We all know young kids love to imitate sh!t their older siblings do. The start of Najwa Mahiaddin’s musical career pretty much began in such a manner as well, so to speak. After watching her sister played the piano, 3-year-old Najwa slowly stepped into the seemingly hereditary interest with piano lessons, and soon after some vocal lessons as well while most of us are probably still struggling to string words together to form a proper sentence.
Having her childhood entwined with music where she would listen to her dad’s jazz records made her discover jazz greats like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday very early into her growth. Najwa also stated that she was always the entertainer at family gatherings, which reinstated her skill levels as it was already honed from a young age.
Graduating from Berklee College of Music, which basically is the Harvard of the music world, pushed her to be more disciplined – especially being surrounded by so many talented musicians attending the same college. “Music is still about having fun and being creative, but there are definitely things I’ve learnt and discovered while being at Berklee that I hadn’t thought of before being a music student,” she told us. She also noted that with so many musical pros around her, there was an urge to stand out, which made her realise the rich cultural heritage of being Malaysian: “I’m always experimenting with how I can infuse our Malaysian music into the western idiom, hence ‘Seri Mersing’.” The first single off EP Aurora we’re sure you’ve heard of, or at least heard others raved about.
Working together with Wahono, an Indonesian producer she met in Berklee, after he approached her to sing on some of his tracks (definitely someone deserving of his own article as well), Najwa began working on Aurora around September last year. “The single ‘Before’ was actually recorded in 2012 but due to unforeseen circumstances we had to rerecord the whole track from scratch.” Wahono, whom she noted as having a distinctive sound of his own (LA beat scene-derived to our ears) clicked perfectly with Najwa as his production work was just what she was looking for. The result is something akin to a reinvention across the causeway by Syndicate SG’s Vandetta – from that Urban Xchange girl to electronic scene-informed vocalist – Najwa’s sound is now decidedly darker and the production more minimal.
Taking Aurora as a shot to show her fans on how she’s grown musically, Najwa seeks to differentiate herself from her older sound by moving from previous influences Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, and Billie Holiday to current ones, James Blake, Kelela, Emily King, and Little Dragon, an appropriate transition to her current state of mind and image. “Even though their songs are electronic, it’s still soulful and there’s certain rawness to that. I started listening to a lot of other artistes in the similar genre and I was just drawn to that.”
Najwa also stated that her brother Farhan, or known to us as Moslem Priest (another guy you gotta check out), influenced Aurora’s direction through their late night discussions and music exchange. “We’re very close and he’s always sharing new music with me. We talk about everything, from what’s cool in the fashion world to what’s up and coming in the music world,” she said. Indicating a definite plan to collaborate in the future both in music and fashion (Najwa is a big fan of RO, as should you), she also hinted at another Malay tune, which is a duet, that will be springing up as soon as she seeks to establish herself both locally and in the States.
Najwa’s Aurora EP is out on iTunes.