INTERVIEW WITH NDAI
There’s no doubt about it—NDAI is an artist on track to be a star. After years of working on the sidelines of the music industry, she’s ready to show the world her own sound. Her latest single “Nobody’s Ting” has created quite the buzz and she’ll be performing it at The Iscream’s own Toronto R&B Sounds at the Night Owl (October 7th, be there or be square).
How would describe your sound?
In terms of genre, it’s hard for me to put it into a genre because I feel like it’s kind of R&B, but it’s kind of not. It’s not traditional R&B patterns that you hear in terms of what’s out now. But I’ve been told that it does have sort of the 90’s R&B vibe, a little bit of neo soul.
Who are your biggest influences?
For different reasons, I have three. Well I have a lot actually, but my main ones are Sade—she’s like number one. What I love about her is her stage presence. She does very little onstage, she doesn’t have a lot going on but she’s very captivating. So any time I watch her shows on Youtube, I’m just mesmerized. And even when you read the comments, people to this day are still taken by her they still find her so beautiful, so timeless. Musically, definitely Mariah Carey has influenced me a lot. Just from, like, the way she expressed her vocals—she has a lot of textures and a huge range and when I was younger, she was the artist I used to sing to all the time. Like, I love Mariah Carey songs, I’ll kill Mariah Carey songs. Just from emulating her, she’s taught me how to use my own vocals so I have endless respect for her. And then, I would say Beyoncé—I feel like it’s a default answer, but it’s also, like the right answer. I admire her because she’s relentless. I feel like she’s been going so hard for so long and she embodies truly what it takes to be at the top of what you’re doing.
Those are some really empowering female artists that you’ve chosen—is that something you hope to emulate as an singer?
Yes, definitely. A lot of the times when I was working in music when I was younger with producers or other people in the industry, they would always tell me the same thing every time: essentially you have to do the same thing as everyone else to be popular. Well what everyone else was doing was like, scantily clad, in your underwear twerking and I was like I could never see myself dancing like this on stage and taking myself seriously as an artist. It’s not like bad for anyone who feels comfortable doing that, I just never saw myself as that kind of person. I’m an entertainer, but I feel that I want to represent a positive image for women. Like you can be all those things, but maybe not all sides of myself need to be onstage. There’s been moments too where I’ve had women come up to me after nobody’s ting say like, “I really like that song, it’s so me!” and I’m like yeah that’s the point. I want women like me who don’t take shit and stand up for themselves. Not be afraid to assert themselves and not worry about what men think about them if they’re are not appealing to that archetype of a sexualized female.
You’ve been in the music industry for a while now, you started in your teens didn’t you?
Yeah, I started recording when I was 16 because my dad went to Trebas so he did music engineering, so it’s always been in my family. It’s a part of our family history, so I would record music with him when I was younger and I was kind of, like, getting my feet wet, but I really didn’t have any idea what I was doing. I had no idea how to navigate the industry, I didn’t know anybody. No contacts, my parents didn’t know people. So I just felt like I wanted to write my own stuff because when I tried singing the stuff other people wrote for me, it just felt unnatural and it didn’t sound convincing. So when I was younger and recording I kind of took a break for a while because I felt like I haven’t really gone through enough to feel the things I want to write about, so I took a break for a long time and didn’t really pursue it, just sang for fun. And in the last four years I’ve just sort of been in the industry behind the scenes. I‘ve been doing makeup art for the last few years—I don’t do it anymore, but I was doing makeup art and social media management for a lot of people. That way I was kind of building up my relationships—because I didn’t have relationships—and then I would just slowly let people know that I do other things. Then I revisited, about two years ago, songwriting and I just all of a sudden I just had more to say and I think that also too because I practiced my technique that my songwriting got a lot better—to the point where I was like I actually like the stuff I’m writing, so maybe I’ll share it. So that’s where I’m at now, I’m finally sharing stuff that I wrote myself for the first time—so I’m kind of a new artist, but like not.
What has the reception been like since “Nobody’s Ting?” It’s gotten a lot of love on Spotify!
We’ve definitely heard a lot of feedback. So the first song I did, “Time Heals All Wounds”—that did really well locally...and that song actually caught the attention of Noah Shebib because we sent it to him, not thinking he would ever check it and then he did and he responded and I was like “oh my god!” I’m like now I don’t know how to act, I feel like he’s watching me! Nah just kidding, but yeah that was just really reassuring. Somebody like that who’s a genius in their field thinks I have potential, so I was like I should put another song out. So “Nobody’s Ting came about because of an experience I had—a lot of times in my life I have found myself in situations where I have a platonic relationship with a male friend—or someone I think is a male friend—and then, sort of out of left field it sort of goes into the territory of dating? Or like in that direction of hooking up and I’m just so confused by it. It’s just like these things where they feel entitled to you because they buy you a drink at a bar or they take you out for whatever, like your birthday and then they feel like that’s what they should get because they did that. So I found a lot of people in Toronto were using that word “ting” and calling women “tings,” creating these stereotypes of “tings” and I am just like “I’m nobody’s ting!” There are definitely women out there who are like “do not call me a ting!” We’re either in a relationship or were not.
So what’s next for you? Any music coming our way soon?
So I’m doing The Iscream’s show, which I’m really excited about. And then I have the Kitchener Flavours of the World Festival coming up mid-October. And then my first single from my EP is going to come out end of October, early November. Then the EP release is set to come out for February, so then we’re going to start promoting it and performing it and I’m excited for people to hear it.
Tell me something surprising about you!
I used to do Winnie Harlow’s makeup, who’s also from here! She’s amazing, she’s like so sweet. She gave me so many opportunities as a makeup artist, like I’m going to be forever grateful to her. She’s great, she’s from the city, another woman and to see where she is now, I’m so proud of her.
By Robyn Bell