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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 13 November 2018

Singer-songwriter Nstasia: 'The love I know is what I’m going to write about'

The Los Angeles resident, who has penned songs for some of the world’s biggest stars, has a live residency of her own at Q’s Bar in Dubai

Jazz singer Nstasia performs at Q's Bar and Lounge. Reem Mohammed / The National
Jazz singer Nstasia performs at Q's Bar and Lounge. Reem Mohammed / The National

The music hasn’t totally died with the arrival of summer.

Q’s Bar and Lounge, one of the few venues to host live residencies in the UAE, has returned after its Ramadan and Eid break with its latest act.

Curated by legendary music producer Quincy Jones, previous in-house artist Clark Beckham charmed the crowd with his blue-eyed soul, and pianist Eli Teplin kept us cool with his smooth jazz stylings. Now it’s time to sample the gritty RnB sounds courtesy of Q’s Bar’s latest act, Nstasia.

The Los Angeles resident is definitely a star-in-waiting. Her debut album, New Religion, is a fine showcase of both her sultry voice and formidable songwriting chops – the latter is responsible for getting her into the music industry.

Writing for others

Born Nastasia Griffin and raised in North Carolina, the artist caught the music bug early on from her father, who was an in-demand multi-instrumentalist and session musician, playing saxophone and keyboards for the likes of soul greats Eugene Wilde and Betty Wright. And despite the hardships and instability that comes with being a hired hand in the studio, Nstasia says her father always encouraged and nurtured her talent from a young age. “I mean, my dad would have me record on his songs,” she recalls.

“He would take me to the studio with him. He was always super-proud of me and in no way did he ever say anything against me pursuing a music career.”

That said, some of the practical advice given to her to help her break into the industry was to make herself known in the game by being a songwriting gun for hire.

“I have always been an artist and a songwriter of my own, but I was told that I need a hit on the radio with my writing for another artist before I become an artist,” she says. “It was all about getting what we call in the industry ‘a placement’.”

Nstasia’s songwriting success has been mixed. While she penned two singles for Macy Gray – last year’s White Man, and Stop, Drop, Roll – her tracks for Beyonce, Usher and Kelly Clarkson are so far yet to be released.

Nstasia says the experience was educational in that it taught her that a good song can be ­successful regardless of who sings it. “I would be writing and I would think about what those singers would do. I would think about how Kelly Clarkson would sound if I wrote the song in a certain way,” she says.

“Which, come to think of it, was probably not the best way to go. Sure, you can keep those people in mind, but at the end of the day, just write a great song and it will go wherever it is supposed to go.”

Keeping it true and loose

When it came to her solo work, Nstasia’s talent and industry reputation were strong enough to convince the likes of Skrillex to lend his skills to her debut album. The American dance-music artist was responsible for the production of several tracks on New Religion, a hybrid sound of dance and seductive RnB.

A highlight of those tracks is Parachute, which blends neo-soul vocals with the shuddering beats of hip-hop’s sub-genre, trap. An interesting aspect of the song is Nstasia’s punchy vocal style, which is more kinetic than laboured. She explains that this is down to her improvisational approach in the studio. “I always start off with the bare minimum of just a loop. No drums, no nothing. And I do the whole song to that. Then, when I’m done, that’s when the producer goes and they do their thing,” she says.

“Also, if something happens to me that day, then I’m going to write a song about it. I go in and freestyle it, and the only thing that pops into my mind is my ­experiences.”

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New Religion – which was recently re-released with a jazzy, stripped-down sound – is full of candid tales of Nstasia’s relationships, some of which are based on sheer passion, such as in the steamy Chains, while the union in Belong to You comes with its fair share of wisdom. “It is an overall positive album that talks about and celebrates love,” she says.

“I’m a lover and I sing about love, mostly. So the love I know is what I’m going to write about.”

Nstasia performs at Q’s Bar and Lounge at Palazzo Versace Dubai, Tuesdays to Saturdays, until September 8. Doors open at 7pm. Call 04 556 8888 or email qs@palazzoversace.ae