Baha'i News -- Tallisman


CBC's Kenneth Bell
Click here to watch Kenneth Bell's profile of Tallisman

It's a sound that's urban and aggressive and it's delivered courtesy of hip hop artist Tallisman.

But while many Canadian performers feel they need to move to aggressive, urban centres like Toronto, Tallisman has done just the opposite.... moving from Toronto to Regina a few years ago.

"I like the fact that I'm free..."

"It's been really good. I really like the scene here. I like the people. I like the response I've been getting," says Tallisman about his newest home.

The Rap genre isn't exactly synonymous with the prairies, but living in Regina has managed to expand Tallisman's musical horizons.

"I like the fact that I'm free of the confinements I felt in Toronto. In Toronto, if I wanted to make it I'd have to go for that sound. Here I dont have to do that. I dont have to speak with a slang that's not mine," he says." I dont have to speak with a West Indian accent that's not mine. I don't have to be anything but myself."

On stage there is a transformation

But Tallisman is really just an alias. By day, he is actually the much milder Tallis Newkirk.

"When I'm on stage, then its transformation, like the Incredible Hulk and then I go off stage and try to be humble again."

In his 31 years Newkirk's journey to Regina has taken a long and winding road. His father is from New York, his mother from Lethbridge, Alberta. When he was a child he heard the sound that would change his life.

His first major success came with Plains of Fascination

"It was Grandmaster Flash's The Message and I was just blown away by it. It was a combination of the power of the music and the lyric and the storytelling element to it as well as the thickness of the beats. It was the beginning of a life long love.

Tallisman started writing songs and performing them wherever he could. When he was 17, he won a radio contest for a song he'd written. He moved to Halifax, where he became part of the underground hip hop scene. He spent a year in Isreal learning more about his Bahai faith, something that influences his work.

Tallis Newkirk eventually landed in Toronto where he became part of the rap group Plains of Fascination. The group had a following and a video on rotation at the music video channel MuchMusic and the momentum was building. Then in 1996 he formed a duo called Nelstar. which included a then unknown singer....Nelly Furtado.

Then Nelly came and went...

"The first song we recorded was a song called Like and we won a Videofact award for it and people were digging it and I got her a couple of other shows," he says.

But life changed dramatically. Nelly Furtado went on to superstardom. Tallisman went to Saskatchewan. But he wouldn't have it any other way.

"Three years ago I went to my sisters wedding and I ended up being a wedding statistic. I met my wife there and she was going to school here and I was at a stage where I was ready to start focussing on my solo stuff, and I thought it was easier to move music here than for her to uproot school and so I moved out here got married and now we have two beautiful little boys."

Two children and his wife balance his life and keep him creative

Now a dedicated father, Tallisman hasn't stopped his musical output. In Regina he produced his first solo CD called 80 million Isms... completely recorded in his home studio.

"I'm interested in human themes. Life, love, tests and trials and triumphs. The most important message I'd like to get across in my music is probably the one that is my undoing as well, and that's that I really believe there is significant spiritual element to the human being. As significant to the physical and emotional."

Newkirk is different from many rappers because he won't use profanity or exploit women in his lyrics, heavily due to his religious beliefs.

"Thats why I can't bring myself to write songs that depict women in bad ways or less than human ways. That's the reason I don't write songs about carrying my gat and my key and busting caps in people's heads. It's just not me."

CBC asked Newkirk if he can make it writing this kind of material.

"It's been sent out to most labels in Canada, I don't think they really want to take a chance. It's about becoming the best person you can be and its not a formula record."

Tallisman records all his work on a home studio

Didn't people tell him that moving to Regina it would be the end of his career?

"Yeah, but at the time I didn't care because I was in love and wanted to be married and have a family, he says, and I never believed anyone who said it was the end of a career. I thought...why should it be ? There's lots of talented musicians who have come from the prairies."

That doesn't always translate into financial security.

"Sales are hard. I don't have distribution. I sell from my Web site. I sell at shows, or out of my back pack," he says.

There is someone who could help. That brings up the touchy subject. While she did acknowledge Tallis on her CD liner notes, he has not heard from Nelly Furtado.

"As a superstar you have a very busy life. She has her hands full," he explains. "A busy schedule working on her own stuff. I think it's because she's too busy."

His debut solo CD features 23 tracks of genre-bending music

Does it bother him to have had such a close affiliation to a star like Furtado, only to have that fade away?

"It would bother me if I let it," he says. "Just as if the same way that any time you have a good friend and they move away to a new city and you go back and the friendship just wasn't the same as it was."

But Newkirk wants to make it on his own, anyway. He is now working on four new CDs and hopes to have one ready early next year. He has also decided to pursue a degree in Education...just in case.

"Rather than becoming a superstar and doing formula based pop hip-hop music, I'd rather be a school teacher and an underground legend known for expanding the genre, for contributing to the art form. That's where I'm at. That's what I'd rather be, (rather) than the MuchMusic god of frivolous nonsense. "

©Copyright 2002, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC Saskatchewan)

Page last updated/revised 021110
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