Sunday Culture: 
VAGABON

I have made many musical discoveries thanks to Spotify on some lonely nights spent in my apartment overthinking (oh, hi quarantine). Most recently, while listening to a playlist specifically curated for me by the app, I discovered a singer with a refreshing sound and absolutely captivating voice. After listening to her song “Water Me Down” 5 times on loop, I was officially and utterly hooked.

—By Marie-Ève Venne

Performing under the pseudonym Vagabon, Lætitia Tamko operates as a one-woman show. Born and raised in Cameroon, her family moved to the United States when she was in her teens. At the time, she didn’t speak English. When she was in high school, her parents bought her a guitar from Costco. She figured that it was an easy and quiet enough instrument to teach herself, and she did, watching tutorials on DVD. 

While in college, however, she found made a new home for her herself exploring the D.I.Y.-rock scene in Brooklyn. While playing the part of a model student during the day, she was spending her late nights at rehearsals with her band. Her first performance—at the Silent Barn, an event space in Bushwick—was also her first concert. It took a while for her parents to know that she was actually a professional musician.

 

She left her job as a computer engineer and went on tour to promote Infinite Worlds, which included many of the first songs she had written. But she began experimenting with music that strayed from the guitar-driven indie she was known for. She composed and self-produced her new album, Vagabon, largely while she was on the road. Many of the songs on this album mix the raw materials of R& B and dance tunes, producing something a bit quieter.

Listening to Tamko’s music, you can help but notice the method behind her music. Each song feels intentional and self-contained, from ruminations on being a small fish (“Sharks,” off of her 2014 EP Persian Garden) to songs about race and identity (“Wits About You,” from her most recent album). They’re all beautiful and they all give you the impression of uppercuts going straight for your feelings.

It’s an unusual record made more beguiling by Tamko’s deep and adaptable voice. Floating on a lovely, minimal synth refrain that winks like a cloud of fireflies, “Water Me Down” is about disappointment. But as Tamko drives the message home, the soft four-to-the-floor beat grows starker, her voice more euphoric.

No doubt a gamble to make a wholesale change in your sound after an acclaimed debut, Tamko delivers a mature album with the melodies strong enough to match her unique voice.

 

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Written on: July 19, 2020