The Queen of Spades

Take a trip down ‘Wonderland’ with Najwa Mahiaddin.

If you’re a fan of local jazz music, chances are you would have come across a track by singer-songwriter Najwa Mahiaddin at one point in your random playlist. Since her debut single ‘Got To Go,’ which swept across the local charts for its empowering message and catchy chorus, the homegrown artist has gone through a significant transition both personally and musically. Currently, her go-to colour is black while she describes her music as “cold, dark and chill.”

We sat down with her to further understand this shift as well as her new music, but most of all her direction as an artist.

If we were to compare your first single ‘Got To Go’ and Aurora-track ‘Seri Mersing,’ they are quite different. How did you come to this transitional point where your music changed?

When I first came out with ‘Got To Go,’ even though the single was released in 2011 together with my album, I have already been performing prior to that and I think I must have written that song years before it was released to the public. Naturally as an artist and also as a person, you grow and you know, you evolve. So, at the beginning with ‘Got To Go’ I was influenced by the music I was listening to at the time, which were my dad’s records. They were jazz and blues, so the music that I was writing kind of had that sound.

But later on, I guess, as I progressed and went to music school (Berklee), I began listening to a lot of different kinds of music. And I think at that point I also wanted to explore my roots and my culture so that’s how ‘Seri Mersing’ came about. So that sound is more towards the vibe that I’m about right now.

Apart from your own music, recently a song that you’ve written was featured in Sheila Majid’s album Boneka. So, for yourself, do you prefer songwriting or actually performing songs on stage?

I would say both. My love for performing and writing is actually, I would, pretty balanced and equal. I love them both. I wouldn’t say that I love one more than the other, but they have their own challenges. Sometimes writing music for myself could be easier because it’s just however you’re feeling and you’re like “Okay, yeah” but when you’re writing for other people, it’s gotta be suited to their voice, or maybe something that you think that they could be experiencing. You don’t want to write a song like a teen song for like someone who’s mature, you know, so in that way that has its own set of challenges. But with performing, it’s just a lot of fun, because I get to be on stage and transform into something else when I’m into the music and I’m into this whole vibe, it just kind of like I can get lost in it and just, you know, I’m just presenting basically whatever I’m feeling.

Are you currently working on new material?

I am. I’m actually working on my EP which will be out soon like in the next few months. And it’s been a very exciting journey so far. With this EP, I’m still kind of trying to work with that whole mixing the traditional with contemporary. Not exactly like Seri Mersing but just kind of having sprinkles of that because after so many years, I’ve realised that maybe I’m slowly finding my voice now. Like I think I know what I’m about and what I’m like and I don’t want to be doing something that is not me. So I think, with this EP, you’re going to be able to hear just different parts of me, even vocally – it’s not going to be all just like R&B, there’s going to be a bit of that like traditional Asli music inside as well. I also have a song with gamelan and other experimental tracks. So, it will be like a mix of like electronic and like live music as well, whereas Aurora previously was just electronic.

In terms of your aesthetics, you seem to incorporate a lot of black into your clothing. Is there a reason to it?

Yes. Well, I just feel like the colour black is easy, that’s one thing, but I also feel like whenever I wear black, I just feel like I’m me. Like it’s gotten to the point where like whenever I wear colours, like sometimes like Hari Raya, you know, you wear Baju Kurung or something, like I try to not wear black because it’s a festive season, sometimes when I see myself in colours or in like, prints, I feel weird like “Oh, I don’t feel like myself.” So I think I’ve gotten comfortable with that. I guess it also goes with the whole persona, because my music is also pretty dark and cold, so it goes with the whole thing. And it helps that it’s not like I’m like trying to be that, it’s just naturally like that.

How was your reaction when Good Vibes Festival contacted you to perform? What can fans expect from your set?

I was really really excited about it because I went to Good Vibes last year and you know, it was really really great. When I saw the people on stage, I was just like “Oh, I wish that was me.” I really wanted to be up there, just sharing my music with everyone and it just felt like the vibe was great. Good vibes. So I wanted to be a part of that. So, obviously when I was contacted, I didn’t want to let that opportunity go.

During my set I’ll be performing new material, stuff from the upcoming EP as well as stuff from my previous EP as well. Fans can expect that but mainly I just want them to go on this journey with me. It’s going to be this very dark and almost like you’re going into this wonderland with me. It’s kinda trippy, you know, that’s the vibe. So I’m hoping that that’s what people will get and I’m also hoping to get some good vibes from everyone while I’m up there on stage.

Send some good vibes to Najwa this Sunday at Good Vibes Festival!

Vimal Palasekaran

Vimal Palasekaran

Loud laugher. TV buff. Hispanophone.
Vimal Palasekaran

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