Vagabon's stage presence is a sight (and sound) to behold.
Video directed by Vice Cooler and Angie Scarpa. All photos by Rommel Alcantara.

Vagabon: KCRW Live from HQ

Intimate performances, fresh sounds, and candid conversations with a view.

Vagabon — the moniker of LA-based Cameroonian-American Laetitia Tamko — makes music that, as her name suggests, meanders across stylistic boundaries to forge a path all her own.  Is it “bedroom-house,” as the producer/multi-instrumentalist casually calls it? Kind of, but there’s more to it than that. Tamko is a first rate singer-songwriter, parsing interpersonal relationship dynamics with frankness and a dry wit. “Can I Talk My Shit?,” the opening track of her 2023 album Sorry I Haven’t Called (co-produced by Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij), is case in point — a bracingly funny bop that pulls you immediately onto its wavelength. Musically, Vagabon leans all the way into blending playful electro-pop beats with the polyrhythms of her African heritage. Occasionally, she lets it all fall away to showcase the clarity of her singing voice and her insightful words, as on the sparsely-arranged album closer “Anti-F**k.”   

More: Vampire Weekend: KCRW Live From Apogee Studio (2013)

The trio of Tamko (lead vocals, guitar, keys), Michael Blasky (bass, keys, sax), and Andrew Tachine (drums) are here to deliver an intimate set of cuts from Sorry I Haven’t Called live from KCRW’s Annenberg Performance Studio. These include “Anti-F**k,” “Do Your Worst,” and KCRW favorite “Carpenter.” Plus, she dedicates the back catalog powerhouse “Water Me Down” to her late best friend, fellow music producer Eric Littman

Watch the full set via the video player at the top of the page. Read and watch the interview below as Tamko tells Morning Becomes Eclectic host Novena Carmel all about moving to LA, changing up her style, and the importance of “African people making African music.”  

The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Novena Carmel: I hear that you are a new Los Angeles resident, welcome to The Good Place. How’s LA been treating you so far? 

Vagabon: It’s good… I truly am a New Yorker in the sense that I'm like, ‘Oh, the sun is oppressive.’ But I do really like it.

That’s funny, it seems like a lot of New Yorkers move here and complain when we have our rare rainy and cold days, so it’s funny to hear the fip of that. … It’s been really incredible to watch your journey. I feel like every time you're coming at us with a new project, we get like another dose of who you are, another side of your artistry and your personality. I wonder if you feel like you're re-debuting yourself each time you have a new release?

Well, yes, unfortunately. I mean, I've tried to keep it the same. But I think I really am drawn to that feeling of beginning again, or being a beginner and what I can discover as a beginner. So it's really not intentional. I've tried and tried to keep it sounding the same.

When you have a new project, do you lean into visual cues to inspire the change that's happening?

Definitely. Especially for this album that was written mostly in intense grief and despair. I felt like changing my appearance helped me cope with how to share again, how to deal with being seen again, and how to do that openly. So it's actually helped me a lot in coming back to performance after grief.

There was a gap of about four years between your self-titled 2019 album and your latest Sorry I Haven’t Called. Was the grief a part of that, allowing yourself to take that time?

Totally. Yeah, it's been four years, but I feel like two of those years don't count for any of us [laughs]. 

So yeah, I think I've had to live a bit of life, figure out what I want to do next, and just deal with the changes and figure out how to talk about it and how to write songs about it.

All of the songs you played during this set are from Sorry I Haven’t Called except for “Water Me Down” which is from Vagabon, your 2019 album. Why did you decide to include that one?

Well, it's a song that I made in my friend Eric Littman's bedroom in Brooklyn. He was my best friend and he passed away so I like to keep it in the set kind of as a reminder of our collaboration.

I think I was flirting with this kind of bedroom house production that I was learning how to do at the time. I like to think I expanded on [it] a bit on Sorry I Haven't Called

It seems like you're having a lot of fun performing this album. Are you having more fun with this one than with other albums that you've released in the past?

Yes, because it's just really nice to look out at the shows that we've done for this album and to see people dancing. I think I've touched people and we've shared in this live experience together. It's really cool to make people feel joy, and euphoria, and [to] make them feel like they want to move because I understand how it can feel to be in a space where you're just paying attention and feeling self conscious. So to have the fans abandon their self consciousness at the shows and just dance along with me has been really fun.

It’s been really cool to hear how you’ve integrated more of your African heritage into your sound over the years, Afro-pop and Afro-beats have become more popular in the culture at large during that time as well. Has that growing popularity changed anything about how you identify as an artist, or even just as a person in the world?

It's interesting, in a way it's made me excited that people are open to that music now. And that I can blend in my melodies into, kind of, Afro-beat type of rhythms. Because I've always liked it and I've always been inspired by African guitars. Even when I did make more indie rock, singer-songwriter, and guitar/voice music — I always really liked polyrhythms [and] I always really liked African guitars. So it has made me excited that the world is ready to hear that and bring that onto the mainstage, because I have always listened to that music and really enjoyed it.

And I think for me, it's important to have African people making African music. I think the whole world has really loved our music, has enjoyed making it, and been inspired by it. But I think it's really important to have African artists making that music and being as successful as non-African artists making that music.

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Credits:

KCRW Music Director: Anne Litt
Interviewer: Novena Carmel
Directors: Vice Cooler and Angie Scarpa
Editor / Colorist: Angie Scarpa
Director of Photography: Dalton Blanco
Camera Operators: Dalton Blanco and Vice Cooler
Recording / Mix Engineer: Katie Gilchrest
Assistant Engineers: Henry D’ambrosio (Front of House) and Nick Lampone
Executive Producer: Ariana Morgenstern 
Producers: Anna Chang and Liv Surnow
Digital Producer: Marion Hodges
Digital Editorial Manager: Andrea Domanick
Lighting Design: Jason Groman
Art Director: Evan Solano

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KCRW's signature music program features new releases, live performances, and artist interviews hosted by Novena Carmel.