Rediscovering Tanita

It was Valentine’s Day this month. To mark this romantic occasion a friend of mine in Japan shared a song on social media. The song was ‘Valentine Heart’ by Tanita Tikaram. Listening to it again immediately sparked some old thoughts and hazy memories.

In 1988 I was living in Kobe and had just begun writing about music for Kansai Time Out magazine. At the same time, 19-year-old Tanita Tikaram was releasing her debut album Ancient Heart, and it may well have been mentioned in one of my earliest columns – it seems so long ago that I can’t remember.

The album sold around four million copies and ‘Valentine Heart’ was one of its songs. I bought it as a cassette tape. My favourite tracks were the first two: the upbeat ‘Good Tradition’ (see video) and the gorgeously romantic ‘Cathedral Song’. Tanita Tikaram had quite a deep voice and apart from the catchy opening track her songs were dark and meditative, but thinking back, it was just an impression many of us had, as I don’t think I ever really stopped to wonder about the lyrics. I just liked the melodies.

Soon after, a tour of Japan was announced, and it included a date in nearby Osaka. I had completely forgotten this until reminded the other day by my wife Midori who has a much better memory. Apparently, we even bought tickets for this highly anticipated event only to have our hopes dashed as the tour – or at least the date in Osaka – was subsequently cancelled.

Perhaps Tanita was ill. In any event, my interest in her music waned, either because of this disappointment or possibly other unknown factors. My burgeoning interest in the music of Okinawa was beginning to take over. I didn’t listen to her again for almost 35 years.

Tanita Tikaram is from an internationally diverse background. Her father is from Fiji and her mother from Malaysia. She was born in Germany but moved to Basingstoke, England when still a child and now lives in London. Following the early success of that debut album her subsequent releases had diminishing returns in terms of sales. There were also lengthy periods when she didn’t record at all and seemed to put her music career on hold.

The world is a different place now that we can check up on musicians’ lives online. It doesn’t take much digging to discover that Tanita didn’t disappear. She always returned to making music and writing songs and has made nine original albums to date. Her latest To Drink the Rainbow is an anthology that focuses on her post-teenage years right up to 2019. And she is currently in the studio recording a new album.

It was my friend’s post that finally returned me to her music after all these years. Listening to it again I initially felt nostalgia tinged with a bit of sadness. But why? I interviewed Kate Rusby when she was 24, and she will be 50 this year. And I met Okinawa’s Chihiro Kamiya when she was only 21 and she has turned 40. I don’t feel any sadness about them. I suppose it’s because I’ve kept up with their music all along. So, it’s my own fault and not Tanita’s. Any sadness is for not having paid attention to her music as the years flew by.

I have a lot of catching up to do but it appears her career is moving along nicely at her own pace. Good music doesn’t depend on popular ‘success’ but on personal evolution and creativity and in this she seems to be well ahead of her 19-year-old self. 

F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that the compensation for early success is a conviction that life is a romantic matter. I wonder if Tanita felt this. I suspect she must be very happy with the way things have turned out now that she is in her 50s. She has every right to be.  

Now whatever happened to Tracy Chapman?

Explore posts in the same categories: Notes from the Ryukyus

4 Comments on “Rediscovering Tanita”

  1. kumi Says:

    I loved this post. Immediately listened to Valentine Heart. And the tip to Tracy Chapman reminded me of one of the most moving concerts of my life, at the open amphitheater at Berkeley, just Tracy and her guitar… simple and the best.

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