With a new single on the market and an album on the way, Tianna Esperanza is moving forward along the path that she started on two years ago.
Born and raised on Cape Cod and a recent graduate of Barnstable High School, Esperanza is a versatile vocalist and an expressive songwriter who opened eyes and ears in 2018 with “Lewis” and “Truth,” two songs that address racial and social issues, which she conveyed in a half-spoken, half-sung urban jazz style.
That same year, Esperanza, the granddaughter of punk rock pioneer Paloma McLardy (a.k.a. Palmolive), toured England with her grandmother in support of the documentary Here to Be Heard: The Story of the Slits, about the first female punk band, formed in England by McLardy in the early ’70s.
“I can’t even begin to state how much of an impact she’s had on my life, especially recently,” Esperanza says of her grandmother.
“Lewis” was inspired by The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, a documentary film that included a look at Harlem bookstore owner, writer, and poet Lewis H. Michaux. The song mirrors Michaux’s message that knowledge is power.
“Truth” is a more personal piece. “It’s just me talking about how I sometimes feel left out of communities, because I don’t fit one specific look or one specific race,” says Esperanza, who is biracial.
Esperanza has had to balance herself along the dividing line that society has created for racial identity, seeking to be seen as who she is, free of preconceptions.
“I want to be seen for my art and not for being a black artist,” she says.
Last Friday, she performed in Provincetown at the benefit “Songs at the Border,” and on Monday she’ll be the featured artist at Coffeehouse at the Mews, the open mic hosted by Peter Donnelly, where she sang while still in high school.
“One of the reasons I chose March for my Mews performance was because I didn’t want to do MLK Day anymore at the Mews,” she says. “As much as I’m interested in social justice ideas and I’ve talked a lot about race, I feel it pins me down into one specific category. Suddenly, I’m a black activist, and that’s all I’m good for.
“I’m half black, but I did not grow up with the black side of my family,” Esperanza continues. “My father was not around, so I really hardly want to even tap into that vein unless I feel that I deserve to, if I’ve earned it.”
The songs “Lewis” and “Truth” have led to her being compared to Gil-Scott Heron, Public Enemy, and Sade, though Esperanza’s personal tastes lie elsewhere.
“I love folk, and I really love writing,” she says. “I love writing poetry. I love really powerful, strong lyrics. That’s what I focus on, though my style doesn’t always lie in the folk range. I listen to a lot of folk because I think the lyrics are better. She cites Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and the ’60s folk duo of Richard and Mimi Fariña among her favorite songwriters.
Esperanza’s more recent work proves that she can’t be pigeonholed. Her recording of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” invites comparisons to Enya, while her latest single, “Comin’ Up (Money, Power, Glory),” is a mélange of rap and samba.
“ ‘Comin Up’ was influenced by moving to Boston for a while and getting into the underground hip-hop scene,” Esperanza says. “It was about multiple experiences I had in Boston and other places, where I would walk into really just a male space that was connected to music and a guy would invite me to come over. The expectation was to do music together, but really music was just the bait. I think it’s so common for so many female artists.”
Esperanza describes her upcoming album as half R&B, half jazz. “There’s some quiet songs with guitar. One of the songs is an instrumental that I wrote on the piano,” she says.
Two cuts from the album — “My All-American Dream,” a lush, lengthy, and largely instrumental jazz number that highlights Esperanza’s higher range and vocal delicacy, and “Tyrone,” a spoken-word piece with a slinky sax that could fit into a blaxploitation movie soundtrack — suggest that Esperanza’s musical versatility has yet to be fully explored.
As she moves farther along in her career, Esperanza says she will bring with her the lessons she has learned from her grandmother and the DIY determination they share.
“I’m driven — I work hard when it comes to music,” Esperanza says. “These are things that she’s really instilled in me. But above all, I think of staying grounded, always respecting people, respecting yourself, and just the value of wisdom, the value of thinking things through, and staying calm, being peaceful. All of those things will help me the rest of my life in every area.”
Here to Be Heard
The event: Tianna Esperanza, featured artist
The time: Monday, March 9, 7 p.m.
The place: Coffeehouse at the Mews open mic, 429 Commercial St., Provincetown
The cost: $5 suggested donation, benefits WOMR and the Provincetown Theater