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Sing Your Heart Out

Music transcends language, according to Gabriel Tajeu ’03, who has released two albums on the Japanese label Sweet Soul Records.

Music transcends language, according to Gabriel Tajeu ’03, who has released two albums on the Japanese label Sweet Soul Records.

“Being a musician has kept me grounded,” says the Temple University researcher focused on cardiovascular disease risk reduction and improving the health of residents of North Philadelphia.

“People halfway across the world are connecting to my music,” Tajeu adds. “That’s an amazing feeling.”

What aspects of your research do you find the most rewarding?

The opportunity to collaborate with faculty in the College of Public Health and with clinicians at Temple University Hospital to solve real-world health problems. Attempting to address health disparities and find cost-effective solutions to health care is also a major focus of my work.

How has music shaped you, your worldview, and your own work?

Music is something that touches everyone, no matter social status, income, race, ethnicity, or any other characteristic, for that matter. I think being a musician has kept me grounded in a lot of ways. I have had the opportunity to work with so many different musicians and people from all walks of life, so it helps me not get too far from everyday people. Being an academic, you run the risk of losing touch with what is going on with the majority of people in this country and worldwide. One very profound experience was an interview I had with a Japanese radio station.

Both of my records are distributed in Japan by a label called Sweet Soul Records. After my first record was released, the response was really good. People wanted to know more about me. So, I did an interview with a radio station and it hit me that people halfway across the world were connecting to my music and likely going through the same things that I was going through. That was an amazing feeling and realization. Music really does transcend language. It makes you realize how alike we all are.

Are people often surprised to learn about your academic life when they’ve met you as a musician first?

For sure! The same happens when people know me as an academic first and then hear about my music!

What continues to challenge or please you about your music?

I think that art is a labor of love. You have to confront a lot of your worst parts and best parts in the pursuit of creating the art you want to create. You also have to sit with memories and feelings for long periods of time in order to get in touch with them enough to write about them. This can be very uncomfortable.

But ultimately, going through that process is therapeutic and allows you to really connect deeply to the universe. It is a challenge for sure, and it is a difficult process, but that is part of the thrill of it! There is also nothing like seeing your vision come to fruition or being on stage and realizing that your art has connected you and a crowd of people through some sort of shared emotional experience.

What keeps you enthusiastic about your work and your music?

The opportunity of it all. I feel incredibly blessed to be in the position I am in. A lot of people struggle every day just to make ends meet, and there are talented people out there who never had the resources or community that I have to bring their art to life. We all are just trying to do the best we can to carve out a bit of happiness and peace in our daily lives, so I do not take my opportunities for granted. With both music and academia, a lot of people worked really hard to make sure I had opportunities.

My family made sure that growing up I had access to quality education, which brought me to Swarthmore, and exposure to music lessons, which resulted in my music career. Also, my music and academic mentors paved the way for me and provided me with support and encouragement. A lot of people have done considerable work behind the scenes on my behalf. When people open doors for you, when the universe opens doors for you, I feel there is a responsibility to honor that. Not saying it is easy, but even when it is difficult, I try to remember that and just push through.

Could you describe the process of creating a song? What inspires you?

My songs start with me sitting down at the piano or picking up my guitar. I play for a while and come up with chord changes that inspire me, and usually what happens is a melody or lyric makes its way out spontaneously. I try to listen to that initial inspiration and write the rest of the song based on what came out first, naturally. After that, some of the lyric and melody writing happens effortlessly, and some of it requires a lot of work and patience to get what I want.

Once I have a version of a song with just voice and guitar or piano, I move toward full production. I have had the good fortune of having incredible musicians around me, so I take the songs to them, and we create the other parts that bring the song to life like the beat and other instrumental parts. Personally, I love creating vocal harmonies. Recording harmonies in the studio is one of my favorite things. I got my ear and love for harmonies from singing in one of the a cappella groups here at Swarthmore, Sixteen Feet. That was an incredible experience. In terms of what inspires me, life inspires me. Going through different life situations, growing, and experiencing the good and bad of life inspires me.

What about your latest songs is different from your previous work? How are you evolving as an artist?

Most of my songs deal with personal relationships or personal growth. One of my more recent songs, “The Beat Goes On,” is different from some of my other work because I was able to find a songwriting voice where I was able to focus the lyrics on social justice issues. I am hoping to continue to write songs like that, to capture what is going on in the country and be a voice for the disenfranchised.

I think that as an artist, there is always an element of self, but as I am developing, the focus will hopefully shift a bit more to what is going on around me rather than what is going on with me!