Over the course of the last half-decade here in Chicago we’ve collectively been lucky enough to enjoy as one wave after another has built, crested and broke onto the shores of the country at large. For whatever reason, I’ve found myself in rooms with many of those types, and a couple weeks ago was another unexpected opportunity as I was afforded an opportunity to catch a familiar face on the scene, but a relatively fresh name on the music side of things in the form of 23-year-old TASHA.
For over a year now, Kevin Coval, one of the main faces behind the storied Young Chicago Authors after-school programs and Louder Than A Bomb poetry festival has hosted a monthly showcase of local musicians at Soho House in the West Loop. Always well-attended and boasting a past list of performers that include These Days favorites like Ric Wilson, Joseph Chilliams, Malcolm London & Drea Smith; the monthly has become a sort of IRL-peek into the Chicago artistry that often goes on to dominate the digital airwaves.
While the past performers on the series certainly have storied tales that soon followed or book ended their Chicago Next appearances, I was blown away to see a full seated room of about twenty that had already assembled themselves along the couches and refurbished chairs of Soho House’s Music Room. To that point, I had never seen such a large audience assembled for a sound check in the series’ year-long run. What made that particular crowd special was that the pre-show was attended mainly by a cross-section of local musicians and fellow artists who had been looking forward to the set enough to double dip.
“I never expected to be here, honestly. But I’m so grateful to this city, and to my friends, and everyone who has listened to a song of mine, and told me I’m doing something special,” said TASHA in an interview with These Days over the weekend. “I’ve been writing about my feelings since I learned how to write. In elementary school it was short stories, in high school and college it was poems. I went to Wordplay at YCA for the first time when I was 15 and never stopped. And after college I wound my way into music. My entire family is made up of artists and performers so I grew up learning how to give my heart on a stage, learning how to tell stories through my voice and my words.”
To be sure friends, family and the city are central components to the works TASHA has begun making waves with, an easily endearing individual, she comes from a progressive home and is the younger sister of our 2015 Home Team featured artist Ethos who has made a name for himself through a concerted effort in both the arts and music. Likewise, TASHA’s music has arrived with an indisputable penchant for both the thoughtful and political aspects of storytelling, unafraid to tackle the sort of complicated questions our city locally and country at large have been asking themselves for some time.
“I won’t speak for all artists, but I believe I have a responsibility to bring change through whatever platform I inhabit. It’s such a gift and a privilege I have, isn’t it? To find myself in front of people who’ve given me their time, who want to listen to me, and trust me,” TASHA said, questioningly. ” I will believe in Black liberation and human liberation until the day we’re free so I must bring that work and that dream with me to my music and to the stages I step on (the places I am my most whole self). I don’t know anything else.”
Back at the sound-check, something seemed obviously different about the situation. With the door shut and the lights turned down, save for three spotlights onstage, TASHA approached the mic flanked by a backing band consisting of The Burns Twins and a cross-section of our January cover artists that have come to represent the next wave of the city’s talent. Looking out ahead over a seated audience of about thirty that represented Chicago’s upper-crust of contemporary artistry including Malcolm London and Jamila Woods, she nodded to her left to signal Ruben running sound behind a wooden podium and eased into her first song.
While Chicago’s scene has grown from a regional interest to a worldwide phenomenon over the course of the last five years, it has done so in a way truly representative of the city it hails from: independent and on it’s own terms. Likewise, TASHA has seemingly taken cues from the dense community of artists and thoughtful mentors who have created a sort of internal incubator for young talented artists hungry for an outlet. What has developed in the absence of what many call a “true” industry is an organic collective that works within itself to push forward the recognized talent within. For that reason, TASHA’s sound check in mid-January operated as much as an exclusive listening session for friends and colleagues who had heard whispers and caught the occasional Soundcloud loosie.
To date, we’ve yet to get a full-length project from the young artist, but she’s so far achieved something many spend years prying at: real-life relevancy. In both ways she’s wholly representative of a contemporary artist from the Chicago renaissance: patient and confident in their talent.
“I’m not really in too much of a rush to “make it” right now. If I think about making music within a certain timeline or to reach a certain level, it makes me nervous actually. That’s too much pressure for me, and when I’m under pressure, my art is no longer honest,” said TASHA. “My idea of success is tethered to a huge amount of trust in myself. If I’m writing truthfully, practicing my guitar, learning new skills, and challenging myself and my comforts, I will continue to make good art. And good art makes moves.”
While we can expect some new singles over the course of the next few months with a possible project slated for a tentative summertime release, what’s obvious is that we have yet another young talent bubbling just below the surface in Chicago.
Wrapping the soundcheck just before the doors opened at 8:30pm, TASHA couldn’t hold back a smile as she rapped back and forth with her brother onstage during “We Got Power” off her 2016 EP, Divine Love.Stepping off the stage, DJ Timmy V hit the backing noise and TASHA slipped unnoticed into the crowd which had nearly doubled since opening. By the time she’d take the stage again that night, the room was packed shoulder to shoulder, and only grew as word spread across the bar outside. Watching from the back corner I felt somewhat reassured that the city’s run wasn’t set to stop anytime soon.
“I feel a tugging energy in Chicago of being both on the cusp of something great musically & creatively whilst being faced with true terror by the hands of our government. I suppose to be from and in Chicago right now means moving into this year (and the next four) with a fearless sense of worth, a loving commitment to our communities and the most marginalized of us within those communities, and a tireless resistance to all things that put into question our humanity, both physically and intellectually. We got real work to do! But I believe that we can do it,” TASHA said, taking into consideration all the implications of being a part of her city in the current day and age. “I never expected to be in such a position, honestly. But I’m so grateful to this city, and to my friends, and everyone who has listened to a song of mine, and told me I’m doing something special. There is so much more to come.”