Tamtam challenges gender stereotypes with passionate, inspiring music

Published September 30th, 2015 - 10:25 GMT

Tamtam is her name and music is her passion.

The eighties and nineties are her favorite decades for music. Saudi by nationality, but worldly by philosophy, she is committed to being a bridge between two cultures, between east and west using her voice as her tool.

The twenty-three year old self-described “singer and songwriter with crazy hair,” Tamtam grew up in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, but is currently based in Los Angeles, California following her dream. When she is not belting out covers of classics or performing original songs, this animal lover enjoys outdoor activities such as horseback riding, surfing, tennis, and hiking. 

Her decision to pursue this path did not come without reluctance: the public sphere is not always most welcoming to the Saudi woman.

However, Tamtam has pushed that notion aside and has lent her voice to promote female empowerment and to music, “the only language everyone can speak.” She is presently making a name for herself with her voice, message, as well as piano and guitar skills.

Recent performances have been at the Geena Davis See Jane Symposiums on Gender Equality in Media and the Bridges of Understanding Gala in New York, which honored fashion designer, Reem Acra. Whether you are interested in lyrics with substance such as in her song “Gender Game,” or a soulful and bluesy vibe with her trumpet-infused “No More Rain,” Tamtam’s music delivers. 

Arab News caught up with the up-and-coming performer to discuss her career as a whole, her musical influences, in addition to her very powerful message. 

What is the meaning behind your name?

It’s actually a funny story, I was about to release my first single “Little Girl,” and I showed my family the music video and they all loved it! When I told them I was going to put it on YouTube, they started to voice their concerns about people knowing my name and me being so public. So, I decided to use a nickname that Zahed Sultan, one of the first producers I’ve worked with, gave me: Tamtam.

I love the moniker Tamtam because it’s fun, it comes from part of my name, and it’s really easy for anyone in the world to pronounce and remember.

How long have you been singing? 

I honestly don’t remember not singing, but I never thought I could actually pursue a career in music until I was 13. That year, I performed at my first music competition and I fell in love with the feeling I got while being on stage. I believe music is the most powerful way of communicating with each other.

Your covers range from Etta James to Gnarls Barkley. Who do you look up to musically?

The person I look up to musically the most is definitely Michael Jackson. I actually sang his song “Thriller” at my first music competition! To me, Michael Jackson was a true artist because he wasn’t just a singer or songwriter, he was a performer, and even when he just stood still on stage, there was an unfathomable excitement in the room and everybody knew that he owned the stage. 

You describe yourself and your music as a “bridge between the Middle East and the West.” In your experience, how have Western audiences (regardless of gender) received you and your music?

My music and lyrics are about topics and emotions that people from all cultures can relate to. My music video for “Gender Game” for example, features women from all over the world talking about the same issue. Western audiences are always intrigued about the fact that I come from a different place, yet I’m in America singing in English to lyrics that they can also relate to. I believe that we all come from the same place, but we each have our own experiences, and that’s why we can all relate to one another. 

It seems your debut “Little Girl” lays a foundation, however “Gender Game” is the song that really shines a light on your dedication to female empowerment. First, is that a fair assessment? Second, was there an occurrence or something specific that inspired writing “Gender Game”? 

I would say that “Little Girl” can be understood in many different ways: it is a song about women, it is a song about a girl who is growing up and who wants to be taken seriously, and it is also a song about relationships; whereas “Gender Game” is much more straightforward: it is about girls and women who want to follow their passion even when it’s not so easy to do so. 

If it weren’t for the song “Little Girl,” I don’t know if I would have ever written “Gender Game.” My family was concerned about the music video of “Little Girl” being public for the whole world to see, so the producer and I decided to make the video blurry (if you watch it on YouTube you will see what I mean).

When my family first told me not to share the music video on YouTube because they didn’t want society to know my name or to know my face, I felt like there was a wall between my passion and me. I felt stuck. I saw all of these Arab guys posting videos on YouTube of themselves being funny and silly or drifting in their cars and it was okay, or maybe these guys just don’t care about society and what society thinks, because these guys don’t need to care about society. But, girls are told that they need to care about what others may think of them. So that’s when I wrote “Gender Game.” 

The sentiment behind “What hurts the most is if she were a boy it would be fine, but doing it when you’re a girl, you really cross the line,” is universal and a commonality between women that transcend cultural boundaries. What kind of solidarity have you come across from non-Saudi women?

I think gender equality is a basic human right and women all over the world, Saudi or not have been saying that for generations. I am happy that I can be one of a number of Saudi women trying to make a difference. However, I do get a lot of support from women from all around the world, at the end of the day, we want the same things.

Overall, what kind of feedback do you receive from Saudis, Saudi women specifically?

It really makes me unbelievably happy to receive so much positive feedback from Saudi women. There are so many comments under my YouTube videos of women thanking me and telling me to keep going. And I want each and every one of them to know that I am thanking them and I want them to keep going too, I want all of us to keep going, and I know we will. 

Do you have any plans to fuse Arabic beats for example or lyrics into your music? 

I’m definitely not opposed to it if I meet the right producer for that!

Please describe your support system.

I’m so lucky to have a family that supports me and encourages me everyday. I love sharing my new songs with friends and getting their feedback, and I appreciate all of my friends so much. It’s also really supportive when I hear my fans say that my music gives them courage and inspires them. 

What can fans expect from you this year? Are there any updates you can share with our readers?

Yes! I have been working on new songs and I’m editing a music video for my latest single. I’m so excited to share it with you, but I also don’t want to give too much away. 

Follow her on Instagram: @tamtamsound, or visit her website www.tamtamsound.com to enter her world and to hear her voicing her passion.

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