Nisha is all about the croon. She evokes speakeasies, snowy nights in Brooklyn, and Dido-esque deep 90s beats. It may be cliché to describe this Sindhi (by way of Florida by way of Nigeria) artist’s voice as warm honey over marble, but it’s true. With her EP slated to come out next month, we sat down with the deep soul singer to talk foundations.
Nadya: When did you start writing music?
Nisha: When I was very young, maybe 8 or 9, I’d write songs all the time. And the first song I wrote was this little jazz song called ‘Mr. Blue.’ Like my dad was working and I ran into his room saying ‘I wrote a song.’ After that I did a lot of singing in choir and in school. I studied voice classically as an opera singer. When I was processing music technically, I didn’t really write much. I didn’t have very much confidence in myself as a writer. My dad was always the one saying ‘You should write music.’
It wasn’t really until I graduated from college, the first time I had my heart broken, after my first relationship ended, it just kind’ve it happened because I think it had to happen because at that point I was experiencing just such an intensity of emotion that I sat down and my first songs which are on my first EP just started to come out. And that was it. I started writing pretty late, I would say, for a songwriter.
I was listening to your stuff again this morning. It’s very jazzy, soul style. I was wondering where that came from? I mean, it’s not the most typical influence for South Asians just because we come from a more Hindustani or Carnatic or pop foundation.
My mom was a singer and she would sing bhajans. Just lots and lots of bhajans. And there’s something in her voice that just had that cry to it. To me the bhajans and the blues sound like the same thing. So it wasn’t a far leap when I first heard Miles Davis and when I first heard Ella Fitzgerald and Charlie Parker.
So how did you get started doing this full time?
Well my dad had a little family band where my sister played the keyboard and my brother played the guitar. When I decided to become a singer, you know my parents were concerned about like ‘how are you going to survive and pay your bills?’ I always tell my dad ‘dude, you put the mic in my hand at the age of like four or five. It’s your gig.’
Like ‘you’re the enabler, Dad.’
Yeah, exactly. (laughs) But to me in terms of the quality and the sound I’m always very deeply attracted to sad music, from a very early age. The more sort of sad, longing, wantonness it had in it. I was an odd kid. I spent a lot of time by myself.
I know that feeling. I used to read a lot of sad books as a kid. It makes you a bit old for your age.
Totally! People used to call me ‘dadi-ma’ as a kid.
That’s cool. I can hear that in your music — sorta like a reservoir of emotions.
The new EP, though, is a bit more soul pop. Yeah, but as I’ve gotten older I feel like I’ve gotten younger. I’ve realized how much fun I have in writing. The new stuff is a little lighter
We talked before about your musical inspirations seem to come from left field a little bit even though they seem anchored in heritage and bhajans and things like that. I was wondering if you felt there was a more direction connection, maybe, from where you come from to what you create?
Oh totally. I think rhythmically, what I’m attracted to is hugely influenced by the complexity of Indian rhythms and the melodic choices that I make — You know I remember when I was learning musical theory I remember learning about the half-steps, the shortest distance between two notes. When I was first asked to sing a chromatic scale I would fail every time because I was asked to sing stuff that was in-between. (laughs) And that just came from growing up. As a female pop singer, the sort of falsetto sounds I use come from Indian music.
For me, Indian music has always felt so luxurious and lush, you know? Like there’s nothing dry about it. And that shows up everywhere in the sound choices and production choices and lyrical choices. You know, I have a hard to writing stuff like ‘Oh Baby Baby’ — it doesn’t… It comes from growing up in and being in love with and respecting the way poetry is used in Indian music.
So what’s going on now?
We just filmed a music video, which will be released in early April. It’s gorgeous and I’m so excited. I had the best team working on it. The director Doug Roland is my best friend. I’m really lucky that I have a team of people that I work with that are incredible artists in their own right. We shot in an empty warehouse in Brooklyn on the coldest day of the year and there was no heater in there. So we had this one like jet engine and the rest of the time I was huddled under a blanket between takes. And I just remember having this moment feeling like ‘This is it! This is love!’ (laughs)
Nisha will be apart of BMI’s singer/songwriter showcase series at their Acoustic Lounge in LA April 6th. Her EP, entitled ‘’ will be available in April. Follow her updates:
Art by Shurmmi