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Nadiah Adu-Gyamfi AKA NULA

NULA’s slinky R&B soundtracks future worlds where we can touch again

Nadiah Adu-Gyamfi talks embodying afrofuturism in her aesthetic and starring in Beyoncé’s Black Is King

Nadiah Adu-Gyamfi has always been interested in the spaces between cultures and sounds. Growing up, the London-based artist would walk through New Cross on her way to school, passing Goldsmiths, where Blur’s “Parklife” would be blasting out the student’s union, before crossing the road to hear muffled dub bass vibrations coming from the local Cumin Up. “I guess I’ve always grown up sandwiched between British culture and African and Caribbean Black culture,” she explains.

One half of electronic duo NULA, which she formed in 2017 along with friend and fellow Goldsmiths graduate Luke Osbourne, Adu-Gyamfi channels the classic sounds of her gospel and soul forebears, as well as the warm, velvety tones of R&B and the electronic alchemy of 90s groups like Portishead and Massive Attack. The music oozes with quiet lust and introspection. On “Moon Chasing”, Adu-Gyamfi’s voice is like velvet as she sings, “Time is of the essence in this new rising/ head up in the clouds has us moon chasing” against a sea of murky, disjointed beats, while “60 minutes” is a dark and dank tune with slinky melodies and slow-jam sensibilities.

Her latest track “Setback” is about longing for physical touch during lockdown, a sentiment that can be felt in the track’s sensual yet slow rhythms; chugging breakbeats that collapse in on themselves. “It’s another setback,” Adu-Gyamfi reminds us. The bulk of the arrangements are sparse, leaving space for her warm, inimitable voice to speak her truth. “Being under strict rules only made me want to unlock the doors of my imagination and break free into a world beyond FaceTime, text messages, and phone calls,” she explains. “Not being able to let loose in the club, see my friends, perform live, and see my partner especially was not the vibe.”

The video, out today, is equally mesmerising. Directed by David Sessions, it’s meant to “celebrate and illuminate the power of the black female body”. In it, Adu-Gyamfi embraces her sensual side – something which she describes as shying away from in the past. Below, we speak to the musician on her musical influences, embodying afrofuturism in her aesthetic, and starring in Beyoncé’s Black Is King.

Growing up, who and what influenced your sound and trajectory as an artist? What were those earliest inspirations? What music was played in your house?

Nadiah Adu-Gyamfi: I grew up singing at church from the tender age of 10. Growing up in a low income, single parent, christian household meant it although it was quite strict, it wasn't always conventional. We found our happiness in music, my mum played a lot of traditional Ghanaian gospel-highlife, Methodist hymns, jazz, trip hop, and R&B. My earliest and fondest memories of music was accidentally finding a ‘WOW Gospel’ music video tape featuring Fred Hammond, CeCe Winans, and Sounds of Blackness. I remember Karen Clark singing ‘Balm in Gilead’ changed my life forever, the fashion, the vocals, and the overall delivery inspired my creativity in a big way. I remember like it was yesterday, watching in total awe, towel on head and afro comb for a mic playing it on repeat until my mum would beg me and my sister to turn it off.

How has growing up in London influenced your sound?

Nadiah Adu-Gyamfi: Being born and bred in the heart of New Cross exposed me to so much from early on. Growing up in south east London naturally exposed me to an abundance of genres from grime to trip hop, garage, reggae, britpop, indie, dancehall, and soul. I even went through a Radiohead, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and Atoms for Peace phase. It inspired me to merge all my influences together and create something new. I’ve never felt the pressure to squeeze myself into just one restrictive box sonically.

How have you been adjusting to creating music in the pandemic? How have you been coping?

Nadiah Adu-Gyamfi: It’s been an eye opening experience. Most of the music has been written and recorded in my bedroom studio so, if anything, lockdown has finally given me more time to explore freely with less distraction.

On the other hand, it’s been challenging navigating a fast moving industry that is obsessed with the noise surrounding an artist – followers, streams, and clout – sometimes more than the actual ‘artistry’. During the early stages of lockdown, I came across a famous Nina Simone interview where she describes freedom as having no fear and that’s when it hit me. Before the pandemic, truthfully, I was wrapped up in a fear which only restricted and took away from the art. But as time passes, I’ve realised to be a true artist is to live in your truth without fear, create without bounds and most importantly know your worth regardless of what the industry may tell you. It’s all smoke and mirrors at the end of the day, it’s about the journey not the destination.

Can you describe your dynamic with Luke when creating music?

Nadiah Adu-Gyamfi: We have a very special bond that started when we met at Goldsmiths University. Luke and I used to play in a band together before going off to do separate projects. What started as a few random Jam sessions eventually became what we now know as NULA. From the onset Luke has always challenged me to push my creativity outside the box, writing for us is like therapy. We sooth the pain with words, sound tracking the highs and lows. I bring a soulful alternative R&B vibe whilst Luke brings the electronic side using vintage synthesizers and sampling to create a more futuristic sound.

You featured in Beyoncé’s Black Is King, how did that come about? What was the experience like?

Nadiah Adu-Gyamfi: I featured in key scenes in (filmmaker) Jenn Nkiru’s incredible previous work with Kamasi Washington ‘HubTones’ and Neneh Cherry’s ‘Kong’. In the winter of 2019, while on my own music video shoot for ‘Moon Chasing’, I received a message from Jenn asking me to come to set the next day to shoot a key scene for an anonymous artist. I literally had no idea, so I went to set with no expectations other than being excited to work with my good friend and favourite director again for the third time. After rehearsing at length it only occurred to me when an NDA had to be signed confirming the artist was Beyoncé. I remember containing my shock for months before it was finally released. The experience was beautiful, seeing so many beautiful dark skinned beauties from all walks of the diaspora swelled my heart with a sense of pride and royalty I hadn’t felt before. It truly felt like a movie and I’m grateful to this day to have been a part of it.

What does your personal style and aesthetic say about you?

Nadiah Adu-Gyamfi: My aesthetic overall has always centered itself on afrofuturism. I like to keep my styling classic in terms of shapes and tones, however my hair is my biggest form of expression. I love playing with texture, especially being an Africian girl with natural hair. I love the extremity of going from pin straight hair to volume, intricate detailed braiding to tight kinky coils. Ebonic hair in every way is just so powerful and beautiful to me. My style fearlessly represents my pride in my Blackness. 

What ideas do you have for future work?

Nadiah Adu-Gyamfi: To be bold, to shake the table, and bring the world more sounds from the heart.

“Setback” is out now