Some can sing. Some can dance. Some can act. These days very rarely do you encounter a performer with the depth of talent and experience that lends itself to excelling at all three. Meet MJJ recording artist Tatyana Ali, a young vocalist and performer with a history in the performing arts that belies her tender years.
Tatyana Ali. You may not know the name, but the face is almost certainly familiar. It’s a face we’ve watched grow up before our very eyes on the weekly television comedy “THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL AIR.” In her role as Ashley, the younger sister of the family, we saw her blossom and bloom, growing from exuberant pre-teen to sophisticated young woman over the seasons.
Her resume reads like that of someone who’s spent their entire lifetime honing their craft. Perhaps that’s because she has. “I’ve been performing since I was four,” she smiles. When meeting Tatyana in person, one is surprised how someone so beautiful could be capable of generating a charm and appeal that is so immediately approachable and familiar, so very girl-next-door. She is the product of a Trinidadian East Indian father and a Panamanian mother, yet her essence, both onscreen and in real life, is as warmly all-American as the proverbial apple pie.
Equally all-American is her success story, one rooted in hard work and perseverance through the years. “I did theatre in New York, where I had to sing, dance and act,” she continues. Her early stage experience was primarily dramatic, including “Fences,” August Wilson’s acclaimed Broadway production in which she co-starred with the legendary Billy Dee Williams and understudied with James Earl Jones. She appeared on “Star Search,” at the age of seven, where her vocal talent steered her to victory through two rounds in the singing competition.
By age eleven, Tatyana’s talent had taken her all the way to Hollywood, where she quickly landed a role in the television series “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” The sitcom was a hit throughout its six seasons with Tatyana’s ever-maturing presence a highlight up until the final episode two years ago.
Throughout all her acting success her vocal talent was never forgotten. A storyline on “Fresh Prince” a few seasons back called for her to sing and, since then, audiences have been clamoring for more. “After that episode, I would meet people in the street and they’d ask me ‘When is the album coming out?’ ” remembers Tatyana. “This was before I’d even thought about pursuing a record deal!”
It was friend and co-star Will Smith who convinced Tatyana to continue her singing professionally. Will’s belief in Tatyana’s singing talent was so strong he signed her to his production company, Will Smith Enterprises. When asked why he signed Tatyana, Smith jokes, “Because she is almost as talented as I am.” Under his auspices, Tatyana prepared a demo and eventually signed with MJJ Music. Tatyana’s response to Will’s help is heartfelt. “He really believes in me,” says Tatyana. “It’s nice to have people around you who think highly of you.”
The resulting album Kiss The Sky is a languid journey to the heart and soul of modern R&B, a mellow fusion of up-to-the-minute beats and grooves accompanied by heartfelt ballads. Tatyana’s skills are showcased against tracks by a bevy of hot young writers and producers, including Rodney Jerkins, Shawn Stockman of Boys II Men, Vincent Herbert, and the perennially talented Narada Michael Walden. Tatyana’s thoughts on her album, “It’s R&B/Pop – a really relaxing ‘chill’ album. It’s something I would listen to, even if it wasn’t mine.”
The songs walk the tightrope between girlish flirtation and newly found sophistication, much like the artist herself. “Daydreamin’,” the project’s first single, is produced by “the producer of the moment” Rodney Jerkins. The song features a performance by hot New York rappers Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz. The song is about a young girl in love, experimenting with all the ecstasy that young love can bring. Another likely single contender is “Boy You Knock Me Out,” a jazz and hip-hop influenced dance love song. With “He Loves Me,” Tatyana exudes all the confidence of a woman too secure to ever harbor doubt, all – attitude and cool as ice. While on “If You Only Knew” her voice is one of yearning, unfulfilled passion, served up against a simmering, laid-back beat. The beautiful ballad, “Yesterday,” finds Tatyana in a compelling duet with Chico Debarge. The song written by red hot Kelly Price (Puff Daddy, Mariah Carey) speaks of the demise of a love relationship “Yesterday, we said our last good-byes…”
Each song tells emotional tales of young love, and speaks of the steep highs and deep lows of the journey as felt through that especially intense perspective, where a broken heart can quite literally feel like the end of the world.
Her music resonates loudly, perhaps because of the honesty with which each performance is given. The newness of the recording experience – this being her first album – gives her vocals “a really genuine quality. One that I wouldn?t trade at all,” Tatyana remarks. “It’s extremely honest, because I didn’t know how to do it any other way. (My performance) has a certain naivete’ that I like,” she continues. “Towards the end I became a little bit freer with it, with less holding the producer’s hand and more taking off on my own. When I first started recording the album, (I’d request that) everyone turn off all the lights in my booth so they couldn’t see me. And sometimes I’d have them turn down the light in the control room so I couldn’t see them. One of the first songs I was singing, “Through Life Alone,” is a song about this guy who says he’s your best friend leaving. You’re basically crying in the studio only you?re not doing it for a camera, you’re not doing it for an audience, you’re doing it for a little microphone, and it’s really intimate. When I first started, I didn’t know how to block everyone else out. But I learned, and now the lights are on.”
In the two years since “Fresh Prince” went off the air, Tatyana has not had a moment’s rest. Her life has been jam packed with work on this album, two feature film roles, numerous television roles, graduating high school at the top of her class as well as applying to several top colleges and being accepted to every one of them. Tatyana chose to continue her education at Harvard University, although she temporarily deferred her admission this fall in order to complete the recording of her album.
Even though music is Tatyana’s top priority at the moment, she hasn’t quite given up her acting. She just recently finished shooting her part in the upcoming Columbia-Tri-Star feature Jawbreakers, also starring Scream’s Rose McGowan and Pam Grier, which will be released at the end of the year.
Although Tatyana is best known on television for her role on “Fresh Prince” she has acted in many other episodic television shows, most notably “413 Hope Street,” “Living Single,” and “In the House.” TV movies to her credit are “Fall Into Darkness” and “Foster’s Field Trip.”
The great singers take you there, to the heart of their world, and bring you face-to-face with the depth of their emotions, and your own. Intuitively, this young singer’s performance touches the core of this concept – she feels every word that she sings, and you feel them with her.
With Kiss The Sky her talent soars high enough to do just that. And she does it all with enough soul, enough presence to leave you thinking that this is surely only the beginning.