Growing up in Ramat Gan, Israel, was pretty safe, musician Tamar Dart explains. Even so, she remembers as a child being evacuated from her home when scud missiles fell during the Gulf War. "Growing up [there] is tense; people are severely affected by the politics," she says. But listening to Western music was an escape for her.
Dart, who is of Yemeni Jewish descent, now works as a graphic designer in Philadelphia and makes electronic folk under the memorable moniker "Little Strike." She chose it because she loves the word "strike." "It somehow means to hit and also to halt, as in 'go on strike,'" she says. "I love that it’s both action and inaction and that both are powerful. I put 'Little' in front of it as a little cheeky wink. I think it captures who I am in a strange way — analytical yet still a goofball."
She recently released the single "Loaded Gun" and is dropping an EP, Beyond Things, today, November 19. Her sound is soothing but not cheerful. It's reminiscent of the best of the underground '90s with a touch of alt-country goodness — it's like Dido but with darker layers; it sounds like Natalie Merchant's Tigerlily if it were released today. "Making music for me is a tool to talk to people," the singer, songwriter, and producer explains. "I think that’s a form of therapy, but I also think this is how we learn to have compassion, through sharing of experiences. My lyrics involve stories that are often about war and loss, though I’m careful in trying to portray the many moods of loss. It’s not just sad; there’s also nostalgia and strange little victories, stories of cooperation."
The 31-year-old, who is Yemeni, Egyptian, and Dutch, explains, "In Yemen, being Jewish was getting progressively more dangerous, so my family essentially fled." Most of Yemen's Jews relocated during Operation Magic Carpet in 1949-50 to escape prosecution in their homeland. "My family was as Arab as can be, albeit Jewish... Israeli Yemeni culture is extremely distinct: We have our own foods, practice in our own synagogues, and sing out the prayers in a special manner. I personally always identified more with the secular aspects of the culture, like the food, music, and poetry, since I don't agree with some religious interpretations as they pertain to women's issues."
When Dart was 15, she, her parents, brother, and their cat moved to Miami after years of planning and saving. "Fifteen is not an ideal age to move, and so I got very depressed and felt displaced my entire first year. My brain went into trauma mode, and I started forgetting names of streets in Israel, people I grew up with, big chunks of my past, after just one year away," she says. She still dreams her memories of earlier days. Yet she was grateful to feel accepted in Miami by her Caribbean and Latin American classmates. "While I was going through it, I was still getting invited to quinceañeras and fiestas de navidad, which is why I feel a special connection to Spanish language and Latin American culture."
Dart explains she always made the layered and addictive electronic folk she does today. "Before music, I was making visual art, which was essentially the same in theme: a collage of myth and reality; folklore and industrialization. Everything in my life has been a collage, from my heritage to my food, so that is reflected in my art, naturally."
Her songs on Beyond Things address inner lives and systemic injustices, not the illusions of materialism. "It’s astounding to grow older and see the duality of life: In the most painfully impoverished area, you can find the most generous souls, and in the richest neighborhood in the world, you can find a miserly depression deeper than a black hole. I remember tripping on black ice one day in Philly and falling down. The only person that asked me if I was OK was a homeless man."
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Dart wrote the single "Loaded Gun" as a gift for her then-partner, who broke up with her several hours after she played it for that person. "It was legit the craziest day of my life for so many reasons. It involved a series of unlikely coincidences, starting with a prophetic nap dream, an angelic Uber driver, a neighbor I had never seen on my block, and Mexican food," she says. "It changed my brain and allowed me to see more patterns, more interconnectedness. I then experienced even more coincidences and a few more prophetic dreams as well." The song took on new meaning for her: It became about her using her intuition.
She has written songs about the Black Lives Matter movement, specifically the murder of Michael Brown. At shows, after she plays a song she wrote about addiction, people have approached her to share their own stories and struggles, Dart says. "Experiences like that remind me that my music isn’t just about me, and that for me is healing... I know my strength is my listening skills... So that’s my challenge with my art, to listen to the stories of our times and reflect them, including my own."
Dart will continue to tell our stories and hers. She also shares her take on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen: "The U.S. involvement in backing Saudi forces should act as another reminder that governments do not act benevolently; they act with self-interest, and power aims to remain powerful. My dad says, 'Follow the money,' which I think young voters in the States are doing. They’re trying to see through the corruption, and that is inspiring. We can’t forget that war doesn’t end with one generation, as we see over and over again," she says knowingly. "The wounds and trauma remain with people for centuries. Acting now is imperative, and we are all family."