Sunday, 29 January 2012

SOUL SURVIVOR: Tifa gives us a close-up of the girl she was and the woman she’s poised to become

IN THE FRAME: Tifa talks moving on and the view from the top.

At 26, Latifa ‘Tifa’ Brown holds the coveted position of hottest female sensation in contemporary Jamaican music. Whether riding the charts, turning heads with her impeccably avant-garde fashion sense or earning the lioness’ share of nominations for the 2012 Youth View Awards – as she recently did (picking up a total of eight nods) – Tifa has got our full attention.

On a picture-perfect Tuesday afternoon, she is running a bit late, but with good reason, for our planned 2:00pm lunch date at Cuddy’z in New Kingston. As it happens, Tifa is wrapping up a Digicel shoot for the upcoming YVAs. When she finally arrives, fresh-faced and apologetic, I learn just how a busy a day she’s been having. In addition to the photoshoot and our interview, she is filming a PSA for the Yendi Phillipps Foundation later in the afternoon. A waitress comes over to take our order. Tifa orders a refreshing fruity smoothie. I opt for a bowl of delectable red peas soup.

Soon enough, we get down to business, chatting about everything from family and relationships to her admirable ongoing climb to the top of the reggae-dancehall totem pole, and where she is headed next. “I compete against myself. I always want to get better, so I work extremely hard,” Tifa tells TALLAWAH. “If I continue to improve, only the sky is the limit. That’s how I see it. I am my biggest critic.”

She continues, “I’m happy that the hard work is paying off. But I’m not all caught up in the success and I don’t take it for granted. The work continues. It doesn’t stop now.”

What has been greatly surprising to many people about Tifa’s ascent in the industry is the combination of a pair of factors. First, she’s young. Second, she has a slight disability, where her legs prevent her from assuming a perfect posture. “Sometimes I feel like I am in a Lifetime movie” is how Tifa describes her continuing career trajectory. But to diehard fans, including heavyweights in the corporate world, it’s the girl’s spunk, fascinating sense of the new and next, combined with the sheer magnitude of her raw talent, that has won them over. “If I was to tell you what contributed to my success, I would say it’s everything combined,” Tifa says. “But I’ve come to realize that it’s mainly God getting rid of all the distractions. This is the happiest I’ve been in years.”

When it comes to family and close friends, Tifa doesn’t skimp on giving them credit for sticking by her through the thick and the thin. “It’s a small unit,” she says of her family. “They give me a joyous feeling.” Ever trusting her instincts, Tifa says she is fiercely protecting of those in her corner. “I’m protective of the things I care about and the people I love,” she confesses. “So I try to shield them from the public scrutiny. And especially in terms of my personal life, even though I might not want certain things to become public, people will always try to get into your business. So you have to be thick-skinned.”

By her own admission, not everyone is thrilled about the non-stop triumphant streak Tifa has been experiencing professionally. “It’s funny how success changes people,” she tells me. “When you’re successful, people will either be happy for you or not. Either way, you will find out. You will eventually know who is happy for you and who is not.”

As much as she is wildly expressive and deeply analytical in conversation, there are some things that Tifa refuses to discuss at length. Take for instance the mysterious collapse of her all-female group TNT, with longtime girlfriends Natalie Storm and Timberlee. But when pressed, she pinpoints personal relationships and management issues as the contributing factors. Then, when further pressed, she says this: “I had to make a decision. I can’t put in energy for three people. I can’t force people to work. So at the end of the day, there is no more TNT, and that is what it is.”

Looking ahead, Tifa refuses to be side-tracked by anything remotely negative, choosing instead to press the accelerator on plans for her future and pleasing her fans. That includes putting out – at long last – her full-length debut album this summer. “This won’t be a regular album. I want it to tell a story,” she says. “This album will be for anyone. A classic. I want it to be something you can still play ten years from now like any Tanya Stephens album. I can’t disclose the schematics behind it just yet, but whatever I decide will be in the best interest of my fans.”

Also ranking high on Tifa’s list of current priorities: deepening the cherished relationships she enjoys with business partners Nuvo and Digicel, two esteemed entities that simply had to have her endorse their brands. “In terms of helping to introduce me to a wider Jamaican audience, I have to big up Digicel,” the smart businesswoman says. “They have been an important part of my life from before I really blew up, and I’m glad they are still with me on this journey.”

For this Saturday’s Youth View Awards, Tifa is up for 8 trophies (more than any other nominee), including a bid for Favourite Female Dancehall Artiste. That the nominees and winners are decided by the nation’s youth is particularly thrilling to Tifa, who simply adores her young fans – and the idea of getting dolled up for a big occasion. “I’m really grateful. An [awards show like this] is good, and we should have more because as artistes we work in a very tough industry. It’s a hard job that we do,” she says. “So it feels to good to be recognized. It’s a special feeling.”

>> PART 2: Tifa on Jamaica 50 and the ugly side of the industry

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