A Danish pop star who’s bringing her North African-infused dance and R&B across the world, to a country near you!
or readers outside of Denmark, the singer and songwriter Nabiha Bensouda may be a new name, but in her native country she’s already a bonafide pop star – her three albums to date have all charted in the Top 20, with several singles landing deep into the Top 10. Nabiha’s voice has found its way into the UK’s dance charts with electro-pop tracks like Never Played The Bass and Mind The Gap, but we have a sneaking suspicion that the Dane’s songwriting credentials could garner a wider audience.
Her latest single Bang That Drum has recently topped the Urban Chart in the UK, so there’s clearly a fanbase growing for Nabiha here, but it’s in the United States, where Nabiha is focusing her attention, having showcased her talents at SXSW earlier this year, and recently signed a new US recording contract.
So, as this bright young pop star finds herself in ascendancy, we decided to catch up with Nabiha in her apartment, but found her nursing a hangover! She’d played a homecoming gig in Copenhagen the night before, after several months of touring, so we took it easy and kicked off with some gentle questions…
How did you get into music?
“My mother and father both listened to a lot of music. Neither of them are musicians, but the radio would always be on and there’d be records playing – a lot of soul music, a lot of reggae. I think, that’s why I feel very comfortable with music – it reminds me of family and happiness – and I think that’s why I pursued it in the first place. At school, I started playing the flute, then I played the trumpet and then the tuba. But then I got to my early teens and I stopped all that – I just wanted to do cool stuff and the tuba would not be cool! Then later on in school I joined a band, on drums at first, and that was really bad. So then I went to try out the keyboards and that was even worse! I remember my teacher going ‘Just stand up and sing’ and that worked out much better. Quickly after that I ended up singing lead and that was the first time I ever sang to anyone. That was ninth grade, so I was 14.”
Have you had any reason to pick up the flute or the tuba or the trumpet since?
“Yeah, the most important thing for me was to try as many different genres as possible, so I was playing in rock bands, and I was rapping, and I was in an all girl ska band. I really wanted to pick up the tuba again and I thought that’d be great! I had a lot of fun trying out all these different styles and had a lot of fun, so I’m happy I did it like that because in the end what I found out was that I can’t choose one – I have to mix them all up.”
How about the North African background of your family, do you think that influenced your songwriting?
“Yes and no. It’s not something I think about on a day-to-day basis, and it’s not something I think about when I sit and write my music. I try just to think about what’s important for me, as a person, and to put my feelings into words. It rarely has anything to do with my ancestors, or my history.”
Have you always collaborated with different songwriters or do you actually prefer to write alone?
“At the beginning I was doing it mostly on my own and that was good, but I’ve really enjoyed working with other songwriters as well. Because I don’t produce, I’ll have an opinion, but I don’t know which buttons to turn, so I’ll always work with a producer. Carl Ryden, who’s been like my main producer, is also a brilliant songwriter, so it’s a really good relationship. I enjoy working with other songwriters because I learn all the time, and if you work with good songwriters they can quickly tap into the moment, or the feeling. Also I think other songwriters can help break you out of your comfort zone – it makes me view things in a different way. So I absolutely love working with good songwriters, but I’ll still write stuff on my own and bring my ideas to the studio and then the song will shape itself from there.”
How do you get those ideas down?
“I record on my phone, because I always have it with me. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night, and I might have an idea, and I’ll record it. It might sound ridiculous, but sometimes it works. I can be in the weirdest places and get inspired. Actually, Never Played The Bass, that I wrote with Will Simms and Michelle Escoffery, came from when I went to a concert here in Copenhagen with my family. I was singing away and then I got the idea for the line ‘you ain’t never played the bass’ so I sort of squatted down on the floor and recorded it there. My mum was like, ‘What you doing?! Are you ok?’ I brought that line with me into the studio and I had a rough idea of what I wanted to write about, but then at the end of the day the song was done and became one of my biggest hits.”
Do you let the ideas arrive naturally or do you find you have to write routinely every day?
“In the beginning it was hard for me to sit down and go ‘Alright, I want to get inspired’, but I find it easier to schedule my day and go ‘Ok from 10 o’clock I’ll sit at my piano and fiddle with some melodies’ or something like that. It comes a lot easier now with training, learning and practicing.”
Who were your musical heroes when you were growing up, and who inspires you now?
“While I was growing up, I was listening to a lot of pop music, mainly to get away from the whole R&B, soul and reggae scene that I was brought up with. My biggest inspiration was actually Madonna – her great pop songs in the 90s, her strength – I think she’s an amazing business woman. She might not be the best singer, but she knows that and was still on top because she worked so bloody hard. Now, the people that inspire me most, is actually the people I know personally – family and friends. The talks with friends, all the traveling that we do, things that I see, feelings, relationships… stuff like that is the inspiration for me and has been for the last couple of years.”
Have you got a new album you’ve been working on?
“I’m definitely working on new material and I’m going back and forth from LA. I’m leaving to go there again in a couple of weeks, because Carl, who’s producing the album, is living there. We’re working on a lot of new stuff but when it’s going to be realised or how it’s gonna be, I don’t know yet.”
Interview: Aaron Slater
So we’ll just have to wait a little longer for the next Nabiha album. But if, like us, you want to keep up with the Danish pop star’s progress, live dates and forthcoming releases, check out: www.nabihamusic.com In the meantime, you can watch the official video for Bang That Drum here…