With love, from Miami: Siana Altiise to debut in India with experimental soul music
Siana Altiise’s music is mostly a sensory experience. On her debut tour in India, one can expect fewer words and more sounds from her, the latter of which is delivered by the Miami-based composer’s smooth vocals, accompanied by looped percussions, a style that she has come to be associated with over the years. One might require a bit of patience to warm up to her music, but once her pieces pick up the pace, it is worth the wait. “People don’t always need to hear my story; maybe their hearts can interpret the words on their own. That’s what I want — the heart to be opened, and each listener to be able to hear what they need at that moment,” says the 32-year-old musician, adding, “I’m still in a very harmony-heavy and lyrically abstract phase, so I want to stay there for a while.” Ahead of her performance in Chennai, at The Tiger House, Besant Nagar, Siana goes down memory lane and shares with us the essence of her music and how she tries to experiment with different sounds while retaining her core soundscape. Excerpts:
How were you inspired to be a musician?
A few friends and I put together a band after we moved to China in 2012. We only lasted four months before we went our separate ways. I pursued open mics and other music venues to connect with musicians, filling in for members of other bands when they couldn’t perform. After the first band had split, I had a hunger for singing and creating music that I’d never done before. Over time, from the connections I’d made, I was performing three to four nights a week, while I was still teaching English during the day. I took it full-time once I realised that I loved watching people react to music, which made me feel so good while singing. Eventually, singing became a stress reliever. I didn’t love the full-time schedule in the beginning, but I always loved the feeling of knowing I could make people’s days better, even if just for a moment, with music.
When did you get your first professional musical project? Take us through the challenges you faced until then.
My first music project fell into my hands in 2016. I had been looking for a way to make music even though I didn’t have a band. Funny enough, I’d bought a looper and just had it stored in the closet of my new apartment. I dusted it off and gave it a try for the sake of making music. I worked on Crazy by Gnarls Barkley, and the German song, Ich Kenne Nichts. They both came about quite quickly and I loved the process of creating them both. Coincidentally, more than loving the music, I loved how I felt while I was composing the songs — layering harmonies, adding simple percussion, and the singing overall.
How do you look back on your journey?
Being a TEDx speaker is my most exhilarating success thus far. I spoke at TEDxPeachtree and TEDxCentennialParkWomen about the music I create and why I create it. I couldn’t believe that the opportunity actually came to life, but I’m thankful it did. Were there any challenges? During a live performance with visualisations, I miscalculated the timing of my music, so the visuals were also off as well. It wouldn’t have been so bad if it weren’t in front of a live audience, and streamed around the world with 70 thousand plus viewers, but I got through it!
How would you describe your style?
I would describe my musical style as experimental and soul, though I consider myself a sensory artiste. There are many people that create music using a looper, but not quite in the style (yet), that I’m creating — ‘experimental soul’ is what I would call it. Over the years, it has evolved from arrangements of covers to symphonic compositions, to now what seems more like abstract storytelling focused on simple, repeated phrases. They’re all my heart being communicated in song form — with hopes of encouragement and reminders of personal truths.
What inspires you to make new music?
Simplicity. I don’t need to fill every available sound space. The most important factor I keep in mind with every new composition is a concept used in orchestral performances called ‘transitional attention’. This is the space between musical phrases that grab the listeners’ attention after it could potentially start wondering from predictability and familiarity with the song. I do this by varying the channels to, in a sense, keep the listeners guessing about what is coming up next and to retain their attention. Nils Frahm and Olafur Arnalds are great at this — simplicity, looping, and brilliant musicality.
I create music directly from memory — nothing is written down. So when I get an idea and run into the studio with it, it usually has a strong skeleton within a few hours; finished in a few days time. But as my style is evolving, so is the difficulty in timing, harmonies, melodic interpretations, and storytelling. It’s all just one big puzzle to piece together!
What is your take on world music right now? What are the new genres that have caught your attention?
I think world music is phenomenal. I grew up in Miami, so I was first exposed to music (from around the world) as a child. I have always had an appreciation for music, its origin, and languages. I’m particularly fond of Cumbia, Samba and Indian trap music.
Tell us more about your India tour. Are you excited? What’s the kind of music and songs that we can look forward to?
I got connected with the Urban Artist Network (UAN) for my Indian tour. I am very excited since I’ve never been to this country. I’ll be bringing a new project that’s still in progress, but ready for the world to hear. One song that absolutely captivated my heart is East African Chameleon, which is my upcoming single that is inspired by a period of my life where I was fighting to fit in (change my patterns consistently according to my surroundings) and the lesson I learned from my constant, failed attempts to blend in.
Do you have any upcoming projects? Any collaborations that we can look out for?
Yes! I am releasing two new projects in the next two months. The style is going to be more meditative — created for two reasons: rest and sleep. One project is full of simple five-minute compositions created to support my proposition for companies to consider five-minute work breaks every hour for their 9-5 employees. The second project is a 13-minute track for sleep. From the time we lay our heads down, it takes about 13 minutes for us to fall asleep. This project is for that beautiful in-between time. There are definitely upcoming collaborations, one of them with a Malaysian producer, to be out in a few months.
How do you juggle between music and other commitments?
It’s actually still coming together. I want all of my projects to support one another. At the moment though, I compose for dance companies and films, as well as work on PausePoints (her own musical initiative) for corporate conferences and meetings. The original music that I create is mainly for my soul (first), but I usually end up introducing them into new shows and possible features with creatives. I love it. I’m happy about my evolving style, and I look forward to including even more of it as projects unfold.
At The Tiger House, Chennai. June 14. 8.30 pm. Details: 70924-02345.