Interview — Naïka

A Uniting Sound

All that is missing is a flower in her hair to give her the perfect hippie flair; Miami-based singer Naïka Richard wants to add more color to her favorite thing in the world: Pop music. We spent a day with Naïka at an unusual urban playground and spoke about her mission.

20. Februar 2018 — MYP N° 22 »Resistance« — Interview & Text: Katharina Weiß, Photography: Steven Lüdtke

I have to be honest: the first time I typed the name of US artist Naïka into Google and saw a picture from the video for her song “Ride”, I thought: Ok, just another half-naked girl singing about shaking her booty on the dance floor. But then I played it and the cute clip really made me smile. The song immediately got stuck in my head and stayed there for the rest of the day.

Besides being well manufactured pop, Naïka slips some unusual twists into her feel-good lyrics “No cheap philosophy / Don’t need designer dreams / It’s all a lot of shit to me.” The singer has lived on four different continents and her sound is marked by a variety of different influences. Despite seeing many wonders of the world though, the Berlin experience has been new to her. We meet up with Naïka in the empty Universal Music Group building in Friedrichshain. It’s a national holiday and since all of the employees aren’t there we start enjoying ourselves in the unique space just like a bunch of kids who have been left home alone for the very first time.

Naïka is a girl other girls like. Even though she is hauntingly beautiful and blessed with an incredible voice, she is free of pretension and seemingly doesn’t have a boring bone in her body. Her calm sense of humor makes it easy to laugh along with and her work ethic is impressive for a 22-year-old newcomer. During our shoot on top of the roof of the building, the photographer asks Naïka if she could take off her jacket to have a better contrast against the dark Berlin skyline. There I am, freezing in my thick winter coat, as she poses in her white crop top without uttering a single complaint.

We dance and sing along to Beyoncé to keep warm and later move down to the lobby to bask in the simple delight of trying each of Universals swings with huge smiles on our faces. Naïka might not be the biggest signed artist at Universal yet-but she for sure is the only one who’s used their headquarters as her personal playground…

Katharina:
Would you rather be more attractive or more charismatic?

Naïka:
Charismatic. A person that’s just attractive can keep you very bored. Charm goes beyond that. It gets to your soul.

Katharina:
If you could be minister of education for a day, what would you change about music education in schools?

Naïka:
I would impose it. How does the world work without music? People often don’t take music education seriously enough. To be creative in a musical way activates certain areas in your brain, which can also be used for other skills. And it’s healing.

Katharina:
What are your three favorite words in the English language?

Naïka:
Laughter, love, happiness. God, I’m such a cheesy person.

»My favorite English words are: Laughter, love, happiness. God, I'm such a cheesy person.«

Katharina:
What other languages do you speak?

Naïka:
English and French are my first languages and I speak Haitian Creole and a little bit of Spanish. My mum is from Haiti, so I grew up with Caribbean music playing around the house.

Katharina:
That explains why you covered an old Haitian song, “Papa Gede / Bel Gason”-a clip that has over half a million views on your Facebook page.

Naïka:
The reactions were amazing. It is a song that everyone forgot about and it was so much fun bringing it back.

Katharina:
While English is the dominating language in popular cultural, non-white languages and sound influences are often neglected…

Naïka:
I want to change that. Every culture and heritage should be glorified and valued. We should learn from each other’s histories and respect them. I don’t understand this separation that’s going on. I never understood how we can be this way, so full of fear instead of embracing our differences.

Katharina:
You wrote a song about a Syrian child-what inspired you to write about someone so far away?

Naïka:
I came across this video, where I could see this little boy. His home had just crumbled, and he was taken to the hospital but his whole family had died after being hit by a bomb in Aleppo. I want to cry just thinking about it now. I recognized once again, that in the country where I live we all exist in this little bubble. And we see videos like that on the news, thinking it’s something very far away. I don’t think we realize that this stuff is happening in our world and that we have the power to stop it. We are powerful enough to make a difference. Just watching it and saying “Oh so sad!” before moving on is not enough. We have to help each other, I want to bring awareness to the fact that not everyone has the same privileges as we do. Writing songs like this is my way of trying to change things.

»We have to help each other, I want to bring awareness to the fact that not everyone has the same privileges as we do.«

Katharina:
Is there a song that really changed you?

Naïka:
Michael Jackson’s “We are the World” and “One Love” by Bob Marley. Always. I also like a more recent one, “Chained to the Rhythm” by Katy Perry. I really felt impacted by that song, I actually wish I wrote it.

Katharina:
Speaking about songwriting, do you write all of your songs on your own?

Naïka:
Yes, definitely. I want to be involved in all of my music. I feel then it’s much more personal and that connection is very important to me. The only song I didn’t write on my own is “Call me Marilyn”. A good friend from Berklee College of Music in Boston, where I went to school, pitched it to me.

Katharina:
Do you remember the first song you ever wrote?

Naïka:
A long time ago in South Africa, the track was called “Rise.” It was about coming together as humanity and not being afraid to rise up. When I look back at it now, it´s incredibly kitschy.
I’ve come a long way, in regard to my voice as well. When I started singing, it was not as good as it is today. It’s a daily effort, still. It’s a mountain to climb. I really want to bring a positive change to this planet. I know, this sounds super cheesy. But like I already said, I am a cheesy person. That’s my biggest motivation: Knowing that I can inspire people and make them feel unique. We’ve created so many boundaries, I want to tear these walls down. We should all try to cherish and appreciate each other.

»We've created so many boundaries, I want to tear these walls down.«

Katharina:
Oooh, you are a little hippie.

Naïka:
Yes, I am a little hippie inside.

Katharina:
What are the little things in life that make you happy?

Naïka:
Food, oh my god.

Katharina:
You don’t look like it though.

Naïka:
I know, because I try to eat healthy. But one of the best things about traveling is to try different kinds of food. I love Vietnamese food. As well as Haitian and French cuisine. I am going to Paris in a few days and since I booked the trip, all I can think about is eating.

Katharina:
Moving on from the happy things in life to some rather sad things. On your YouTube channel you wrote about your song “Snowing in LA (Long distance song),”: “When your boyfriend moves across the country, gotta write a song to deal with the sadness!” What happened to this relationship?

Naïka:
I was crying for three days in a row, I was really sad. To write a song about it helped me. I was a bit nervous about releasing the song because it is so personal. But on the other side, I was super excited to share it since many people are going through the same thing. Me and my boyfriend are still together. When I move to LA in January, we will be reunited.

Katharina:
Maybe then we’ll get a sequel song from you. Could it be that being separated from people you like is a common trope in your biography? Because you lived in so many different countries?

Naïka:
Yes. My dad’s job made the family move very often. I grew up in Guadeloupe, an island in the Caribbean, and also on an Island in the Pacific Ocean named Vanuatu. Then I lived in Kenya for four years and in Paris for two. The last step was South Africa before we moved back to Miami. Now I think all the moving I had to go through as a child was very rewarding, because I became a person who can easily adapt to new situations. When I look back now, I think of it as a magical childhood. I was exposed to so many different cultures, a variety of sounds, fragrances and so on.

»When I look back now, I think of it as a magical childhood. I was exposed to so many different cultures, a variety of sounds, fragrances and so on.«

Katharina:
Yes, one can hear that this influenced your sound. All the tracks are different, but they are all very well-made pop.

Naïka:
The term I found for myself to describe it is “world pop”. I want to incorporate my roots and all the different cultures in my sound. Plus, I adore pop music, Britney Spears used to be my idol when I was six, I just love pop music. I try to keep it organic. I am not too deep into electronic stuff. I do a little bit of it, to keep my sound modern, but having a variety of instruments is more important to me. For one of the songs I used African drums and my new song “Serpentine” has an Arabic feel to it.

Katharina:
Do you believe in god?

Naïka:
Yes. I believe in a higher power. I think you attract what you put out, I believe in karma. I have seen the wonders of the world and there is just too much beauty on this earth to not believe in a higher power. With all of the different religions I encountered, I realized that they all end up worshipping the same principles. We all hope for positive things and pray to attract them.

Katharina:
What does it mean to be a modern woman, a modern human to you?

Naïka:
Knowing how to be independent, knowing to rely on yourself. You don’t necessarily need a partner to evolve or to be a better version of yourself. Your individual soul is powerful and if you have a strong will nothing is impossible. A modern human to me also means being aware of what is happening in the world and working towards changing it for the better, to try and bring a positive change to our society.

»You don't necessarily need a partner to evolve or to be a better version of yourself.«

Katharina:
Have you ever rejected an attractive guy for being too chauvinistic?

Naïka:
So many times. There are guys out there who think you are just a piece of meat, a little flower to pick as they please. Not with me. You will not do whatever you want with me and then throw me away when you´re done.

Katharina:
Are you always open about your opinions?

Naïka:
Yes, though I try to not be too blunt, because I don’t like hurting other people’s feelings. But if someone is a prick to me, then I will say something straight to their face. I am not going to keep my mouth shut if somebody is disrespectful to me or anyone else.

Katharina:
Do you remember the last time you really felt a feeling of ecstasy?

Naïka:
I had this awaking phase this year, where I just realized that I can do anything if I set my mind on it. This sounds so basic, but there is always this voice in your head that limits and scares you. So, during this crazy phase I understood that fear is always the main element slowing me down. My path will not be easy. I have had difficult times and I know there are many challenges to come. But now I feel mentally prepared. I always study people who have had successful music careers. And one thing they always say is, that they never gave up no matter how hard it got. I won’t let failure stop me, I can do this-having that realization was an ecstatic moment for me.