NAHLI Interview: “It’s sometimes really impossible to be a woman in the music industry”

Emerging British artist NAHLI has been coming up for some time now – features on massive UK Garage tunes like Rude Kid’s ‘Please Don’t’ and Conducta‘s ‘Only U’ helped her distinctive vocals find an audience.

Now, she’s setting out to tell her own story, with the first instalment of her incredibly authentic Therapy EP projects.

We talk to NAHLI in great detail about the lengths she goes to to make her music as authentic as possible, her varied influences as well as working with pioneering Grime producer DaVinChe on her signature sound.

What’s in your Recently Played list on Spotify?

Princess Nokia, Tom Misch, Yummy Bingham, M.I. Abaga, Lolo Zouaï, Ben L’Oncle.

How did your upbringing influence your relationship with music?

My upbringing was completely surrounded by music. A day never passed where I wasn’t totally submerged in music. My parents are both really musical and their music tastes always guided me through my future music tastes. I’m really into late 80’s, early 90’s. There’s a couple China Black songs that I love, and Jimmy Nail. Songs that no one my age really knows or is into but it just reminds me of my childhood. Boney M. Enya. Elvis Presley. ABBA. I love it all, I listened to a very varied selection of music as I was growing up and I’m really grateful because it’s shaped the way I view music. Its broadened my mind to so many genres that I subconsciously incorporate into my music. 

How do you describe your musical style?

I honestly don’t know how to answer this question! I can never describe it. It’s my honest perspective on life from my angle. My experiences have shaped the way I view life. The way I read the men in my life. The way I deal with obstacles. I guess I learned everything the hard way because I refused to listen to anyone’s advice. That’s not my process. I need to learn the lessons in a deeper way to understand them, so the lessons become memorable and I won’t make the same mistakes twice. I guess I just say what I feel. So much so that I felt really uncomfortable about releasing this EP initially. I felt exposed, and I almost felt a bit guilty about laying so much out to the public on things that are private. But… learning the hard way isn’t exactly enjoyable, which is why I want to share even the smallest slice of wisdom with my listeners. Lyrics that people can hear and understand in a very relatable way. I want my music to be so relatable that it’s jarring almost, like I’m digging up forgotten history in people almost. ‘F.Y.M.’ is that for me. It reminds me of past love. It’s melancholic for me. It’s in my character to say things without sugar coating. I’m the friend who will tell you the truth in its entirety, so you feel comfortable coming to me with genuine questions or issues. I don’t sugar coat anything, unless I’m in a situation where I need to protect their emotions at that precise moment. Sometimes the time is not right. But I’m really proud to share it. Just to get in the room with musically gifted guys like Lawrence, Jack, Tom, Zay, and DaVinChe and say whatever I feel, I value that. They make me feel comfortable enough to share a part of my world in the room, which then helps me find the courage to share it outside of that room too.

What are your favorite sounds to incorporate into your music?

I’m a big fan of a heavy bass line. As soon as I hear a dope bassline I’m like YES THIS IS IT. I get so over excited. I love bringing a positive feel through music. I want my listeners to feel good when they listen. To feel nostalgic. I want my sound to provoke people’s emotions and thoughts. The live element brings that in abundance I feel. I love that we have incorporated live strings. It really lifts the music.

What emotions do you hope your music conveys to the listener?

I enjoy being relatable. I enjoy the influx of messages that express how I’ve tapped into a part of my listener’s minds and helped them through a bad time. Or brought some light to a subject they had sitting on their chest. I received a wicked review last week. It was mentioned that they hadn’t heard a woman touch on the subject of ‘Daddy Issues’ in the way I did. There really is a lot to say for poor father/child relationships. It impacts us on a much greater level than we really realise, and yet we don’t often speak about it. When I was a kid, I thought my Dad was the greatest thing since sliced bread because he was funny and he made me laugh… but as the years went on, I realised I had totally missed a huge slice of parenting from him that I really required. I wasn’t taught how to be treated by men, I wasn’t taught what was acceptable and what wasn’t. I was always proud to say I’d never had an argument with my father, which later was a realisation that he just didn’t have any knowledge of my real life enough to ever disagree on anything. I didn’t really realise how many people I’d reach out to with this track, it was a flood of sadness mixed with triumph somehow. It pained me to know that so many people come from broken relationships, but also a victory because my music is touching people in the ways that I truly wanted it to. People understand me. And I understand them. 

Generally speaking, what is your creative process like?

I write diary entries on how I feel day to day. I have written in a diary since I was like five (obviously nothing really made any sense at this age but pics are dead cute)… I started off by drawing pictures and learning how to draw love hearts. Then I was about seven and I started trying to work out what my signature was, as we all do. Then I got to about ten and my questions started like “Why are we on Earth” and other questions I couldn’t muster. Then in my teens obviously everything I wrote was about boys and how annoying my mum had been that day because yet again I’d been naughty and had my makeup bag confiscated (the worst punishment ever LOL) and then I started writing. I wrote songs and played with lyrics from my teens but never thought much of it. As I grew and matured, I realised I could process my thoughts from paper into a song by purely moving sentences around. This way I wasn’t focusing on whether anything rhymed, or whether it was “too wordy”… it just felt right. It felt like I was telling a story in my exact words, and that’s pretty special. DaVinChe actually showed me this process as he knows I write all my emotions down. He knew how to get the best out of me creatively. So, we get into the studio with our friends who are so wonderful at creating music together, like a well oiled machine, and they create a beat together while I’m curled on the sofa deciding what emotion I feel from the music. When DaVinChe gets the beat to a place where he’s excited, he hops up and joins me and helps me to organise my thoughts and lyrics because his outsiders perspective on what I write is really necessary. Sometimes he helps me to be more brave with what I say, and sometimes he helps me hold back a little when I begin to get in my emotions and overshare. That’s his way of protecting me. Then we slowly hear it forming into something beautiful and we get HYPED and order Caribbean food ha ha!

How did you start working with DaVinChe?

I’ve been working with DaVinChe for eight years now. I don’t know what I’d do without him. He’s a mixture of things; he’s a big brother, a mentor, and a friend too. He knows when to call me and motivate me in a way that makes me momentarily vexed because he speaks with such sense that I can’t even argue with him, about things that I’m not doing to the best of my ability when he knows I could do more. MOMENTARILY I’m vexed haha! But he’s the only person on the planet that makes me think “well I’ll show YOU then”. “I’ll show YOU what I can do”… and then I stomp off and do exactly what I was meant to but with way more passion and then I present it to him like SEE LOOK WHAT I DID. He knows, and I know, that this is a system. But he’s fully aware of it while it’s happening, yet I don’t realise until afterwards. Every single time! This new solo project we have created together is such a beautiful process, because I’m growing both musically, and as a woman. I enjoy every single part of it. Even the stressful bits. It’s all strengthening my character. 

What is your message with your debut EP Therapy (Side A)?

My message is simply that… our minds are much stronger than we realise. We could feel like we’re at the bottom of a well with no way out. Like we’re sinking. Like the weight of the world is on our chests and that we’re unable to remove it. I need people to know and feel like there’s always a way through it. Yes, maybe we’re still in love with an ex. But we CAN get past it. Yes, maybe we didn’t get dealt the best hand with our parents, but we can deal with it on our own. We can grow. We can build. Our mind, our character. Our personality, our strength. It’s all up to us. Doesn’t matter what hand we are dealt, we can change our perspectives and our futures. Our outlooks. We can recreate ourselves over and over until we find peace. We are HERE to grow and to change. I need my listeners to know that we ALL go through transitions and changes. It’s up to us to help ourselves and to build the deepest roots we possibly can so that nothing on this Earth could ever budge us from being happy. Because we’re happy within ourselves. When you get to that point, you are truly unstoppable. 

 How does the EP’s artwork represent the music?

The artwork is INSANE. I love my friend Aymi (@AymsDesigns) and she created it for me. She’s made my throat area where I sing from, a distorted image of the universe. I think it’s so amazing. It’s not immediately obvious which is why I love it so much. You have to understand NAHLI and understand that part of me to know what it means. I enjoy not being obvious. I love that there’s parts to learn before things unlock. I am so in touch with the universe. I regularly speak to the moon, I suppose it’s my version of GOD. Except I can see it. It feels real. It feels implausible and I can’t get my head around its existence or any other part of the universe, but it’s there. It’s real. And I love that so much. I draw little moons on my cheekbones a lot of the time so I can keep it with me all the time. Aymi is so talented because she managed to reach into my mind somehow and get exactly what I wanted. I just gave the tiniest most subtle hints as to how I saw it and she totally transformed my view into something special. I’m so grateful to her. She’s one of my most wonderful friends. 

 Do you have a favourite lyric from the EP?

“If I could love you less then I could fuck you more”… THIS. God I love that line. I love that line because I text that exact sentence to an ex boyfriend once and he said “that’s a song title”. My brain sort or ticked over and I thought…yeah, it is!! It’s so true. Imagine we could disconnect from love in order to be intimate with people we were once involved with. Just because you broke up, you don’t always fancy them any less. That person still possesses the traits you fell in love with, you just didn’t work out. So… imagine we could just learn how to unlove people. To love them less, so we could fuck them more. No added stress, no repercussions. No guilt. Just, passionate intimacy with someone you once shared a life with. If only it were that easy!

Have you noticed any double standards when it comes to gender in the music industry?

Ok, I’m really really glad you asked this. I was talking to my girl Aymi about this only the other day. It’s sometimes really impossible to be a woman in the music industry. I’ve had the problem where I make friends with someone, reach out to them and ask how they are, and I am responded to in a really flirtatious manner which I then have to try and finesse an answer back to them that is both friendly yet unresponsive to their flirting. It’s a tricky one because you want to touch base with people because I care about people but it’s hard! It’s a really difficult thing to balance as a woman I find. I’d love if I could just make some dope friendships within the industry where this isn’t an issue, but it’s very difficult and as a woman you can nearly find yourself responding quite tactically. (I don’t though. I can’t be bothered most times. I just speak my truth and let them deal with it). Then, sometimes, if men realise that you’re not after anything except to work, their responses slow right down and you wonder whether you’ve spoilt a potential working relationship. 

How do you feel about the representation and portrayal of female musicians? Is there anything that you’d like to change?

I think that female musicians are killin’ it. We all have finally realised that we should rise and protect each other. We have realised that we can hype each other up and shout to the world about how great they are, without that taking anything away from ourselves. I’m forever seeing women lift each other up and it’s so special. Women are accepted in the way that we can challenge any man at any role and feel equal. I think change is inevitable and whenever there’s a universal need for change, we stand united and it seems to happen. As it stands, that is what I enjoy seeing and I will always support a movement if I agree with it. Although, I want it to be made VERY apparent that if a woman decides to have a child during her music career, it shouldn’t be frowned upon like it has been. It doesn’t take anything away from the woman, and her time out is not going to set her back in her career if she is passionate. That’s the main think I feel strongly about. Kehlani is a perfect recent example of why this can be a beautiful transition for a woman, and for her listeners to be a part of.

From a female perspective, is there anything about the music industry that frustrates you?

Nothing particularly to be honest. All careers have ups and downs. Things we love. Things we hate. I guess most things come with negatives, but they’re genuinely outweighed by so many huge positives. Being able to create music and be heard is amazing. To get on stage and share your work with hundreds of people who are there to listen, is amazing. I feel like there’s no other feeling like it. Even the feeling of falling in love doesn’t match it. I couldn’t possibly find a load of frustrations within an industry who has so much to offer I feel blessed, I really do.

What challenges do you think female musicians are facing today?

I think the only challenge I can think of personally is the pressure of looking good all the time. Sometimes I have a photo shoot set up and I’m having a hormonal breakout on my face. I know I have to attend anyway, and just try and cover them up. But… as women, sometimes we wake up bloated and feeling like shit. Covered in spots. Wanting to eat chocolate all day and cry over absolutely nothing, but we have to get up and pretend our cramps aren’t rumbling through the pit of our stomachs! But, at the same time. Being a woman is so great, it’s so fun. Changing up looks, I absolutely love that wigs have come into fashion because I really enjoy being a different version of myself whenever I fancy it.

Are there any up and coming female musicians you have your eye on?

So, I have my eye on a beautiful artist called Katy For Kings. Her voice is astounding… she’s pitch perfect and she has so much control of her voice. Her tone is beautiful. She almost has a hint of Billie Eilish to it, but in her own unique style. She’s young, beautiful and super talented and I know she’s going to be emerging very soon. GRAYE is another female I appreciate. Her carefree character is really attractive as an audience. She’s beautiful, and her voice… I can’t quite explain it. It’s hauntingly beautiful. She works alongside some great producers who I admire, so their sound is something I really enjoy. 

What advice would you give to young girls and women looking to work in music?

I would give the same advice that DaVinChe gave to me. Find yourself, your sound, your look, before you let anyone else hand you an idea of who they think you should be. Remember that being an artist is more than just performing, you’re about to be your own stylist. Your own makeup artist. Your own PA. Your own marketing team. There’s so much to handle on your own before you decide to look into labels, but if you ever begin to feel overwhelmed by the amount required from you, remind yourself of the end result. Remind yourself of where you want to be. Try not to look left or right, or behind you. Look ahead and focus on your own journey, never compare. It’s so easy to compare yourself to others pace but you are all on your own adventure at your own speed. I believe we all have a chance to shine, and we cannot all expect to win at the same time. If you proceed with passion, with love, with exuberance and with a hard working attitude… you’ll get there. I look back on the year that I’ve had and how far I’ve come, and I absolutely cannot believe it. It’s just gone from strength to strength. DaVinChe and I are in contact every single day, including Sundays, on how to progress next. On what plan of action to take. On how to grow and throwing new ideas around consistently. Immerse yourself into it entirely and match your mindset to your wants. Manifest. Tell yourself every single day that you’re going to succeed and I promise you, that you will!

What’s left to come in 2019 and what have you got planned for 2020?

Next on my list is to release Therapy [Side B] – I am so excited for this. It’s already shown musical growth from [Side A], and I cannot wait to show everyone. I’m so proud of what we have created, all of us together. DaVinChe and I, the musicians… I am so grateful. The next tracks were written towards the end of my healing process and they’re more about acceptance. They’re about self reflection. They are all really strong messages that I again know my listeners can relate to. I have songs about experiences I had with people when I was trying to meet someone new but being faced with new problems I had to try and get my head around. The dating scene is difficult and you feel a little vulnerable about where to place your heart against after you’ve just spent so much time putting love back into it on your own. The release of the first EP was so overwhelming for me, and the response was so incredible, that I cannot wait for it to happen all over again. 2020 is going to be THE YEAR! I can feel it in my bones!! Not only does it look good, but it feels good. I am BEYOND excited to see it unfold. I’m going to continue writing about new and more current experiences, I’m so happy to finally leave that chapter behind! Here’s to new beginnings!

NAHLI on Spotify


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One Response

  1. A great interview Hasan. I was not familiar with NAHLI, but I really like her music and vocals. I also love her thoughtful, deeply honest responses to your questions, which make an interview much more compelling than when artists give brief or curt answers that lend little insight into themselves or their creative process.

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