The Influence of African Music: Q+A with Miriam Tamar | Watch Captivating Performance of "Who We" [Premiere]

9 August 2017
Kevin Nash

Miriam Tamar’s new EP, Firedancewas released earlier this year, featuring Keith Jones as well as Leon Mobley (of Ben Harper’s Innocent Criminals) and immediately debuted in the Top 5 of the iTunes World Music chart. The lead single off the EP, “Who We,” divulges what to expect from the remainder of the EP: A collection of songs with empowering messages. With carefully crafted and captivating music paired with pointed lyrics that bare significance, it's no wonder why this single has generated over 500,000 views on YouTube. 

Recently, Miriam Tamar recorded a live video for “Who We” in order to give the song a closer connection to its African influences by using live percussion. This live, raw, and powerful version adds an extra layer of authenticity which further emboldens its hypnotic feel. Watch and listen to Miriam performing "Who We" Live at The Nest above. 

With a degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Tufts University, spending years in Uganda working to develop curriculum for children affected by war has now translated to Mriarm Tamar writing songs about strength, individual power, and unity. Her music is heavily influenced by the sounds of the African continent but with a distinct electro pop backbeat. We caught up with Miriam to chat about her new Firedance EP, landscapes as they relate to her music, and much more. Read the conversation below. 


Let’s get into “Who We,” and how the directive lyrical message in tandem with the driving instrumental mixed with your deep captivating vocals puts the listener in some sort of surreal trance. How do you feel when performing this live?

Wow- well thank you for that beautiful description! I think I’m some place between longing and liberation. It’s almost like chanting a mantra for personal freedom, and if you give it enough soul, then you can embody it.

What does this song mean to you and has that meaning/feeling evolved over time?

“Who We” is a call to draw on inner strength in the quest for freedom. I was originally inspired to write it after my time living and working abroad in post-conflict Uganda developing peace education, seeing how people can be born into such different and complex, often dire, situations, but somehow find ways to empower themselves on their life journeys, and bring meaning to their lives. That’s freedom to me. That same root idea for the song still applies, even as I move forward with my life now based in the U.S. Even though the context has changed, I’m still trying to consciously choose happiness and choose meaning in my life, even when it goes against some of the social norms and constructs that surround me.

How does “Who We” fit in with the remainder of the Firedance EP?

Firedance EP as a collection tells the story of my artistic and humanitarian metamorphosis during my years living in Uganda, and well as transitioning back to U.S. life. Set to a world beat fusion soundscape, the songs all explore elements of shared humanity- the love, loss, joy, resilience, and empowerment we all experience universally. “Who We” simply asks outright, “how are we who we are?”- how did any of us even get here, born into circumstances beyond our control, and what can we do about it?

What are you excited about in regards to the EP and is there anything, in particular, you hope the listener takes away from the collection of songs?

I’m really excited that this is my first U.S. release and my first collection of songs. I’d written and collaborated with Ugandan artists for a few years, but it took some time to figure out my sound and personal writing style. I feel that Firedance accurately introduces my art to U.S. and international listeners- I want to take them on a lyrical and sonic journey, beyond emotional and physical borders.

How have the landscapes or architecture of the places in which you’ve lived helped to shape your music and sound?

I was exposed to so much incredible music in Uganda- not only regional traditional Ugandan music, but ecosystems of music from the continent. Once you’re there, you get to hear so much East African dancehall and ragga, West African Afrobeat, and South African house…it’s endless vibrant inspiring sound- in the taxis, buses, marketplace, bars, shops, houses, the night air…it’s truly like living with a soundtrack. So imagine hearing all of this new music, that eventually becomes familiar music, in settings splashed with color, bustling dusty cities, dreamy savannahs, mud hut villages, destitute refugee camps, crowded sweaty nightclubs- music and rhythm were a life-source for all occasions and realities. I had the opportunity to front a traditional percussion ensemble, and working with them, fusing western songs and melodies with African rhythms was really how I discovered my sound.

Okay here are a couple fun ones…What are some songs you turn to when you need to be comforted or soothed?

Joni Mitchell “California,” which makes me laugh now that I’m living there. India Arie “There’s Hope,” Peter Gabriel “In Your Eyes,” Des’ree “In My Dreams” 

What food, snack, or beverage do you wish you always had on the road?

I love coconut- raw coconut or those unsweetened coconut chips.

What’s the last song or album you’d want to listen to on your deathbed?

This could go a couple ways- I’d either be super nostalgic and go with Joni Mitchell’s “Hits”, or go for more of a rock my way out with “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.”

So roping it back in…

What’s next for Miriam Tamar?

I’m currently working on a collaborative world music album with my partner GNL Zamba, who’s a hip hop and spoken word artist from Uganda. We’re producing the album with multi-instrumentalists Kinobe from Uganda and Jaja Bashengezi from Congo. It’s going to be a really beautiful cross-cultural project! I’ve also got a couple DJ remixes in the works for my EP, and some live shows in the LA area coming up.

Anything we missed?

I think that’s it for now- definitely stay posted on social media and my website for more updates about shows and upcoming releases!  

For more information on Miriam Tamar please visit: