Having wowed the crowd at UD’s Open Mic – both at Talent House and Village Underground, for our one-away epic collaboration with Timberland – Kat Friar sat down with NuAloe to discuss the Greek alphabet, plants, intersectionality, musical creation and more…
UD: Where did the name NuAloe come from?
NA: When I was gonna take music seriously, I was thinking, what am I gonna call myself? Because I don’t like Esther – I love my name, but it’s not really like an artist name. ‘Nu’ is the ninth letter in the Greek alphabet, I play Piano – I play a lot of instruments – but I play piano and I can’t read music, so I just play by ear; if it sounds nice, it sounds nice. My music teacher, Mr. Owens, was always like, “You always play Neo-soul, jazzy, [the] coolest type of feels.” I was like “What do you mean?” “You always add a ninth, so ninth in a quarter – it would be like 1, 3, 5, 7, 9. So [the] more notes you add, the more fuller it sounds, more jazzy.” So, that’s ‘Nu’, and then ‘Aloe’ comes from aloe vera, the plant. I think, like we were talking about [how] a lot of people have stereotypes and perceptions of who I am, I’m very tall and masc, and all that type of stuff, so people see me as a threat, but like with aloe vera, if you cut it open, it’s got nutrients, it’s very good for you as so it’s a nice, hearty name. So yeah, that’s how I came up with it. It’s a bit corny, but…
“…people see me as a threat, but like with aloe vera, if you cut it open, it’s got nutrients, it’s very good for you…” NuAloe
UD: No, that’s beautiful. I actually love that. How would you describe your sound, what makes it what it is and what artists inspired it?
NA: It’s so mad, I had a conversation yesterday with a friend and I don’t think I have one sound because I can pretty much do everything, anything, because I did music from Year 7 to 13, so I was introduced to a lot of opera, classical music – music that would never necessarily be for me – and I was exposed to that… So I can sing opera, I can do jazz, grime, R&B, Soul, Neo-soul, rock – I could do anything. But I think my main influences are Neo-soul, jazz, old soul like Marvin Gaye and music from the fifties, a lot of ’90’s hip hop. I think if I was to describe my sound, I’d say kind of a Soulquarian vibe – like Erykah, D’Angelo, Bilal, Mos Def, J Dilla. It just varies I think, because when I’m in the studio, if someone sends me a beat, if I listen to a beat and I like it, I’ll write to it. I’m not necessarily thinking, “Oh, that’s not in my genre.” I just kind of attack the beats. I think with a lot of music that I’ll have coming up next year, a lot of people will be like, “That’s different..”
UD: Tell us about your journey as an artist, where did it start?
NA: I’ve been singing from the age of eight, I remember singing in school assemblies and stage plays, so I’ve always been musical. My dad plays a lot of music in the house. He plays so much music, but I would say when I really took music seriously – probably last year… I’ve always been writing rhymes and whatever, here and there, but I genuinely went, do you know what I’ve got a voice, I’ve got a message.
…A couple years ago, I asked my dad, “Why did you name me Esther?” and my dad said, “‘Cause God told me to,” and I’m looking at this guy, like “Okay, whatever.” He’s like, “No because in the bible, Esther, she leads her people, she sets them free and that’s what you’ve been called to do.” I’m like, this guy is chatting ****. But the older I got, the more I saw. Not to say that I’m gonna be a Messiah or anything, but I think there will be a message that I can give to a lot of people in our generation. Last year I started writing a bit more, coming up with my name and thinking about like what type of music I wanna do, and then I released ‘Rain’ in May-ish times if I’m correct.
UD: Tell us about ‘Recent Thoughts’, what inspired each song on the project?
NA: So, ‘Recent Thoughts‘ is [my] first EP. [The] songs [are] ‘Gentle’, ‘Livin’ [and] ‘Fall in Love’. Early in 2022, I was on YouTube just looking for beats and I found this guy called mulade and I’m going through these beats – he’s got that J Dilla type of slow drum pattern and them nice chords with the guitar – and so I heard ‘Gentle’… When I wrote ‘Gentle’, it wasn’t originally what it is now, it’s something completely different. ‘Gentle’ was more-so talking about how you meet someone, you’re talking and they’re like ‘be gentle, take time, it’s okay – you don’t have to rush.’ I think a lot of young people don’t necessarily know what they want, and haven’t been taught properly about relationships [and] about love – what they want and what they would want in their life at this moment. We’re all experiencing different things and some people have been in relationships or been doing that type of stuff since they were young, but some other people are new to [those things] – so that’s ‘Gentle‘.
‘Livin’ – I originally wrote the lyrics to a J Dilla beat, and I was like, “**** I can’t use the J Dilla beat,” then I found the song… All three songs are by the same guy. [I was] just talking about that London living, everybody’s out on the grind, trying to make money, doing events, doing shows. What I’m very happy to see with a lot of artists is that they’re comfortable and they actually like being from the UK.
I think there’s so many influences. I’m very influenced by Little Simz, Lex Amor, ENNY, they’re all black women and they’re just like “Ah! This is great.” Especially Little Simz, because she embodies that experience of a lot of people and so for me, I just wanted to kind of do the same thing, especially with Lex Amor‘s ‘Government Tropicana’. Some of the songs when she’s just talking, I’m like, “Damn, I’ve done that. I’ve related to that,” and I just wanna remain relatable. It gives a summertime feel as well, because there’s a part [that goes] like, “She wanna samba with me,” just chilling, you know what I’m saying?
And then ‘Fall in Love’ – so, when I talk to a lot of my friends … they’d be like, “Bro, what do you want?” and I’m like “I wanna fall in love.” I’m not out here trying to be in all of these toxic-ships and situationships, I ain’t got time for that. That’s not my essence. I grew up around both parents in a loving household. I have a positive outlook to black love, so for me, I was like, “This is gonna be me.” I’m gonna have a babe, we can just go and chill, but then obviously when you get into the dating world, it’s not always as clean cut and I feel like people are not honest in what they want. I just sat with myself, I started to listen to a lot of Maxwell – and there’s a song called ‘Whenever Wherever Whatever’ – beautiful song, and it just made me go, “I genuinely wanna fall in love.” I just sat there with myself, cause I had an idea and I was like; “No, I just genuinely wanna fall in love, like I genuinely do.” I feel like love is beautiful, even if for example, I have platonic love, like I love my friends to pieces, I’ll ride out for them, they’ll ride out for me. I love my friends, but romantic love is more so a thing where it’s not even complicated, but I think people make it complicated, but I know that I want my person. The EP itself is just literally [a reflection] on Recent Thoughts that I had, thoughts that I’ve been thinking the whole year. It’s been a great year for me, I’m not gonna lie to you. A lot of things I manifested came into fruition. I’m very happy and I thank God for it, so it was just about recapping what happened and what I was talking about, what I was going through so yeah, I’m very proud of that project. Very proud of it.
UD: What music were you listening to while creating the project?
NA: Marvin Gaye, more Little Simz, Mos Def, A Tribe Called Quest, Lauryn Hill, Erykah, Etta James, Nina Simone, Bob Marley. I was listening to everybody. I’m not gonna lie to you, I have so many playlists, different playlists, for different vibes. I’ve got a jazz one. I’ve got a UK hip hop type ting – like Knucks and that type of music, Saiming and all of them man. Oh damn, how can I forget D’Angelo? I remember I bought his Voodoo album on CD and I used to play it on my stereo from the top to bottom. There’s a vocal part in ‘Fall in Love’ where it’s like, “Why you, why you…” and it’s harmonised and it’s kind of inspired by the way he does his harmonies. It’s complex, I can’t even explain it – but the way he does it, I love it, so I try to emulate that. I don’t listen to drill at all. I don’t listen to negative music. People might wanna come and be like, “Oh, that’s people’s experience” and yeah, fair. It’s cool, but if you could continuously take that into your mind, that’s what you become. Fortunately, I just don’t listen to that type of music, but yeah, I listened to literally so many songs.
UD: Did you collaborate with any other producers on your EP or did you produce it yourself? What was that like?
NA: I bought the beats from the guy and then I went studio with J2 and Mar!k. I recorded it first with J2, then I kind of did some re-recording parts with Mar!k, ’cause Mar!k did ‘Rain’ for me. He mixed and mastered it for me. I did two songs in a day with J2, because the last one wouldn’t load for some dumb reason, but we did that. I had been sitting on them for a while because Pretty Twisted 3, I performed them. I didn’t know when they were gonna come out. The initial plan was to put them out as singles, but then I went “Do you know what – it’s by the same producer, might aswell just make a little something, ’cause everybody was getting on to me, “When’s the next song? We want music!” And I’m just like, “It’s not that easy!”
I don’t think people understand, especially when you are independent, everything is done on your accord. So you have to buy the beats, you have to set studio time. Shout out to Hyabel and Hermela for doing the [EP cover] and the little video that I did on my Instagram, just a little promo ting. Everybody helps out, but I’m just saying in a sense [that] if I don’t make the first move, if the artist doesn’t make the first move, nothing will get done and it’s a lot of pressure ’cause at the same time I’m going uni, I’m working, family, personal life, so it’s a lot, but I think I knew that, and I know that this is something I want to do. All my life people have been like, “Yeah, you should really take it serious.” And I think 2021 was the year where I was going to a couple of open mics, just trying to test it out. I’d sing covers, ‘Say Yes’ [by Floetry] is my go to cover. I’d sing that and then I’d go Orii [Jam], I think Orii is really what pushed me. It gave me that like “you need to go and do this”, because I started going last year November, Max [McKenzie] was like, “Come down,” and I went and I felt like a child in a sweet shop. I was like, “This is live music? This is live? Yeah, this is mad.” So I think when I saw that, I got more confidence on stage and it taught me how to freestyle, ’cause before I couldn’t really freestyle – I would say I’m a Lauryn Hill, but I sing more than I rap if that makes sense – and it just pushed me to be creative. So then I’d go home, listen to music, write bars, and freestyle here, meet up with Max in a coffee shop and we’d just be freestyling or do this or do that, it was really inspiring. That was the process, it took around three months altogether to get everything done and then push it out, ’cause at the same time I was doing it, I was planning my birthday as well and it was the 70’s theme, everything was going on, but yeah that was process.
UD: What parts of your life inspire you to write?
NA: I would say there’s a lot of aspects, so I talk about Blackness, I talk about my queerness, I talk about – which you would see in music coming up – more social issues, more conscious things and things to do with love, ’cause I’ve realised a lot of my songs are a bit romantic. That’s how I’m feeling now but I know how I want to shift, but I’ll always sing about love.
I’d say I owe it to my dad because he played. He played Fela Kuti, he played George Benson. He played every type of music and I’d listen to it and I’d get inspired and I just – I feel music, if that makes sense. Even though I can’t read music, I can still play instruments because I feel it and I can feel the chords, if that makes sense.
“…I wasn’t so comfortable in my queerness or being a woman. I was just like, “Oh, whatever. It is what it is,” but now I’m proud of those identities.”
I did a program called Advocacy Academy – it’s a program in south London, Brixton, where it teaches young people to become social activists. I did the fellowship for six months, and you basically unlearn all your conscious biases, so like racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and you learn the truths about these things. So before this, I wasn’t so comfortable in my queerness or being a woman. I was just like, “Oh, whatever. It is what it is,” but now I’m proud of those identities. Those identities – they make me, but they’re not like I live by and die by them. I know that’s what makes me, me but at the end of the day. I’m a human first. But I definitely talk about whatever I see around me. There’s a song that I got – It’s like a conscious rap – and it’s just talking about (cause I do Black Studies as well in uni) sociology from a black perspective, and it’s a British one as well, so understanding how society works, capitalism works and intersectionality – it’s a term which basically means the overlapping of identities. So I’m black and I’m a woman, and I’m queer and this and I’m that, and once you understand your intersectionality, you can understand your position in society a bit better and understand “Okay, these are the pressures that I’m facing,” but with that being said, I’ma still live my life. I’ma still create, I’ma still enjoy because one of the things I’ve learned is that if you don’t read your history, if you don’t read where you’re coming from, nobody’s gonna tell you. I think everybody – not everybody – it’s like The Matrix, if you look at it, there’s people who either blatantly don’t know what’s going on, or the people that do know and still choose to pretend like they don’t know and there’s people that know and go against the system. I’m kind of a Malcolm X, **** the system, that type of person, but I’m doing it in a positive, constructive way in terms of like, we could all easily go out, start killing, robbing and all that stuff but that’s not within us. I think it’s within us to want to help people and change policies and laws. I guess with my music, I’m just trying to spread a message of like, “Yo, be conscious, use books, be honest yourself. Have true intentions,” because if you don’t – in this life, the pressure is getting worser.
UD: Do you feel like having a sense of community that is in line with your passions helps you become a better artist?
NA: For sure, people I’ve met with the last year have pushed me, definitely because they thought the same as me. There was a studio session that – ’cause I’m part of DA COMMUNITY, and DA COMMUNITY is basically just like a bunch of [creatives], singers, DJs, photographers, hairstylists, everything and we’re friends as well – friends first – and we just push each other, we show each other our new music – I remember we had a studio session, I think on the 7th of June. I can’t remember where it was, but we had a studio session and we just made a song with each other and we were like; “Oh, that’s lit”, and we do shows. I remember I met DJXHNWAV last year in August when I did the first Pretty Twisted. I met him from there and then I met other people. I met people through Max. Everybody met people from me. It just felt surreal. I kind of think we remind each other of like the Soulquarians. In my head it’s giving UK Soulquarians, it’s giving UK Brockhampton, it’s giving UK Odd Future. It’s giving that because we all understand, I’m doing my ting, but your ting is sick, let me put you on. It’s amazing, you would never think you would meet so [many] like-minded people and most of us met at Orii.
I remember the first time I saw NAYANA and I was like, “She’s a great singer,” but I never knew I’d be friends with her and she’s a beautiful soul, she’s an amazing person. I’m just sort of thankful that I have that community because other people can get it. Other people can support you, but if they’re not necessarily doing the same thing, they don’t really get the proper details of it. My parents support me and everything I do, especially my dad. I’m Nigerian Jamaican. My dad’s Nigerian, my mum’s Jamaican, and my dad’s like, “Ah, what’s this? What you doing?” He likes it. He just wants me to do a bit more Afrobeats but my mum’s like, “Yeah, no, it’s good,” and I think they’re just happy that I’m being proactive, productive. I’m not in trouble. I got a job, I go to uni. Having a community and people like Fred that run Orii, I’ve just been really blessed.
UD: What’s something you’ve learned about music since becoming an artist?
NA: That I don’t speak volumes if it’s not true. The reason why people love ‘Tell Him’ by Lauryn Hill, is ’cause it’s real, or ‘Ex Factor’ or ‘To Zion’ by Lauryn Hill, because you can hear it in her voice how it happened. Or for example, Nina Simone, it’s an eerie song to listen to, but sometimes when I need to be grounded or humbled, I’d listen to it. It’s called ‘Strange Fruit’ and the sadness of the keys and the posture in her voice, the way she speaks with tone. If you’ve seen videos of her perform, she’s one with the piano, I can’t explain it. The problem with music today – I was literally watching like videos on [the] Soulquarians and why that type of genre was different and people adapted to it more. It’s because it was the mix of instrumentation and production, so even though you’re using a drum pad and stuff, you’re also using keyboards and guitars and you are using instruments and people can connect to it. Whereas, I love a lot of beats that are produced by computers, that’s not a problem, but for me if you don’t have a message, if you are just saying what everybody else says, because that’s what’s trending, I can’t respect you. Unfortunately, I can’t. If you are talking about an experience that you have personally been through, it will always carry the music. So for me, it’s not real if it’s not true and I’m always, when I’m writing, I’m always like, “Is this true or am I just saying it? Cause it sounds nice.” There’s been times I’ve scrapped whole songs, ’cause I’m like, “This ain’t what I’m trying to say,” or I’m trying to write as an artist, somebody I like. I’m like, “I can’t write like someone I like.” There was a moment where people kept comparing me to Lex Amor and I then I started to write like her and I was like, “this is not even me, this feels weird.” I love her, I love Lex Amor – I can’t lie I’d fangirl if I met her, I’m gonna be so honest. She has that persona that she don’t care, she’s rapping real **** and I love that, but I don’t sound like that, so I can’t talk about the things that she’s been through, ’cause number one, she’s older as well, so she’s experienced it differently. I think in trying to sound like other people, I’ve been like, “nah, nah, nah, nah, nah,” and I’m sticking to my voice and what’s true to me.
UD: Where do you see your artistry taking you in the next few years? Anything you’re aspiring for?
NA: I think one of the biggest things I want to do is be a bit more disciplined in music, how I release it, ’cause I think a lot of people [say] “Yeah, I’ve got music,” and then something comes up. I hear it though, it’s a lot to do behind it, but I want to be a bit more disciplined in my releases and making sure when I say [it’s] coming out, [it’s] coming out, but in terms of artistry, I think I’d want to be more centred around live instrumentation because I’m in a band as well with Mar!k. We have a band up in Birmingham called Cellem and we’re [an] all a black band, which doesn’t really exist in the UK, but in terms of my own music, I’d love to be a bit more hands on in terms of the production. I think I’d want to get my own studio, I know how to do this – I did music for seven years, it’s just about getting the software, but I definitely want to make my own beats a bit more, or at least be able to bring some chord patterns to someone and be like, “I’ve got these chords, can you help me with the drums?” I wanna produce and collaborate with people, definitely got a lot of collaborations for next year. I’m very excited about that, with DA COMMUNITY.
I’m so inspired by Little Simz,[the] album she just dropped. When I saw that, I said, ‘yeah, the streets have been waiting!’ I mean the streets have already ate, but we can eat again… When she dropped her album and Cleo Sol dropped Mother and all these people dropped these amazing pieces of work. I’m always like “My music doesn’t sound as good as this in terms of the production,” because of course, they’ve got the money, they’ve got into rooms with people who can produce and do things properly, obviously it takes time – I’m a perfectionist [so] if something doesn’t sound right, I’m very much like, “No, we’re not doing this till it gets right,” but I have to understand I’m in the early stages of my career and unfortunately, it just might not sound as clear cut as I want it to be, but I definitely see myself in time, having a fan base, like a small little fan base, doing a little couple of shows because I’ve never really said it out loud, but I generally do believe I have something to bring because no one looks like me. No one sounds like me. No one talks about the stuff I talk about and the versatility that I can do, switching between singing and rapping – I think I have something to offer in terms of the music game, but I really want to be as humble, as quiet about it. I didn’t want to be making a lot of noise, that’s not really my type of thing. I wanna be honest and keep organic to my values because I was talking to my partner and I remember the first couple times we talked – I was always like, “I’m just scared about blowing,” because if I’m gonna be very honest, the people I’m surrounded by, we’re all gonna blow. We are the next group of talent and we will blow because there’s a renaissance happening right now in UK music where people are like “Drill’s getting dead now,” and we’re finding like people like Knucks and Venna mixing that type of jazz – people love that, and that’s what we’re doing essentially, so we will blow and we’re good hearted people, but I’m always conscious about the music industry, the other side to it. I’m always conscious about that because I understand it. I’ve learnt from a young age about Ray Charles, Amy Winehouse and Whitney Houston, amazing artists, but [they] didn’t have that guidance, [they] didn’t have those people there. I know I have those people there, but still you don’t wanna get caught up. I personally don’t wanna get caught up in that. So I think within knowing that I’m gonna most likely gear myself into a way that’s keeping it as real and humble and connected to people as possible, because even now people that know me, know me – will listen to me, but I’ve had people come up to me in this early stages [saying] like, “Your music’s amazing, it’s done this for me.” I’m like “Damn, this is it already?” I just want to kind of keep doing that on bigger effects.
UD: What’s next for you?
NA: I’ve got a song dropping in January. I can’t lie, it was so mad, literally two days after I dropped the EP, someone said, “So, when’s the new [music]?” I said, “Excuse me, I just dropped a likkle something right now – three tracks, I thought it would be enough,” but no, definitely January I’ve got something coming because I feel like January – it’s just that time.
I have a friend called Ade and me and him – he would call me like “Yo, what you doing now?” “Oh, nothing.” “Okay calm let’s go Southbank and walk,” and we’d walk and talk about life and I’d bring my camcorder. It just gives that homegrown type of UK, Knucks rap video type vibe. I’m all about aesthetics, I love the aesthetic of that. The song I got kind of reflects that. The song is very D’Angelo-y. I’m just really blessed, ’cause I’ll be working with a couple of producers that are shouting me and I’ve really liked the music they’ve been giving me, so [I’m] setting that in stone with them and hopefully doing some gigs as well, if people are like doing stuff and they want me to come, I’ll come and do it. I don’t think I’m at – I was thinking about it yesterday – I don’t think I’m at the stage where I want to host something yet or have my own thing. I don’t think I’m ready for that. I don’t mind performing at other people’s [events] but yeah, [I’m] just trying to be consistent in music.
Words & photography: Kat Friar Kat is a freelance journalist, DJ and photographer with a passion for music. She likes to cover all bases regarding music so whether it’s a new album, a rising artist or a gig, she’ll be writing about it.