A segment that showcases unheard talents, CelebMix is releasing two articles per week highlighting some of the best musicians on the planet. These artists may be known to some, however, we believe they should be known by all!
If you missed our previous article in the series about British indie-rock band Blossoms, then click here to find out about the artist. Also, be sure to keep an eye out for future articles, as you will soon find yourself a new favorite musician! Without further ado, introducing NAO.
British singer-songwriter NAO was born in Nottingham before moving to East London as a young child. Here, she studied vocal jazz at Guildhall School of Music & Drama, before becoming a backing singer for musicians such as Jarvis Cocker and Kwabs. This marked the start of Nao’s (real name Neo Jessica Joshua) career in the music industry, where she has made an impact over the past few years.
Nao has described her style of music as ‘wonky funk’, a mixture of soul, electronic music and R&B. From 2008 until 2014, she was a member of an all-girl a-cappella group entitled The Boxettes, to minimal success in the UK. However, in October 2014, Nao released her debut EP, ‘So Good’, which shot to No. 4 on the iTunes electronic chart. The title track was played among popular radio stations such as BBC Radio 1 and BBC 1Xtra, while other tracks such as ‘Good Girl’ were praised for their inviting dance beats.
The EP was followed by another in May 2015, called ‘February 15 (II MMXV)’, which received the Best New Music tag from Pitchfork Media. In June of the same year, Nao played her first major festival in the UK at Glastonbury on the BBC Introducing stage. By September of 2015, Joshua had been nominated for Best Newcomer at the MOBO Awards, before featuring on the Disclosure track ‘Superego’, from their No. 1 album ‘Caracal’. From this, Nao began to gain a following of fans, who praised the unique tone to the 28-year-old’s voice and striking beats found in the majority of her music.
In November 2015, Nao placed third in the BBC Sound of 2016 list, a place previously awarded to Florence + the Machine in 2009 and Stormzy in 2015. By the end of July 2016, Nao was ready to release her debut studio album, entitled ‘For All We Know’. After collaborations with Disclosure and Mura Masa, Nao was inspired to work further and deeper into that genre of music. The album title was named after a 1934 jazz song, as a reference to Joshua’s background. In an interview with Billboard, Nao noted that the album was “a definite nod” to 1990’s music and an attempt at transposing it to reality. The album was praised by critics, gaining a four out of five star rating by many publications including NME, DIY Mag and The Guardian.
Half of the album was produced by electronic/R&B musician GRADES, whom has previously worked with indie pop band Bastille. Other producers included LOXE, Jungle and John Calvert, who all added soothing electronics, funk and dark twists to present the album with comparisons to the likes of FKA Twigs and Kimbra.
‘For All We Know’ shot to No. 17 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 3 on the US Dance/Electronic Albums Chart, showing that audiences around the world are beginning to fall in love with the British star. Leonie Cooper had the following to say about the debut album for NME:
“Nao’s style has been dubbed ‘avant-soul’, but her music is far more mainstream than that would suggest. It exists in a modern musical landscape that’s had its foundations laid down by south London’s dubstep wizard Burial and The xx’s breakaway boy Jamie xx, whose wobbly party tunes template is now the rule rather than the exception. ‘Feels Like (Perfume)’ rolls together glitchy club sounds with traditional piano-led jazziness, while ‘Girlfriend’ boasts a lush spaciousness that belies its somewhat needy lyricism.”
Perhaps it isn’t surprising that Nao is becoming one to watch in the music industry, as her musical style has been compared to the early work of late musical icon Prince. It’s only a matter of time before we start hearing Nao’s music on mainstream radio, we here at CelebMix certainly hope it’s sooner rather than later.
Do you listen to any unknown/rising musicians from across the world that deserve more praise for their work? Let us know by tweeting @CelebMix on Twitter and your favorite artists could be featured next!