this is! And it was not that at all. Haha
Haha I feel like I should make another music video now that's just that as the alt version.
Listen, I’ll make it and have it sent to you.
Haha please do. I mean that’s like the vibe. Totally. Haha
Right? I felt like that's what you were going for.
Haha yeah that makes a lot of sense. I have no doubt. Yeah totally.
Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview! I really appreciate you.
Yeah, thank you so much. I appreciate your questions. They were so thoughtful. And hit me up if you have anymore questions or anything else.
(We kept saying thank you to each other awkwardly for about 45 seconds because we weren’t sure how to end the zoom call)
Listen to Saleka Here
Catch Saleka Live Here
Philadelphia at the World Café Live: 10/13, 11/17, 12/8
New York City at Rockwood Music Hall: 10/12, 11/18, 12/9
Washington D.C. at Songbyrd: 10/17, 11/19, 12/10