Akua & Niomí
Niomí is a London based Singer-Songwriter I met several years ago when I did the makeup for the cover of one of her singles. I fell in love with her music the moment I heard it, and when I started Akua & I knew she would be one of the first people I wanted to interview. After a lengthy chat about our cats and how much we love cats in general, we got down to business and I asked Niomí about her musical background….
When did you start as a musician? Did you start piano first? Were you always singing?
Yeah. I actually always played piano first, as a kid, we had a piano in our house because my dad's friends needed somewhere to store their piano. So, they left it in our house for a few years and I used to play it for fun. And then I had some lessons, which I hated. I remember hating them so much. But I kept sort of playing by myself. Performed in school but not properly.
And then we moved to Ireland when I was 12 / 13 and the piano got left behind so I didn't actually play piano for a bit when I was a teenager. I think I started singing around then. I would just sing in my headphones, like just along to songs and stuff like that, and then I'd record myself on my phone and check how it sounded *laughs*. And then we got a piano a few years after, when I was about 16. So yeah, I think probably around that age, like teenager, 15 / 16 I started to properly get into singing and writing my own songs and playing piano again.
Ah that's cool. I know your Irish/Pakistani - were you born here in London and then moved to Ireland? Or were you born in Ireland and moved here?
I was born in London. My parents met in London, and then I was born here and then we moved back to Ireland when I was 12. And then I moved back to London when I was 18. But I love it here.
Do you feel like your heritage has any kind of influence on your music, or actually, what are your influences for your music? Because your songs are so… They’re really beautiful, they’re quite melancholic.
Ah, thank you. I think in terms of the cultural music of Pakistan or Ireland, I don't think those are massive influences on my sound, which you can probably tell from listening to it. But I feel like probably just being of those cultures generally affects who you are, and then that comes through in what you're writing. Where we lived in Ireland, it’s by the mountains, and it's all very grey, and quite rainy. But it suits that area and it sort of feels if it's ever really hot there, I'm like, 'This doesn't feel right.’ So, I grew up in my teenage years in that sort of vibe, so I think that my music’s almost dark and it suits that thing a bit.
Where in Ireland did you grow up?
In Northern Ireland, where my dad’s from in County Down. We moved there. It’s a little seaside town called Newcastle, and it’s at the foot of the mountains, and it’s also by the sea. So yeah, it's like sea and mountains. It's really nice.
And then you moved back when you were 18?
Yeah, I really missed London. I think I had an idea that I would always want to live in the city. I would watch Sex in the City in Ireland so much. I loved it. I just thought it was really glamorous. And I brought all my high heels over when I moved back. I never wore any of them because I was too poor to afford taxis or anything, and I wasn't going to trek across the whole city in my heels.
*Laughs* Yeah you definitely need a car if you’re wearing heels all day.
Exactly, yeah. I didn’t really think of the practicalities of that. I moved back to go to uni. So that is why I came back.
“Where we lived in Ireland, it's all very grey, and rainy - if it's ever really hot there, I'm like, 'This doesn't feel right.'”
So, did you study music in uni?
I did, yeah. Popular music.
I didn't know that was even a specific…
I know. It was a thing. I had a Grade 8, which is a classical piano grade, which is sort of the standard you’re supposed to be to study classical music, but I wasn't into it and I don't think I would have been good enough in the way that you need to really be able to read music really well. So that was a good stepping stone for me to be able to do… pop music, and I hoped that I would sort of… I definitely knew I wanted to be an artist, so that seemed like a logical choice.
I studied Photography at uni, so I know that when it’s the arts, a lot of people are like how do you study that? But now I'm doing the same - how do you study popular music? Is it that you literally make your own songs as part of the course?
To be honest, I still feel confused about what I did at uni, but I think our course was also very new and it's like they would also make it up as they were going along. Yeah, there was a bit about making up a composition, making songs, there was music and film. We did some of that. Music production, ensemble work – so like playing in groups and bands. And then our assessments at the end of the year would be performances. So, we'd perform and then get graded on them.
I mean, there was a lot of theory too actually. We had to write, sociology stuff. Yeah, it was interesting. But I don't think I needed to do that degree to…
To do what you’re doing.
… to do what I’m doing now. But then again, I don't know how I would have just come to London as an 18-year-old.
It’s interesting, creative courses. I feel like a lot of them you probably don't need to do but then you're not just going for studying. It's also about developing yourself at that age, developing friendships and things like that.
Yeah, totally. I think that was also a good learning curve, being criticised a lot by people and just being judged. It was that sort of… Imagine that sort of really bitchy art school vibe for three years, but that is the music industry, isn’t it? It’s like, ‘Okay, well, you may as well get thrown into it now and toughen up a bit.’ So, I think it was tough and I didn't really like it that much really most of the time, but I wanted to get the qualification at the end of the day, and I did. I learnt a lot of things too.
We have a very similar kind of feeling and education in that respect. I totally feel the same.
I'm wondering – just because I’m so not musical at all, how do you even come up with the lyrics to your songs? Is it just that you start by playing the piano and then it comes to you, or is there a vibe that you have already in your head when you're making songs?
Not really, to be honest. I usually start with the chords first, on the piano, and then I’ll hum a melody with almost half words, like nonsense words or whatever. And then from that I’ll put words in, almost like fill in the gaps. A bit like a jigsaw. I don't consciously think about it. I don't think, ‘Oh, I'm going to write this verse. It will be about this thing.’ I just try and make it make some sort of sense of what it is as a sentence.
I feel like when I look back at songs I've written I'm like, ‘Oh, yeah, I definitely know what that was about,’ but when I wrote it at the time I didn’t sit down and write it about that thing, or connect it to that thing, if that makes sense?
I feel like it’s a bit subconscious. Like, I try and get it out, and I write something that makes some sort of sense, and then I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, that seems to be about this thing.’
Okay, here’s a question I feel like stresses people out a bit. But I am really interested in people’s responses: If you could invite any person, living or dead, over for a dinner, who would it be?
Oh, my God!
Just like, they come to your house, you make some food, and you have a chill evening to share with this person and ask them anything you want.
I don’t know. Probably, Alicia Keys. She’s like my teenage obsession anyway. I love her so much. She's the reason that I wanted to learn to play piano. I was like, ‘Oh my god, she's amazing.’
See, you find out things about people - I didn’t know that!
Yeah. That would be amazing.
“When I look back at songs I've written I'm like, ‘Oh, yeah, I definitely know what that was about’”
Okay so imagine I’m coming to London for one day only and I’ve never been before – what are some of your favourite places that you would recommend for…
I’m still searching for the perfect breakfast spot! It used to be vegan breakfast at South London gallery, but the cafe has changed hands now.
Crystal Palace Park!
I love the Victoria and Albert Museum
I don’t really drink so I love places that do hot drinks as well as alcohol. There’s a place in Crystal Palace called Veranda that do amazing hot chocolate as well as other drinks, so I’ll usually be sipping on one of those!
Awesome, and finally, which local charity would you like to highlight?
Xenia is a great initiative that helps migrant women by forming local groups.
Niomí’s latest single Never That Easy is out now on Spotify.
Niomí and I collaborated on a Spotify playlist where I selected my favourite songs from her catalogue, and she selected some of her favourites from other artists.
Photography, Makeup, Creative Direction AKUA
Assistant RORY B
All clothing by GIGI’S DRESSING ROOM
OCTOBER 30TH 2021