One of my favorite listens of 2011 has been Nasimiyu’s EP, “It Ain’t Pretty, But It’s Beautiful.” This concept album captures the life-changing infatuation newcomers to our city often feel, the giddy, wallowing love that remains on tap for all of us, no matter how jaded or demoralized we might become. Even on a day when you’re absolutely fed up with New Orleans, when its tragedies and horrors have really gotten to you– maybe in a literal and personal way, or just emotionally– you can wander into an experience you’d never find elsewhere and fall back in love all over again.
Nasimiyu wrote, arranged and sang the music, a mix of funk and next-wave soul with a breathy folk twist, bookended by a French Quarter soundscape that includes the signature wheeze of the Natchez’ steam calliope. It’s a bittersweet realization, the awareness of being dreamily lost in an all-consuming and maybe unhealthy relationship with a place. “It was me combining the things I learned here musically, with the things I learned here personally,” Nasimiyu says. “The point at which a once-joyfully-intoxicated newcomer finds out how morbidly real the shit can get. The songs reflect experiences that were really really hard, and sometimes they do that in a way that makes you want to dance.”
Catching Nasimiyu live broadened my appreciation of her gifts. The crowd doesn’t necessarily want confession, they want a good time, and Nasimiyu onstage proves a capable and well-rounded frontwoman, someone who can rock a rowdy and even unbecomingly inebriated room. “In New Orleans,” she says, “for better or for worse, it’s all about the party. That’s great in terms of feeding off the crowd’s energy, making people dance, and having a good time. I’ve played the funnest shows of my life here. Sometimes, though, I feel like when I have some serious messages that I want to get across, they don’t always get as far as I’d like them to.
Her forthcoming album, “Rules Aren’t Real,” aims to dig a little deeper. The music’s not downbeat or less accessible, but the material I’ve heard from it has a heft, a richness and a new complexity; it’s more personal, marinated in the crockpot a little longer. There are cuts that will will rock the party, but there are also lyrics that will make you cock your head and contemplate.
“In the new album, I’m opening up to you about different philosophies and lessons I’ve learned, in a way that is not specific to any one place, experience, or period of time,” Nasimiyu says. “When I was making this album, I kept Assata Shakur’s statement in the back of my mind: ‘I don’t care who you are or what you do, when they put that microphone in front of you, try to make sure you have something worthwhile to say.’ I treated it like it was my only chance to communicate with the world.”
She hopes to get “Rules Aren’t Real” out sometime in February, if the fundraising and recording go as planned. “It’s really hard for me to have to wait that long, but my other projects keep me occupied enough so that I don’t get too terribly impatient.” Nasimiyu sets a hellacious pace, performing, recording and gigging with multiple groups including the intriguing La Nola Sirene, a duo with her best friend Jeelee. “It’s very different from my solo project with my band,” Nasimiyu says of La Nola Sirene. “It’s all acoustic, folky stuff that we bring to life just between the two of us.”
I’ve told everyone I know–catch Nasimiyu now, before she’s a $30 ticket at Snug Harbor. Catch her live and locally, before she’s locked into touring. “I’m a traveler at heart, always,” Nasimiyu says, and plans for an international tour are in the works for next year. It’s a privilege to watch her evolve as an artist, and there’s no doubt the best is yet to come… maybe as soon as February, when “Rules Aren’t Real” changes whatever we thought we knew about this fast-rising talent.
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