“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.