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.
Digital collection and multimedia gallery
When Taali M approached Gam, she asked him to create a home where she could communicate her music and identity. Ask students to create a digital collection to communicate their identity, including music, books, and objects they like. For this purpose, they can gather or take pictures and videos, find things online (images, websites), upload music, write notes, etc.
Ask your students to visit https://padlet.com or download the app. Padlet is a virtual wall that allows people to collect, store, and share content (e.g., images, videos, documents, text). These collections can be gathered collectively or individually from any device. Then encourage them to upload their files and organize the page to create a multimedia gallery. Share their collections in class.
The project may be simplified by having students bring images of things they like to school and creating a physical montage from their collections.
As a way to promote her identity, Taali M usually wears traditional African garments when she performs. Ask your students to research their family’s heritage and see if they can find garments related to their culture (see Resources). They should bring their findings to school.
In class, students will take a digital full-body photograph of themselves against a neutral backdrop. Upload their images on a computer and import them to an imaging program such as Microsoft Paint or Adobe Photoshop. Similar to what Taali M did for her website, the goal is to create a pop version of a costume that mixes parts of their heritage and things that they like. The students will digitally draw their clothing onto their photograph, or photos may be printed out and students can draw directly on them.
Ask students to present the process and final projects to the class.
Afrobeats: A combination of traditional Ghanaian music, other music genres, and chanted vocals fused with percussion and vocal styles and popularized in Africa in the 1970s.
Electro-pop: A pop-oriented form of electronic music primarily consisting of the use of audio synthesizers and various electronic musical instruments.
Photoshop: A computer program that enables users to create and edit images interactively.
Pop: A genre of popular music deriving from rock and roll that originated in its modern form during the 1950s and 1960s.
Reggae music: A music genre that originated in Jamaica in the late 1960s.
Rock and roll: A genre of popular music that originated and evolved in the United States during the late 1940s and early 1950s.
AFRO-POLIS, a cultural platform that explores the modern African cultural landscape
Basque traditional costumes
Jon Daniel, “Four Corners—An interview with Pierre-Christophe,” Design Week, April 1, 2014.
Pierre-Christophe Gam website
The Museum of Costume of Madrid
- http://wikitravel.org/upload/shared//6/67/Donkeys,_Timbuktu.jpg” /h