Music

With Two New Videos This Month, Nissi's Takeover is Imminent

We caught up with Nissi to talk about what inspires her music, when she'll collab with her brother Burna Boy, and what we should look out for next

Ever since Nissi released her single "Pay Attention" last year with a video that included footage of political struggles around the world, she's positioned herself as a formidable vocalist that fuses lyrics about social consciousness and self awareness with multiple genres like afro, jazz, highlife, and funk.


We caught up with her to talk about the inspiration behind her music and to get the scoop on what's next.

The interview has been edited for clarity.

You came out with "Pay Attention," which received a lot of attention across Nigerian and international blogs. How did that song come about? Can you talk about the political message behind it? What inspired it?

Essentially, at the time a lot of stuff going in the world wasn't looking right—the fact we had to start the Black Lives Matter movement, political corruption, government stuff in Nigeria, everything with the girls missing... it was looking like a disaster. For me, it's a cycle and it's going around in circles. Fela Kuti and MLK were big influences. It's funny. I was in studio thinking of making a trap infused funk vibe and he just came up with this beat and I freestyled on it and then came "Pay Attention." I didn't like it when I made it, but everyone else heard it and loved it. So I guess it works like that sometimes.

Songs like "Criminal" have an R&B, jazz sound, whereas, "Pay Attention" was a bit more electronic/pop. What would you call your main influences? Are you still experimenting?

"Criminal" brought out the funk fusion which is what I call my style of music, that was my first step. It's more of a young emotional hormones kind of song, [about] the Law of Attraction. At the time of making that song I was out with my friends one night and we started talking about how the Law of Attraction is real.

I work with the same producer 80 percent of the time. I take ideas to him and we work out some things together. There is the other 20 percent when he just has a beat he's knocking and I roll something out.

You're also a painter? Can you talk about your painting work and what you'd like to do with that?

I started painting on a professional level about 5 years ago. I've had a solo exhibition, so the plan now is to have an exhibition every year. I also recently started a fashion brand. NORRD is my art name and the fashion line is Three Musketeers. NORDD is the first letter of the names of all my siblings and two cousins. Three Musketeers is me, my brother, and my sister. My older brother is my best friend. He's a constant influence because I need to have that around me. Funny thing is we've done our thing completely separate for so long, but we both have that respect for each other and that we're perfecting a craft.

Will you collaborate with Burna?

We definitely will collaborate, but I've been on that wave of letting everybody want it. He started like six years ago and I just started eight month ago. I wanna get to a level that we build a standard where people are craving a collaboration. I don't wanna ride on each other's waves because you loose respect. Because he's my brother does mean I would do things without his involvement as best as I can.

You released Mama Mi recently? What can you tell us about that track and its background?

"Mama Mi" is about mothers released [from prison] on mothers day. I made that song as a freestyle on my mom's birthday last year. It was a birthday and I wasn't there and everyone was back home so i wanted to figure out a way to show my presence, so i made a song and sent it. Apparently, she played it for the whole neighborhood.

Whats you relationship with your mother?

My mom is my business manager. Our relationship is ying and yang. There's no one in life that has been there the way my mom has.

Do you do your own songwriting?
Essentially, I write my own songs and get inspiration from myself and feeding off of current events—Black Lives Matter, Nigerian corruption, etc.

What's next for Nissi? What are your plans?

Takeover, that's what's next. Two singles in the next month, and then videos to accompany them. Then, I think the plan is to drop a single every six weeks to two months and then release the EP by the end of the year. Got three names Downtown. I've got names lurking.

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2018 has, in many ways, been a year where black women made strides in France, at least in terms of culture. From winning Nobel prizes, to having best selling books and being on top of the charts, Black French women have showed that, no matter how much France wants to keep them under the radar, they're making moves. And, no matter the tragedies and terrible events that have shaped the year, it is something worth celebrating.

France's New Queen of Pop Music

We begin with Aya Nakamura, France's new queen of pop music. Her song Djadja was a summer hit. Everyone from Rihanna, to the French football team who successfully won their second world cup, sang it. Her sophomore album "Nakamura" has been certified gold in France and is still on top of the charts. She is the first French singer to have a number one album in the Netherlands since Edith Piaf in 1961. The last time a black woman was as visible in pop music was in 2004, with Lynsha's single "Hommes...Femmes".

Nakamura has received a huge backlash, mostly due to misogynoir—misogyny directed towards black women where race and gender both play roles. From a French presenter butchering her African first name despite the fact that he can easily pronounce words like "Aliagas", to online trolls calling her ugly and manly when a picture of her wearing no makeup surfaced, to people complaining that she is bringing down the quality of the entire French pop music industry, Nakamura responds to her critics gracefully. Her music is not groundbreaking but her album is full of catchy songs with lyrics using French slang she masters so well that she came up with her own words like "en catchana" (aka doggy style sex). And most importantly, many black girls and women can finally see someone like them in the media getting the success she deserves.

The Nobel Prize Winner

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Another Black French woman has broken records this year: the Guadeloupean writer Maryse Condé who won the Alternative Nobel Prize, a prize meant to replace the Nobel Prize in Literature, after the scandal that the Swedish Academy of Literature faced last year. Condé wrote her first novel at only 11 years old and has been prolific ever since. A former professor of French literature at Columbia University, she has published more than 20 books since the 1970s, exploring the complex relationships within the African diaspora. "Segu", her most famous novel, is about the impact of the slave trade and Abrahamic religion on the Bambara empire in Mali in the 19th century. Condé's work is radical and she remains committed to writing feminist texts exploring the link between gender, race and class, as well as exploring the impact of colonialism. Condé is a pillar of Caribbean literature and it's taken long enough for her work has been acknowledged by the Nobel prize committee.

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From Comme un Million de Papillon Noir

And finally, 2018 has been the year where France's children's literature industry has finally understood how important, for the public, writers and publishers, being inclusive and diverse was. From Laura Nsafou's Comme un Million de Papillon Noir, a best selling book about a young black girl learning to love her natural hair which sold more than 6000 copies, to Neiba Je-sais-tout: Un Portable dans le Cartable, the second book of Madina Guissé published this year after a successful crowdfunding campaign, there are more and more children's and young adult books with non white protagonists. In France, there are still no stats about how diversity is doing, but in America, in 2017, only 7 percent of writers of children's literature were either Black, Latino or Native American.

There's still much to accomplish in France for the Black community to have better representation in the media, politics and all walks of life, but important strides have been accomplished this year, and it make me hopeful for what 2019 and the following years have in store.

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