I first came to Toli Nameless’ music via a recommendation from my friend Annabell (the awesome lady behind Rocketoire Radio). Toli is an inspiration, constantly creating and performing as a vocalist, percussionist, band leader, actress, and dancer. Her music – which she defines simply as “good music” – is uplifting and exudes such a joyful spirit that you can’t help but smile when listening. She’s shared the stage with greats, the Sun Ra Arkestra, Toots and The Maytals and worked with folks like Sly and Robbie. Toli also works with various woman’s groups, and non-profit organizations that promote women and girls making positive vibes in the music industry—she’s the driving force behind Paris Girls Rock Camp.
You were in Paris last summer; tell us about what you’ve been doing there.
TOLI NAMELESS: In addition to a well-received music career in the EU, I have founded the Paris chapter of Girls Rock Camp. It’s an international organization of music programs and creativity workshops for girls and women with 60 locations world-wide.
What are your favourite things about Paris?
TN: The people, the architecture and the centralization of arts appreciation in their culture.
What’s been the most rewarding thing that’s come about from your involvement with PGRC?
TN: Watching the girls (and women) flourish in such a short amount of time. There is no other experience like it, and to be a witness of this growth and transformation; is the ultimate reward.
I’ve read that you will play any time, any place, anywhere; what’s been a) the most unique show you’ve played, and b) your most memorable show?
TN: It’s a tie between the shows with the Arkestra and Small Boat Cruiz (that turned every 20 mins). [My] most memorable show: Willie Mae Rock Camp lunch time concert.
You have played and worked with so many amazing musicians, including Sun Ra Arkestra and Toots and The Maytals; what was it like to play/work with such legendary artists?
TN: Some lessons can only be passed through on the job training. I believe that these amazing experiences are what contribute to my ease and comfort level on stage. Once you’ve spent time with a level calibre of musician on stage in front of an audience, everything else seems very easy. There are some many gracious musicians that have opened their stages and imparted their knowledge to me.
You were named by your godfather, reggae soul super star, Keith Rowe; is there any advice Keith has given you about music or creativity that you could please share with us?
TN: Be organized, on time, stay focused, pay what you owe, be honest, and love every moment of what you do when you are doing it. Please note that I am still working on SEVERAL of these lessons.
I know that you decided to make music your main career and attend the world renown, New School Jazz Conservatory, in New York City; when did you decide that you wanted to do music as a career? What was the catalyst?
TN: Yes. Attending the New School at that time was a great experience. I decided I want to have a career in music at the age of 14. I went to see Mikey Bassie’s sound check at a club in New York called S.O.B.’s. He was such a phenomenal force both sonically and on stage that he had me hooked.
What inspired you to found your once twelve member all-female ensemble, The Femm Nameless?
TN: Ha! Youthful ignorance and musical/life experiences had up to that point.
I’ve read that The Nameless were to signify every female musician and unsung heroine whose name would be otherwise forgotten; who are some of your music heroines and what is it about them that you love?
TN: Outside of Nina Simone, I actually have more male influences in music. It’s the real life women that I cherish in the music I write. They are my mom, grandmothers, school teachers (too many to name!), co-workers, and historical figures that quickly fade because there are no squares or statues erected in their honour. But women musicians who should be mentioned here would be Melba Liston, Mary Lou Williams, Bonnie Rait, Kathleen Battle, Meshell Ndegeocello, Ella Fitzgerald, Dolly Parton, Fontella Bass, Roberta Flack, Joan Armatrading, Billie Holiday, Sara Vaughn, Jesse Norman, Lolly Beinfield, Tracy Chapman, Bobbi Humphrey, Missy Elliot. Large List and covers many genres please indulge in them all.
What do you love most about what you do?
TN: Living my words, keeping my promises, implementing empowerment through music, and when the audience is signing my songs.
Other than music, what are some other things that you’ve passionate about?
TN: Food, laughing, traveling and learning about how things work (mechanics, history etc.)
In an uncertain world, how do you continue to keep so positive? Would you say you’re an optimist?
TN: Yes. The glass will always be half full. The work that I do motives and energizes me further. Awareness of the suffering of others is very important.
What are you currently focused on?
TN: Lots of my focus is on Paris Girls Rock, and my forthcoming album (spring 2013).
For more Toli Nameless.
Photos: courtesy of Toli’s fb. Pic 2) by Raphael Barontini. If you see a pic you’ve taken get in contact so I can credit and link you, or alternatively take it down.