Story by Katie Kelly; Photo by Anthony Lorenzo
I’m in a rush when I go to meet Talibah Safiya. I was at work later than I expected, putting me about 10 minutes behind schedule. As I park, I start stressing about making someone else wait so I channel my inner New Yorker and powerwalk to our meeting place. I arrive semi out of breath (embarrassing), hair messy (embarrassing), and probably sweating (very embarrassing). Normally I’d be supremely in my head about all the above, but the minute I actually meet Talibah, it magically all melts away. Her spirit is calming, tranquil, and begs you slow down and be present.
This effect she has should really come as no surprise. When you listen to her music, that same energy permeates throughout. Her songs are a stunning collection of healing, growth, self-forgiveness, and most of all, self-love. She explores these concepts with a grace and patience that feels both therapeutic to her and her listeners.
Despite the gentle way she approaches life in her music, Safiya is fiercely ambitious. After graduating high school, she moved to Washington, DC, to attend Howard University, where she studied theater. However, after a few semesters, Safiya grew unfulfilled. “It didn’t work out. I just felt like that type of education wasn’t for me, so I started to really dig into studying the art of music and the art of songwriting.” Safiya is an avid reader and deeply talented writer. She started studying the songwriting of people like Amy Winehouse and Nina Simone, creating her own form of education and school along the way.
This led her to New York City, where she found a new home and artistic community to work with. “I started to kind of hang out with the music school kids of New York, like the Berkeley dropouts and graduates. They really helped me to kind of feel more confident in myself as a musician, having not necessarily been a trained instrumentalist. They just really poured life into me and gave me a musical community for the first time.”
New York City is invigorating and inspiring, but it can be exhausting. After 6 years there, Safiya felt the urge to return home to Memphis. At the time, her now-husband was running a local club called Dizzy Bird which she describes as “an epic little moment in Memphis music, for those of us who know.” He started hosting local music nights featuring up and coming talent in Memphis. Safiya flew out twice to perform and quickly noticed a shift in the city.
“There was something bubbling in the city. I could feel the difference. I could feel that there were people that were my age that were excited. They were not only trying to help advance and rebirth our original music scene, but also the fashion started to become more exciting. The visual artists are coming out, photographers are around, it really felt like the start of a thriving community of artists. I’m like, well if I can work with artists figuring out their niches in New York, I could do that at home.”
Photo: Anthony Lorenzo
And that’s just what she did. In the time since she’s been back, she’s recorded and released countless original songs, filmed incredible visual accompaniments, collaborated with big names like KAMAUU, and had her songs featured in national outlets. Oh, AND she (along with her husband) created a sustainable living company called Mama’s Sundry. See, I told you her drive and determination is different.
“I’m in a place where I really, really believe in what I’m doing. And if you really believe in what you’re doing, it comes with an urgency, because you know that you’re connected to a certain type of energy and that energy might have an expiration date. So, for me, it’s not about being in a certain mood or something. It’s about the fact that we’ve set a goal, and we’re going to get it done.”
Next on her list is her upcoming EP titled Black Magic. The 5 song project will take listeners on a journey of Black music in America from its inception. “It’s such a short project, but it’s very cohesive. I kind of broke it down where it’s like environmental love, relationship love and self/God love,” Safiya tells me. “There’s a lot of influences for this because it tells the story of Black music in Memphis and the Delta. That means you’ll hear anything from some field music to blues music to soul and rock.”
Safiya can seamlessly inhabit these different sounds and styles because, regardless of genre, there’s one unifying element at the core of all her music: peace. To know Safiya’s music is to know peace. She exudes it in every note and every word. It’s not performative or sporadically sprinkled in. It’s genuine and unapologetic. You deeply feel whatever emotion or story she’s conveying with her songs and you, beautifully, understand yourself better after hearing them.
Photo: Kai Ross
“It’s redemption music,” she elaborates when we talk about this. “Like, I’ve been through this thing, I made this mistake, I had this experience, but I KNOW who I am because of it and I’m gonna keep celebrating myself and my story.”
It’s an empowering message because Safiya herself is inheritably empowering. Towards the end of our time together, I ask her where she sees herself as an artist over the next few years. She tells me that making music and creating is something that she knows she’ll be doing for the rest of her life.
She pauses and then says adamantly, “I can do this for the rest of my life because I’m not burning myself out. I don’t burn myself out. I take breaks. I’m gonna rest. I love myself. I LOVE myself. I don’t just associate my love for myself with my work. I love myself. I love my family. I love the way I make home and the food I cook. I fucking love sleep. So ain’t nobody gonna burn me out. I can do this for the rest of my life.” Thank God for that.
**The first single from “Black Magic” will be released on Halloween day. Updates to follow!