Earlier this month Minneapolis hip-hop artist Tufawon celebrated his new album, “Waiting for You” with a release party at the Hook and Ladder in Minneapolis.
He talked with MPR News guest host Catharine Richert about bringing his Puerto Rican and Indigenous identities to his art and the inspiration behind his music, from long-distance relationships to protest songs.
Tufawon’s new album is on Spotify and all his music is on Bandcamp.
Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.
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KATHERINE RICHARD: That was a sneak peek of the song, So in Love by Minneapolis's own Tufawon. Just earlier this month, he celebrated his new album, Waiting for You, with a release party at the Hook & Ladder in Minneapolis. Tufawon is on the line now. Thank you so much for joining us today.
TUFAWON: Thank you for having me.
KATHERINE RICHARD: So congrats on your new album. How was that release party earlier this month?
TUFAWON: The release party was beautiful. And it was at the Hook & Ladder, which is a very awesome venue and a beautiful space. And all of the performances were great. And such a wonderful and beautiful crowd came out in support. And so, yeah, had a really, really good time.
KATHERINE RICHARD: Oh, I'm glad to hear it. So tell me about the song we just heard, So in Love. What's your songwriting process like, and what inspired this song?
TUFAWON: This was-- I actually released this song as one of the singles for my album. And I released it as a Valentine's Day song. So I actually put it out in February, February 14th.
And that song, I initially made that beat-- I always wanted to do kind of like a four-on-the-floor sort of R&B pop kind of song. And I made the beat, and I could not come up with anything to it. So I actually put it away for a little bit for at least a couple months. And then, eventually, I came back to it, and it just kind of started flowing.
I haven't really been writing down my songs. I kind of just turn the mic on and just start coming up with words, and I just hit record and piece together my songs. And so that's kind of how that one came about.
KATHERINE RICHARD: Yeah, so, the timing wasn't quite right, but then it is. And it all, sort of, comes together, and I bet it came together easily once the time was right. So for our listeners who are just hearing about you and your work for the first time, tell us a little bit about your name Tufawon. How did you choose it to represent yourself?
TUFAWON: Absolutely. So Tufawon spelled out is T-U-F-A-W-O-N, but it actually means two for one, right? And the meaning of my name represents my mixed identity. I am from the south side of Minneapolis. I am Dakota and Puerto Rican. And so a mixed-- It represents my mixed heritage. It also represents the Twin Cities. It also represents the music that I want to make. I don't want to box myself into any specific genre.
I know I've done like hip hop for a really long time. But it really represents me, kind of, breaking outside of a box. And it's about more than just-- we're not singular beings, right? We have many layers and many identities. And we have so-- All of us were not-- we're not a monolith. You know what I mean?
We're people with our own personalities, and our own beliefs and ideologies, and so much more. And so Tufawon really just, kind of, represents those layers.
KATHERINE RICHARD: Yeah, so, clearly both your identities are really important to you. Can you say more about how they actually influence your music? Are you pulling from any traditions or cultural things that other folks in Minnesota might not know about?
TUFAWON: Yeah, totally. I mean, a lot of my music represents-- We instill our principles as indigenous people into our music, right? And it's also the work that we do as activists, as youth workers, as educators.
And if you listen to the catalog of the music that-- because I've been releasing a lot of music, especially, over the past few years-- there's a lot of different topics and themes that come about in my music. Whether it's supporting the liberation of Palestine to Black Lives Matter to fighting to shut down the Dakota Access Pipeline. Activism is very prevalent in my music. And a lot of that is really a true reflection of our principles as native people.
KATHERINE RICHARD: Throughout your career, you've written also a lot about the future of indigenous people and art here in Minnesota and around the world. Tell us how this new album of yours speaks to those things?
TUFAWON: Really this new album is about love. And I've spent a lot of time making protest anthems and talking about issues that are going on in the world in my music. And I would say these past two albums-- because this album I released last month. And then a year ago, I also released an album called Until the Sun Comes Up.
And this is really where I started to sing way more. I'm kind of like a full-blown singer at this point. And it changed-- I didn't want to-- I also didn't want to categorize myself as a protest song writer necessarily. I love writing protest songs. But I also want to write love songs. And that's what this album is really about.
It's about distance. It's about-- Waiting for You is about not just the distance, but also, like, OK. What does this space look like between two people who love each other. It could be long distance. It could be maybe an unhealthy distance that needs to be healed. Maybe it's time to move on. And so there's so many different dynamics when it comes to love. And I wanted to create an album that spoke to that, because that piece of me hasn't always been there like in the body of my work.
KATHERINE RICHARD: Yeah. Well, let's hear another song from your new album. It's called Dreamy.
TUFAWON (SINGING): Sometimes when I text you, you be fast asleep baby in the late night. I hope you have the sweetest dreams of you and me. Cause we. We are so dreamy together. We are so dreamy babe. We are so dreamy together. We are so dreamy baby.
Cause when I catch you in the zone, and when you get me all alone, I already know we're dreaming about it until we wake up--
KATHERINE RICHARD: OK, tell me about this song. What is it about?
TUFAWON: So the song is really about-- again, about that distance, right? And like having a healthy night away from my lover, right? Who doesn't really exist, because I'm actually super single right now.
But having this-- but, I mean, at one point I was like talking to someone, and they were long distance. But it really just talks about having a healthy distance apart and spending a night away from each other. And slipping into a dream and saying, hey, I hope you have the sweetest dreams of us tonight. And then tomorrow, we're going to hang out and live that.
KATHERINE RICHARD: Yeah. So you write all your own lyrics. But do you ever collaborate with anyone else?
TUFAWON: I do collaborate. I've been working with this group called All Season. And it's a collective of indigenous artists where we do music and we're all performers, but we're also educators. And we travel to different native communities in the inner city, and on the reservation, and different native communities across the nation, and in Canada.
And we teach, we educate. And we, basically, just train young aspiring native artists to do exactly what we do, tour, make music, release it, and all of that. And so a lot of the artists that are on All Season, like AntoineX, Miracle Spotted Bear. I collaborate with a lot of the artists that I work with in our collective. And, yeah, we have tons of songs out .
KATHERINE RICHARD: So I want to talk about some of your previous work. This last song we're going to hear is from your 2022 album, Until the Sun Comes Up. That's also about love and heartbreak. So how does that album sound different than the one you just put out?
TUFAWON: Yeah, the sonic sound is entirely different, right? This-- I always wanted to do something that was reflective of my Caribbean roots and wanted to do something that was dancy and had kind of a summer feel. I released the album at the end of the summer. And the vibe of it is very much dance vibe, tropical warm. There's, like, Afrobeats, reggaeton, and dancehall production. And I'm, kind of, singing with more of a-- I would say an R&B, kind of, style throughout. But the production is way different.
Whereas, like, Waiting for You is more of an R&B trap soul, sort , of vibe. So the sonic sound and the production styles are entirely different.
KATHERINE RICHARD: Well. Let's go out of this wonderful conversation with that song from that 2022 album. It's called About That Life. Tufawon, thank you so much.
TUFAWON: Thank you so much for having me.
[TUFAWON, "ABOUT THAT LIFE"]
TUFAWON (SINGING): I wanna know how you get down. Yeah. I want to know exactly how you like to bounce--
KATHERINE RICHARD: That was Tufawon, a Minneapolis-based hip hop artist. You can catch his new album on Spotify or all of his music on Bandcamp at tufawon.bandcamp.com.
[TUFAWON, "ABOUT THAT LIFE"]
TUFAWON (SINGING): --life. Is you bout that life? Is you bout that life? Is you bout that life? Cause you can talk a big talk all night.
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