Over the course of the past year the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection (along with the internet) has found a profound amount of love and affection for R&B artist Saleka. And the local singer/songwriter is literally about to take her show on the road as the opening act for R&B sensation GIVĒON on his Give Or Take Tour 2022. Daughter of filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan, Saleka has had a handful of singles featured in his work throughout 2021 and 2022 (including feature film Old and streaming series Servant, for which he is an executive producer), but she’s far from simply the daughter of a star. Singles like “Clarity,” “Mr. Incredible,” and “How Many” (whose notoriety were achieved entirely through hew own online platforms) have proven to be some of the most delectably sultry fusions of R&B, Jazz, and pop of recent years (“Clarity” was actually my most-played Spotify song of 2021.), and just last Friday she released “Red Eyes,” an exceptionally soulful number which she has described as, “A true millennial love song.”
We first met Saleka last fall, as she prepared for residencies at New York City’s Rockwood Music Hall, Washington DC’s Songbyrd, and our very own World Café Live, where she put on two of the most intimately enthralling Philadelphia shows of 2021. Earlier this week I got a chance to chat with Saleka again, who told me about preparing for her first proper tour (which kicks off right here at The Metropolitan Opera House on August 16th), her upcoming full-length debut, and her favorite things about Philadelphia.
Izzy Cihak: Since this is a Philadelphia-based publication and you’re based here as well, I’m curious what are some of your favorite things about the city, both as a musician and just day-to-day life?
Saleka: My family is so, “Philly is our home!” When my grandparents left India my grandfather very much liked the American history and idea of democracy, and Philadelphia really represented that for him. And they settled here because they really liked that. And then we’ve just never left. My dad really wanted to keep the family here, so I grew up surrounded by all the people here. Slowly the rest of our family has kind of come and congregated here, and now we all live very close by. So, one thing for me is just all my family is here, so it’s just home and always will be.
Also, I’ve just loved the music scene here. I work a lot at MilkBoy Studios in Philly, and I’ve met so many amazing musicians here. I really feel like there’s something – I don’t know what it is – but there’s some secret thing about Philly where the musicians are just super incredible. Like, the technique, the soul… but they’re also very humble and just willing to be creative and collaborate and just care about the music and the art. I really love the musicians here and I’ve been lucky enough to work with a bunch of them. It’s very special to me.
Izzy: We spoke almost a year ago, right before you kicked off your residency shows in Philly, DC, and New York City. This is a big question, but what have been some of the highlights of the past year for you? You’ve done quite a bit.
Saleka: Definitely the music videos. The music videos are always so much fun, and each one is like its own little crazy adventure. We shot a music video in the spring, which came out a couple month ago, for a song called “Séance.” My sister directed it and it was probably the most weird and unusual video we’ve shot so far, and we just had a lot of fun doing it. Again, we worked with a ton of dancers from Philly and artists from Philly and the whole crew was from Philly. It was really fun to shoot that. It’s always an adventure — especially in COVID times — to put a production together and make it happen. That was definitely a highlight and I just love the way the video came out. It was super fun.
And, I have a sort of highlight that hasn’t happened yet, but it’s coming up. I’m opening for GIVĒON on tour, and I’m starting in a couple weeks. I’ll be opening for him for about a month on a bunch of US dates, including Philadelphia, which is actually the first date on the tour.
Izzy: You’ve released a number of singles this year, most recently “Red Eyes,” which just dropped, in addition to an EP. Have you had any favorite reactions to your latest music?
Saleka: Oh, definitely! I’d say my favorite thing is just seeing other people kind of make art from it, whether it be covers, or dances, choreography, artwork, kind of things like that. I just saw yesterday somebody posted a cover of a song that I wrote for my dad’s movie last year, “Remain.” It’s fun to see, even if it’s not the song I just released. People will be making new things from a song I released a year ago. That’s really cool to see.
And I did an EP for the TV show Servant, of which there’s one more season and I’m gonna write more songs for. I did three songs for Season Three and the response to that was really interesting. A lot of people just found the songs from the show and then did a lot of digging to find me and then get the music, and kind of really resonated with it. People did covers of it, some people did dances. That’s been really fun to see.
Izzy: On a related note, have you noticed any patterns amongst your fans?
Saleka: I don’t know about patterns, but they’re definitely very musically inclined. Like, they notice the lyrics and they’re very emotionally aware and connect with the lyrics and things. The lyrics are very important to me in all my songs, and the kind of production and sounds are based around the message, so I think people really resonate with that, or I hope they resonate with that [laughs]. But it’s still too early to say if there are certain patterns. I like to see diversity in the audience, which excites me, like different ages and genders and people all around the world. Honestly, the diversity of it excites me more.
Izzy: The last time we spoke we chatted about some of your all-time favorite artists, who included legends like Lauryn Hill, Amy Winehouse, Etta James, and people like that, but I’m curious if there are any current artists of whom you’re a big fan, or find to be especially inspiring?
Saleka: Definitely. There’s so many. I mean, Kendrick Lamar just recently released an album. I love it. It’s incredible. I’m a big fan of Brent Faiyaz and Snoh Aalegra, Xavier Omar… Oh, Omar Apollo just released a great album; I’ve listened to it so many times. It’s really amazing. There’s a lot of kind of newer R&B artists that I really gravitate towards. And GIVĒON is also one of those artists who I really love and was super excited to listen to his new music, and one of my dream artists to open for, as well.
Izzy: Like you said, you have about a month of dates opening for him. How excited are you to spend that time on the road with him?
Saleka: I’m so excited. I was definitely a previous fan. I wrote up a list of dream artists to open for, kind of just trying to manifest, and he was at the top of the list on there, with like three stars next to his name! Because I really love his music, but I also do feel like I could be a great opener for him. I feel like the kind of vibes match. He’s the type of musician I hope to be, the soulfulness and the mix of modern R&B and acoustic instrumentation, and lyrical integrity, and all of those kinds of things. I’m a huge admirer of him and I can’t wait to be part of the show. It’s just such an honor.
Izzy: Are there any shows you’re especially excited to play on the tour?
Saleka: There’s a lot. I mean, Philly’s the first date, so of course I’m very excited for that, and it’s nice to be in the hometown because my family will get to come, my friends will get to come. I’m so excited to play Radio City Music Hall in New York. I’ve never gotten to play that venue and it’s so iconic. He actually sold-out the first night, so we’re doing back-to-back nights there, which is so cool. I’m really excited to be there. I’m so excited to go to New Orleans; I’ve actually never been there. And to perform there will be very fun; I mean, it’s the birthplace of Jazz and blues and has all this musical history, so I’m excited to perform there. Also, Atlanta is another city that I love performing in. The Coca-Cola Roxy is where we’re performing and it’s such an amazing venue and super fun. The House of Blues in Boston; that’s gonna be really sick. There’s definitely a handful. And there’s a lot of cities that I’ve never been to, never performed in, so I really have no context for it, but I’m just excited to go there and perform and be a part of it, even if we’re just there for like five hours [laughs].
Izzy: What can be expected of your live show on these dates? They’re definitely some of the bigger non-festival stages you will have played. I mean, I’ve only seen you at The Lounge at World Café Live, which is quite different.
Saleka: Totally different. I’m in the process of prepping for the tour now, but we’re kind of changing the whole setup. One, because I’m the opener, so we can’t bring my full band, so we’re using a mixture of tracks and live instrumentation, and also kind of building out the tracks and the instrumentals to fill out the spaces. I’ve had the opportunity to work with a couple of amazing music directors to do that. We’re in the process of finessing those tracks and rehearsing them right now.
It’s gonna be a different type of show than I’ve ever performed before, because my usual vibe is like “intimate jazz club,” small, heated setting, which I love: the lounge vibe. Like, a small four-piece band, everything’s live kind of thing. That’s been my happy place, but I really do feel like there’s another side to the music that we haven’t explored, which is bigger, filling the space with the tracks and having the live aspect be an element on top of that. I’m really excited to explore that and I think it will be super fun. It’s just gonna be very different from the way you saw it.
Izzy: I know that you haven’t done a ton of touring just yet, but have you developed any road rituals?
Saleka: The shows I’ve done have been so sporadic and different. Sometimes it’s really close to home and sometimes we’re like flying to Indonesia for two days and doing a festival there, so it’s hard to create patterns and things that are the same in each setting. But I definitely have my vocal warmups, and I bring tea with me in my backpack wherever we go [laughs].”
Izzy: That’s a big thing for artists, I feel like [laughs].
Saleka: Yeah! One, I’m also just a tea addict in general. Ya know, Indian families love tea, like chai is just a part of our culture [laughs]. It reminds me of home, but also I have my vocal throat-coat tea, so I bring that with me wherever I have my set warmup that I do. That just helps me have some kind of continuity, no matter where I am/what I’m doing, which is fun. And a lot of the time I have family or friends that will come visit and that’s always a kind of grounding thing and makes me excited. Like, I have some family in Atlanta. I have family in different places, I have friends in different places, so it’s nice to go and connect with those people in those cities that I rarely get to visit. But, honestly, that’s one of the things I’m hoping to figure out on this tour, just get a kind of routine and tradition for myself together of what can ground me when I’m performing and doing all these different things, when every venue is different and with the kind of inconsistency of touring life, and create structure within that.
Izzy: Finally, what’s next for you, after this tour wraps? Are you still working on a potential full-length in the near future?
Saleka: Yes! We were supposed to release the full-length a couple months ago, but I ended up signing on with a record label, and so we’ve been reworking the plan and I’m gonna release the full-length album right after I come back from tour. I’m really excited about that. It’s been a long time coming and I’ve been releasing music during the pandemic, so things have been so unpredictable and crazy. So, I’m glad it will finally be out there.
Because I had extra time, I added three more songs on there because I’m crazy [laughs]. So, I’m excited about those new songs! I just want it to feel current, ya know? And the things I’m working on and things I’m excited about are the things I’m doing now. I get excited about the most current things because they’re also the most personal things to me. So, I’m excited about those three new tracks that are on it. And there’s a bunch of tracks that no one’s heard, but that I wrote a while ago. So, I’m very excited for the album to be out. And I think after that I’m gonna do my own smaller tour, just headlining. It’ll be venues like The Lounge at World Café Live and things like that, smaller venues. So, kind of back to that. But I’m really excited to take everything that I’m gonna learn on the GIVĒON tour into that space and kind of create a new version of the full set, which is really exciting.
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