Hope Tala’s “Lovestained” is a hybrid as intrepid as it is airy: The guitar suggests Brazil in 1965, the steel drums add a springy touch of the Caribbean, and the bass seems plucked from an irresistible hit on American rap radio in 1998. “That’s what the vision is: Bringing together bossa nova influences and R&B all into one,” says Tala, who tagged the record as RnBossa on SoundCloud. “There’s an amazing synthesis that can occur between those genres.”
Despite the ease of the fusion, the 21-year-old Tala is relatively new to pop. She started writing and recording music for the first time three years ago for her A-Level — subject-based exams in the U.K. that precede college. “I had to do a composition as part of my grade,” she explains. Tala had played classical clarinet and some piano in the past, but for the first time, she worked with recording software and penned her own melodies. She enjoyed the experience enough that she decided to keep recording on her own.
Both R&B (Tala ticks off India.Arie, D’Angelo, Erykah Badu) and bossa nova (the classic Sixties crossover records from Astrid Gilberto and Stan Getz) were touchstones already; unsurprisingly, her A-Level song “had kind of a neo-soul vibe.” She is also a devoted fan of Everything but the Girl, the English duo who looted elegantly from Brazilian music and pop-vocal jazz in the early Eighties. “The Eden album is my favorite,” Tala says. “That really integrates bossa in a way that fascinates me.” (See “Each and Every One.”)
As Tala started pursuing an English literature degree at the University of Bristol — last week she turned in a thesis on “the presence of white spectatorship in Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly” — she also continued to upload recordings to SoundCloud. In addition, Tala submitted her demos to the Instagram account Arthoecollective, which focuses on the work of young artists of color.
That’s where Mikey Alfred, a designer, director and founder of the skate crew and streetwear brand Illegal Civilization, found Tala’s music. When Alfred later joined Pharrell Williams on his Beats 1 radio show, he played Tala’s first demo. “Through that I started to get a little bit of traction,” she says. “That’s when I started considering pursuing music for my career.”
“Lovestained” is sure to further that ambition. It started when Jamal Hadaway, who also produced most of Tala’s 2018 EP Starry Ache, sent her the bossa nova guitar sample. “It took me less than half an hour to write the whole thing,” Tala says. “As a songwriter, you have those rare amazing moments, and that was probably the easiest a song has ever come to me.”
The title expression is wonderfully bizarre. “Stained” usually implies something icky and unclean, a blemish that must be eliminated with ruthless efficiency (and lots of bleach). But Tala turns the word on its head, associating it instead with a delightful rush of affection: “You make me drowsy with delight,” she sings, “and I’m slipping back into feeling blessed.” “I have no idea where that came from,” Tala says, but it’s affectingly giddy.
Hadaway helped build out the track — adding the killer bass, cheery steel drums, and loping beat — and one of Tala’s classmates, Tulula Sofitsi Docherty, directed the Super 8-drenched music video. “This is the song I wanted to find, the lyricism that I wanted to find,” Tala adds. “It feels like this was a landmark in my songwriting trajectory.”