Nailah Blackman: Calypsonian and soca artist • Trinidad and Tobago • Born 1997
Living in the shadow of a music icon parent has its dividends — or not, if one is to gauge the relative minor successes of Jakob Dylan, James McCartney, and Julian Lennon — if the DNA for talent and the potential for a musical future get passed on. In the Caribbean, the Marley family seems to bear that theory out. And Trinidadian soca icon Ras Shorty I had enough performance genes for an entire clan. His children all have relatively successful music careers, and that success has now moved on to a third generation with the burgeoning career of his nineteen-year-old granddaughter Nailah Blackman, daughter of Abbi Blackman, a T&T Calypso Queen in her own right.
Among Caribbean millennials, Nailah Blackman has shown a determined focus on career and success. She began her singing profession at age eleven, when she joined her aunt’s all-female gospel band, Nehilet Blackman & the AGB, then segued to a solo singer-songwriter career at fifteen. Veering away from her soca heritage, Nailah sang her original compositions — short odes to teenage love and heartbreak with an indie pop ethos that she calls “not-so-Caribbean music” — on a number of self-produced YouTube videos, featuring just guitar and voice. Her talent was undeniable and addictive.
She’s clear on where she wants to go: “The direction in my career is to corner my home market, which is the Caribbean, in order to access the right links outside to put my ‘not-so-Caribbean music’ where it needs to go, and in the ears of the people who need to hear it.” She adds, “I’m working on new music for the Carnival circuits around the world. I intend to hit each one of them so they can know who Nailah Blackman is.”
That kind of focus is exemplary for a generation in the Caribbean sometimes nurtured on a kind of self-defeating dependency. Fortunately, Blackman’s biography was guided by her grandfather’s creative self-sufficiency, which saw the soca innovator retreating from his success and excess to a holistic and simple lifestyle, where he and his children — including Nailah’s mother — performed together and endured.
With a voice that balances between the trademark vibrato of a Gwen Stefani and the soft squeak of bubblegum pop singers, Nailah has blossomed as a singer-songwriter in the past three years, trading her naïve love songs of regret for double entendre soca anthems on the theme of going “low, low, low.” In 2017, coming full circle to her soca roots, she released the Carnival hit “Workout” with soca star Kes, which had fetes moving and exposed her to a wider audience via the International Soca Monarch finals.
With two single releases under her belt — “Cigarettes” and “Workout” — Blackman is always cooking up something in the studio. Her next single is a dancehall tune she’ll be launching in Jamaica, and she’s completed an EP for worldwide release later this year. She displays an insouciant fashion style that already has major brands seeking her out for endorsement, and as she matures, a new fan base is charting her growth as an artist and an avatar of young Caribbean influence.
- This profile was published in the May/June issue of Caribbean Beat magazine as “Nailah Blackman: ‘In the ears of the people who need to hear it'” as part of the series 25 Caribbean achievers under 25.
© 2017, Nigel A. Campbell. All Rights Reserved.