When I interviewed Toli Nameless last year about the phenomenal work that she does with Paris Girls Rock, I immediately knew that I wanted to feature her in a Black Paris Profile. Between her hectic schedule and mine, it has taken several months to gather the information that I present below. Enjoy!!!
Photo courtesy of the artist
Toli Nameless studied music and dance on the competitive high school circuit in New York City. She went on to the New School Conservatory for Jazz & Contemporary Music in New York, making a stop at Goddard College in Vermont along the way. As a performance arts activist at Goddard, she was able to play along side the likes of Marshal Allen, Lester Bowie, Fontella Bass, and Mad Professor.
Toli learned to play six instruments while she pursued her music education, one of which is the trombone. I was impressed when I saw her playing this instrument at the 3rd Annual Brothers Spring Gala in May 2013, not only because it is unusual to see a trombone player in a jazz ensemble these days, but also because it is rare see a woman playing one. She began playing trombone as a means of strengthening her voice tonality when she was a music student in Vermont.
When I asked why she plays so many instruments and how she stays in practice on all of them, she replied:
Because it's fun and a great way to express yourself. Most composers will play a variety of instrument fairly well. At conservatory, additional instrument dexterity is compulsory. One is required to know one's main instrument, sight-read on piano and voice for solfeggio. So the average musician will play three instruments by the time they leave school.
In general, a little bit of practice each day goes a long way. Also, as I receive bookings or create projects, this keeps me going with the rehearsal schedule. It also helps to have a rehearsal studio where late night noise making hours are not only encouraged but the rule.
Toli came to Paris in 2008. She has found a comfortable home as an artist-in-residence at Le 6b, a cultural center in the Paris suburb of Saint Denis. Saint Denis has become a haven for musicians, artists, and other creative professionals and Toli attests to the fact that there are many attractions to living in the area:
For one thing, there is space to produce and perform serious art. We are welcomed by the people and community of Saint-Denis as well as encouraged by the support of the other artists in the building. We have created an intentional community and a legitimate association and collective. This helps us to not only take from the community, but also to give to our surroundings.
Our means of sustaining our creative endeavors are diverse. A few of the year-round activities include hosting expositions in our gallery, presenting workshops that develop the creative, and producing cinema in our onsite screening room. In the summer, we produce a festival every year called Fabrique à Rêves that is free and open to the public.
There are other spaces similar to ours elsewhere in Saint-Denis and also in Paris. But the 6b is truly a unique place that permits artists like myself to incubate.
Photo from Le6B.fr
Toli performs around Europe and in the U.S as well as in the Paris area. Her travel schedule varies - she says that some years her "feet can't seem to touch the ground" while others "are a bit slow going." Last year was an "up year" - she worked in Norway and New York and scheduled a recording session in London. In Paris, she loves performing at l'Olympia, l'Internationale, and at le 6B. She also loves working at local festivals such as Fabrique à Rêves, Sons d'Hiver, and Les Estivales Musicales.
Because Josephine Baker performed at L'Olympia many times and because Toli chose to name her Girls Rock Camp after Baker as a means of "honoring the first female international superstar and activist of France," I asked her whether her fondness of performing at the Olympia was due to the "Josephine connection" and whether she seeks to emulate Baker in any way. She replied:
Yes of course, that completely adds to the mystique of the moment. She, as well as Nina Simone and other artists that I consider major influences are the type of inspirations and vindications that make the moment all the more special.
Josephine was and still is an exemplary classic figure, who can be looked upon as the first, a pioneer. In my work and performance, I look to her as a model of how to strive and push past the impossible. So in that capacity, indeed there is an intentional emulation. As an artist based in an improvisational art form, the challenge is to reinvent yourself with in your art on a daily basis. That is to say, it's like playing a self-challenging sport like golf. Your greatest opponent is yourself. Because there will never be another Josephine.
Toli will host the 4th edition of Paris Girls Rock Camp in July & August 2014.
To finish our interview, I asked Toli what advice she would give to musicians who are thinking of coming to Paris to live and work. Here is her reply:
As with any new adventure, do your research, come for a visit of at least three months, and try to take a language class before and during your stay. Be prepared to enjoy yourself in a new place and culture!
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