Sound Advice: Tuelo with Enemy Planes (Sept. 28)

Tuelo incorporates South African music with a folkish Pop/Rock style at MOTR Pub.

Sep 28, 2016 at 11:03 am

Tuelo - Photo: Candice McNiel
Photo: Candice McNiel
When South African native Tuelo Minah moved from her homeland to Connecticut in 2004, she had no intention of becoming a professional singer and songwriter. In fact, she says she never really sang when in South Africa and wasn’t aware of the secret talent she had within her.

Hearing Minah (who performs with her band as simply Tuelo) and her compelling voice and engaging songs on the 2014 album Tuelo & Her Cousins (“Her Cousins” is the name of her excellent backing band) and, even more so, on the forthcoming EP Zero, her lack of confidence is unfathomable. She has an instantly gripping, unique and seemingly effortlessly soulful vocal style that oozes emotion and passion in a way truly gifted but “untrained” vocalists often do. Though there’s not much sonic similarity, it is reminiscent of Billie Holiday’s path to developing her expressive, mysterious sound; without formal vocal training, Holiday found magic within her, and her singularity ended up making her the greatest singer in the history of Jazz. Like Holiday, Minah appears to have just been born a natural.

Minah moved to New York City in 2010 and started her new life as a singer in earnest. She began to get some impressive work (particularly for a “newcomer”), earning backup-singing gigs with artists like Paul Simon and Hugh Masekela. She also became a member of Angélique Kidjo’s band, contributing backups to Kijo albums like 2010’s Õÿö and 2014’s Eve.

In NYC, Minah gradually found the members of her band, who’ve helped her create the equally captivating music to match her out-of-this-world singing. Her Cousins album features some interesting arrangements and songwriting, with Minah incorporating elements of South African music (and also occasionally singing in her native Setswana language) into the record’s folkish Pop/Rock style, which also features dashes of Funk, Jazz and Soul. But with the Zero EP, it sounds like Minah has now found her musical voice, showcasing a more distinctive sonic structure that’s even more difficult to pin to one precise genre. There’s an Eno-esque ambient aura to most of the EP’s songs and the array of influences (including classic R&B/Soul and even some New Wave courtesy of some tastefully integrated synths) are less obvious, having been melted together into something Minah can truly call her own. It’s sort of like the difference between her old boss Simon’s rudimental, touristy interpretation of African music on Graceland and the more creative, less obvious application of those same influences by Indie Pop rockers Vampire Weekend. And whether it’s the tinkering in the songwriting and musical motifs or a sign of Minah’s maturing and growing confidence as a frontperson, that dazzling voice shines even more brightly on Zero.

Find more info on the free show here.