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This Cameroon-Born Musician Is Changing the Face of Rock—One Bold Lip Color at a Time

“I feel most beautiful with no hair, looking like every Cameroonian woman who I grew up with,” says Vagabon, née Laetitia Tamko, a rock musician whose buzz cut is customary in her native country in Central Africa. But in Harlem? Tamko adopted waist-grazing braids when she moved there as a teenager. “It took time to get back here,” says the 25-year-old of the authentic look, her short hair now dyed an iridescent rose gold. “But I think it’s important to show my unconventional face and weirdly shaped head for young black girls who don’t have much access to seeing themselves as beautiful. I’m saying, ‘Hey, I’m still feminine.’ ”

Since the 2017 release of her debut album, Infinite Worlds, a poetic half-hour musing on home and heartbreak that was recorded in friends’ scraggly New York City apartments, Tamko has risen steadily up the ranks of DIY rock. And rightfully so: The self-taught musician’s vocals oscillate between powerful bellows and soft whispers, and she shreds on the guitar as masterfully as any long-haired male rocker on the scene. What’s more? This rising rock star, who is about to finish her first international tour, setting out again across the U.S. next month, almost wasn’t a rock star at all.

Before sharing the stage with the likes of Frankie Cosmos, garnering glowing reviews from industry critics along the way, Tamko studied engineering in college. “[I was] kind of just dying in physics and math,” she says. In fact, it wasn’t until she saw her first live show at age 21 that she thought to herself: I can totally do that. And against all odds (including her family’s disapproval—music was never a viable career option, she says), Tamko began carving a place for herself in the underground music scene. It was a great place to perfect her sound—and her beauty look. “As a double-engineering student, there was not much space to serve a look,” she says with a laugh.

Now, serving looks is part of the job. And since evolving her set to include a few more instruments (drums, bass, and synth), she’s also thrown some bright cobalt blue eyeshadow and fierce red lipsticks into the mix. Her recent obsession? Orange. Orange Fenty Beauty lipstick in Saw-C on her pout, on her lids, on her cheeks, everywhere. As for her less front-serving, more soul-searching beauty routines? Tamko swears by preshow peppermint oil. “A little on the shoulders will change your life,” she says of the effective emollient that also lends her sculpted arms some stage-ready shine. “It is a really sacred ritual for me, and brings me to a place of calm, which I need before offering a lot of myself to people I haven’t yet met.”

That quick confidence-boosting secret is now coming to the forefront, not only on stage but also on her forthcoming album. “I used to be scared of my voice because it’s deep and weird and I couldn’t really control it,” says Tamko. “My songs have a vulnerability, but [now] there is an inherent confidence that I feel at the other end of the mic. I can finally be all the versions of myself I have always felt inside.” And her young fans can’t wait to meet them all.

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12 comments

  1. Like her style, but the title is so “pompous”.
    No relationship with rock at all.
    Good style though

  2. i am of the opinion that music and religion should be banned from tv and radio stations in africa.and replaced with scientific,technical,agriculture and industrial programmes promoted and valorised on a continuous bases.it is more than shocking that you see people in some african cities and start watching brazilian films or music early in the morning when they should be working.
    the situation is even more tragic in the diaspora where the children of africans specifically in,america,canada,france,england and germany are oriented to become musicians or end up in prison.since thier parents do not control any sector of the economy to pass onto them like a heritage.even more shocking is the fact some africans give birth to as more as five children without asking what they will become of?

  3. instead of giving priority to quality,giving birth to few children in oder to concentrate the small resources we have on giving them a better future in an alien land where they have no place.many do the exact opposite,and the result is the childrens only hope is becoming a musician,footballer,or athlet.if somebody gives birth to even ten children in africa.at least it is understandable because there is space for the child to become a billionaire even without the parents assistance.in america,france,england and canada where africans do not own land or control a sector of the economy.the situation is very different.so often i advice africans who have children in the diaspora to send them to africa because in any of this countries.everything is lost in advance except music or football.

  4. and even when they succeed they quickly run to marry an aryan woman transfering the wealth to the other side meaning no value was added to thier cominuty.just look at african footballers playing in the french national team.count how many are married to aryans and you will see what i mean.
    without a strong production base in africa,the diaspora is destined to end up in tragedy.even those with alien passports thinking they are aryans naively.

    • Why do you guys keep trying to rule other people choices? She s old enough to make her own decisions.

  5. Take off that ring from your nose,you are not a pig.you will look Beautiful without the ring.

    • My dear Mboma, welcome to the west, specifically to NYC, the Haven of social experimentation. Even the tongue is not spared!

      But of course after some time, energy and money are applied to reverse some of the most outlandish of them- body tatoos.

  6. Bah,must she wear a ring or tatoo.

  7. Even more fascinating are all these insane African women (born and raised in Mother Africa) who fool around the streets of Europe holding and kissing stinking dogs all over the place… and white folks just look at them and shake their heads. It is a tragic situation.

    • And what are you kissing? The daughter of our former enslavers! Tok cheap for banga smoker like you! Economic immigrants like you and those you are talking about are all involved in a kissing spree, why not enjoy it in silence? You support bad governance back home,but you somehow pretend not to know why all of you are looking for meal tickets out there!

  8. She reminds me of Björk: Lovely