The interview with Nailah Blackman, nominated for the BET Viewer’s Choice, Best New International Act continues…
How did the collaboration between you and Shanseea come about? Well that just happened. It happened in the space of like three days . I was always following her on social media. I liked her music. I was going to be on the same radio show as her. A promoter called and asked whether I could do a radio talk with Shanseea when she came to Trinidad. We had just finished doing the demo for ‘Badishh’. We didn’t know it was going to be called Badishh yet. Actually we did. [laughter] But we thought , it would be fantastic if we could get Shanseea on the song. We talked to her management. They thought it was amazing. The same night she lay down her verse. The next day we did the radio tour. We spent the whole day promoting the song. The song was on the radio the next day and in the night we performed it in Trinidad. And the day after that, we began shooting the music video in Tobago. And we performed it that night at the Tobago Great Fete Weekend. So that was two performances, radio tours and video shoot in the space of two days.
That is superfast.. Yeah it was really fast. When we met we just clicked. What was it that made you guys click? Well when I was doing the track and heard about the possibility of doing it with her. I thought she would fit the track so perfectly. You know what the song is talking about, that’s her. She is baddish. She is young, independent, proud, sexy, sassy. Someone who is shamelessly proud, like a bad bitch. She is the princess of Dancehall, I am the princess of Soca. Soca is about unity, so I thought why not? Let’s bridge that gap between Trinidad and Jamaica. Let’s make it happen. The week after (this was not planned) I was going on vacation with my brothers and sisters in Jamaica. It just so happened and I was thinking ‘Ok we can just finish doing the video when I’m in Jamaica’. And we just made it happen. Would you work with her again? Yeah we actually have two more songs together. So one for 2019 carnival and another just for a jam. We intend to do some touring together. Our teams work really closely together. So whenever, I go to Jamaica, we link up. Whenever she comes to Trinidad we link up. We’re really dope.
And the collab with Kees from Kes The Band? ‘Work Out’ was that your break out song? Yes it was my first soca release. What was that like? That was really different for me. That stage when I was doing that song really set the tone of all of this right now. This is when my soca journey started. I came to Anson (my manager), we weren’t doing soca at the time, we were doing pop songs and different things. And I told him I want to do soca. And he was the first person that said ‘Yeah let’s do it’. That same day, he already had the instrumental for ‘Work Out’. And I was telling him that I had met some people from Hawaii and he played it and it was the instrumental for ‘Work Out’. And I started singing and we got the hook. And there was another writer in the studio at that point in time (Zone) and he started writing the song with me. We got the song and chorus and he started singing with me. When Anson heard him singing with me, he was like ‘You know you should get a really big soca artist to collab on this’. I thought Kees is more my vibe because he is like a sing singer you know what I mean? Like other people chant and do like different things but he sings. Just so happens, two days later I was in another studio with a producer named Yohan doing something else when Kees walked in and I said ‘Hey I sent you a song’. I had never met him before, ever. I was like ‘Hey I sent you a song, I don’t know if your people played it to you.’ And he was like ‘No, they didn’t’. And I was like, ‘Well you can listen to it now’. And he was like, ‘This is dope, this is dope’. But he was would want his part re written over. And I said cool, let’s make it happen. Anson rallied up his crew and got it done. The song was released and the whole carnival I spent performing with him at all his shows. It was so different for me.
How so? I was performing a lot before but not like that. I used to perform with my guitar. I performed in all the intimate areas, the wine bars, open mics those kind of places. A completely different style of performing from soca. Soca is jump energy, dance…. like different. Big stages. I was blown away because it was different. I mean I was used to performing on big stages with my aunt’s band doing gospel music but it is different type of crowd. So it was different. And me being the breakout star that year I guess, there was a lot of attention on me. A lot happening. I enjoyed it. It was hard. My voice was mash up by the end of the season.
And I guess your performance style had to change? Yes definitely. It’s more energy by far, more interaction. My interaction was different. I liked to interact ‘Hi guys, this is a song I wrote’. I like to talk to my audience like how I would be talking to you right now. People in parties, they want to be hyped ‘Do this, do that’ and I didn’t really know nothing abut that. I’m not that hyped. Did you have to learn to be hype? Well I’m still not that hyped, but I am energetic. It works for me cause that’s when I bring out my dancers, dance oriented performances. So they get me hyped without me changing who I am. You know what I mean?
Thinking about how you’ve had to change a bit. Did you have to change your style or was that a natural progression? I think it was a natural progression. Because if I satyed that same I problably would be here. Umm I think as well, I was as confident as I am now. And when you step on a soca stage, people can smell insecurity and they are demanding. And even up to now people will say ‘Nailah, you need to take charge’. I know where I came from. But I know that it wasn’t just about being confident, it was a certain amount of ‘take charge’. And people see that in me now, when I am not on stage, they might say oh you so controlling. But if I am doing on stage every night, then I will doing it in my everyday life. The change happened based on necessity. If you’re on take and you’re asking them to do something, they are not goingto respond. You have to tell them. They will only respond when you are affirmative. And that’s why Jamaican aretists are that great
If I asked you to describe your sound, how would you describe it? I would say it is S.O.K.A.H. How is it different from S.O.C.A? That soca has a box and is afraid to evolve. And I’m the evolution of soca.
It’s a hard industry, the music industry, especially for women. How do you protect yourself? Well to be honest, I would say that this is where I have a really good team and they protected me from a lot what the other female artists may have faced. I set a certain precedent for myself and a certain amount of space I interact within the industry. I don’t like controversy. I don’t like confusion. I am very to myself. I really don’t entertain much outside of my entertainment. I keep the lines really clear where that is concern.
What do you do in your down time? When I have down time? What do I do in my downtime? I sleep. [laughter] When I have down time, I am too tired! I go see my mum. She lives by the beach. So it’s like I am going to the beach. But I am really going to see my mum cause I don’t even bathe in the sea sometimes. I will put my foot in the sand and talk to her. I used to do a lot of things but now all I do is work, all I do is write songs. I dance . That’s supposed to be fun. But I take everything very seriously. So even when I am having fun, I’m not having fun. I watch movies. I watch Netflix.
You’re a lot more well known now. Do you find that you just want some space, shut people out for a bit? Yes and kind of a no. Because I’ve always been like that. I’ve never had many friends, just one or two friends at one point in time. This didn’t happen because I’ve gotten popular. It happened naturally. I’ve always been very to myself. My family are my best friends. My big sister, my cousins are my best friends.
Going back to your family, your grandfather, Ras Shorty I do you think he would be happy with the way soca is right now? Umm I think he would be happy with the way it is moving. But I don’t think he would be happy with the way it is right now. Which part of it you think he would not be happy with? He thinks and I know this for a fact that people should sing things that make more sense. And it doesn’t have to be about carnival. We all love carnival but soca music is more than that. And one thing we love about carnival is that it is spreading soca music. Carnival is taking music all over the world. But it doesn’t all have to be like that. Cause if carnival doesn’t move then the music doesn’t move.
So how do you separate the two? How do you make soca go further without being so intertwined with carnival? Well I think people just need to sing soca songs that is not about carnival. It’s all about carnival. We need to play more soca.
How do you bring the respect back into the music? I would say to make younger people identify with it. To the point that they love it and not just make money out of it. You know what I mean? Whereas now a lot of kids come to me and say ‘Nailah, you’re an inspiration, you make me feel to do soca’ You make culture cool again’. That makes me feel good. Cause I think the Trinibagonians, we have a little identity problem. We always wanna be somebody else. We wanna be British, Jamaicans, Americans, somebody else just not us.
From the outside though it looks like Trinis love being Trinis…You know why? When we’re out of Trinidad? That’s the only time we respect ourselves, when we out of Trinidad. Because we outside. And we see how much people appreciate us. But we don’t appreciate ourselves. But a lot of us never leave home. And don’t understand how much people respect us. But even those who go out and come back to Trinidad, they act like they are from outside. I just really want people to value their own and to be proud of who you are. Make kids proud, old people proud, proud proud proud. So to know that I have started on my journey of doing that and to see the effects of it, it’s good.
What is your goal? What do you want? Well we trying to win that Grammy. We trying to get that Grammy. But outside of that, I really want to bring Soca to the world. I want it to be recognised. Because it is bigger than me. I always knew, This is more for my family, for my country and one for the Caribbean again. I want to be a world artist. No borders.
Nailah Blackman has recently been nominated for the BET Viewers Choice: Best New International Act. This is a huge step for the genre of soca. And this appears to be fall in line with Nailah’s overall goal, getting a grammy and bringing soca to the world. With the confidence and drive of Nailah and her team, who knows? She might just be the one to take soca further than it has ever been before.
For more information on Nailah Blackman, please visit Nailah Blackman.com, Wikipedia, Nailahblackmantt on Instagram, Nailah Blackman on Facebook, You Tube, Soundcloud. Photography by Larri Alleyne Photography and taken from the web.