Interview: Najuah Bring Fresh Sound Developed in Canada by Way of Africa to R&B
Don’t put Najuah (Nahj-oo-ah) in a box. The Toronto-based sextet, fronted by sisters Hanifa and Juliet, takes the fiery burn of R&B and mashes it with arena-rocking guitars, playing like classic Hole being mashed through Led Zeppelin and Tina Turner filters. But average rock chicks, they are not. The hard-edged Sirens bring respective triumphs and pitfalls of romance to their upcoming debut EP Misery & Love, a reflection on relationships past. YouKnowIGotSoul caught up with the lead duo to discuss the group’s sound, working together as a family, what to expect on their debut EP “Misery and Love”, their rock influences, and much more.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Take us back to the beginning in your history in music. When did you guys first realize you would be serious about a career in music?
Najuah: I think it started when we moved to Toronto. I got a keyboard at this music store, and this guy at the store was like “I’ve got a friend who owns a studio, you guys want to come there and record?” So we went and checked it out. Once that started and we started to record, we just really liked it and thought this was something we could actually do.
YouKnowIGotSoul: What is it like being sisters and working together?
Najuah: It’s good, it’s definitely one of those things where if we get into a fight we can forgive each other because we can call mom! It’s definitely a thing where you respect each other and you know that if you’re having a disagreement about something, you can still come back together and work on it. No feelings are hurt there. It’s also a great working relationship because we just know what the other one is thinking in terms of melodically or lyrically. It allows us to sort of build from a sort of different dynamic just because we’ve known each other for such a long time.
YouKnowIGotSoul: For someone who hasn’t had a chance to hear your music or is listening for the first time, how would you describe the sound of your music?
Najuah: I think we’re an eclectic mix of all of our influences. We grew up listening to a lot of rock music, we grew up in Ontario, our first influences living there was a lot of rock music and our friends listened to country. As we got older, we listened to more urban music. I think it’s just a bridge between the two; live instruments, live sound, mixed with the sounds of soul. We definitely draw our influences from songwriters and bands from the 70’s, we just really like that. Lyrically, we just really like writers like Carole King and Joni Mitchell. We love the hair bands of the 80’s and all of the guitar bands and definitely bands like The Who, just musicality wise. Just different influences in that sense. We are kinda a bridging of that, a little rock meets r&b, but we do love that aspect of songwriters with descriptive music. We like it to be detail oriented so you can visualize the song and the person singing it. We also love, if you’ve ever seen old clips of Queen, those sort of stadium shows where it’s sort of this band that just commands thousands of people. I think we’re definitely influenced by having music like that. We always use the word epic, everything has to be epic! *Laughs* Really big sounds, the more guitars the better.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I know you guys perform with a band and like you guys mentioned you’ve drawn your influences from a lot of bands. What does it mean to you to perform with a live band because many artists make beats with machines and perform over an audio track?
Najuah: We like live stuff, everything has to be live, like drums and guitars. Every now and then that might come into play, but if we can have a drum player or guitar player, we like that as much as possible. I think it just allows for us to see what a live show could potentially be like. It’s just important for us that whatever we record, it can translate on stage. It gives us a chance to really play around and be creative. When you record right on the floor with a bunch of guys and you’re there with the group, it’s a different dynamic than programming everything and trying to do it live later. I think a lot of creative interpretation happens when you’re recording right off of the floor. We kind of have this thing where we want to be comfortable doing it live and we are always trying to make sure our recording has as much of that as possible.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I was reading that you guys work together on songwriting. What’s that process like?
Najuah: It’s actually not a difficult process just because whether it’s her writing a part or I’m writing a part, we bring the parts together and we complete it together. We just really bring the ideas. We have this thing where if it’s good, we move it along. So if she writes something really good or I write something really good and we decide to use it, we go that way. When we wrote “Eden” we were sitting on the couch and we had the guitar and one person hummed something and another person hummed something and all of the sudden we had something. So we go with our gut instinct and try to go melodically especially if we’re sitting together coming up with stuff. A lot of time it just depends on the vibe we’re at or what’s going on. If we’re in studio we definitely are side by side trying to figure it out and work out the lyrics and work out the melodies. A lot of times the key for us is there has to be melody in it that we love and words that we can relate to. “Eden” was a freak occurrence because we were sitting on the couch and that song was written in literally three minutes. Sometimes it just happens really quickly and other times we have to think it through.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Your project coming out is your debut EP “Misery and Love”. What can we expect to find on there?
Najuah: Lots of songs about love and heartbreak and misery. We were actually sitting in a car and thinking people love songs about love and misery. We realized our album is about breaking up or feeling sad about things and a lot of things you go through in a relationship, so I think you’ll hear a lot of that. It’s a mixture. You’ll have some songs that are about love and heartbreak but you’ll be hearing songs that are really personal about our experiences. Definitely I think the main topic and I think a lot of songwriters like to write about love because I think everyone can relate to that. I think it’s definitely going to take you to a lot of our influences; you’re going to hear a lot of that stuff, you’re going to feel some r&b and some country in there. People can definitely expect an experience, that’s for sure. I think every song stands out.
YouKnowIGotSoul: How has the single “Eden” been received so far?
Najuah: So far a lot of people have really liked it. Some of our friends who have been following us for a very long time have said it was our best work so far. We’ve had a lot of good responses to the song so far.
YouKnowIGotSoul: I know you guys were born in Africa and then came over to Canada. Do you think that will help you bring a new sound to what’s currently missing especially in the U.S.?
Najuah: It’s interesting because even with our percussions we love the tribal and heavy drums. Some of our songs the drumming has that African influence. Also in the melodies we write, sometimes we’ll listen to a song and we’re like “Oh this reminds us of a song we heard when we were kids in terms of the influence melodically”. So we try to put some of that stuff in our music as much as possible. We definitely feel like it’s great for artists delving into different genres. You’re not always going to hear artists like us being fronted by a bunch of rock guys. So I think it’s definitely going to put a different spin on music and a different outreach. We can definitely dabble into different aspects of it. It will open up the door for a lot of people I feel.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Anything you’d like to add?
Najuah: We’re excited to introduce the new sound and it’s something totally different. We’re really looking forward to sharing this album with people.