words by Eamon Whalen
On the eve of the release of her debut full length LP, Conjur Woman, the songwriter and artist Tamara Renée has shared with us one of two graceful renditions of the iconic Bell Biv DeVoe song, "Poison."
More New Jazz than New Jack Swing, the cover began as a way to warm up audiences who were otherwise unfamiliar with Tamara's music. Her rendition also continues the long tradition of jazz musicians presenting pop songs in new sonic and thematic contexts. In this case, flipping the gender of the vocalist was a subversive way to reclaim the song into a feminine space and perspective. With light tones of bass and keys and grounded percussion, POISON B is both sparse and sprawling, gritty and avant-garde.
Tamara's connection with the song took on further resonance after learning that the song's writer Elliot Straite claimed inspiration from a disparate range of artists, such as Kraftwerk and Tito Puente. Tamara finds herself gravitating towards that type of unexpected amalgamation, seeking to blend a "complex mix of inspirations that fit into something understandable and relatable."
On Conjur Woman, an album that's five years in the making, Tamara takes inspiration from the different creative threads interwoven throughout the African diaspora. From song to song, you'll hear traces of and references to her birthplace of Harlem to the Great Migration that brought her ancestors there, to the spiritual traditions of the Caribbean, and more.
Tamara is currently living in Barcelona studying at the Museum of Contemporary Art-MACBA, and over an email, shared why she gravitated towards "Poison" and how her interpretation of the song has evolved over the years:
I was listening to POISON B yesterday and it has this dark/ shadowy feeling to it. It feels like an acceptance of the shadow within relationships. I think patriarchy can often point to women with this "Adam and Eve" way of saying that it's all our fault. But seduction is always a two person process that involves surrender on both ends. Then it wouldn't be seduction! And in the Bel Biv Devoe context, Poison is kind of pointing to this woman or women as the culprit. "Don't trust a big butt with a smile" is like, "don't trust this girl, she'll get you!" As a woman I've definitely had this reference to me like, "nah that girl is trouble." As I continue to interpret I'm like, "well damn I'll be that!" Yes I am trouble, yes you should watch out for me, yes I do have the knowledge of good and evil and all these dark and light things. Because being a woman is a whole and powerful experience that incites fear in many men. It's both a warning and a lament. You better take heed before you step to me!
Pre-Order Conjur Woman here.