By Caroline Petersen
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 7 of VARSITY
Nalu, a third year student at UCT, has recently risen in popularity around many circles on campus. Nalu is the singer, songwriter, and producer of her own music, which explores themes of womxnhood, sexuality, and love. At the heart of it all, Nalu wishes to tell stories. Inspired by many powerful womxn of colour, Nalu follows suit in her music by using it to express and liberate others, but most importantly, herself. “I have to be my own biggest supporter, and in order to produce and share a product of love, that love must reside within me first”.
Can you tell us more about your name “Nalu”?
‘Nalu’ was a nickname given to me years ago. It is a Hawaiian name that means “one with the waves.” I’ve always said that if I was one of the four elements, I’d be water. Water adapts to the situation it’s put in, it flows around whatever obstacle arises, and still exists peacefully. This state of peace is extremely powerful. This is something that I resonate with and practice when faced with the challenges life serves me. It’s empowering to be able to remain peaceful, soft, gentle, and handle yourself and others with love, even when faced with conflict.
What is your music all about?
My music tells stories. From my own experiences, to experiences as an observer, I tell stories so that I can engage with people authentically. Art is such a powerful tool and when kept organic, it can be used to build a soulful connectivity between people. It’s a blessing to be able to express myself, to be vulnerable, and for this vulnerability to be received so beautifully by the public. My music has stirred up conversations about the meaning of love, sexuality, heartbreak, and other relatable themes that people are sometimes afraid to discuss. In essence, my music is a raw, honest reflection of who I am, and how I’d like to converse with others.
What was the catalyst moment to get you started into singing, song writing, and producing your own music?
I had asked other producer friends to help me record, because I had no idea how to go about it. All I had was my voice and my guitar. I was clueless about the process of producing and releasing music. I had a couple of homies help me out, but nothing really sounded like the product ideas I had in my head. I took it upon myself to learn how to produce beats and I recorded my first single, Bedtime Confessions, using my phone voice recorder and my laptop. My ignorance drove me to further my skill. After my first single dropped, a good friend of mine organised some studio time for me for my future tracks.
Who is your inspiration?
Wow…what a question. The womxn in my life, definitely. From my mother to my grandmother, my aunties, and then to the womxn in music that I look up to. Kehlani is one of my biggest inspirations (and potentially one of my soul mates), not only through her music but through the wholesome energy and wisdom that she shares so eloquently. Lauryn Hill, Whitney Houston, Erykah Badu, India Arie, Aaliyah, Destiny’s Child and TLC have all inspired me since I was a kid. They are phenomenal womxn of colour who followed their dream in this industry, despite all the societal odds against them. They empowered themselves and created a platform for other womxn of colour to see that they can also achieve this greatness in their craft. That is part of the reason why I make music. I want to be able to inspire other South African womxn of colour, encourage them to work through their craft and rid themselves of their fear to share it with the world.
Why do you feel it’s important to express the themes you do in Kitty?
Kitty is one of the most uplifting pieces I’ve written. Womxn don’t get to speak about sex in the way that I wrote about it in Kitty. We’re taught to be modest, quiet, and ashamed of our bodies and sexuality, which is strange considering that we live in a world that is driven by the hypersexualisation of the womxn’s body. It doesn’t make sense. Kitty is about reclaiming our sexuality as womxn, taking back that autonomy that the media holds over our bodies. And also, completely removing men and their misogynistic, predatory energy from the whole equation. Kitty is about a girl who’s trying to pursue a girl, who has never been with a girl. Again, I write relatable content. From my own experiences and the stories I’ve heard, womxn are creatures of curiosity. I wanted to create a setting that was sensual and yet safe, where two womxn empower each other through the act of making love to each other. Lastly, there is not enough hip-hop and RnB LGBTQ+ music. I can only assume that this is because of how much homophobia still exists in traditional communities of colour, globally. Kitty is for the queer folk of colour who could never fully relate to that old school Hip-hop and RnB.
Can you speak more about sexual empowerment and liberation for womxn? How does your music encourage this?
There is this universal social narrative that expects womxn to act a certain type of way and to respond to men in a certain type of way. We’re expected to be reserved. God forbid a womxn speaks out about her sex life. God forbid a womxn shows her skin. God forbid a womxn has a one-night stand. Every single human being on this planet is literally a product of the vagina, so I can’t understand why we don’t grant it the respect it deserves. I use the term ‘vagina’ in its hypothetical sense, not physical – because all womxn, including trans womxn and femmes, are subjected to this. It’s nonsensical. Womxn can express and liberate themselves sexually in whichever way suits them, and it has nothing to do with anybody else. We exist in a shame-based environment fuelled by the double standard of men being praised for sexual encounters, and womxn being exiled for them. The whole thing is ridiculous. A big part of what I want to do through my platform is to shift this mindset and dismantle the ideas around nudity vs nakedness. Nudity is not equivalent to sex, it can be purity, liberation, or appreciation of what is natural and earthly. With Buddhism as my practice, I acknowledge my body as the vessel of my spirit. It is to be respected, not by a standard of Western culture (i.e. the culture around sex that we exist in), but respected and taken care of naturally – never shamed.
Why is it important that there is representation for womxn of colour in the music industry?
Firstly, being a womxn, and then secondly, being a person of colour, the access we have to the production of music is limited. There are few connections and opportunities granted to us. The representation of the womxn of colour I mentioned earlier is part of what drove me to start producing music. I sang and played guitar from a young age, but I never thought that releasing music on a public platform was something I’d be capable of. There are many talented womxn of colour living in communities who can never acknowledge the possibility of being successful as a musician. This is because we’re constantly told by our elders that being an artist won’t pay our bills. This fear is instilled into us, on top of everything that comes with being a womxn of colour in a world designed for white men. With representation comes hope. What keeps me going with my music is the belief that if they could do it, whilst having similar social struggles as I do, in terms of our positionality, then I can do it too.
When you’re stuck in writer’s block, or feel like what you’re doing is pointless, what do you tell yourself?
When writer’s block comes my way, I stop trying so hard. I stop writing for a moment and use my creative energy in other ways. I play guitar, I draw, I journal, I bake – anything that allows me to reignite my creativity but that is separate from my music and lyric-writing.
When I feel hopeless about my music, I sit back and I recite to myself: I am light, I am power, I am electric – to remind myself of my worth. I am gentle with myself. I meditate on my sacral chakra, which is the powerhouse of passion, sexual identity, and creativity and that helps me fall back in love with myself and my craft. I have to be my own biggest supporter, and in order to produce and share a product of love, that love must reside within me first.