LIVt, Talaya, TeZATalks, and Jai Wolf tell the Emerald what it’s like to perform in Seattle this summer.
by Amanda Ong
Summer is in full swing, and with it comes live outdoor music — finally. Outdoor concerts have returned this summer after many were canceled during the last two years due to the pandemic. From acts raised in the Pacific Northwest and based out of the South End to national acts with enduring local connections, Seattle has been a longtime hub for music artists, including many of the incredibly talented BIPOC musicians performing throughout this summer. Recently, the Emerald got to chat with a few of them. Check out their profiles below, and keep an eye out for our August South End Concert Guide, coming soon.
Most importantly, get out and support these artists if you can. You just might find your next local favorite.
Olivia Thomas, stage name LIVt, recently performed at Capitol Hill Block Party. Based in Renton, the rapper says Pacific Northwest sunsets are the inspiration for her new EP, Pink and Orange.
“I think they’re very underestimated sunsets that we see here,” Thomas said. “I’ve seen some of the most beautiful sunsets. My next EP, the sound is based off of those sunsets. To me, summertime is my favorite time of the year. I love to go for an evening drive when the sun’s going down — that’s just one of my favorite things to do.”
The second single on Pink and Orange, “Let it Go”, was released on July 29, and features Dave B. and Seattle producers Grady and GMK. For Thomas, music is not just a way to express herself but to reach others and create community — from her personal communities, like her hometown of Lakewood, to the larger Black community, to anyone who might enjoy her music. Even songs about difficult moments, she says, are filled with the joy of expression,
“I wish I could come up with this quote by James Baldwin, but essentially, he said that putting yourself out there, whether you’re hurt, in love, angry, whatever, that’s what being an artist is,” Thomas said. “I try to naturally live and walk in a sense of knowing who I am, knowing that it’s not always easy … I strive for that when I’m creating, I was put on this earth to do that work. So anytime I get to [create], there is some sense of joy, even if a song isn’t necessarily joyful.”
Thomas highlighted her excitement that Capitol Hill Block Party and other local summer festivals are a way for people to discover local artists. “I just encourage people to show up to that if they can, and just continue to look at and support local artists,” Thomas said.
Throughout the summer, Beacon Hill will also feature the return of Jefferson Jumpstart, a series of free concerts in Jefferson Park. While audio engineer, choir director, and recording artist Talaya was unfortunately unable to perform for her slated performance on July 21 for Jefferson Jumpstart, the Seattle born and raised musician still has much to offer this summer.
This summer she has a performance at Madame Lou’s opening for Dana Williams on August 12. Currently based out of Rainier Beach, Talaya is a full time musician of many mediums and also works as an audio engineer at Mead Street in Columbia City.
“Being so community oriented now, and supporting local brands, and going to my friend’s shows and their pop ups and events, has changed my life in a way that I never would have expected,” Talaya said.
Audio engineering work has also allowed Talaya to develop her voice as a storyteller. And when Black culture is so often co-opted by white artists, her work as an audio engineer is ever salient.
“It’s revolutionary, in my opinion — I only know maybe three other Black femme engineers … It feels very special to be able to share that and also show other people that it’s possible, because most engineers are white men,” Talaya said. “Being from Seattle, considering that the population of Black people is just increasingly declining … It is revolutionary for me to live here and work here and continue to uplift others in my community here.”
Through music, Talaya helps members of the community express their emotional and personal experiences, providing a powerful tool for healing. She often feels a reciprocal energy from audiences at her shows. “People are created by the support of their community,” Talaya said. “I think that it’s really important that we support local artists and musicians of all mediums, because you never know where they’ll end up. And if you can help them get closer to [success], why wouldn’t you?”
Capitol Hill Block Party also featured TeZATalks, a rising ‘“hardcore pop” artist performing a mixture of alternative, punk, hip-hop, electronic and pop. Though she grew up in Oahu, TeZA spent her summers in Lakewood, Washington, where she has a family homestead, and moved initially to Columbia City in 2017 and then to Tacoma to be closer to family.
“The impact and influence of Seattle and Tacoma are very close to my heart in ways where I have memories in buildings, on streets, in parks that have definitely influenced who I am today as an artist,” TeZA said. “And I am so thankful now to be where I’m at in my career — to feel like I can represent that.”
The rapid changes in Seattle since her childhood are also not lost on TeZA. But the continued authenticity of the city inspires her, empowers her, and allows her to be herself artistically. “With big tech coming in, and gentrification, they get to reap all the benefits of decades of what artists and community members have built,” TeZA said. “But what I have really grown to love more than anything is the resilience of the city … When the city shut down, we saw artists and small business owners, activists, journalists, creatives, try to create opportunities.”
Though she has moved away from the church, TeZA’s Baptist upbringing is a strong influence in her music. She aims to recreate the sensation of church choirs in her songs, the feeling of spiritual music moving through you. In recreating that feeling, she is able to help those who listen and evoke her own cultural magic. “I feel like there’s magic within every culture, but in [our] society we have been forced to lose sight,” TeZA said. “I’m trying to speak that truth, from my most spiritual, intuitive place, my higher self, in all realms of emotion. So [my music] can come off as painful, it can come off as happy, loving, but ultimately, it’s drawing from that place.”
TeZA’s new album is slated to come out this fall. She recently performed at Neumos’ My Body My Choice event on July 28, an abortion rights fundraiser performance in light of the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade, an issue that TeZA is passionate about. “Keep fighting,” TeZA said. “Keep protecting women’s rights, trans rights, and staying informed.”
A headliner at Capitol Hill Block Party was electronic musician Sajeeb Saha, stage name Jai Wolf. And while not a Seattle local, Saha’s origin story is based in Seattle’s music scene. The first time Saha played in Seattle was in 2015, at Q Nightclub in the early days of his career. Harrison Mills of ODESZA, an electronic duo from Bellingham, took him out for a drink after one of his shows. Mills told Saha that he was starting a record label called Foreign Family Collective and wanted Saha to submit a single to release through that label.
“So actually, Seattle has been an integral part to what led to the explosion of my career after that, because that meeting led to Indian Summer being released,” Saha said in an interview with the Emerald. “That was the turning point of everything. My life changed because of that.”
Now as a regular festival performer, Saha creates a diversity of expansive electronic sounds. His upbringing as a child of immigrants and an education in classical Western and Bangladeshi music are all part of his success, even if Eastern music is no longer a main part of his style. Instead, his music focuses on capturing feelings or memories, creating melodies that are powerful and evocative. His hope is for other South Asian artists to have the same platforms without being tokenized.
“It’s very easy to get pigeonholed or stereotyped,” Saha said. “A lot of South Asian artists who tap into South Asian influences, which by the way, is a very cool way of expressing yourself musically, often get pigeonholed into having a very South Asian-centric audience and sound. And the converse is true, too.”
Coming back to the city that helped make his career for Capitol Hill Block Party, the growth of his career and the resonance of his work as a South Asian musician was not lost on him, nor was his newfound artistic privilege. But the hope remains that marginalized people may get to experience the same artistic freedom.
“At its core, sharing art is just the rawest form of expression at the end of the day, especially if you’re someone who grew up feeling othered,” Saha said. “I also think about what it means to be an artist in an immigrant family … we didn’t have the privilege [of artistic expression] growing up. And if you get to a point where you do have that privilege, you want to make sure that you can make the most of it.”
Editors’ Note: This article was updated on 8/2/2022 to correct the name of the studio Talaya works at.
Amanda Ong (she/her) is a Chinese American writer from California. She is currently a master’s candidate at the University of Washington Museology program and graduated from Columbia University in 2020 with degrees in creative writing and ethnicity and race studies.
📸 Featured Image: This summer’s outdoor festivals and concerts feature South End talents like rapper LIVt (upper left), hardcore pop singer TeZATalks (upper right), and audio engineer and singer Talaya (bottom right); as well as DJ and producer Jai Wolf (bottom left), an artist with significant ties to Seattle. (LIVt photo: Elise Wlaker) (TeZATalks photo: Rheinhard Hendrick) (Talaya photo: Debora Keme) (Jai Wolf photo: John Liwag)
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