Former NFL Player, Liberian Artist, Tamba Hali, Chats on STEM Academy Creation, New Music
Whether playing the Defensive End for the Kansas City Chiefs or navigating the direction of his burgeoning label, Relumae Records, the six foot three inch, Liberian-born athlete/recording artist moves like a quiet storm with humility. Parts of Tamba Hali’s personal journey read like a fiction novel. He and his seven siblings fled from war-torn Liberia to the Ivory Coast during his youth only to later join his father, a chemistry and physics professor, in New Jersey.
Playing the drums and singing in the choir began for Hali in Liberia, which transitioned to writing rhymes once he was in Teaneck, NJ and first introduced to A Tribe Called Quest, 2Pac, Biggie and Jay-Z. His love of production surfaced in college as Hali always found a way to be around music. Enter Relumae Records.
Athlete, artist and businessman – Tamba Hali strives to be “the guy who is going to prove a lot of people wrong. I want people to remember me as a professional athlete and recording artist, and that everything I did, I put my heart into and did well.”
I recently interviewed Mr. Tamba Hali where he chatted more on his philanthropical endeavors.
Naomi: For those who may not be familiar with you, can you tell us briefly a little bit about yourself?
Tamba: I am an African American from Liberia. I migrated to the country in 1994 at the age of 10. We fled civil war. My father is a professor. At the age of 10 I was not able to read or to write. I was good at football, excelled in sports and went to Penn State and graduated with a degree in broadcast journalism. I played professional football for 12 years, with the Kansas City Chiefs. During that time, I built a studio in my home and learned how to produce music. I believe that my musical talent comes naturally, I grew up in the church, singing in the choir and playing the drums were some of the things that I did. I am now retired from football and I am focused on music and I am working to create a school in Liberia, a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program that will help to facilitate learning for the people there. Studies show that children that are involved in these programs are better equipped to solve community problems and it creates more opportunities within the community. I think that Liberia is one of those places that can benefit from that.
Naomi: The name of your school is The Hali Academy can you walk us through your journey in starting the academy?
Tamba: So, I was working on music and a guy by the name of Henry Keculah Jr., who is also of Liberian descent, based in Houston, TX, he is a good friend of mine and he reached out to me and thought that it would be a good idea to start a STEM program in Liberia. My journey has been based on the education that I received. So, he created the business side of things and I have taken trips back home scouting out locations for the school. I purchased some land but because of the pandemic, it has slowed things down a bit. I have spoken with other people who have endeavored to do the same thing and their advice has been to take it slow because one of the hardest things to do is to start a school. It is easy to build the school but managing it and finding the right people to sustain it can take time. We are in the beginning stages of building Hali Academy.
Naomi: That is awesome! Speaking of the coronavirus, have you considered starting things off virtually and then branching out into the in-person studies?
Tamba: The plan right now is to raise money. I have the means to build it but in order to sustain it we will need to have some investors. Our initial goal is to build a place where the children will be able to go and study. I would like to develop a way of learning for these children where they will be able to do all of their work in school and will have no need to take anything home. I am not certain how far we are from achieving this goal considering all that is happening overseas as well as here in the U.S., so for now, the goal is to raise awareness and the funds so that we can continue.
Naomi: Can you tell us how someone who may be interested in donating or contributing or volunteering their services to the school would be able to do that?
Tamba: Yes. HaliAcademy.org has ways for people to donate listed there. If people are looking to send checks, all of the information is available on the website. Henry Keculah Jr. runs the website and he is the President for the Liberian association in Houston.
Naomi: You are a former Kansas City Chief Linebacker; how has it been making the transition from football to music?
Tamba: They both take similar work ethic. However, the mentality is different. With music it takes time when you are working with different people, there are no set rules, everyone works differently. There is a big business side that you have to focus on because you could lose a lot of money. In football, it is what they say it is. If you can do your job, then you will have longevity. Music is one of those things where there are people who work together that do not like each other, so there is a lot of bad blood in music. The best way to say it is that whatever you are looking to do in music, you have to do it yourself. There is a tendency for people to take advantage of you. It’s like if you want to become a musician, a drummer, you have to know how to play the drums, if you are interested in producing, you have to learn things from the technical side of things and if you do not then people will take advantage of you. That is what I have learned over time. The similarities are that you have to work hard, and the differences are you may have bad people on both sides but in music, there are more.
Naomi: I do agree that you do end up doing things yourself but sometimes you will find that when you do things yourself, you get things done the way that you want them. What would you say makes your music unique?
Tamba: I think my ability to adapt to the people that I am working with and the fact that I am open. I do not claim to be something that I am not. If people are producing music, I want to learn what it is that they are doing, and I want to be a part of it. I do not want to be that egotistical guy. My mentality is that I could be working with someone who is not that talented or who is talented, regardless, if you love what you are doing and we work at it and it comes out better the way that you are doing it, I am open to that. I think that working with that kind of acceptance of what is real in the world is what helps my music stand out.
Naomi: You have mentioned being able to work with everybody. You are Liberian born, how do you think that we as Africans and African Americans can come together given the barriers that society has tried to place upon us?
Tamba: I think that you start with the rules. The people that are creating the rules are not abiding by them. As far as our communities, your race or background…regardless of who you are, let us not be so judgmental. We should want to project the love that is within us. We need to get rid of the emotions of envy or hate or whatever else it is that triggers our reactions. The problem concerning society is much bigger but as individuals, we need to look at each situation with an open mind instead of walking around with pre-conceived notions and ideas that you have heard about or that you have experienced. Try to see what you can learn from that experience or at least look at it in love. People seem to want to break each other down to feel good and the reality is that you do not really feel good, I do not care what anybody says. If you see someone that is not doing well, I cannot imagine that that would make you feel good, I am doing good and that is all that matters…no, I do not think that that is how it works.
Naomi: I definitely agree. Besides the academy, what other projects are you working on?
Tamba: I had two compilations already recorded, there was one called, “Love in Lights” that one was more of a reflection of how society is here in America and then I had Relumae Records presents, “Liberia” but in talking things over, we thought that it would be a better idea to release music slowly because the market is so saturated that releasing a compilation, it comes and goes so fast and so many people are releasing music so we changed the strategy and we are now releasing singles.
Naomi: What is one piece of advice that you could offer to aspiring music artists or anyone that is interested in having a career in football?
Tamba: That whichever it is that you are looking to get into, do not come into it trying to be something that you are not, be true to yourself. Because that is the one thing that you cannot change, you cannot change what God created you to be. So, just be true to what it is within you. Make sure to learn about what it is that you are interested in doing. If it is music, then learn about the business side, learn the technical aspect of what goes into the music, do not just rely on the help that is coming because there may come a time when “help” is not available. So try to be more than one thing…be multifaceted, otherwise it is like you are limiting yourself. You can focus on artistry but learn to be a producer or maybe the engineer…when you progress in those areas then when the times comes to transition it will be seamless and you will not be shortchanging yourself.
Naomi: I agree that we definitely have to be a “a Jack/Jill of all trades.” Is there anything else that our readers should know about you?
Tamba: No. I thank you for taking the time out to talk with me.
Naomi: Where can people follow you?
Tamba: @tambahali on Instagram. Tambahali91 on Twitter, I am on Facebook, TikTok…I cannot even keep up because there are so many (laughs).
Naomi: That is good, you are basically everywhere and can be found on social media platforms (laughs). Thank you so much and have a blessed day!