Tanisha Clarke: Music mogul in the making

The 25-year-old R&B songstress and head of Not What You Expected entertainment company has been making a name for herself in more ways than one.
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When Tanisha Clarke joins Urbanology for her phone interview, she is cheerful, poised and confident. You wouldn’t think she just had a car break-in scare moments earlier. Despite the worrying scenario she remains cool under pressure and says, “It’s OK, I’ll handle it,” before returning her attention to the interview. Fitting behaviour for a young mogul in the making.

The 25-year-old R&B songstress has been making a name for herself in the Toronto music scene in more ways than one. For starters, Clarke has been establishing herself as a singer and songwriter to watch with her soothing vocals and soulful harmonies. She’s graced the stage of several live events including Manifesto’s Artist Discovery Series and Iverna Island. She’s also set to perform at Everbloom, the upcoming virtual music festival on April 30, 2021, hosted by Waveland Canada.

Clarke has also been helping to pave the way for her peers. As head of her own entertainment company and recording studio NWYE (Not What You Expected), Clarke has been able to release her music and maintain control of her career as well as help boost the careers of others.

“I loved working in the background. I loved singing back(ground). I loved being a part of the co-writing process,” she says.

Clarke’s passion for music began at an early age and led her to audition for and join T3C (Toronto Children’s Concert Choir) at age 12. There, Tanisha says she learned more about how to hone in on her talents and ultimately became the choir’s alto section leader.

“I just grew up in a very family-oriented environment being in that choir,” she says. “Understanding music and just like how to work with others. Even now that I’m an adult I can apply these types of skills to now.”

At 18, the singer graduated from T3C and hit the ground running performing at venues across the city and collaborating behind the scenes with fellow creatives. It was through doing this that Clarke says she was able to discover her unique sound.

“I started building out my own way of doing things in terms of vocal structuring and vocal producing,” she says.

“I was my own PR, my own everything. I realized like that’s the job of the label, that’s the job of an entertainment company … I realized I’m just going to do it for myself.”

In 2016, she started releasing her music as an independent artist and by 2018, it was in regular rotation at outlets like G 98.7, FLOW 93.5 and CBC Music. Her single “Wild World” released that same year gained over 25,000 streams and the accompanying video received over 16,000 views. “Wild World” was also the first single released on Clarke’s record label NWYE.

It was Clarke’s tenacious spirit that led her to start her own label. When she found herself lacking the type of team that many artists have, she says she became her own team. This eventually gave Clarke the idea to start her own entertainment company and recording studio.

“I was my own PR, my own everything,” she says. “I realized like that’s the job of the label, that’s the job of an entertainment company … I realized I’m just going to do it for myself.”

NWYE is now establishing a name for itself as a place for burgeoning artists to nurture their careers. One way is by hosting several music business workshops including the Music & Money conference at Ryerson University that featured conversations with industry experts such as Grammy-award-winning producer Nineteen85, co-founder of The Remix Project and founder of Public Records, Gavin Sheppard, and platinum-selling producer Blank. Another is by hosting songwriting camps where NWYE brings together a select group of songwriters and producers in a recording studio to collaborate on music together and create placement-ready songs.

And while Clarke has grown to love the music business, she admits there have been moments where she’s had to deal with people doubting her, but she doesn’t dwell on them.

“I find just being a young Black woman just taking up space and operating a lot of times people are like, ‘oh you’re so young or you’re so this,’ and just kind of make it about age or like gender rather than just like who you are and what you’re bringing to the table,” she says.

What is clear is that what Clarke is bringing to the table is a refreshing voice to Toronto’s R&B music scene and a hub where Toronto’s up-and-coming talent can connect, collaborate and nurture their skills. In addition to label services and songwriting camps, NWYE offers studio and rehearsal space for musicians to rent out on an hourly or monthly basis with options for membership.

“I’m just super grateful just to be here doing things that I always dreamed of doing,” she says.

In February, Clarke released her latest single “Deep Down”, a song of self-reflection told with velvet-like vocals and airy, atmospheric production. The singer says the song was inspired by her own troubles opening up sometimes.

“ ‘Deep Down’ is like a single that reminds you to get to know yourself while you’re getting to know others,” she says. “It’s not always everybody else’s fault.”

When asked about her upcoming plans, Clarke’s beaming smile can be felt through the phone. In addition to her upcoming Wild World EP – release date still under wraps – Clarke says fans can expect more music and more visuals.

“I only have one visual out right now which is “Wild World” and I’m just excited to have more stories being told and for fans to get to know me and be able to see where the music comes from and what the stories are behind them.”

Photos by: Sean diamond / Styling & Makeup by: Tiffany Clarke
Creative Direction: Katrina Medalle

This article was presented by CBC’s The Block. Hosted by Angeline Tetteh-Wayoe, The Block is about culture and community – repping the elements of hip-hop from its roots to its far-reaching influence. Listen now.

Murissa Barrington is a multimedia journalist specializing in music, fashion, pop culture and wellness. She graduated from Humber College's Journalism program in 2017 where she honed her writing and news reporting abilities for print, broadcast and digital media. She once ran an urban music blog called Pretty Hype TO, loves discovering new talent and is a firm believer that soca music is good for the soul.

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