Words: Aluwani Ratshiungo | Visual Director: Ricardo Marcus Knipe | Graphics Director: Luke Benett | Styling: The Threaded Man | Make-up: Palesa Mkwananzi Artistry | Director of Videography: Nic Rawhani
On set Nadia Nakai twerks and goes Live on Instagram in between takes. With a following of more than 300 000 on the platform, she makes sure to consistently engage her followers. She also calls the shots on the tunes, some of which are Nicki Minaj’s and she raps along without missing a beat; it’s immediately apparent that she takes some inspiration from her. Nadia, like Nicki, owns and flaunts her femininity and sexuality and her butt is subject of much attention. In most music videos and live performances, she wears sexy leotards which show off her curvaceous body and she’s almost always twerking.
It’s so easy to watch her, her delicate beauty draws you in. Her skin is impossibly flawless; almost translucent, and she has the kind of smile that would summon the gods. She is rocking a curly wig and her clean white eyes are further livened up by the individual lash extensions she has on which are precisely long enough to make her eyes pop but still short enough to look natural.
Who I was when I was 18 is not really who I am now.
Nadia fell in love with hip hop and started recording as a teenager while living in Kenya but as can be expected, she hates the music she created back then. “When I started out I was experimenting, I didn’t really find my personal sound. Who I was when I was 18 is not really who I am now. So I can’t really identify with that girl anymore,” she tells me on an overcast Friday afternoon in Illovo after the shoot.
When it comes to recording, she likes to have a lot of people in the studio with her because she likes feeding off their energies. “It really helps a lot because sometimes my energy is not the right energy for the type of song that I’m doing and if Gemini [Major] is in studio he’s always got an amazing energy and it’s nice to have him around cause I’m able to feed off that and he inspires me and I inspire him.”
I’m still an African kid and I’m just tryna make music that appeals to anybody in the whole continent.
Nadia’s heritage also influences her music significantly. Not only was she born in South Africa, she lived in Kenya for a few years and even though she only stayed in Zimbabwe for a year when she was still in primary school, she still visits her paternal grandmother a lot in Zimbabwe and gets to experience the people and the culture.
“I think it’s influenced me a lot staying in Zimbabwe and Kenya when I do my dancehall songs, the ones that sound predominantly African; I think I tap into that side of my culture. I’m still an African kid and I’m just tryna make music that appeals to anybody in the whole continent.”
Nadia believes that dancehall is an easy way to get into that kind of market compared to making trap or making hip hop because she feels like dancehall is a universal genre. So can we expect a lot of dancehall from the upcoming album?
“Definitely! I enjoy making it especially with someone like Gemini, I don’t know why I mention him a lot,” she adds as if to check herself and also make sure I don’t fixate on the topic. “He has a very dancehall kind of vibe. Working with him brings that in me a lot as well. This is something that I started doing when I was still calling myself Calypso back in the day and now I’ve really decided to embrace it. I’m enjoying it, it’s a lot of fun.”
A quick glance on either Gemini or Nadia’s Instagram and it’s easy to assume that they might be more than just stable mates but I take the hint and decide not to ask any further questions about her relationship with him. Instead, I’m more curious about the album she’s working on. She refuses to say when she plans on releasing it only confirming that it will definitely be sometime this year.
“An album is hard to do hey. It’s very hard to do because you need to explore parts of yourself that you probably never have. Personally for me, I’ve never explored certain aspects of myself musically. I need to be able to tap into my emotions and things that I’ve gone through and put that in a song that makes sense and still sounds good,” she confesses.
“That’s a lot of work for me right now, it takes time. I’m discovering so much about myself going through this process [and] there’s some things I’m not sure I wanna put in the album because I feel like it’s a bit too intimate but I need to be that intimate with my fans because I wanna inspire them. I just don’t know how much I wanna inspire them using my own content. It’s a bit of a struggle right now and that’s why it’s gonna take a while cause I don’t want it to be bad”
Until then her fans will just have to be content with singles. A few days ago she dropped the visuals to The Man – one of the 5 tracks from her EP titled Bragga. The song features Cassper Nyovest who owns Family Tree, the stable she’s signed to. The two met at a gig in Zimbabwe and Nadia expressed to his team that she was a free agent as she had just left Syd Records (owned by Sipho ‘Psyfo’ Ngwenya). A while after they met, a Family Tree representative called her, set up a meeting, and shortly after they signed her. The transition from Syd Records to Family Tree has had a noticeable impact on the trajectory of her career.
“I’ve been able to focus on the music a 110% instead of trying to do everything at the same time. It’s great ‘cause now I actually have a team that’s dedicated to Nadia and the Nadia Nakai brand and I don’t have to think about the admin of it as much as I had to when I was on my own,” she explains.
If I’m building a brand it can never not be rooted in music so I have to always make sure that my music is there for me to build my brand on.
Speaking of the Nadia Nakai brand, it looks like she is working hard towards becoming more than just a rapper. “I feel like it’s easy for me to build myself as a brand because I do feel that I have a strong brand to offer and I have a lot of people that are coming on board with the brand to help build what I want it to be. I think it’s going great because at the end of the day music is always number one. Without the music no one would know who I am so if I’m building a brand it can never not be rooted in music so I have to always make sure that my music is there for me to build my brand on.”
It’s not only just about the music, it’s about the experience of Nadia.
Nadia teamed up with Brutal Fruit to give away R10 000 to a lady who knows how to ‘bless’ herself. Through the #BlessYourself campaign – which is in response to the Blesser trend that’s been the subject of many a think pieces and even inspired television storylines – Nadia aims to inspire young women to be their own blessers.
“We wanted to inspire young women to strive to better their own lives, to not feel that they needed to find somebody to improve their living circumstances,” she lights up when she tells me. “They can do that themselves and they should be proud that they’re doing it themselves.” This is just one of the collaborative efforts with big brands that will help her grow herself as a brand.
“I think it’s the right time to be able to expand into merchandising, doing collaborations with brands, and stuff like that. It’s not only just about the music, it’s about the experience of Nadia you know, and that includes all facets of who I am which is fashion, make-up, hair as well as music.”
ALL items worn by Nadia Nakai: PUMA Select