Once Upon a Diva: An Interview with Tifane Sejour
Tifany Sejour, professionally known as Tifane, has an arresting voice. This fact is more than clear in her debut album Anprent, originally released in the mid 2000s, which Kreyolicious.com has had the chance to.
The freshness the singer beings to Haitian music can only be compared to a seacoast breeze in the middle of lake of fire and sulfur-hot summer, or a drop of water in the middle of an isolated mine. The lyrics on the 10-song album are thoughtful, poetry-filled, and they rocked (the 11th track “Mèsi”, an interlude barely at two minutes long, still showed off Tifane’s assets as an immensely gifted vocalist). “Se Kòmsi”[It’s as If]—a soft-core ballad, captured the fragility of love, and had a twin version—an uptempo reggae-filled remix with an artist called BelO as her duet partner.
And then there is “Avè’w” [With You], a romantic ballad whose sexiness is practically understated. As if to prove that her music isn’t merely about sugary ballads and love songs, Tifane also throws in a fast number, “Ou Enève m” [You Piss me Off], a very militant track, with her voice down to a snarl. Indeed, the singer’s debut Anprent is filled with many musical treasures, and songwriting, and the biggest treasure of all was Tifane’s chocolatey soprano.
But what would Tifane do for a comeback? Her most supportive and ardent fans have no doubt wondered if she could sustain the hardcore creativity that had made Anprent a musical event. Would Tifane’s second album be a step forward? They all have their answer with the album Sous la Peau [Under the Skin].
First and foremost, Sous la Peau is not a step backwards. It heralds a more mature Tifane, lyrically and musically, while maintaining the style that most have come to expect from her. There seems to have been a conscious plan to repeat the style of at least some of the tracks from the previous album. The zouk-inflected “Souke Sa” [Shake That] is too much like “Sekrè a” [The Secret] from the Anprentalbum to have an identity of its own. “Vin Montre’m” [Come Show Me] is a much better track, for those who might be looking for something uptempo. It’s more than a dance track, however; it preaches self-love, acceptance, and self-discovery: “Apran fè tèt ou plezi” (Learn to make yourself happy), Tifane recommends or rather commands.
One of the album’s best track “Si w te La” [If You Were Here] doesn’t start out too promising, in the first few seconds (“Maestro”…), but thankfully it was just a few seconds of autotune. The song features starlet Talie in the background, as well as some rapping “Si ou te la/M’tap chache afeksyon/M tap monte lesyèl pa do…Si w te la mwen pa tap santi m byen konsa/Si w te la” (If you were here/I would be searching for some affection/I’d be climbing heavens backwards/…If you were here, I wouldn’t be feeling so good/If you were here). Well, good riddance! This is a feminist, self-empowerment track as there ever was. How often does the female species puts up with miserable relationships, and sorrowful situations just to show a façade to the rest of the world? But how much better it is to love oneself, at the cost of society’s disapproval? The relationship that needs mending or breaking does not necessarily have to be the relationship with a significant other. It can also be the relationship one has with oneself. For as Tifane sings: “Mwen pra l viv pou mwen/Mwen pa p mizerab pou-ou” (I’m going to live to please myself/I’m not going to make myself miserable for your sake). In another verse, she sings: “Li lè pou m renmen tèt mwen. Mwen pra l okipe de mwen” (It’s time for me to love myself/I’m going to finally take care of myself).
Placed alongside “Si w te La”, and “Mwen Merite Lanmou”, “Regle Zafè’w” reinforces Tifane’s stance of self-love, self-acceptance and self-determination: “Pa tande pyès moun ki di’w kanpe la pitit/Pèson pa ka regle zafè’w pi byen pase…Pa bliye kale je’w” (Don’t listen to no one who tells you, you can’t go further/No one can take care of your business better than you can/Don’t forget to keep your eyes open).
“Hello” differs strongly from the rest of the songs on the album, and sets itself apart immediately. It’s saxophone-heavy, and it’s more traditionally konpa, and eschews the world afro-beat that has become Tifane’s trademark. “W ap pale m de li” [You’re Telling Me About Him] has this ballroom feel; the Spanish guitar strings really sets it off.
Sous la Peau introduces fans to a Tifane, the same as always, but an enhanced Tifane. Now, hear from the songbird herself.
The album Anprent introduced you as a musical artist. What can you tell us about your new album Sous la Peau?
Considering all I’ve been through since Anprent and all the experiences I’ve had, I think Sous la Peau is a demonstration of my maturity and my evolution in music as a song writer and singer. Sous la Peau is a little bit more live because of all the musicians who participated.
Who did you work with?
I was fortunate to work with some people I’ve been supported by since the beginning like Fabrice Rouzier, Joel Widmaier, Makarios Cesaire, MikaBen, Lòlò and Manzè from Boukman Eksperyans, and Eric Virgal. There are others I met along the way like Nantalie Indongo—also known as Imablackgirl—from the band Nomadic Massive, Harius Joseph from Zèklè, Hansito Mercier Jr., with Loulou from Kreyol la and Eric Pimentel with Dany Gonzales from Orlando.
How long did it take for you to assemble the songs?
It feels like I’ve been working on it for ten years because things were going very slowly. But, in total, I can say it took me two years—almost three—to work on this album.
In your song, “Avè-w”, from your debut album, you sung about the joys of love. You recently married. Is love everything you thought it would be?
I married a very special and entertaining man. I mean really entertaining! [Laughter] We have a very special and rare kind of love because we both prayed about us so I can say that I am blessed. It’s a better than what I had planned for myself, but that’s how God blesses. I enjoy the married life. I’m an international singer, traveling all the time—but I’m still a wife. We share the chores in the house. I do most of the cooking, but I don’t mow the lawn. That’s all him! [Laughter]
As a career woman for such a long time, do you think that a woman has to marry and have a family to feel fulfilled?
I think it depends on the woman. For many of us—career and business women—the goal is to rise to the top, but that’s only one side of who we are. The other side, is the woman in us, and for most, it’s all good to be at the top of your game, but it can get pretty lonely. Again, it depends on the person. If a woman is completely satisfied with being successful and single, it should be respected. Me, I’m too lovable and affectionate for that type of life. I may enjoy the benefits of fame but it can’t keep me warm at night or wipe my tears and make me feel special.
You’ve said in past interviews that your favorite Haitian female artists were Princess Georgie from the group Zin and Emeline Michel. Have you meet either of them? Any collaborations in view?
What I really said was that I admired Georgie’s way [of] impos[ing] herself in the business instead of just being eye candy on stage because that’s how women are usually used in Haitian bands. They get two songs on the album and sing back up. I grew up listening to Emeline and my admiration for her comes from her audacity to go the other way and not sing konpa. I met her before I became Tifane and I told her she’d hear about me some day. We’ve performed together plenty times, but no collabos yet.
How do you handle your fame?
Naturally, I’m very down to earth. I take every big contracts or anytime I’m surrounded by fans for autographs as special moments. It can get scary and dangerous. I’ve had my hair pulled from my scalp, my clothes almost ripped, I’ve been groped, and my car completely covered with fans, I’ve signed autographs on faces, backs, necks, and some guys gave me their boxers to sign. The most uncomfortable situation is being stared at when I’m at the beach. I keep my private life private and all that doesn’t go up my head at all.
Do you ever worry about people using you?
I’ve had that happened before, sometimes I let it fly because it’s obvious that the person is just trying to show people that they know me but on anything big that I won’t tolerate, I either tell them off or I just keep my distance. I try to be one step ahead. I hate when people try use me for money.
Have you lost friends since you’ve become famous?
No, not one. I’m not the type who forgets her friends or ignores them. I may not be as available as I used to [be], but I do my best to stay in touch. So far, I’m still friends with everyone I grew up with.
Older and wiser, what do you wish you had done differently when you first got on the musical scene?
I wish I had an image consultant when I first started. I’ve worn a lot of gorgeous Haitian designer clothes, but some made me look so much older than I was. I also wish I’d put my foot down more often when I was offered too little for some shows. I guess back then, the artist side dominated the business side of me. I’ve learned so much and I still don’t regret anything that happened, good and bad.
Do you ever imagine a time when performing and recording will not interest you anymore?
Oh noooo, not yet. I don’t know when or if that day will come, but I know that if I stop performing, it will be for a much greater cause, something revolutionary even or maybe it will be because I found so much more happiness in my personal life than the star life. Trust me, it’s not easy being Tifane—let alone being a female solo artist in the H[aitian]M[usic]I[industry].
Now, in view of all this technology that’s being introduced every nanosecond, is it your feeling that one day that the very notion of a solo recording artist will be obliterated?
So far, the technology has been good to me business-wise because I’m able to promote myself around the world and I know how many of my songs are bought online anywhere in the world. However, when it comes to all the fancy software for the recording studio and voice editing, I think it’s very dangerous for those artists who rely on them. When it comes to singing live, as a solo artist you’ve got to be able to sound just as awesome. I stay away from those, only if it’s an effect used to mix or to give a little flavor to a song.
You have a degree in sociology. Has that helped you in your songwriting? Sociology has enhanced my way “in-depth” way of looking at the world.
When I was a kid, nature was my main source of inspiration. Now, I write because I look deeply at people, chain of events, human interactions and everything that’s good, funny, bad, ugly, amazing, inspiring and sad. I write according to what I see people might need to hear to feel better or to do something great in life.
Do you plan on pursuing your education further?
Definitely. I used to be afraid of stepping out of my Tifane realm because I hate feeling like I’m missing out when I’m not on tour or when things are happening and I’m not part of them. Knowing me, when I go back to school that will be the only thing I will focus on. I won’t be able to travel and study at the same time.
What can you be seen doing when you’re not performing?
If I’m not visiting schools to meet young people and address certain important issues their parents won’t talk about, you can find me promoting the integration of handicapped people in Haitian society, not only because I am the Ambassador for the cause, but because I find it crucial to think of them and their accessibility to everything if we are really rebuilding Haiti.
Are you a feminist?
In many ways, yes. I’m a woman who believes that no one has the right to limit or take away my rights, and I do believe that I should be paid just as much as a man would for the same job. My parents taught me that I’m not superior nor inferior to no one. I’m not anti-men; I know we complete each other and I do believe that if something is too heavy for me to pull, push or lift, a man should do it for me.
BelO was on a remix version of your song “Se Kòmsi”. In the future, will there be duets with other musical artists?
I think Eric Virgal and I will have a duet. I’m not sure when but he’s been talking about it. I have a few other artists I also think I might do duets with.
Who are your dream musical collaborators? I have so many it’s crazy. I would love to record a song with Joel Widmaier, John Legend, Medhy Custos, India Irie, Gage, Jean-Luc Guanel, Alicia Keys and Jill Scott.
You profess to be a big fan of Whitney Houston. What have you learned from her life? I miss Whitney’s presence in the music world because I always looked forward to hearing something new from her. She’s the reason why I wanted to be a star. I’ve learned that no matter how far your can go in this business, when you make one mistake such as a going along with peer pressure and drugs, the same world who appreciated you is the same one who will make jokes and laugh at your fall. To me she is irreplaceable. I see that they compare other young artists who shall remain nameless to her, but they can’t be Whitney on their best day. I’ve also learned that great artists like her always die young or troubled.
After this album, what are your plans?
Well, I can already see that I’m about to travel a lot and live out of my carry-on bag, so I’m putting together my next project in the meantime. I was offered to bring to life old hits and unedited songs of the great Raoul Guillaume by Raoul himself. It’s a very big honor considering that the famous Celia Cruz and so many other big Cuban Stars have interpreted his songs. I think it will be fun to remix them and give them a fresh new look. He gave me about 8 to 10 songs with their partitions.
How can Haitian music be on the same international level, as say, reggae and Latin music?
The best way is to make sure that the quality of our recordings are within international standards, that we keep singing in Creole to impose our native tongue instead of thinking that we must sing in an other language to cross over. Until we realize that performing for an all-Haitian crowd in another country doesn’t make us international, we will never cross that bridge. When people, [and] producers from other nations get to see us on stage in our own style and our own language instead of imitating others, our music will go so much further. Authenticity is very important. Unfortunately, now I see more international artists performing in Haiti and not all of them are huge stars, while very few Haitian artists, including myself, are performing on international stages. Something’s wrong.
What’s the worst rumor you’ve heard about yourself?
Before I released my album, I stayed in Florida getting ready to hit the stage again. Rumor has it that I have not been to Haiti in a while because I was so embarrassed to go back, since I married a man who took all my money and left me shortly after. There isn’t a drop of truth.
Ahem, let’s show our support for our Haitian artists by either purchasing their music, if it’s within our possibilities, or let us send them some words of love and appreciation. Check Tifane out here.
Kreyolicious starts the sentences…Tifane finishes them. Let’s see what she had to say…
Most people don’t realize that I am…not that good at making friends, but I’m just nice to everyone I meet.
A sure way to get me mad is to…underestimate me or make decisions for me without my consent.
3 People I wish were here with me right now…My grandmother Manmi Jeanine, my friend Mironda, my granpa Ti Pèpère.
My three favorite foods are…Chocolate, seafood mostly, lanbi [conch], sushi, steak.
I would die if…I lost my voice.
Oh, please don’t ever…raise a hand on me or my loved ones, [I’m] not violent but I can throw a mean punch instinctively.
Three artists I’m feeling right now…Melanie Fiona, Kes the band.
The last time I cried was when…in April, my recording engineer told me he was having a big problem with one of my songs for the album.
God is…the captain of my ship. I gave myself to him and I’ve been seeing miracles and amazing things I can’t explain happening for me non-stop.
My parents…[are] awesome, cool, loving, good looking and very supportive.
My life right now can be best described as…eventful, fun, very busy and crazy.
Three words that describe me…smart, real, sexayyyyy.
What I want to be written on my grave...With Tifane in heaven there’ll be music and one more ray of sunshine in the sky.