TikTok’s Towa Bird is the rare gem of the music industry
"Not gonna lie, she really do be jamming"
Meet Towa Bird, the TikTok star that's soon to be on your radar. Don't be fooled, though—socials are just her side hustle; a way to continue making music while the UK remains under lockdown. Far from a novice to the music scene, Towa is an incredibly talented musician in her own right—a London-based music student by day and low-key rock star by night.
When Towa Bird is not on TikTok, she's the resident guitarist for the electro-rock band Cassyette. That said, with nearly 300,000 followers on the app, it's safe to say she's made somewhat of a name for herself.
Watching the content across all of her socials is predictably enjoyable, and it's all down to her foolproof formula–who doesn't love watching a well-dressed woman shred?
However, it's clear from talking to her that underneath the incredible mop of curls and the effortless demeanour is a funny, sweet-natured lass with enough charisma to enamour anyone in her radius. See for yourself in our rapid fire session below, and read on to get her take on everything from representation in the music industry to her experiences as a queer woman of colour.
Cassyette has absolutely blown up over the last year. I remember when you’d just started out in music and you were nervous to invite people to shows. Now you’ve been on tours! How does that feel?
“It feels super crazy to have those opportunities at such an early stage of my career, but I’m excited about where this project is going. I was definitely hesitant to invite people in the early days, just because I was super insecure about it (‘it’ being myself and my performance), and I had such a toxic perception of me and my music. It was like no one could hear or see it until I deemed it perfect. I just set such high standards for myself!"
“I think I’m slowly growing out of it, though. I feel proud of what I’ve done and my work, so of course now I’d want to share it with everyone.”
Female producers are a rare breed in the industry, and rumour has it that you’re one of them! What drew you towards production?
“Yes! I started producing when I was around 16 or 17 years old, and I’d kind of just been making beats in my room. At the moment, though, I’m trying to bring my production more to the forefront of my work. I’ve been incorporating it into my YouTube videos and stuff. It’s slowly rearing its head."
“I like producing because there are so many different elements to play with; you can be all the instruments and be all the sounds, and edit them into a way that you like them.”
In that strain, the segment of the industry that you now occupy is traditionally very male-dominated. What is the importance of having a woman, and especially a woman of colour, behind production?
“It’s super important, man! I think something like 98 per cent of producers are male? It’s nice to bring a little diversity to the club, and I definitely think we need it. Growing up, there were very few female producers and guitarists, especially WOC to look up to as role models. I’d hope that I could potentially be one of those people in the future to the little kiddies.”
Could you talk us through your process for songwriting?
“I suppose it’s entirely dependent on the context. For most of my production, I usually get a vibe off of something, whether that's another song or a sound that I really like. [I'll] make a beat, start adding guitars and synths and go from there. When I collaborate with other people and work with Cassyette, it’s definitely feeling the vibes and the energy in the room and then offering ideas that compliment that.”
Can you tell us a little about your showcase project? What inspired you to launch it?
“I think it’s important to create space for Black artists, and especially Black independent artists. When you have a platform, it’s important to use it to amplify their art. I’ve been wanting to launch something like this for a while and, with the current social climate, now seemed like a good time to do it! I’m excited to see how the series develops."
“So far, we’ve raised about £600 so far from two livestreams, and the proceeds have all gone towards The Bail Project. We’re hosting another one on Sunday where proceeds go to The Okra Project, which is a charity that supports specifically Black Trans people, bringing them home-cooked meals.”
Considering the pandemic, how is Pride different for you this year?
“I guess this year has been pretty different, but in the best way! There’s been much less of the corporate celebration of Pride, and more reflection on how Queer Black folks from the past have paved the way for us, which I think is more important.”
As a queer, biracial WOC, how is celebrating Pride in Asia different to celebrating in the UK?
“I mean, it’s pretty non-existent in Asia? Pride, as both the celebration and as the month, never really registered with me until I moved to the UK. I mean, I remember seeing a Pride parade in Hong Kong back when I was living there, but I never made it. It's definitely a lot smaller in Asia—it's less talked about, for sure.”
A skim through the comment sections of your TikToks and your other socials shows that your fan base is kind of… thirsty. There are some really funny comments, but how have you coped with all the attention?
“It’s pretty crazy! Funny and very flattering for sure. It’s a really new feeling and I’m still getting to grips with it. I mean, I suppose all of it is virtual as well which is interesting—I mean I only really started gaining recognition whilst in lockdown, so I suppose I don’t know what it really feels like yet?”
Speaking of which, it must be insane waking up and realising you’re viral! Were you expecting it?
“Yeah! I guess I never really understood TikTok's powers before downloading it. I got the app on a whim one night, uploaded a guitar video and left it. Nothing happened that evening and then the next thing I knew, that video had half a million views.”
Why did you decide to start making TikToks?
“My friend Cassy, the lead singer of Cassyette was the one who told me about it. We were sitting in a pub and she was showing me all of these videos of different musicians from the US. I think at that point, not many people knew that it was a 'thing' in the UK. Then, I just did it because I felt bored and wanted to try something new.”
Well done on building your following by the way—your TikToks have garnered a lot of attention! How did it feel to get shoutouts from Tyler the Creator and Willow Smith?
“Ay thanks, it’s been a lot of fun, really–it has never felt laborious. Although, it’s pretty mental to be getting recognition from the artists that I have loved for so many years—completely surreal. At the end of the day, it’s just me playing guitar in my room. It’s what I’d be doing anyway, but now I guess some of it is in front of a camera.”
What does your "artistic process" for making a TikTok look like?
“I’m not sure you could classify this as an ‘artistic process’; I usually find a track that I want to cover, find my favourite section of the song, get my guitar and phone, jam over it and then record it. I try to keep it as organic as possible.”
What are some of your favourite TikToks?
“One of my own favourites is the guitar riff for 'Fireflies' by Owl City—that was the longest I’ve spent on one. I transcribed the riff by ear and it took me like three days to get it perfect. Another favourite is my solo over 'The Less I Know the Better' by Tame Impala—that took me like 20 minutes and has gotten two million views!
“Generally, there are so many amazing musicians there, and watching their videos gives me so much inspiration. Also, [there are] excellent memes especially on Elite TikTok... if you know, you know.”