Origin and future
The Kingdom of Taali M, 2013
© Pierre-Christophe Gam
“I decided to create [a website for Taali M based on] something unique and emotional, which will convey a sense of modernity, while reflecting on her African heritage. A place that will feel like home, where she will be able to share with her audience her hopes, dreams and aspirations.” —Pierre-Christophe Gam(1)
Taali M (b. 1983, Paris) is a songwriter and singer of Congolese, Chadian, and Egyptian heritage who is based in Paris. Born in France, she traveled extensively with her parents from a very young age and was raised between Congo, Burkina Faso, and Paris. Growing up, Taali M was lulled by the colorful sounds and unique rhythms of the African metropolis. It was in the streets of Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of the Congo, and in Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso, where she was first introduced to activist singers of reggae music and to the powerful rhythm of afrobeats, alongside the music of great American singers.(2) As a result of her exposure to the richness of different styles, her music blends many influences: late ‘80s pop, rock and roll, and reggae with traditional chants and rhythms from Africa. Strongly inspired by socially responsible artists, Taali M wants to use her music as a medium to share her thoughts, concerns, and hope for a better world.(3)
In 2011 Taali M and art director Pierre-Christophe Gam (b. 1983, Chantilly, France) met. Taali M was performing in Paris when her team approached Gam and invited him to join them as art director. She was looking for someone who could design her website in a way that could feel like home to her—a place where she would be able to share her music, videos, and news, alongside her dreams and aspirations.
Gam is an artist, art director, and cultural entrepreneur based in London. Born and raised in Chantilly, France, by a Cameroonian diplomat father and a Chadian–Egyptian mother, Gam’s influences derive from his family heritage. Every summer, his family visited a new African country, nurturing his appreciation for the continent and its arts, cultures, and traditions.(4) Trained as an interior architect, Gam specializes in graphic design, photography, fashion, and product design. He is the founder and director of AFRO-POLIS, a cultural platform which explores the modern African cultural landscape. Gam also is the Director of Development and Strategy for the Foundation Gacha, a social and cultural nongovernmental organization based in Cameroon that works to empower rural communities through the promotion and preservation of ancient craftsmanship.
In 2012 the two artists collaborated to create a website which seeks to translate Taali M’s music into a strong visual experience. Six months later, Taali M and Pierre-Christophe Gam had birthed a sound-visual kingdom at the intersection of Photoshop, electro-pop, and African heritage and art.(5) The website is an invitation into an ancient African kingdom, where the user can either be in the kingdom of Congo, Dahomey, or Mali, somewhere in the thirteenth or fourteenth century. Taali M is there, guiding us through this world, appearing simultaneously as a priestess guarding the doors of the kingdom, an Amazon warrior, and herself.(6)
Spend some time exploring Taali M’s website: www.taali-m.com. Describe the image on the home page. What is the first thing you notice? What images do you recognize? Describe the colors used. What mood do these colors seem to suggest?
Taali M worked closely with Pierre-Christophe Gam to design her website. You can spot her on both sides of the screen. Focus on her portrayal throughout the site. How is she depicted? The website of the Making Africa exhibition says “the singer stands as a guiding presence, a symbolic and evocative figure that brings to mind a queen or priestess of ancient times.”(7) Do you agree with the statement? How does Taali M convey this impression?
Go to the music web page: www.taali-m.com/music.html. Listen to Taali M’s music. How would you describe it? Does it remind you of any music that you know?
One of the goals for this collaboration was to create a website that could transmit a sense of modernity while reflecting on Taali M’s heritage. Do you think the artists fulfilled this goal? Explain your answer.
Gam describes the website as an experience where the user could either be in the kingdom of Congo, Dahomey (present-day Benin), or Mali, somewhere in the thirteenth or fourteenth century. Show your students examples of images of these three kingdoms (see Resources). What do they have in common with Taali M’s website? Why do you think Gam and Taali M decided to use those images? Ask students to think about the potential symbolism behind the website.