Published May 13, 2010You can't keep the soul of Toronto, ON down. Tanika Charles (aka Mz. Chawls) represents yet another manifestation of the T-Dot's highly varied soul sounds. At first, the former backup singer for Zaki Ibrahim seems ensconced in a retro soul sound on her debut EP, What! What? What!?, especially given Charles's sense of vintage style. But Rich Kidd's production is contemporary through and through, as samples and live instruments combine into a beat strategy that rises above mere imitation of any era "Can I Be Yours?" takes slightly stuttering kick drums into a 3/4-time ballad, which leavens the sweetness of the lyrics with a little abstraction. Even the Motown-ish, Lauryn Hill-like single, "Sillyhappywild," introduces authoritative low end and cracking rim shots to an otherwise fluffy song. Frequently, the elements come together to startling effect, especially on "Parkdale," Charles's biography of Toronto's artistically rich neighbourhood. Her voice navigates between girlish repartee and full-throated, lower register leads with equal skill. Although this EP sounds kind of budget, that's part of its plucky charm ― better the sound be monetarily challenged than the creativity. This is a promising debut.
How would you describe the sound you were going for on this EP?
I was looking for old school Motown feeling with hip-hop beats. I'm also a bit of a beat junkie, and I like bass.
Tell me about "Mz. Chawls."
Mz. Chawls is a different person. She's got a slight drinking problem. And she's got a bit of an attitude. And she's had her heart broken. I couldn't just go onstage as Tanika Charles; Mz. Chawlz is angry, she needs to get her point across about what happens with her life and her heart and her soul. It's a show! 100-percent.
What did you learn from working with Zaki Ibrahim?
I thought I wasn't going to be a singer at all. I thought I was going to be a stand-up comedian, or at least something to do with acting, just not standing up and singing. I mean, I love music, and it's always been in my home, but when Zaki called me to sing backup for her when she opened up for the Roots, I was like, "Okay, yeah..." I wanted to see what it would be like to go onstage, just to get comfortable. So, what did I learn? I learned to practice, practice, practice. If you're not practicing, what are you doing it for? (Iqra)