In the world of indie rock, four-piece white boy bands are like rabbits but with instruments. When one is born, so is another 10,000. They are all you see jumping around on stage at a live gig and what you hear non-stop on the radio. It gets boring seeing these bands constantly put on such a high pedestal.
Laetitia Tamko as Vagabon aims to stand for all the weird girls but particularly the weird black girls in the indie rock scene, who feel outnumbered and get a sense of belonging from seeing others just like them. Through her evocative riffs and singular voice, Tamko’s first LP, Infinite Worlds explores the idea of what home is and how it’s like navigating through spaces where it’s made apparent that you don’t belong there.
Tamko has said she loves the community of the indie DIY scene but wants to see more black women a part of it.
Both “Embers” and “Cleaning House” represent her isolation as well as acting as voices of the marginalised. Amid the lo-fi chords on “Embers”, Tamko sings, “I’m so small and everyone’s so tall” with passion and vulnerability. In “Cleaning House”, acoustic plucks are prevalent in a song about being feared and not having a voice, linking to her personal experiences based on her skin colour.
Tamko’s move as a teenager from Cameroon to New York plays an important role in Infinite Worlds.
From her previous home, she brings the percussive instruments found in West African music, which she subtly blends with snippets from her 2014 EP, Persian Gardens and melodies that recollect the sound of Modest Mouse. In high school, she often dealt with peers not understanding the African culture by calling her a “boy” for her shaved head. The contrasting moods in the album embodies her struggle when adjusting to a new location with a different culture.
Tamko shows this in “Mal à L’aise”, meaning discomfort, which is sung entirely in French, Tamko’s native language. Its carefully arranged collection of voices, including sampled vocals from an untitled song by Steve Sobs, touch on the topic of social discomfort and self-love. The tracks calming synths and delicate clicks counterbalance the lyrical discomfort, suggesting that it’s something to accept. Tamko also delves into her experience of unease in “Fear and force”. She compares her failed romantic relationship to a home; a home you should feel safe in but made otherwise by those you share it with. The song begins with Tamko singing in graceful off-key odes, “I‘ve been hiding in the smallest space/I am dying to go/This is not my home”, over gentle guitar turns. “Fear and Force” then progresses into a crescendo of aggressive strums.
Places don’t always exist in Infinite Worlds.
As a coping mechanism to escape the harsh reality she faces, Tamko imagines herself in an ideal world in “100 years”. The ideal world is based in the past, 100 years ago, to be exact, where Tamko has finally found a home suitable for her. But Tamko shows the dangers of wishful thinking by decorating dissonant leads over the lyric “We didn’t know it was falling apart”.
Throughout Infinite Worlds, Tamko questions what it means to enter spaces with others who don’t empathise with you, including those who are closest to you. Spaces in Tamko’s life become worlds, different worlds that are infinite in its numbers and possibilities but not necessarily built for everyone. Finding a new world to fit in may come problems faced in the previous one. But Tamko makes it clear that you can create your own community if you haven’t found a home for yourself. In Tamko’s world, the doors are open to welcome women just like her.