Firmly stepping out of the shadow of her family name, Saleka’s album Séance is a bold statement of individuality and creativity. Growing up in a creative household, Saleka found music from an early age, mastering classical piano in her adolescence, before breaking out into the world of pop music at the age of sixteen.
In Séance Saleka shows us a more refined and mature side to her musical talents, taking us on a reflective journey about the disconnection from one’s self; and the internal struggles as a young woman of colour, determined not to be defined by one particular sound.
Saleka talks to us about her childhood, the pressures of working with producers, and why creative control is important to her.
Dress and Ring Versace
You come from such an artistic family, what was it like growing up in a home full of creatives?
It was really amazing; I think it’s rare to be in a home that not only allows for creativity but nurtures it for a career and as a valid life choice. I feel really blessed to grow up in a space where that was accepted and supported in every way.
I also obviously had both of my parents as role models. My dad’s a filmmaker (M. Night Shyamalan) and he broke the Asian boundary that my family has had with considering the arts as a valid career, so I think it made a big impact on me.
When you grow up as an immigrant and as a person of colour in America, you see yourself in boxes that people put you in. I’m used to seeing a lot of Indian doctors, a lot of Indian engineers, and you think you’re not capable of doing creative things.
Dress Et Ochs Shoes Stylist's Archive
You're a classically trained musician, which is a world away from the music you make now. What has it been like making that genre transition?
Genre is such a hard thing to define. I think it’s a fruitless way to categorize music, I think it’s used just to structure musicians.
I never really did fit into specific genres, but I would say my influences are RnB, Jazz, Blues and Pop music, with a little bit of Hip-Hop. I think all of those things collate into an alt-RnB world, and there’s also a lot of cultural and textural influences in the production.
I obviously grew up listening to a lot of Indian music and I think percussion is a place I really feel at home, that’s an element I added to the album as well. It has Latin influences and Indian influences.
Shirt and Skirt Claudia Li
You entered the music industry at the remarkably young age of sixteen. What was it like first working with producers as a teenager, did you find it intimidating?
It was incredibly intimidating!
Firstly, as a person, I had to change my self-identity and what I thought I was going to do. I took classical piano very seriously and I reached the point where I was practising for three hours a day. I would go to my piano teacher’s house and practice piano and that was much of my life and my identity.
My parents saw that as something they thought and hoped I would be doing for the rest of my life. So, that was the route we were all on mentally until I started to feel differently. I felt scared to make the switch as it felt like I was betraying everything I had been taught and all the hard work and dedication I had been putting in.
My parents were scared of that because the music industry was so unknown to them. Once I showed them that I was really dedicated to it, and when I started writing my own songs, they became more supportive of it.
Dress and Earrings Versace Eyewear Saint Laurent
I think in terms of my own experience, it took a while for me to get used to and create healthy atmospheres in the studio. There’s a huge power dynamic there and I didn’t know how to assert myself into a workspace and advocate for myself and the vision I had.
It was definitely intimidating as a sixteen-year-old, who only knew high school life, coming into a studio where you just say yes to everything they say; and I’ve gone from that to producing my own music.
That’s such an impressive journey for yourself. As your own producer, is creative control something that’s important to you?
Yeah, for sure! When I’m writing I’ve started to think more about structure, and I can envision where the song might go and what instruments can play where.
I like to be involved in every single aspect of the process; I’m definitely controlling in some ways. Every song that’s released I know every layer, every mixing process, and it makes me feel a lot of ownership towards it. I feel very invested in it and for me, that’s what makes it what it is.
Dress Et Ochs Shoes Stylist's Archive
I might be a bit OCD [laughs] but I’ve learned how to work with people and allow their skillset to shine. I’ve been able to work on that since performing and I can really appreciate the talent of other musicians and their skillset and genius in my song.
Let’s talk about Séance. There are a lot of recurring themes about disconnecting and internal struggles. Are you talking about your own life experiences or are you telling the stories from the point of view of a separate character?
Most of the songs on Séance are based on my own life. It’s not necessarily a concept album but you’ve definitely picked up on the themes of disconnecting from one’s self. That comes together from a lot of different aspects of life: whether that be love, disconnection from your own culture or identity, or womanhood and what it means to be a woman.
Dress and Earrings Versace
That’s definitely something I was going through when writing the album. At the end of college, it was a transformative time for me, figuring out who I was in the world as a woman and a woman of colour, and also figuring out what I don’t like about the world and reflecting on that.
The title Séance comes from the revival of a self that was lost and calling back to an old form of self; a version of us that’s pure and childlike and not feeling judged or pressured to be a certain way to fit into society.
Do you have any plans to get these songs on the road and perform them live?
Yes, definitely. We’re planning a tour. I’m not sure exactly when it will be, probably around the summer and I’m really excited about that. I’ve never done a full tour, just a handful of dates here and there, and I’m just really excited to have the album out and exist in the world.
Shirt and Skirt Claudia Li
Every time a song comes out and I perform it, it’s so nice seeing audiences just know it! It’s an amazing feeling, especially when people come up to me and tell me how it made them feel.
Have you already started writing new songs, or is your focus purely on Séance at the moment?
Oh yeah, I’ve started writing new songs. I would say I’m about five songs into the next album. Who knows if they’ll all end up on the album but five have been written and recorded. I write really slowly so I knew I needed to have some songs written by the time Séance came out because I didn’t want to feel like I had nothing.
The creative juices are always flowing, and it takes me a while to write, but there’s always something that excites me that’s creative.
I’ll also be writing a few new songs for the next season of Servant and we’re releasing a whole EP of songs for that, which is out at the end of March, and I’ll be adding to that next year as well.
Séance is out now
Photographer Philipp Raheem
Editor & Fashion Jheanelle Feanny
Fashion Assistance Paula Salinas & Kimberly Munrayos
Hair by Isaac Davidson
Makeup by Agatha Helena
Words by Joshua Evans