nadia nair sings beautiful poetry
Introducing the soulful Swedish artist who sings with a heavy heart of her Nomadic upbringing.
27-year-old Nadia Nair is the strikingly beautiful Gothenburg-born, Stockholm-based musician whose heavy-hearted vocals have, at times, an Anohni of Antony and the Johnsons quality that touches you right where your emotions hide away. With a Malaysian-Indian mother and a Swedish father, though she travels regularly, Nadia doesn't ever feel truly at home and her music reflects this; raw and honest, her mixed heritage is practically audible. In town for her second London show, we take the calm and collected artist for coffee to discuss her background - musical and otherwise - as she releases her debut album, Beautiful Poetry.
Tell us about the first song you ever wrote…
I was eight and it was about being in the shower. I was fantasising that I was in a girl band and it was like, "I'm in the shower, you're calling me again and again, I have friends, you have friends, play with them, cause I'm busy." I thought I had written a masterpiece.
Quite poppy then?
Yeah, very Spice Girls influenced. But when I was a teenager I became more wild and outspoken and had a huge rebellious period. I questioned everything and I think that now, I'm a mixture of the two personality types. But my music has certainly reflected those personalities growing up, and become a tool to vent and to express myself. It's always been very natural, I never force it.
Is it important to you to get elements of your various cultural backgrounds into your sound?
Every year I travel to Malaysia to visit family, but my roots are just very spread out and I don't really know if I'll ever find my one home or one base. It's not something that I was aware of when I was younger, but now that I'm older I think maybe I've gone back to my roots because I feel like I have nothing new to work from. I don't have an urge to make the latest pop music, for example, and I'm always very much caught up in history, but I use that to move forward and to create something new.
What music do you associate with your childhood?
I remember my childhood via different periods of my musical history; Michael Jackson was the start of everything, and then I could never go to sleep without listening to Kenny G. Next came Whitney Houston and then later on I got into Queen, punk music and 70s rock. Eventually that ventured into Erykah Badu, neo soul and Reggae. But at the same time, Indian music has always been played in my home, as my mother used to be a dancer.
I wonder what your experience was like growing up as a mixed-raced child in predominantly white Sweden?
The problem in Sweden is segregation. I grew up in a very Swedish area with only full Swedish kids but the funny thing is, you don't feel different until others point it out to you. And it's something I felt a lot. It's definitely something we need to work past but it's hard because there's a very racist political party that's getting more and more power in Sweden. It's almost as if people are becoming more openly racist. It's scary. Sweden needs to catch up because the world is blending and we're not going to stop blending; and I think that's beautiful. I think that's what I want my music to reflect too, because it's the result of my two cultures and a blend of everything that I like. I don't ever want to choose one culture over the other, the same way I don't want to choose one genre over the other.
Do you think that where you are in the world influences your music?
I tend to write a lot of lyrics when I travel; I collect all my thoughts and then I do my music in one spot. I'm not really that type of musician who goes to the studio to write lyrics, or who finds inspiration there, that's just the place where I complete stuff. So I need to get away and travel and get into nature a lot. Get away from electricity and stuff for a while to just feel like a blank page, and then get inspiration to write, and then I collect all of that and go to the studio.
You have a very beautiful voice. If you could have anyone else's, whose would you take?
Wow. Oh god, maybe Billie Holiday. I think Billie Holiday wins.
Good choice. And has music always been your plan? Was there ever an alternative path?
It was always my dream to study Egyptology. I love history and when I was a kid I wanted to be a professor in ancient Egyptian history. Actually, my song Cleopatra came from my obsession - I was inspired by her story.
Tell me something about the state of the world that makes you despair, and something that gives you hope...
Heavy question, which will come with a heavy answer as well! There's so much that makes me despair; so much misery going on in the world at the moment and so much hostility among people. But I think that we all have the power to win by being loving citizens who lift up one another and I think I strive to be a light in the darkness. Everything I do creatively is with passion because when there is so much misery in the world it's important to try and be a spark of light. That's why I think music is so important; it unites people, and that gives me hope. Everything in art is more important than we think. It's a bridge between people and I think it's important to keep building bridges in these times.
Nadia Nair's Beautiful Poetry is out now and available via her own label, Naboobia Records.