17 On The Frontline: Nií

“We’re all running our own races and walking different paths.”

There’s just something about Nií. You can hear it in her music and feel it even more when you’re sat opposite her. Aside from her pure beauty, Nií exudes an energy that you can’t help but instantly warm to. Her gentleness is almost expected if you recall the way she sings-like-a-bird with her silky voice. What is perhaps unexpected is the fact that she’s slightly shy and utterly modest, something even more endearing for someone with so much talent. Nevertheless, Nií by nature is honest and armed with a refreshing sense of openness when we meet for the first time – sharing the confidence of a girl who isn’t afraid to share vocals from her bedroom on Twitter whenever she feels like it.

Nií laughs hysterically when I mention the recent video I saw of her singing along to a beat, rum and tea next to her on the desk. “I like rum in my tea. It’s really good,” she urges. “Rum is good for you, if you’ve got like a fever or a cold or something, in my opinion anyway. I think Google says it somewhere, it must do,” she smiles.

From newcomer Ray BLK (recently crowned BBC Music Sound of 2017) to newly Brit nominated Nao – there is no doubt that 2016 was a good year for a new breed of female vocal talent in the UK. As a producer and song-writer, 25 year old South London singer Nií, stares at me almost confused when I mention the word “competition”. Everyone is so different,” she states matter-of-factly, “we’re all running our own races and walking different paths. I can’t be walking down Jorja Smith’s road, that’s not destined for me.”

It’s pretty weird when a piece of music can take you back in time but feel so current, which was exactly the case when I first heard the track ‘Me’ by Nií. Although it was the first I’d heard from the UK artist, it was definitely nothing like anything I’d heard this year. Self-written and mostly self-produced, everything about the song is chill, from the 80’s film vibe to her silky vocals.

“I just heard it,” she shrugs, when I’m interested to know how and why she made the track. “I was sitting on my balcony smoking, then I heard it, so I recorded it on a voice note and then literally within about half an hour I ran to the room and started trying to put it together.” I’ll admit that I was a little surprised to hear that the first draft took only half an hour to make. “It’s not always perfect. It’s rarely ever perfect because I’m still learning, even production,” she admits. But despite her own uncertainty, there is no doubt that the sound works perfectly. Everything about the song is just her and her alone.

I do feel that instruments are beneficial to musicians, especially in situations where you’re on your own.

Vocal producing from age 14 and producing her own music since she was 20, Nií rarely looks to others to jump on the controls. “I just feel like I can never really truly describe or express to others how I see a piece of music sounding. People have sent things which I love, but sometimes they’re hard to connect with because my process is different from their process.” At a time where resources are so readily available, I’m interested to know if self-production is something that she believes every artist should consider. “I think each to their own. I do feel that instruments are beneficial to musicians, especially in situations where you’re on your own. Sometimes you just wanna be able to hear your song, if that makes sense, so it’s beneficial but whatever floats your boat.”

Bright eyed and honest, Nií can hide nothing with her facial expressions, and I don’t believe that she tries to either. There’s a spark in her eyes as she talks to me about Musical Theatre, revisiting it in almost every part of the conversation and identifying it as her main inspiration for making music. “I love Hans Zimmer. He’s legit at the top like when I talk about musical theatre and stuff and composing, the way he’s able to just bring the life out of a story. It’s crazy. You listen to a soundtrack produced by him or composed by him and you can almost see the film. Lion King is my G, Lion King it’s my heart, no word of a lie. I’ve seen it too many times and I’ve seen it in theatre about 5 times.” I realise at this point that this is perhaps the explanation for my own visual experience upon hearing ‘Me’. “I love everything that allows you to see music,” she explains, “because I see music a lot and when I write, I usually see it before it’s written. It’s really weird, I can’t even explain it sometimes. Like with ‘Me’ and the voice note I saw it but heard it at the same time. I can’t explain it.”

Another re-occurring topic in conversation, and another inspiration behind her music, like most musicians, is her childhood. Although she remembers singing and song-writing from as young as 8 years old, she wasn’t always able to express herself musically around the house. “It get’s deep. Let’s just say I didn’t always have the environment that allowed me to sing. My parents weren’t really the best of friends so there was a lot of arguing and fighting on a regular basis,” she admits. “I held on to Musical Theatre and Drama at school, but my dad did my UCAS, so I ended up studying Law. It’s quite a frustrating one,” she recalls. “As long as you’re not hurting someone with what you’re doing and who you are you should be free to be whoever you are. My choices in life shouldn’t affect you to the extent that you need to make me feel like I can’t live it to my fullest. That doesn’t make sense to me.”

It’s extremely beneficial to be around creatives because you inspire each other, you feed off of each other, you help each other, you teach each other.”

But albeit the difficulty, she makes it clear that she has no resentment for things that happened in the past, maintaining that her family is her “heart”. “I wouldn’t be half the person I am today without their love. Their love language sometimes comes out in ways I don’t understand and ways that may hurt me or my pride but they taught me that you can go through really terrible times and still be present enough to love, which in turn taught me to love, show love and allow my blessings to help me write about love.”

Since moving away from her family home in Camberwell, Nií has found herself in the midst of an equally creative circle of people, including members of the creative collective Asylum 33 – which she also co-founded. “We’re special people yo”, she mimics in an American accent as she beams. “Our hearts are always open cause we’re always open in our hearts. If you’re around someone who doesn’t immediately fit that puzzle it’s not the easiest. It’s extremely beneficial to be around creatives because you inspire each other, you feed off of each other, you help each other, you teach each other.”

With only two songs released on SoundCloud (one featuring the wonderful and equally mesmerising Jamilah Barry) I wonder where Nií sees herself in terms of genre, especially with such a diverse list of influences – from Stevie Wonder to Leona Lewis. “Girl, I don’t know you know. I guess my voice is what some may call soulful or sweet or whatever, but then who knows. If you hear everything that I’ve ever done you’d be so confused by who I am, because everything is just so different,” she laughs.

But if there’s one thing she’s certain of, it’s that she’s not worried about being signed, and given her facial expression when talking about Leona Lewis being “churned through the label system” its obvious why. “I think right now for me, I still have growing to do and learning to do. I’m open for whatever the universe decides to hand to me, but as long as I’m able to still be myself and express myself and I’m not hindered in any way, I’m happy wherever I am.”