On Aug. 16, local Philadelphia artist, Saleka, opened along Fana Hues for the Giveon Tour. The show sold out The Metropolitan Opera House. This was the first show of the tour and I had the chance to talk to Saleka about her experience.
*This interview has been edited for clarity.
IR: I’m very excited to talk to you. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? Your artist name and everything? Just like a little introduction.
Saleka: My name is Seleka. I am a musician. I grew up playing classical piano. I have an album coming out this fall. Right now I’m opening on tour with Giveon, which is really exciting.
IR: I saw that your first show was in Philly. Right? Like the opener.
IR: Are you originally from Philly?
Saleka: Yeah, I grew up here.
IR: How was it to open on this tour, right around where you grew up?
Saleka: It was kind of a just by chance that the first date of his tour ends up being in my hometown. But it was really nice because my family and friends came home, which was really cool. My band is also from Philly, and a lot of Giveon’s band is actually from Philly, so it was really nice to kind of kick it off, with everybody there feeling the love.
IR: I’ve never been there to the Met before. The energy was absolutely insane. I really liked the venue. I want to ask you about your music and what you do. What made you go from playing classical piano to who you are now as an artist? How would you describe your music?
Saleka: I grew up playing classical piano. When I was about 16 or 17, I kind of felt like I wanted to start writing my own music. So I kind of transitioned out of classical piano into like a singer-songwriter type of space. But it definitely really came from all the training and knowledge that I had from classical piano. It transferred into how I write and how I understand music. All the training that I have kind of still applies to the music that I make now. I categorize my music as R&B, or alternative R&B with influences from jazz, hip hop, blues and World Music, although I don’t like that term, a little mixture of a bunch of things.
IR: I was looking into your discography on Spotify, and I saw that your earliest work on there is from 2020. Is that when you started doing music as the artist name that you go by now?
Saleka: 2020 – that was what I started first putting out music.
IR: That is amazing. Congratulations for going on tour with such cool artists after two years of being in music.
Saleka: It’s been crazy because 2020 was during the pandemic and so we started releasing music in the beginning of a pandemic. There were no shows at all that whole first year of releasing music so it was kind of just very strange to not have the live aspect. Now it’s coming back and it’s really exciting to be on tour and finally get to play in front of people and sing the songs that have been out. It’s nice.
IR: I’ve heard a lot of artists say this, but I was curious, what your opinion is about it? Do you feel like the isolation and the pandemic played a huge role in who you are as an artist now, the music that you released? Do you feel like that impacted your career as an artist at all?
Saleka: It definitely impacted it. I think it impacted the whole industry and everyone was affected by it, for sure. It definitely gave me time. It slowed down a lot of things. But at the same time, it did give me a lot of time to work on other things. I think especially the music videos that we made, a lot of them I made with my sister actually, kind of developed from that period of time where me and my family were all just quarantined together. We were like talking about things and working on things and wanting to collaborate. A lot of the music videos came out of that time period. Also, I’ve been writing songs for a TV show called “Servant.” I also wrote a song for this movie called “Old.” A lot of that kind of familiar collaborations developed from that period of time, because we were all in the house together and involved in each other’s art and kind of collaborating in this really cool, fun space that we had. We’re all very close and would be supportive of each other. That really forced us to even work together and to depend on each other for work things because you can’t really go to outside people for a lot of stuff. It really kind of developed this cool collaborative space within my family, which has developed now.
IR: That sounds like you’re a house full of creatives. Can you tell me a little bit more about your projects as well? And how your music fits into the projects and everything.
Saleka: For the movie, I wrote a song that’s kind of part of the plot, and then is played during the end credits. It’s part of a character’s evolution. It marks the passing of time for this character, but also how everything stays the same because it’s kind of the beginning and the end. It’s a very meaningful spot. The family in the movie is very close to my heart because it’s largely based on my family. The lyrics were very much about the relationships in the movie, love and how love transcends time, which is a big theme in the movie. With the TV show, I am basically writing an album that kind of spans over the course of a few seasons. It is also very much attached to one particular character and her development from a girl becoming a woman, as she’s discovering her power, and her sensuality, and the things that she wants, and the things she’s afraid of, and she kind of turns to music in these very vulnerable moments that are kind of transformative for her. Each song has a particular place in this journey. Sometimes there’s dancing and movement. Sometimes it’s about her relationship with a person she loves or the things that she wants. It’s been really fun to write for this TV show because it’s been like three years and I’m writing the last couple songs right now, which I’m kind of sad about. It’s all ending. It’s been really fun to write for a show like this. Every song has its own special spot in the storyline, which is really cool. It’s like a really fun challenge, I think.
IR: Do you think there’s a difference between the creative process you go through during the writing moments for these shows and your own personal music? Do you think you look at it from a different perspective?
Saleka: Oh, it’s definitely different. Yeah, it’s a completely different process. You’re reading a script, and I’m writing a song for a script. That’s just a completely different mentality than when I’m writing my own personal music. I’m going to have to fulfill the ideas, hopes and wishes of the producers, music supervisors, directors and writers that all put that script together and had a vision for what they wanted the songs’ role to be. I really enjoyed it and I think the feeling of Servant is stark and edgy, but also fun space is a musical genre that I really love. It has led me into more of the Jazz and Blues space.
IR: You’re going to launch an album in the fall and I saw you have a single out right now called “Red Eyes.” Regarding your music, who are your biggest inspirations?
Saleka: Oh, there’s so many. We talked about classical piano – huge influence for me. I would say I listened to a lot of Amy Winehouse and Lauryn Hill growing up, a lot of hip hop music as well. I’m a big Bob Marley fan. I’m a big Nina Simone fan, Sarah Vaughan. I feel like she’s one of my favorite vocalists of all time. I’m super inspired by each artist and they made me idolize music and what it means to be an artist.
IR: Do you still plan to stay in Philly and be part of like the Philly scene? Do you consider yourself part of the Philly music scene?
Saleka: I definitely want to be. My family is from here, you know it’s kind of my home base. I definitely like plan to stay here. Because of the nature of the work, I travel so much. I go to L.A. a lot for work, we go to New York a lot for work, but I think it’s really nice to have a home base in Philly. I also think the music scene in Philly is really incredible. The musicians that I work with, engineers that I work with, actually even a lot of Giveon’s band. You look at a lot of the bands from big artists too, a lot of times their band members are from Philly. I don’t know why that is. I think there’s just this really great, humble, but disciplined, talented musicians that come from Philly. Something about the city just fosters that energy. I really love it. I love you know, all the musicians that I’ve met from Philly are so sweet, so down to earth and can just kill it. They’re sick. I really love being here. I want to keep going and working with music. The good thing about the pandemic is it allowed for all of us to figure out ways to work virtually and so that’s been really fun to kind of connect with people that I might not necessarily be near and still work with them and then maybe go visit. I love Philly – that’s our city and so I feel very connected to it and I always want to stay connected to it.
IR: Yes, I love talking to people from here. Everybody talks with so much love about each other. The music scene is growing and everybody’s all love with each other.
Saleka: I feel like every city has its own kind of energy when you go into like the music space. A city like New York, there’s there’s so many people. I just feel like there’s this really nice love that you feel in the Philly space. On this tour also, my band and then a bunch of Giveon’s band are also from Philly. We’re in Philly sweatshirts backstage. We have this connection with each other.
IR: How has it been on tour?
Saleka: It is my first full tour. It’s very intense and exhausting, but also super fun. Giveon’s audiences are just the best. They’re so excited. They’re music lovers. It’s a very unique experience to just be in front of an audience that has no idea who you are and is waiting for somebody else. I’m just grateful every day.
IR: I wanted to ask you as well about future plans. I saw something about you performing at Philly music fest. Do you have any other upcoming plans and what like what do you have going on after the tour is over?
Saleka: Philly Fest is in October. My album will be coming out. It’s called “Seance.” I am going to be writing a lot of music when I get back. Then hopefully planning a small kind of headlining tour for the album.