Tianna Esperanza INTERVIEW

Episode 110

Burg: Welcome to Low Key Trash. You are here with Burg and this is the beautiful...

Tianna Esperanza: Tianna Esperanza. 

Burg: Tianna is an artist from the Cape. She is coming up, she is making noise. I found her on Instagram. I was watching you for a while. Then I saw that you were in town making your little rounds and I was like, who is this? Who is this? So I kept watching, I kept watching and I kept watching. Tianna is… What's your nationality? 

Tianna Esperanza: I'm all sorts of things, but the main things are, my dad is African-American, he is from Georgia, my mom's side of the family, they are Scottish in Spanish and I'm very close with that side of the family. So we've been going to Scotland a few times recently and we are always in Spain. Yeah, that's the main three. 

Burg: I was listening to some of your songs and your spoken word and it's really powerful, like strong.

Tianna Esperanza: Thank you.

Burg: It's rare to hear that coming from somebody from the Cape, because a lot of people don't really take in that heritage or appreciation or their culture like you have from here. How did you even get into that? What made you go so hard for the people, you know what I mean? 

Video From the Interview

Tianna Esperanza speaks about making music about race on Cape Cod

Tianna Esperanza: I think it's because I've been so isolated from the people or my people really and I still am in a lot of ways. So for me to start making music about race was me kind of reaching out and trying to connect with other black people and also other mixed people like myself who lived in very white rural areas and trying to reach out and say, "Hey, you feel like me? Like all alone out here." 

Burg: Yeah. That's something we all feel, kind of struggle with out here. But that's interesting because listening to your music I would never know you were from here


Tianna Esperanza: Really?

Burg: From the Cape. Yeah. Off of I guess first impression. I believe that you really are fully-hearted into this shit. What's your motivation every day or what motivates you to speak about this in front of these people and like make them feel a little uncomfortable? Because there is definitely a little spice into what you are saying.

Tianna Esperanza: My background with my grandmother who started the Slits and her vibe has always been anti-establishment, very rebellious in every way and I think I kind of inherited that conviction that that is an important role to play in history. I think it's fun. I think recognizing as much as I can, my privilege as a mixed female, there is things I can't do and then there is a lot of things that I can and a lot of ways that I can. Someone described it to me as like straddling different worlds almost. Growing up, looking the way I do and growing up with wealthy white kids has made me able to connect with a good amount of white people. My mom is white as well and to be able to connect and even at times love my family members who are white, but may not understand certain things that I go through. It has made me have to really become self-aware of who I am in these situations just because I feel so effected by this, by race on the Cape, but also know my privilege and my ability to speak to a lot of white people. It's almost a responsibility in some ways, but also something that I enjoy doing, making them uncomfortable because I'm socialized to be white, if that makes sense. 

Burg: I understand. I understand what you are saying.

Tianna Esperanza: I know it as much as they do in the sense of racism. I feel like if I were white, I think... and if I just looked differently, I think I would, I do harbor a lot of the same stigmas and of any race, really. I think the only thing that was different was that I looked in the mirror and I was like, shit, they are talking about me. You know what I mean? 

Burg: Yeah, it's like self-realization. 

Tianna Esperanza: So realizing that that's inside of me and saying, I can almost talk to you like I'm a white peer. When I talked to other, even black women who talk about the same thing, who come from a very black culture, our perspectives on how to approach the same topic is very different, I think. I think I have a special place and the movement. 

Burg: I feel that. There are a lot of mixed people on the Cape. There is a lot of light skinned like us. There is also a lot of racism and I feel like it trickles through everything, even into the music and into the business and into the schools.

Tianna Esperanza: Yeah, the schools.

Burg: And so like there is just a stigma on the Cape and everybody knows it. It's rarely ever talked about, but some people get so offended so quickly, like, no, no, no. What do you mean? We accept everybody, but I feel like in P Town it really is like that. Do you feel like that's sort of what drew you to Provincetown?

Tianna Esperanza: Yeah, there are two main reasons. Like being open and accepting people; I always knew that if anywhere was going to accept me for who I am on the Cape it was going to be Provincetown. I think that's true. I feel that it is important to talk about race in Provincetown though, because Provincetown is very open, but it's still conservative and it's still very white and it's very male too. For me, it's so important being bisexual pan woman, it's important for me to be in Provincetown and be in an LGBTQ space, but that similar to Boston is a very white space and here it's male. So I think it's important to break that down in Provincetown. I'm learning more as I continue to be here, how that affects me negatively. So I want to be open and honest about that, but at the same time of all the places on the Cape, I think for me Provincetown is my community and I love it here. 

Burg: I think that's how a lot of people feel when they come here. It's like they just immediately submerge. What was your first experience in P Town? What was that like? When were you like...? What made you come back, basically? 

Tianna Esperanza: I don't think this is my first time I was ever in P Town, but I think the first time, the memory that I remember the most is going to The Muse restaurant and cafe down the street. Going there and I just did the open mic there that they have on Monday nights in the winter. Just immediately, I felt they were really receptive to what I was talking about. The first song I did was about race, but everyone was quiet and they listened and no matter what they thought or didn't think, what caught me the most is that they were willing to listen. Through that, I just met so many people who are willing to talk to me about on the Provincetown banner independent. Now I've been doing stuff at the Provincetown Theater. So I've just always been supported here by everyone I've met. Zoe Lewis comes to mind. She has always supported me. She got me a gig at Club Passim recently.

Burg: Where is that?

Tianna Esperanza: That's in Cambridge and it's a really cool old like folk spot that like Bob Dylan, Tracy Chapman, all of these people and Joni Mitchell, all of them. So that was such an amazing experience. I think, yeah, for me, The Muse was like the first time I remember coming here and it was all music related too. 

Burg: I've seen you do Ted Talks. How was that? What was that like? How did you even end up like...? I watched it and I was like, she is up there for 10 minutes straight, like 10 minutes straight just going in. I'm like, wow, this is pretty powerful right now. How did you even get in there? You know, 

Tianna Esperanza: I think that's a Testament to exactly what I'm saying. Everyone is supportive and people are, thankfully they are talking about me and they are saying, "Hey, have you heard about Tianna?" And I forget exactly how he found out about me, but Ian Edwards, who started the whole TEDx, getting it started here, I think he just messaged me over Facebook and was like, "Hey, you want to do a Ted Talk?" And I was like, “Yes.” 

Burg: Yeah, what do you mean? Of course.

Tianna Esperanza: And we just went from there. What was really cool about my experience with Ian specifically and with the whole Ted Talk was the idea is of course, it's supposed to be a talk. So I had written a whole talk saying exactly what I say in my music, but Ian called me up one day and was like, “What if you just do your music and just let the music speak for itself?” 

Burg: I guess he was right, because the way you are talking, you are sort of doing both. You are like talking and drawing people in with that and tell them the truth and then you sing and then you play the guitar. Like what? That was crazy, multifaceted. That's dope. That's dope. Do you have like a studio that you practice in or are you in a band?

Tianna Esperanza: I've been working with a few musicians, some of which I've been working with for four years now since The Muse, actually. Pretty much everyone that I work with now I met through connections through the muse. So I go as Tianna Esperanza and then I have a bunch of different musicians backing me depending on the venue, but the main ones are Frank Pransky and Larry Chaplin. Larry is a violinist at the Cape Symphony. He and Frank Pransky have their own band called Broadway Central and they do a bunch of wedding gigs and different stuff. But they've been with me for about four years now, and then on and off, I with some great black singers on the Cape, Chev Hardy and Mozelle. I don't know if you know about.

Burg: I've heard of Mozelle. I've heard that name floating around town.

Tianna Esperanza: For my album that's coming out within about a month now, I've been going to John Evans studio, which is in Orleans. He is great. He is a bass player and he just has a beautiful studio at his house. Pretty much every musician on the Cape uses him. I've also worked with Chris Blood who does sound for Payomet and for a bunch of big places for a long time. So I've worked with him. He does Beachcomber sound I think too. He and I have worked for years. He was one of the people that first believed in me and recorded me for years as well. So I don't have a specific studio for myself that I go in everyday to practice. We practice anywhere that we can on the Cape. 

Burg: Who are your biggest inspirations? Who are you listening to right now? Or is there one artist you look up to that you are like, I just liked that sound? 

Tianna Esperanza: For me, right now, my inspiration is Eartha Kitt, like hardcore.

Burg: Eartha Kitt just came to town, you know that, right? Yes, she just came to P Town and sang at the town hall.

Tianna Esperanza:  I knew Nina Simone came, but I didn't know Eartha Kitt came. Oh my God. 

Burg: Eartha Kitt used to come to P Town and sing at the town hall.

Tianna Esperanza: Really?

Burg: Yeah. Of course, Cat Woman?

Tianna Esperanza: Yeah.

Burg: Yeah. Hell, yeah.

Tianna Esperanza: Of course, I think I started off with Nina Simone, but as I got to know a little bit more about Nina and kind of explore different black female artists in that time, and then I found out about Eartha Kitt and just her whole vibe, everything about her. I am so inspired by and as I continue to grow, she is someone that I've been listening to.

Burg: Consistently?

Tianna Esperanza: Yes, consistently, but then I also lean towards the jazz side when I compose, but I listen to a lot of folk actually, mainly because of the lyrics. I really like people like...

Burg: Wait, can you explain to me though what exactly is... Is that storytelling or what is folk music?

Tianna Esperanza: Folk, I think for me it's really just the style of writing and I always really liked Bob Dylan. Leonard Cohen is a huge influence on me. So people like that as much as I can't relate at all to their upbringing, their experiences and in some ways.

Burg: Just their sound.

Tianna Esperanza: Yeah. I like the sound. 

Burg: That's interesting. I really wasn't expecting you say folk. Do you have a team or a group of friends helping you on your musical journey?

Tianna Esperanza: I don't have a lot of peers my age like that are still here too, because I live here now and a bunch of the people that I grew up with are in college now and off in other places of the world. But I do have a team and it consists, like Frank and Larry have been with me for a long time. I do work with Luke Misu. He is from the Sacred Mounds and a bunch of other bands. He was one of the first people to contact me when he heard one of my songs. And then of course, there is my family and there is Tomor Israel is someone... I was just talking to her just earlier today. She is an amazing person, a poet who has supported me for a long time. One of the only black artists I really know well on the Cape. Chev Hardy is on my album coming out. She is amazing. Moselle, unfortunately couldn't be on it, but she has always been super supportive. So I would say I have a lot of people backing me.

Burg: Yeah, you do, it sounds like, as I'm learning, yeah. 

Tianna Esperanza: Honestly, I do wish that I had a few more people my age who would be able to help me a little bit more, especially when it comes to like promotion and social media and things like that. It means a lot to have people who are much older who have a lot of experience. 

Burg: It sucks not to have people your age around you when you are doing your stuff, but I feel like it’s almost better for you considering you are young. They are just going to give you so many gems. It's like that's a good... I think that's a positive thing. 

Tianna Esperanza: Yeah. I think it’s... When I perform and I have amazing musicians who, older guys who I have played with Lou Reed, and who know all of these people; they know so much more than me about music history and things like that. So every time we practice I'm learning about someone new and just learning the history of the whole scene. 

Burg: Have you ever like traveled out of state to do music? 

Tianna Esperanza: To do music? Yeah, I went on a tour with my grandma. 

Burg: How was that?

Tianna Esperanza: Actually, it was really hard to travel that much. That was one thing that I learned, being in a bus or a hotel, going to a hotel. 

Burg: Tour life.

Tianna Esperanza: Yeah, tour life. That is my introduction to tour life a little bit and it was just really hard in that way. So it definitely woke me up a little bit and I think my grandma intended for that, because she was like, "Are you sure you want this? Because this is what this is." It was a great experience in so many ways. Of course, I got to see Tessa, which I had already met her a few times. She is the bass player of The Slits. She was the bass player. 

Burg: The Slits, this is the first I'm hearing of this band.

Tianna Esperanza: Oh, really?

Burg: Can you tell me about them?

Tianna Esperanza: Yeah. The Slits was the first female punk group in history that started in, in London and my grandmother was the heartbeat of that. She started it. She was the drummer and she is just known for her passion when she would drum and she had a lot of African influences. She loved African beats and so she brought that all into the band. When they first started, just my grandma's spirit kind of carried a lot of it. And then they were also young women who were like squatting in London with a bunch of other random people and a bunch of bands like the Ramones, Flowers of Romance, The Clash, The Sex Pistols, The 101ers, all of that was her generation, was her friends really. So it's a little bit different than me when we are talking about peers. People her age, they are all living together, squatting together and just started this like beautiful young, rebellious movement. 

The Slits was all about the female push against standards and the way they should act and dress and things. If you see pictures of them, they are like, she is growing out her armpit hair. My grandma is now touring all over. She doesn't perform, but she gets interviewed all over the place. She is in Spain now actually writing a novel, a memoir about all of this experience. 

Burg: That's kind of crazy. 

Tianna Esperanza: Yeah.

Burg: That's interesting. How does that make you feel? Do you see yourself going to that same sort of path? 

Tianna Esperanza: I think in a lot of ways as I evolve and people like Eartha Kitt, when I listen to them more and more I'm moving in a path that she started, in the same spirit that The Slits started, which is in a rebellious way and I think I want to hold onto that, but try to hone what that means. At the time The Slits was beautifully juvenile. For me, I'm trying to create more of a long...  I want to have a career with longevity, but also be wise about what I say and I try to be as wise about what I'm talking about. My first song was political, but I don't think when I first started making music I was like, it's going to be political and this is what I stand for. You know what I mean? It just happened that way. And then for the people who know me and support me, they knew me through that song, Lewis that I wrote and I think they were like, "Oh she is that girl that has a powerful message about race." And so I kind of got there and I think in some ways I've been stuck there a little bit and I'm trying to branch out and start to talk about themes that are a little more universal. 

Burg: That's like your stamp song, Lewis? People know you for that?

Tianna Esperanza: I think so. Yeah, that's what I did the tour with too. 

Burg: Yeah, that's pretty dope actually. What's a story behind that song? What was the motivation? 

Tianna Esperanza: I was watching a documentary called the Black Power Mix tape and I found it on Netflix. It's an incredible movie because it was also filmed by Swedish filmmakers, so their perspective through the film and what they were asking. They spoke to Angela Davis and they spoke to another man named Lewis H. McCarthy who started the first black bookstore in Harlem. He stood for a lot of really amazing things. He was asked a question in the interview, I don't remember what it was, but he responded with a poem that he wrote, so most of the song is actually his words. The song is meant to be completely reverent of him. It was just inspiring for me too. It was like just the beginning of me starting to be aware that my experience in life will be different from my peers because of the simple fact that I looked different.

Burg: Facts.

Tianna Esperanza: I think that was him giving me an opportunity to think about what it means to be black. He was talking a lot from an economic perspective and I thought it was interesting because in the economy it's so racial, but in some ways I think people think it's completely void of race. They think that money and numbers is separate and he talks about that and I think his... The main verse in the song is like, "If you ain't got no dough, you can't go in. That's for sure." He is talking about really just being a black American specifically and what it means to be in this country black, but also with no money and never mind. He also addresses what it means to be, I think within that a little bit. He talks about being white and poor too and how poverty is really the ruling issue. 

Burg: It's pretty real. I think you articulate it very well, how you feel and the point you are trying to get across. I don't really know where that… You got that from your grandmother, right? Like that braveness. I'm telling you, when I was watching Ted Talks, you looked like you were about to, I don't know, you were trying to invoke a frigging revolution or something. I was just waiting for someone to say, "Black power!" and stand up in the crowd. You know what I mean? I was, just waiting. I was like, damn, she is really going in. 

Tianna Esperanza: I think for me, like I said before, I feel what's important to me is actually to connect with white people more than black, honestly, I think there is a lot of black artists that I've met in Boston who are doing amazing things, who are connecting with other black artists and just trying to like, again, black power. But for me, because this is my experience and how I grew up, there is something important. Even as uncomfortable as it might be there is something important about being able to stand in front of an entire crowd of white people, which I do pretty much every time I perform and when I'm in front of white people, they are like, they want to listen because they know that there is something that they need to hear. 

They don't always want to listen, but it's like you could say it's a bunch of things, maybe because I'm lighter skin, because I'm a woman, because I can accentuate more things that might attract them to me, whether it's beauty or whatever. I can manipulate that in a way and get them to really listen because I feel like as much as I can, I'm trying to make them understand that their lifestyle in many ways, in the ways that they have thought are harmful to people like me. I think what's powerful is when people, white people who are fans of me will start to realize, okay, so my life choices have directly affected people like you who I really like. You know what I mean?

Burg: Facts, yup.

Tianna Esperanza: And so it's a way for them to start to think about, become more aware. 

Burg: Do you ever feel like what you say falls on deaf ears? Because people say they hear us, but I don't think they are really hearing what we are saying. Oh, like yeah, I love that song, blah, blah, blah, blah. But it's like, did you hear what was really said in the song?  

Tianna Esperanza: I think there is a level of like, there is something about that that's really useful too, because if they really heard, they probably wouldn't promote me as much as they do. You know what I mean?

Burg: Yeah. 

Tianna Esperanza: It definitely falls on deaf ears a lot, but I think, like you were saying... I think mainly because what's hard is when you get into very like white liberal spaces, and I think that's like I'm okay, so it's kind of the enemy in some ways, often liberals who are white because there is this idea that we are diverse and it's especially prevalent in academia. Every school in Boston claims to be diverse. 

Burg: No.

Tianna Esperanza: And I think, no, not at all. I'm completely open about that. And Even at Lesley, not diverse at all. It's just this like... I don't know how to say it right now other than fakeness, but it's strange because it's like they speak towards supporting artists like myself and in some ways they do by giving me a stage and an opportunity, but there is only so much they can hear or handle. I think that's partially because when it comes to the conversation about white guilt, I think the amount that they would have to accept, like the amount that they would have to accept.

Burg: At once?

Tianna Esperanza: Yeah, at once to like let go would be so much. I think in some ways I try to have grace in that way. I hate how like every term that we start to think of like white guilt and it's an important term and then immediately it's like the right, it's like white guilt, they are all talking about it and it's a whole little shit. I'm like, so fine, let's not say it anymore. Let's say it in another way. That's what I'm trying to do all the time, say it in a different way that doesn't trigger them. 

Burg: There is no reason why you can't understand what you are saying.  You are pretty straight forward about everything. 

Tianna Esperanza: The whole idea of looking back at the past and feeling bad about what happened in the past. I'm like, I don't even care about that anymore. I'm like, what are you doing right now? And what you are doing is, for example, and P Town is an example, housing, housing discrimination. It's a huge topic. 

Burg: It's funny you even know that. You don't even live here.

Tianna Esperanza: Forcing out more minorities and poor people and like...

Burg: And locals also, just like original locals. I’m curious like how that... Because I feel like a lot of people who are black, like my aunt, she is black and she is in the theater. She has been a part of Provincetown Theater for years and she is involved in everything. To me, I see her as like, okay that's like P Town's black actor. 

Tianna Esperanza: Maybe I've met her. 

Burg: Her name is Sally. 

Tianna Esperanza: I have.

Burg: That's my aunt.

Tianna Esperanza: What?!

Burg: Yeah.

Tianna Esperanza: That's amazing. She is so cool. 

Burg: She is crazy. 

Tianna Esperanza: Yeah, we did the holiday show like two years ago. 

Burg: You did? 

Tianna Esperanza: Yeah. 

Burg: She is in everything, right? 

Tianna Esperanza: Yeah! I've haven’t seen her perform yet. 

Burg: She is so charismatic and sort of like in my mind is an inspiration to black women on this side. She has introduced me to a lot of other black leaders in town. I would call them black leaders and I sort of feel like that's where you are going right now, but you are just younger. But you are going in that same path is as them because you are really, really, really serious about what you are doing. And I think that's pretty cool. What do you want the world to know with your music and what do you want people to take from it? 

Tianna Esperanza: I want them to know that everything I write is important to me. I think it's important to understand that where I'm coming from is completely from the belief that music is a healing tool. I study expressive arts therapy at Lesley and it's the same situation for me. I think music is the way I heal. There is a piece of raising awareness and I feel like that's what people think is the only reason why I do music, but it really isn't. I know we've been talking about it a lot, but for me, writing songs like Lewis or Truth were ways that I could figure myself out. I think that's always been what it has been about. When I talk about race specifically, I think something that I would like people to know is that it's never meant to dog on white people or yeah, just be... It's never about being angry. It's genuinely always about feeling like so alone out here being a black woman and being everything that I am, which doesn't fit into really any specific category. The reason why a lot of people perform and something that actually Sally had mentioned to me when we met... 

Burg: What did she say? Uh oh, Jesus!

Tianna Esperanza: It's just like as a performer in general, you look for a lot of attention. That's like, and then you learn to craft that, getting attention from people and then as... And so you find like comedians, people who are so insecure and this is the way that they fill that and thank goodness it's not drugs or anything too intense and the way they do it is performance. So for me, I feel like I'm in the same boat. I think this is why I do this as partially, I feel like I can't do anything else. Like this is what, not only what I feel, what I made to do, but it's also I just don't really see myself doing anything else. 

Burg: No, that's real. You need that to keep it going because you already have it made up in your head like, this is it. This is my role, this is my lane, this is it. If you are thinking about too many things at one time, like, oh, maybe I'll be an accountant or maybe I'll be this or be that. It's like, no.

Tianna Esperanza: It is scary though. 

Burg: You are always going to get your success. It just might take a little longer or it might happen a little faster when you least expect it. You never know. That's a thing though, but you are going to get it, eventually. Thank you, Tianna. 

Tianna Esperanza: Thank you for having me.

Burg: How can people find you?

Tianna Esperanza: You can find me on Instagram, Tianna Esperanza. That's my Facebook as well, is my website. You can find me there.

Burg: Come to P Town.

Tianna Esperanza: You will always find me if you come to P Town.

Burg: She will be around here singing on the corner somewhere. You never know

Tianna Esperanza: Thank you for having me.