By Melina Paris, Contributing Writer
Most folks don’t realize that the City of Carson is a hotbed of talent, giving rise to the likes of Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E., Ras Kass, Brandy and Ray J, and even The Game and Dr. Dre for a hot minute when they were kids.
The city may have yet another star in its midst with the rise of singer and songwriter Tenelle Luafalemana, who has been getting a lot of online buzz lately with her single, “Bulletproof,” off of her still untitled album scheduled for release in January 2013.
Though only released on YouTube, Bulletproof is turning out to be a Summer anthem for a lot Harbor Area fans with more than 40,000 views. “Bulletproof” has a distinctly islander sound that includes slack key guitar, bass guitar and drums. Tenelle and her writing partner Bo Napoleon refreshingly and cleverly repurpose the gun imagery so common in hip hop, exemplified in the hook:
Your words are your bullet, your mouth is your rifle, you are at peace with your firearm/ Say what u wanna, shots fired won’t let me down- down
In the opening scenes of the “Bulletproof” music video, Tenelle leads her family and friends in prayer. The scene is short yet striking in that the prayer was real rather than contrived. But because the prayer doesn’t directly connect the song’s themes, its placement in the video felt lie it was an afterthought. Particularly given how tightly constructed the lyrics of the song are.
One reason it turned out this way is because she’s determined to ensure that whatever she puts out for public consumption, the product will be an embodiment of her, wrapped in her faith and family.
“This is who I am, God and my family are what complete me,” she said.
Tenelle sees “Bulletproof” as her shot to making it into the mainstream.
A testament to to that belief is the buzz surrounding her as a result of Bulletproof and her rapidly growing fan base. Tenelle recounted her July 21 performance at the Ohana Wellness Unity Benefit Concert at the Carson Civic Center. Little girls in the audience who knew all the words to “Bulletproof”’s infectious groove sang along with Tenelle.
“I try to write with meaning, not just words that are out there; it’s not me,” Tenelle, 24, said. “We [the Samoan community] come from lots of negligence and gang activity, so when kids know the words to my song I’m inspired and really struck by that.”
Tenelle grew up around the cities of Gardena and Carson. She was an athlete who played softball and still does. Through playing sports she shared that she was always coming up with cheers at the games. After she knew she was blessed with the gift of song she started to sing at family events and at funerals.
Samoans have a lot of funerals and singing at them is a deep sign of respect, she said. The statement exemplifies her intimate connection to the Samoan community and the sobering fact that it is a community afflicted with high rates of gang violence, poverty and disease.The sharing of her gift with her community is an expression of Tenelle’s love for them.
All of this led her to start taking lessons at 12 years of age with vocal coach Tim Carter. He is also the musical arranger behind Will Smith and Jada Pinket Smith’s daughter Willow Smith’s single “Whip my Hair Back and Forth.” They have worked together for 12 years now on and off.
After she graduated from Gardena High School in 2006, she joined the Carson-based band, Chord Brown, which was comprised of three of her uncles. They played regularly at the Blue Café in Long Beach, the House of Blues in Los Angeles and at various venues in San Diego and Las Vegas while on tour. Chord Brown broke up around 2008, during this time always remembering her roots, she continued singing close to home in church. Since then, Tenelle had been writing, recording and performing on her own. She regularly performs at the Mai Tai bar in downtown Long Beach.
Interestingly, Tenelle’s start did not happen in the church. Rather,singing on her own and following her heart since childhood has delivered her to this point of potentially realizing her dreams to make it as a pop star.
Tenelle looks to Lauryn Hill, Adele, and Melanie Fiona as her vocal inspirations.
“Lauren Hill actually inspired me to sing,” Tenelle said. “Her pain and edginess are moving and her lyrics have depth. You can feel it; the grittiness… Adelle has been through a lot of pain and sings about it all, but it’s always uplifting. I want to always uplift people with my music as well.”
Tenelle currently travels back and forth to Hawaii singing background for two other bands, Zhen and Common Kings, who are one of the No. 1 bands in Hawaii. The bands also feature her songs in their performances. To her, she says it’s all a privilege for her to be able to network with other artist’s and get acquainted and comfortable with the crowds.
As far as future projects are concerned, right now she wants to keep shooting videos and hopes to get picked up by a label soon. She says she keeps praying for the best. Going mainstream with this upcoming album is her main goal as well as making connections and continuing writing. Her mantra is to keep recording and putting away, all the while remaining optimistic.