Welcome to the first relaunched edition of the Member Spotlight! Here at the Ivors Academy, we are fortunate to have an exceptionally talented membership, and are thrilled to reintroduce the Member Spotlight to shine a well-deserved light on our remarkable songwriters and artists. To mark our return, we talk to the exceptionally talented Nandi.
Those lucky enough to have attended the Inside Track showcase back in June would have seen first hand how Nandi owns the stage – A natural performer as well as an extraordinary vocalist. Her captivating stage presence and infectious personality are something special.
Nandi’s diverse musical palette shines through when she sings. Her lyrical work for ‘Zulu Suite’ with friends of The Ivors Academy, 2fox, is a testament to this. “Toyi-Toyi!” Nandi sings hypnotically in Ndebele, a language native to her birthplace of Zimbabwe. An anti-apartheid protest chant, echoing the messages of South African greats, Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba, both mentioned as profound inspirations in Nandi’s lyricism and songwriting. The celebration of her heritage stands as a cornerstone of Nandi’s musical identity, as she proudly acknowledges it as an integral part of her artistic essence. The deep connection to her roots, combined with an ear for an infectious melody synonymous to contemporary pop music are the basis for Nandi’s sound. Nandi boasts of her love for pop music, citing SZA, Britney and Cheryl Cole as having further influence on her writing. A rich plethora of influences have imprinted a truly unique style on Nandi as an artist.
While Nandi’s discography as a solo artists may be modest in size, her songs leave listeners captivated. Her music exudes passion, seamlessly blending the soulful cadences of R&B with the irresistible rhythms of Afrobeat and Amapiano. Nandi’s career has already been marked by an impressive list of collaborations and features, including the likes of Jack Bruce, Maverick Sabre, NAO, and Cormega, as well as being a frequent collaborator with 2fox as mentioned, Having other notable releases together such as ‘Mi Casa’, amounting to over 4 million Spotify plays. Additionally, her versatility as a vocalist has earned her a reputation as a highly skilled artist, catching the attention of WILL.I.AM on ‘The Voice UK’ in 2018.
In the video below, Nandi speaks candidly about her creative process and her journey as an artist so far. We also dive into how the Inside Track programme was able to bring the best out of her, as well as her profound experience attending The Ivors earlier this year.
My name is Nandi, I’m Zimbabwean born and based in East London. My influences go from South African house and Kwaito and the greats like Miriam Makeba, all the way to Janelle Monae and Britney. Also, Fela Kuti and R&B. At the moment, I’ve kind of moved style wise to R&B that’s a bit more influenced by Afrobeat and Amapiano. Before I was a bit more alternative R&B mixing in electronics…but I love a guitar line, I love a deep bass and I love a groove. So whatever genre I mix into, that would always be a staple.
Can you speak to how your heritage has had an imprint on your musical identity?
I lived in Zimbabwe until I was about 10 years old, and my Grandad was a lecturer in Ndebele. Ndebele is a derivative of Zulu and it’s very similar to Xhosa. Moving to England, I kind of felt quite removed from my culture and I found that music was an amazing way to reconnect. For example, in Zulu Suit, “Toyi-Toyi”, is the chant that I use there. It was used during colonisation and apartheid, and I wanted to reimagine it in today’s world where we are fighting for the things we love to do. For example, my family is very education and academia heavy. I wanted to be a creative growing up and I had to fight to do what I love to do. For me it’s about reminding myself where I come from. My name is Nandi and that was Shaka Zulu’s Mother’s name, so my heritage is super important to me and I love fusing it with things I’ve experienced musically in England and around the world. There’s just so much music to ingest and to enjoy, down to Jazz and Indie. That’s also infused into my music.
On the creative process and Collaboration…
What is it that inspires you to write?
I think for me personally it’s very much processing my emotions and my thoughts. I’m a massive overthinker! Sometimes when you’re thinking about something, like in the shower, that’s time for me to think about whatever I’ve been ruminating on or on a weird dream that I’ve had, and it’s usually linked to something that’s going on in my life. Sometimes I’ll have a riff or a rhythm that haunts me for a while.
…Recently we were recording and the producer said “can you just warm up with this backing track” and something just came to me, I kept singing it and they (the producer) said “actually keep singing that!”. Sometimes it literally comes from nowhere. That specific line actually came from another song I was trying to write but that lyric wasn’t used. It just came out – it was completely random. Nothing is ever discardable.
What is the importance of collaboration for you?
For me personally, I feel like I could not do music without collaboration. In the sense that I only play ‘the voice’. I’ve been so lucky that I’ve had incredible musicians, producers, other vocalists, top liners and songwriters that I work with. We’ve been able to build this tribe that continues to grow.
…Even when I think of social media where people will do background parts to certain covers. I will go and grab it on TikTok and go and do my little lead part on it. That is collaboration virtually! They’ve reimagined it and you’ve added your take on that reimagining.
I feel like it’s the life and breath of music. There’re some greats that literally can do it all themselves like Stevie Wonder and Prince. They can literally be their own band, but even within that, once they come out of the studio they need other people to play those parts. For me I don’t think there is such a thing as music without collaboration.
I tend to not write as much solo because I can be too cutthroat so certain things won’t see the light of day because I’ve decided it’s not good enough. But when I’m with other people they’re able to see it without being so precious about looking too cheesy or it not being cool enough.
I think that insecurities, for me personally, can get the better of the creative process. Sometimes a harsh deadline can get rid of that for me, but it’s more when I’m writing with other people. They are less harsh critics than I am personally to myself. That’s another layer for me where I work better with other people.
On Inside Track and The Ivors…
Can you describe your Inside Track experience? What were your main takeaways?
There were so many takeaways! So, there is a thing in the industry where you are encouraged to be different from what you are stereotyped to be. For example, if you’re a soulful artist it would be more beneficial if you’re thrown in the indie space because you’d be a ‘different flavour’ or what have you. Because of this, I’ve kind of not allowed myself to use the classic parts of the music that I love. I love Motown but I never use that part of my voice necessarily because of people saying it’s dated, or that I need to be cutting edge etc. But there’s just something about reaching into that gospel voice – Joy (Inside Track mentor) really pulled that out of me. It was really beautiful to be able to tap into that.
Attending The Ivors was incredibly inspiring. To be walking around and seeing Charlie XCX and Ray…and Sting. They were speaking their truth on stage and sharing their process and it made me feel it was doable. Kamille’s journey of having worked in investment banking and then running to the studio at night and just seeing the breadth of her career. I used to work in investment banking and last year I stopped and started doing music full time. It just felt like a beacon to say this is possible!
On self-doubt as a music creator…
Sometimes you get brought down on the statistics of making it in this industry. I think we should all be allowed to just dream our wildest dreams and allow that to help us do the things that we really want to do. Sometimes we don’t do it because we think, ‘oh, it will never happen for me’, but why not? If you don’t go for it, then how will you ever know?
Not everyone gets to do music, so it just really made me want to cherish it again and be open minded about the journey and understanding that it’s the process that’s the prize – The fact we get to write, the fact that we get to go and rehearse and just jam. That is the prize.
How do you deal with self-doubt as a creative?
I think every day I wake up with self-doubt. It’s one of those things where now that I’m working in music full time. I make the money that pays my rent, the money I pay bills with, it’s money that I make through music. It’s a different stress to what I had before where I had a nine to five and did music on top. Every day I wake up and look at my Diary and it can be like “oh my gosh, the next month is so quiet”, but I have evidence to show that even at the beginning of the month, while there could be nothing, by the time the month is done, I will have been so busy and it’s like “oh my gosh, how did that happen?”. For me It’s at a practical level where dealing with self-doubt is part of a daily practice.
In the bigger picture, I’ve been lucky enough to have an amazing tribe around me. Earlier in my career, I remember seeing Adele’s trajectory and thinking that’s what I thought was going to happen to me and I literally thought my life was over and I was a failure, and there was no point in anything that I did. But luckily Rennell Shaw (Board Director at The Ivors Academy) and Dougie (Freeman) would always call me up and ask me to sing. So for a very long time, I was being pulled along by my tribe then I got to a place where it was like actually I love this why have I been running away from it for so long. Knowing that it’s in my DNA let me know that this thing will never go away.
How important are organisations like The Ivors Academy and programmes like Inside Track for artist in the early stages of their careers?
I came through Hackney Empire. They had an artist development programme and I started doing there when I was 14. Without that I would have never seen people like Orphy Robinson (Vice-Chair of The Ivors Academy) and Susie McKenna who’s careers were in the arts and were able to support their families with music. It blew my mind that you don’t have to be a Beyonce or a Prince to sustain a career. You don’t have to be famous to have a career in music. Just the availability of seeing someone do the thing that you want to do and showing you the spectrum of what a career in music can look like is so fundamental. I would not have been able to have the conviction that I had, had I not seen that in real life and interacted with it and been mentored by it! I don’t think that would be possible if I didn’t come up at the beginning in that little cocoon that was the Hackney Empire. For others that are able to find and get involved with The Ivors Academy and have that around them, that’s such a special and integral thing.
What artists do you have on rotation right now?
Janelle Monae is always on rotation. I went to Palm Wine Festival recently and I saw Show Dem Camp, they’re a Nigerian, Ghanian and Dispora collective. Naomi Sharon – so beautiful. And Cleo Sol who’s just released a new project.
Any guilty pleasures?
I like pop stuff that people don’t think I would listen to. Britney, Christian Aguilera, Nsync and sometimes even the Venga Boys. I’m a big pop head.
What’s next for you?
There’s a new single I’m looking forward to sharing with you guys. I have a single coming out called ‘No More’ that I did with Cass (Cassell the Beatmaker). I’m going to be singing at Sofar Sounds on the 27th October at an Old Street Venue. Sofar Sounds release the exact location 36 hours before the show. Find me on Facebook, Youtube, Instagram and TikTok!
Thank you, Nandi…
Check out ‘Zulu Suite’ below as referenced in this article…
We’re hugely excited to see what’s next for Nandi and how she continues to evolve and grow an artist. Keep an eye out for her future releases and performances to experience her passion and talent first hand. You can find tickets for Nandi’s show at Sofar Sounds on 27th October here. If you are an Ivors Academy member and feel like you have something worth spotlighting, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about membership, click here.
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