ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE
You couldn’t get a more uniquely British creation than Soom T. An eclectic vocalist of over 15 years experience, working with everyone from punk bands to folk groups, Soom T is a petite Glaswegian girl of Indian-Punjabi origin who stands up at reggae dances and destroys every other MC in the venue with her irresistibly eccentric on stage persona and a voice you can’t quite believe is coming from her mouth.
Most of Trap’s readers will know of Soom T through her work with European reggae acts such as Jahtari and fellow Glaswegians Mungo’s Hi-Fi, for whose last album she provided a pair of voicings and with whom she has performed at the last three Outlook festivals and made everybody stand to attention.
Much more than just a reggae vocalist, as Trap found out when we caught up with her by phone from her native Glasgow, Soom T describes herself as everything from a singer to a philosopher, with her talents extending from the studio to the theatre, and with the profound perspective on life that’s only possible by being such a unique bundle of contradictions….
For those who might not know you, who are you and what do you do?
I’m Soom T – a singer, songwriter, philosopher, producer and writer from Glasgow in Scotland. I do a lot of different things really… I like cooking!
We were expecting you to say reggae singer…
Well more or less, but reggae is just one of the things I do, it’s more of a recent development. Before that I did a lot of dub, hip-hop and a lot of punk. I think it’s interesting that I’ve ended up doing what I do in the reggae world, but I don’t even call it reggae, that’s the funny thing. I considerate it to be quite folk, jazz and soul orientated. I think it’s difficult for me to pigeonhole what I’m doing, I know other people are keen for me t, but I just can’t.
You’re obviously a whole brew of different influences and cultures, was music always around you growing up?
Absolutely, music was always there. When I was younger, I was very into MCing for hip-hop, I loved the lyrical aspect of it, so I sung with a punk band and did rapping with hip-hop. And then, in 2003, I started working with this dub act from Germany, and that was the first opportunity to do stuff on a reggae vibe.
It’s interesting, because watching you perform on stage and listening to your reggae tracks, it sounds like you’ve been listening to it all your life…
Everybody keeps telling me I’ve got this reggae voice. But I developed that without listening to reggae, I didn’t know anything about it, so I was coming at it completely innocent and uneducated about reggae style.
I’m glad about that, because when I hear a lot of reggae artists singing, when I play festivals , I notice they way they work is very specific – the metre that they rap in, the words they use like ‘Jah Rastafari’ and ‘Lord A Mercy’ and all this stuff. I always felt like, one guy did it, many years ago, and then every other reggae act feels like they need to copy that.
I think what you do if you listen to something too much is, you learn all the tricks and ways of that style and as a result of that you end up restricting yourself; you’re not free to be completely experimental because you already have an idea imprinted in your head of how it should be. So I find a lot of people ride reggae in a specific, toasting way, which I love to bits, I admit, but it’s definitely not where I came from. I did not come from that at all.
So where did you come from?
As I said, punk, jazz, hip-hop. And of course, I’ve got an Indian background so I grew up with Punjabi bhangra music around me, and my dad was Indian so I listened to a lot of Hindi music too, old traditional songs. And now, I find that reggae is very similar to Punjabi singing, and there’s definitely a punk element to it. I’m certainly drawing from more of that kind of background, and the rhythm comes more from hip-hop. So I think I’ve managed to amalgamate it all into what I do, something that works with reggae without ever really knowing about it.
Do you feel that’s to your advantage?
Definitely. I’m glad I had no reggae background, just the same as I’m glad I’ve never had any proper music training. When you’re taught something, you learn that there are certain things you can do, and certain things you can’t. And I don’t think anything is impossible.
Growing up, your told by TV and the media that there are some things that you’re never going to be able to do. When I was young and looked at the hip-hop scene, it was only big guys with a certain image, that’s what I was told it was supposed to be. But I thought, I’m not black, I’m little and Indian; everything that goes against what I actually want to do.
So I think it started off, deep down, as a struggle to prove to myself that it could be done. I made a decision where I thought, I don’t care what everyone else says, I’m gonna do it because I want to prove it’s purely related to your art and your art alone and the way you express that.
So music really is an expression of feeling and the self to you?
Absolutely. All I ever wanted to do was express myself. I’ve been in bands since I was 15 and working professionally in music for about ten years, and all of that made me realise how tough the business side of music can be, and how much it can hinder your expression. When you get involved with labels and all that, expectations are put on you, and expectations start restricting you.
So it’s been a long road and a long struggle. It’s only now in the last couple of years that I’ve been truly happy. Now I’ve got my own label, Renegade Masters, where I can release my own stuff, and control it and never be told what to do, I can just do my own thing. And that makes me happy.
Catch Soom T performing at Tokyo Dub at In:Motion in Bristol on 26 October.