It’s difficult –maybe impossible—to craft a succinct music bio that conveys who you are as an artist, all the aspects that have come together to create your unique expression, and also capture readers attention. Often band bio’s sound deliberately eccentric or they are weakened by the all too common–and annoying–humble-brag. But singer-songwriter Camille Safiya’s NXNE bio revealed an earnest, profound quality that was unusually compelling – and her sound backed it up.
Calling herself “a young revolutionary spirit,” Safiya was raised in the heart of her mother’s feminist movement. She accompanied her mother around the world as she protested against “domestic violence and global civil rights issues.” Along the way Safiya’s musical palate was nurtured and shaped. She began to draw from her Caribbean background, American soul, jazz, and vocal artist with a political bent like M.I.A and Nneka.
Today her own sound is as absorbing as the artists that influenced her. Safiya talks to the Winehouse about the albums that transformed her, NYC’s “gritty shitty sound systems” and her upcoming album. Chaka V.
Q: Who is Camille Safiya? When did you first start singing?
A: Born in NYC, raised in New Jersey to a Caribbean family of musicians, I grew up singing. I remember performing Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” as a toddler in the shower, and cleaning [on] Sunday mornings with my mom [while] singing to salsa anthems. She just refreshed my memory of the time I got kicked out of my kindergarten class for performing Mary J. Blige’s “All Night Long” in front of my entire class during nap time.
Q: You list some of my favourite artists as your influences and inspirations–Bob Marley, Billie Holiday, Amy Winehouse, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, M.I.A, and Nneka. What are the albums and/or artists that changed your way of looking at music and why?
A: Erykah Badu’s Baduizm album and Lauryn Hill’s [the] Miseducation of Lauryn Hill taught me the power of music and creating an experiential space people can just vibe out in. I learned how serious music was as a spiritual vessel growing up listening to my father’s Afro-Cuban Rumba collection. Sade’s album Promise was life changing. She taught me how to respect my voice as a wind instrument, like a type of horn. Illmatic was the most influential compilations for me–I would always steal my sister’s Nas CDs, [then] I got suspended from school for fighting this bully that stole my Illmatic CD.
Q: What is the most exciting part of music for you? Writing, recording, performing?
A: The most exciting part of music is the adrenaline rush I get from performing. Making music is unlike any other feeling, it feels like I’m being abducted by aliens [and taken] to my own little planet. Music and art are my way to communicate my thoughts and perspectives.
Q: What is the worst gig you’ve had so far in your career?
A: Every NYC performer knows the struggle of the gritty shitty sound systems throughout the underground venues, which gives you a thick skin as a musician. Many times my music has just cut off right in the middle of my set, and I just have to keep it going, [singing] A cappella, which turns out dope anyway but it’s still really annoying.
Q: Describe your dream gig?
A: My dream gigs are Jazz at Lincoln Center & Madison Square Garden. As a New York City native, I definitely have to bless those two stages one day.
Q: Any plans on releasing an EP or album anytime soon?
A: My second EP is dropping this month. It’s called 24K because this project is me opening my treasure chest, containing all my gold, everything I have of value at 24, and offering it to the world. It’s my 24 Karat Gold and it’s all I have to give at this point.
Q: Any hints for fans—and newcomers—about what vibe we can expect from your upcoming NXNE show?
A: Just ride the wave, feed off the positive vibes and watch me get abducted by aliens.