l wish someone had told me that success can look different depending on your goals and aim. To me growing up success always looked like the big flashing lights and worldwide fame but what l have come to realize is a success is not measured by how much you gain, success is that sense of accomplishment you feel when you create something that you love whether it is acknowledged by millions of people, by a small group of people who you connect with or self-validation.
As a part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Tanaka Makoni.
Bringing you Soulful Conscious Hip Hop, which acts as a Safe Haven; Tanaka’s music provides a safe space where you can observe how the world affects your perception. Her latest single.
Tanaka’s sound is an intricate blend of 90s Hip Hop group Digable Planets, with a touch of Lauryn Hill’s introspective expressivity.
Her main aim in her music career is to create an open conversation with listeners about society’s role in shaping our sense of self-identity, to offer people a sense of solace in this hectic world.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in Zimbabwe with my extended family aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins. I enjoyed living with all my extended family, l was never bored because someone was always around to interact with, and dinner times were always a treat because we sat and ate together. I moved to East London in 2004 when l was eight years old. East London has become my second home ever since l moved from Zimbabwe. It has become my creative home.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Growing up l liked watching a lot of music videos and live music performances. I would sit and analyze the audience’s responses to whoever was performing on stage. l loved seeing people react to their favorite songs the joy on their faces. Seeing this interaction awakened my admiration of music and its power to unite people from all walks of life. I started imagining what it would be like to be that performer on stage, entertaining people, bringing them joy, allowing them to destress and let go of any life troubles. When l started writing poetry and lyrics, l wrote it for me because l found it cathartic, for me, it was a safe space to explore my emotions but with time and confidence l started turning my poetry into music.
Which led to me collaborating with other musicians and discovering what type of message l wanted to discuss in my music. Once l laid the foundation l started taking my music seriously, performing and sharing it with others.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Seeing how people relate to my music is always interesting. When l write my songs, l am in this little space in my own mind, to actually get feedback from people saying they like my track is amazing and always humbling.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I once forget lyrics to a song on stage, so l proceeded to make up the lyrics on stage. I ended up singing some weird stuff just to feel the gap, l can’t remember what l sang but the audience gave me a puzzled look. From that day own l vowed to always know every single lyric from back to front so that l will not confuse the audience again by singing random words that do not connect to the song.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Right now, l am currently working on a new song that l am excited about. I am also working with videographers and brainstorming music video ideas.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Diversity is especially important to have in the entertainment industry because everyone needs to feel represented, seen and heard. When minorities are not being included in all aspects of entertainment it enables homophobia, racism, discrimination against people with disabilities and sexism. The entertainment industry can have so much influence on people, specifically the younger generation, so if they do not see people who look just like them represented on their screens they can feel like who they are and what they look like is deemed unacceptable by society. This can increase suicide rates, depression, anxiety, self-harm, and self-shame.
It is also important to have minority groups represented in a non-stereotypical way as well. Although we are seeing a lot of diversity in television in recent years, some stereotypes that are portrayed on TV are very demeaning and narrow and serve to only cement outdated stereotypes of people from different minority groups. We need to champion for more positive portrayals of minority groups so that nobody feels secluded.
Everyone deserves to feel like they are loved for who they are authentic, so diversity in the entertainment industry is significant. Growing up watching shows like “One on One, “All of Us”, “That’s So Raven” and “Girlfriends” gave me a sense of confidence. Seeing black women on the screen being themselves with no restriction made me feel safe, valued and seen.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
If you feel like quitting give yourself a break and time to pose, breath then recommit. At the beginning of my career l felt like l had to be busy all the time to succeed, l was always comparing myself and checking how far people around me are getting. With time l learned that in life we are all on separate journeys trying to live in our purpose, so you do not need to be racing and constantly on the go to achieve your goals.
I also wish someone had told me that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I spent so much time trying to look like what people favor in the music industry, l wanted to be thin, flawless and admired. In my younger years, l self-shamed myself a lot about my appearance. With time l learned to see the value in my authentic self. I realized that external beauty and validation can only feed your ego for a short time, what is important is how l see myself in the mirror. At the end of the day when l am alone with my thoughts, l must find a way to settle them and that is usually easier if l can self-validate.
I wish someone had told me the importance of patience. Often being creative can be an incredibly emotionally demanding craft. You put all your emotions into your work so it can feel discouraging if people do not see the value in it. I struggled with this at the beginning of my career l felt defeated if l created something that people did not understand or connect to but after a while l started connecting more to my sense of clarity. It’s great to have people love what you create but first, you must like it yourself, be proud of it even if you don’t receive external validation.
I wish someone had told me that someone else’s shine does not diminish your shine. The most industry is driven advice l got when l was younger highlighted the importance of self-preservation which led to me seeing people around me in the same field as potential rivals. I found myself always second-guessing myself and looking over my shoulder. Looking back l now see how unhealthy and self-sabotaging that perspective was. space for me is there to shine without dimming anyone’s light.
Lastly, l wish someone had told me that success can look different depending on your goals and aim. To me growing up success always looked like the big flashing lights and worldwide fame but what l have come to realize is a success is not measured by how much you gain, success is that sense of accomplishment you feel when you create something that you love whether it is acknowledged by millions of people, by a small group of people who you connect with or self-validation.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Always take time for yourself to nourish and take care of your mind and body because of the hectic world we live in, too much work without time to sit and listen to what your body and mind need can lead to mental exhaustion. It’s good to be productive and consistent but everyone needs time to rest and re-energize.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would like to create a self-healing movement for black women. The aim of the class will be for people to share their experiences with trauma, hurt and pain. Cry if they want to, let all their emotions out with no fear of judgment from others for expressing their feelings. After everyone has shared their story, we can all sit and rebuild each other like a community, share words of wisdom and courage, support each other, and create effective self-soothing techniques. Then maybe participate in meditation and yoga.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am grateful for my mother she is my inspiration. She is a complex woman who has carried a lot on her back but finds time to show others love and care. She has helped me to keep pushing for my dream despite any setbacks.
Can you please give us your favourite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life lesson quote is we reject what we reflect in others. I can’t remember where l read it but it highlighted to me that the things l dislike in others have less to do with them and more to do with my inner self. For example, if l dislike someone’s vulnerability that could reflect that they is something l am struggling to be vulnerable with about myself.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to have a private breakfast with a couple of people. Firstly, l would love to have a private breakfast with Massive Attack, l love their music and overall sound, l want to ask them if they compose from a spiritual point of view because l find their music very soothing to listen to. Secondly, l would love to have a private breakfast with F.K.A Twigs, her music is amazing. I can imagine sitting around a table with her and deconstructing her songs and talking about her life experiences.
How can our readers follow you online?
Readers can follow me on my Instagram and twitter page which is under @tanakamakoni_
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!