Swedish-Malaysian musician Nadia Nair reached notoriety in 2013 with her song ‘Monika the Brave,’ which was about the revenge of a rape survivor. It made headlines in her native Sweden and was played on the Swedish National Radio. Since then she’s released her single ‘Beautiful Poetry. She has also recently started her own music label to release her own music. Nadia’s music is soulful and rocks true. It is both poetic and thoughtful, reflecting my conversation with her perfectly.
Nadya: So listening to your stuff, I feel like there’s a shift that happened between your older stuff from a few years ago and your new stuff.
Nadia: I think with my last EP, when I was writing and writing and writing, in the beginning I sort of felt like I had it. I wrote without thinking. Then all of a sudden I felt like I lost my mark and I had to just stop for a second. Like I had to get into my silence. I learned how to become better at being silent last year. This new stuff is me more going back into my roots. It’s like a journey inwards into my soul. There’s a bit of darkness but it’s more organic.
How do you think your heritage enters into your music or your process?
I grew up in this neighborhood where I was the only mixed girl and there were a lot of difficulties with that sort of. I did encounter a lot of racism growing up. It made me a very angry teenager. I felt like the only way I could express that anger was through spoken word, poetry, and music.
So I tried very hard to do my own thing and not hear peoples’ voices and I’ve never seen other race or seen genre. Like I’ve never felt like I belonged to any single place. My father is Swedish and my mother is Malaysian so for me it never felt natural to fit in.
I read somewhere that you’ve been playing violin since you were five. So have you just been musical your whole life?
Yeah! Yeah I’ve always had a need to express myself and I think I wasn’t very good at expressing myself other than through music. In school I struggled a lot with, I wasn’t very academic but I felt music was somewhere were I could explain myself and inner thoughts. I was a deep thinker as a child and I think that writing poetry and playing violin and playing in the orchestra and singing in bands I got to express myself. I was 16 when I started my first band.
Besides allowing you to transcend genre, do you think your heritage affects the way you listen to or appreciate music?
Definitely. When I feel empty I like going back in time and it’s natural for me to listen to what my mom listened to when she was young. She listened to a lot of Indian music and Tamil/Malayali artists, and I draw a lot of inspiration from there. There’s something beautiful in recycling music. I feel most healed in a way when I listen to music from my mom’s roots. It just feels natural — the scales, the tones.
My producer is in love with Indian music. He’s completely Swedish but he too feels some connection to it. It’s beautiful that we are able to [enjoy this music] even when he hasn’t grown up with that music the same way that I have. But there’s some sort of connection there.
You think there’s some sort of universal appeal to it?
Yeah, I think so. I don’t know what it is but it’s just something that speaks to you. It’s so ancient. In a time when so much is new and people are looking for the newest and most innovative things it’s just there, right in our hands going back into time.
That’s interesting that you’d want to move away from what’s popular right now. Do you feel that the modern music industry is accommodating of you and your style?
It’s very sad. I think the [music] industry puts people in boxes and you automatically are judged by appearance and what music style you have and you’re expected to do certain genres. When I did the rock thing people said like ‘there’s a girl of color doing white man’s music.’ It just made me angry. When I’m provoked I want to do something more. If someone’s pissed that I do rock or whatever I’ll do more of it. If someone feels I’m being too vulgar I’ll just push it further. I’m at that point where there’s absolutely no limits to what I want to do anymore.