Twenty-eighteen has been both a really trying and surreal year! I’m so thankful to have released my EP, QUARREL, and to have worked with humans who continuously inspire me. This will be our last show of the year, but we’re looking forward to a brighter twenty-nineteen. We’ll be coming through shredding some intentional guts!
Next Sunday, we’re back at the Williamsburg Music Center. Come join us!
The Sea by Nikkiesha McLeod
Anna Wintour by Azealia Banks
You’re Gonna Need This by Nikkiesha McLeod
That said, although I was 100% sure this was what I needed to do, I did have moments where I felt I was losing my mind, for real! But I wasn’t walking into this fire alone. I could not have finished QUARREL without my co-producer and dear friend Mackenzie Shivers, and as well as the seriously gifted musicians/artists on the EP.
How I ended up working with Mackenzie and these musicians/artists was serendipitous as well. As QUARREL couldn’t be possible without another dear friend, Kenyon Phillips! I’m so grateful I’ve found these amazing humans who I can say is my extended family! Thank you family! Thank you Universe!
Finally, as QUARREL is a tribute to my mother and brother, I felt it would make for the best birthday gift to my dear mother, Bernadette McLeod.
QUARREL is available everywhere on October 30th! You can stream the singles, Deep Cry and Quarrel on all platforms!
Drinking Again by Aretha Franklin
Leyendecker by Battles
What Would I Want? Sky by Animal Collective
Deep Cry by Nikkiesha McLeod
Nessun Dorma by Aretha Franklin
The Parting Glass by Mackenzie Shivers
Falling in Love with Love by Ahmad Jamal
On a Highway by Animal Collective
Lilac Wine by Nina Simone
Why Did You Separate Me From the Earth? by Anohni
But For Me by Ahmad Jamal
Atlas by Battles
Execution by Anohni
4 degrees by Anohni
Quarrel by Nikkiesha McLeod
Believe by Mackenzie Shivers
I’m very excited as my debut EP, Quarrel, release and show is happening in a month (October 30th). The release show will be at Rockwood Music Hall, where I’ll share the night with the brilliant and wonderful Mackenzie Shivers. The night will be dedicated to my late mother, as it is her birthday!
Also, Quarrel the single is making waves. Here is a thoughtful review from If It’s Too Loud:
“The second single from Nikkie McLeod’s upcoming EP is a more traditionally structured song than [their] first, “Deep Cry,” was. “Quarrel” moves towards more familiar instrumentation for mainstream American listeners, but there is still plenty of originality for us all. McLeod constructs a song that starts off as a laid back singer/songwriter track, but that simmers with this undefined intensity right below the surface. That lasts for almost four minutes, and then the song restarts as an almost orchestral song. It’s an over six minute song that feels both familiar and experimental.”
Lastly, I made this super dope SPOTIFY PLAYLIST, which includes music by my favorites!
Follow me on SPOTIFY for more music listings!
Happy to announce that Nikkie & The Revivals will be playing a three month residency at Williamsburg Music Center: September 9th, October 14th & November 11th, 9PM
Spoke a little about Deep Cry, and my upcoming album, Quarrel, on Break Thru Radio’s podcast Music Digest (click on image above for link). It was such a pleasure being on the show. It was also really hard discussing the story behind Deep Cry and the album… Give it a listen, as hosts JLM and BRYAN B shared some awesome music by artists new to me! Thanks again for having me Music Digest!
Deep Cry, the first single off of my upcoming album – Quarrel – has been receiving really great responses (see below).
From Magnet Magazine:
“Nikkie McLeod’s emotional Quarrel EP debut is set to be released October 30. Coming to Brooklyn all the way from Trinidad, McLeod struggled with the feeling of being a black immigrant, as well as establishing an identity as being queer/non-binary. McLeod’s music expresses their emotions, discussing society and their own experiences with the uncomfortableness in it.
The six-song Quarrel also serves as a tribute to McLeod’s brother and late mother. On “Deep Cry,” McLeod expresses feelings toward their mom’s death through sounds rather than words. McLeod’s skills on the steelpan (Trinidad’s national instrument) come through in this emotional piece. ”
From Fresh on the Net:
“Nikkie McLeod’s song Deep Cry was one of the most popular tracks with voters and moderators this week.
Before reviewing I watched an interview titled ‘Gentle Lone Rider of The Masculine And The Feminine’ which tells the story of their childhood in Trinidad & Tobago and their move to Brooklyn, New York aged 18.
Nikkie McLeod is an inspiration, having grown up in a world that has been mostly unaccepting of their ‘beautifully singular androgyny’.
Nikkie is softly spoken and passionate, grew up a feet away from the Panosonic Connection Steel Band Orchestra, and spent nights listening from their bedroom to musicians playing steelpans. Following a move to the US, Nikkie learnt new instruments, and listened to R&B, Blues, Jazz, Rap/Hip-Hop.
Nikkie has distilled everything they have learned into their first album, which is dedicated to their late mother and brother.
Deep Cry is the album’s first single. The song takes us on a musical journey through Nikki’s life. Steelpan rhythms form the bones, and periodically new instruments accompany the arrangement, guitars, strings and beautiful harmonies. The resulting sound is unique to my ears and is a complete triumph.”
From Week In Pop:
“Brooklyn based rising star Nikki McLeod shared the powerful & vibrant single single “Deep Cry”…”
From Skope Magazine:
Afrofuture single from Brooklyn’s Nikkie McLeod
Born in Trinidad & Tobago, McLeod grew up listening to and playing the country’s national instrument, the steelpan. As a non-binary immigrant now living in Brooklyn, there is a wealth of influence behind their music. “Deep Cry” soulfully embraces a film-like reel of memories in each individual note. The first song McLeod wrote on the steelpan, its meaning wouldn’t become apparent to them until months later. They explain, “It’s a regretful song surrounding my mother’s passing, and not being able to say goodbye or make any reconciliations. I personally could not put words around losing my mother…all I had was the sound of it”.
From Diamond Deposits:
“Brooklyn based artist Nikkie McLeod gives us our Weekend Track titled Deep Cry–a haunting futurist pop composition with a lush dramatic instrumental rife with steelpan and deeply emotive vocals. Melancholic poetry with a future forward flair…”
From The Autumn Roses:
“Psychedelic and adventuresome, it leaps across genres and eras with a willing, thumping, hopeful heart.“Deep Cry” is the intricate, expansive brand-new single from Brooklyn, New York’s Nikkie McLeod.”
Download and stream Deep Cry!
Last week, I released a single off my first album, Quarrel. The album is a tribute to my mother and brother whom have passed. The track released, Deep Cry, was particularly written for my mother. When she died I didn’t have words for what I was feeling, which was mostly a gamut of confusion, great sadness, an unbearable feeling of guilt, and an urgency to understand why? The only way I could express/communicate what was happening was through sound…
I still remember everything… I remember what I was wearing: a green striped button down shirt, tan khaki pants, and light brown leather shoes. I was sitting in my cubicle at work reading/responding to emails… At 1pm, I received the call on my work phone. I didn’t understand… I still do not completely understand… Because it was impossible. Still impossible! I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I had to get up. I had to go outside because everything was closing in on me. I remember what outside smelt like… Fresh like flowers… The gentle chill in the air was clean… But I couldn’t understand what was happening, what had happened – the impossible had happened. My mind kept playing the sound of your voice… It was alive and real! I can feel it! Impossible! The thing which still burns the most is our last conversation. We said regretful things to each other. You were always blunt, but I’ve always been aware of your enormous heart, as it is one of my many blessings from you! Your friends told us about the day this photo was taken… They said you treated yourself, spent the day pampering yourself, went and had your photo taken… It feels so good knowing this, and seeing your joy shine! Rest in Power
You can stream and download Deep Cry at my bandcamp page:
Quarrel will be released on my mother’s birthday, October 30th. Thank you mommy!
I know I’ve not been on here for quite some time… But, the good news is I’m coming out with my first album, which I’m super excited about. I worked with some amazing artist! Also, there’s a lot of steelpan! Woot! Anyway, I thought this article I originally wrote for Tom Tom magazine is a great starting point for this direction I’m heading. Here’s to things to come!
“Underlying the music Africans brought to the New World was the principle that music must help people live. Without being less aesthetic, this is a very functional approach, whereby music is made to give people strength when they are weak; it must lift their spirits when they are down. With music people can celebrate the joys of life, and indeed music is itself one of life’s greatest pleasures, yet it must also connect people with their ancestors in the land of the dead, and summon the deities from the heavens above. Most importantly, music must strengthen the bonds between people because only with and through others we become fully human.” – The Illustrated Story of Pan, pg.24.
I grew up surrounded by music. For most of my formative years, I lived seconds away from a steelband orchestra panyard. I remember being so excited when the Christmas season began, because it not only meant the sound of Parang, but also the beginning preparations for Carnival. It is during this season the steelpan orchestras choose their calypso song anthem, and begin rehearsing for the largest steelband competition in the world: Panorama!
My little self would stay up late, trying to feign away sleep at my window, listening to my village’s steelpan orchestra rehearse, which was one of the most magical experiences of my childhood. My brother who is a couple years older, he was allowed to play and be in the panyard. I suppose it was because of his intimate relationship with something as beautiful as the steelpan which initially made me wonder why I could not be involved in such magic. I mean, we were a part of the same magic we created for our parents when we sang together with our other siblings; when we put on our own talent shows on evenings. Break dancing, believing we were a version of Michael Jackson. So, from a very young age, my curiosity was sparked. This spark helped in my obsessive love of the steelpan.
I fell in love with the tenor pan. I fell in love with its circular, shiny chromed mystery, which to me represented, genius. I would stare at my brother’s tenor pan, completely mesmerized by what I probably did not understand at that time was the instrument’s aesthetics. The sound of the steelpan possessed me. Enough so, given any opportunity, I stole my brother’s sticks, and tried to play the calypso song our village’s steelpan orchestra chose for their ten minute Panorama reinterpretation. I did not care how much noise; how many bad notes I played trying to capture the arrangement, or how many times my brother swore he was going to kill me for touching his pan. I could not resist the pan’s hypnotic allure.
I began running away to the panyard. I possibly annoyed the orchestra’s captain with my fantasy, that I was a crackshot. When actually, I was out tuning the various pans which were left unattended. I was unaware there was a touch; a difference between beating and playing the pan. A grace.
The captain started me off on the Grundig (Double Guitar). It was both exciting and difficult learning how to play, because not only does the pan want of the player to understand rhythm, but the rhythm has to be strummed, in synced with the melodies. The touch has to be even, precise, on both pans. The physical hand coordination must execute equal independence, like harmonious ambidexterity.
The captain, satisfied that the mystery of balancing the physical motion of this hand dance for the Grundig‘s sound held my attention, told me if I learned how to play it well, then I could move onto my desired pan: the shiny chrome tenor. The lead pan in the orchestra. Nothing, absolutely nothing seemed more important, as everything meant being a part of this complete brilliance.
Though I did not have the words for it, being in the panyard meant something beyond the zeal I felt. I’d goggle at the crackshots – the steelpan prodigies, the steelpan god geniuses – in complete awe, because they knew something far beyond my obsession and shared love of the instrument. Yes, even though they were possessed as I, their lives surrounded living and breathing for this period in Trinidad and Tobago’s celebratory uproar for freedom. They lived for carving the arrangement into their hearts; for the united dance of going into battle with their fellow pannist. I wanted to be like them.
“[Clive (legendary steelband arranger] Bradley himself said that Carnival is a healing time for us, it is a golden link that runs through everybody, it is a connector for all of us, and he used the music to reflect his relationship to the band and the community.” The Illustrated Story of Pan, pg. 228.
My parents became concerned about my presence at the panyard. Although my brother and I are close in age, there were not many young girls, and very few women pannist in the orchestra. With a playership which can exceed eighty members, the beginner age for a steelband orchestra’s pannist can be as early as a six year old to however old a pannist wants to hold on their sticks and play. This in itself, the wide diversity of ages, symbolizes the unison nature of the steelband culture. It also made me wonder why I could not join.
“My pan sticks. Look at them. I was proud of my pan sticks. The Ministry of Culture should teach that to people. Our sticks should be cherished. We shouldn’t be knocking up the pan any more. I lost a lot of friends. You couldn’t be seen with a pan stick: ‘You in a panyard?’ Of course you play piano or guitar. People looked at you in this scornful way, even though you had the cream of the crop next to you playing pan, doctors and lawyers. I was first female member of Renegades 16 years ago, on nine-bass… It’s as though you now become the music. If your spirit not in the music, you can’t perform…” The Illustrated Story of Pan, pg. 256.
The panyard was considered a predominantly male space. A space born out of poverty, branded as criminal, possibly even labelled uncivilized in its early days. While that stigma was shifting during my brother and I’s youth, the attitudes surrounding the panyard – where the steelpan lived – was still viewed as one where safety and the ideas surrounding privilege was open-ended for boys and men. The image of the panyard was regarded as unsafe and was not an activity deemed proper for a lady. The irony of this dynamic’s then unspoken stigma of criminality and respectability, which haunted the instrument, is that it made the steelpan inaccessible to everyone who shared in this struggle for freedom.
“[The steelpan] limed outdoors and was wild. The piano sat indoors and was respectable. Piano lessons were part of a decent girl’s cultural finishing. It combined a classical “culture”, the discipline of practice, and domestic entertainment. For males it was different. In the US the piano had a wild streak in the saloons, where men created ragtime, boogie woogie, jazz and rock-and-roll, but in Trinidad young men beat drums and invented pan.” The Illustrated Story of Pan, pg. 248.
What cannot be ignored in the discourse surrounding this gender dynamic is its concurrence with the rise of feminism, and the history of the United States. As they are deeply influential, but at the same time of the shared similarities of exclusion, it is completely different for black women and girls in Trinidad & Tobago. There must be the allowances for when the United States was no longer a British colony, but the country itself was participating in slavery and the slave trade; to the abolition of slavery; when segregation began; to the civil rights movement, to the rise of Black Panther, the Harlem Renaissance, the Negritude Movements… These periods all connect together, and played a significant role in the dialectical discourse of transatlantic feminism. “[The 1970’s] Black Power allowed women active if not leadership roles, and it infected everything. Grassroots women joined steelbands as never before.” The Illustrated Story of Pan, pg. 254.
The lacking of historical presence of women and girls in the panyard is rooted in the creation of the steelpan itself. A history which is tied to and intersects with absenteeism slavery and classism, or in more contemporary terms: respectability. In the various forms of the steelpan’s inception, it was not even viewed as an instrument. The first steelpan orchestras were not even considered orchestras. Whilst it was celebrated during its early development in the 1950s, it was in the form of earnest political agendas. Prior to the seventies, it was not even thought of as an artform, as culture. During the 1930’s, the activity itself of playing the steelpan signified criminal, vagabond, hooligan.
“Daisy James’ younger sister wasn’t allowed to enter a private school… because word got out that her brothers were in Casablanca [steelband]. What would have happened if it was known that Daisy was in the band too? … when Daisy was six in 1944 she secretly played with [her brother’s] pan at home… [Daisy’s brother] had to sneak her out because their mother was against even the boys being in a steelband… however, until Eric Williams, who was hero-worshipped by Daisy’s parents, came to power in 1956 and his government endorsed the steelband. Steelband, initially a rage among teenage boys, was not in schools before the 1970s… In 1965 (The Nation, January 1, 1965 p.7) Eric Williams [Trinidad & Tobago’s first Trinbagonian Prime Minister] exhorted, [`]Let us catch them, as we are doing now in cricket… The schools would require some funds for the provision of the necessary instruments. But if this can be associated with the spread of musical instruction in the schools… we will thereby taking a powerful step in the direction of giving our native talent a professional foundation. [´] Yet only in 1972 did pan enter the education system…” The Illustrated Story Of Pan, pgs. 233 & 237.
The impetus for the creation of the steelpan plays to an immediate reaction to a law. In response to the Canboulay Riots, former slaveholders banned the use of African drums by the ex-enslaved and their descendance. It was feared that, through drumming, the ex-enslaved were communicating to ignite revolts in the Caribbean. “The whites feared and loathed black music-making. The noise disturbed them. The drumming and dancing outraged both their musical tastes and their sense of propriety. They especially appalled Protestants, for whom the Sabbath was sacred and the African music satanic. Additionally, the whites were terrified of unsupervised slave gatherings. Indeed, in 1805 a drum dance carded for Christmas by the slaves of several plantations in Trinidad’s North-West Peninsula was brutally suppressed for fear of being a planned rebellion. But in 1882, the government introduced a “Music Bill” that made a police licence necessary to beat drums, tambours and shak-shaks from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., after which it was absolutely prohibited. Public outcry forced the government to withdraw the bill, but Ordinance 11 of 1883 was passed to make property-owners liable for “rogues and vagabonds” on their premises singing and dancing to drums. There were riots when the police tried to stop the drum dances, but gradually the African drum was excluded from Carnival.” The Illustrated Story Of Pan, pgs. 25, 32. Because of this ban (law) and destruction of all African drums, the ex-enslaved in Trinidad began beating the stems of bamboo trees. This practice, which was eventually outlawed as well, is known as Tamboo Bamboo.
‘“White French Creoles controlled Carnival in the Savannah. Before the war poor bands had bamboo tamboo. Middle-class people had orchestras on foot, complete with drums – 12 to 14 people with reliefs. Middle-class people on lorries had a trio sitting on the lorry hood. Those glorified to play on a lorry, you get to pick of women. We tried to get through side of the truck to pull their dresses. They said ‘We don’t play foot mas’.’ The Illustrated Story Of Pan, pg. 33
Many Trinbagonians still keep to this tradition of playing Tamboo Bamboo during the Carnival season, as its significance, as does Carnival, symbolizes the August 1st, 1838 declaration of emancipation of the enslaved in the twined island under one republic that is Trinidad and Tobago.
The playing of Tamboo Bamboo transcended into the Ping Pong, as discarded biscuit pans exported by Britain into the dependant colony was the derivative of the steelpan. Although the Ping Pong was integral in the Carnival celebration, the stigma of criminality persisted, as the island was still under British colonial rule. Even after emancipation, the governance of the island was one of absenteeism regulation which existed during slavery: the dominant population of black ex-enslaved and descendants of black ex-enslaved ruled by decrees, laws, religion, aesthetics, etc… from the outside.
It is not a coincidence that the evolution of the Ping Pong to the first steelpan – wider in octave range – coincided with the period of World War II. Amongst Trinidad and Tobago’s many natural resources, the most valued was the island’s oil resource. Because of the economic realities (which I won’t go into here) of World War II, British colonies like Trinidad and Tobago, with a geographical proximity to Europe and the United States, played an important role in the supply of petroleum. These colonies natural oil resource were used in the economic market as a point of control, a source of and as oil reserves. The steel barrels (drums) which were used to ship Trinidad’s oil to Europe and America, these oil barrels became an ingenious raw material for the steelpan musical inventors.
Still under an Victorian British rule of aestheticism, religion, philosophy of life, economical value, etc. – because Trinidad and Tobago gained independence in 1962 – it was undignified for a “lady” to play the pan. For women and girls’ involvement in a steelpan orchestra, outside of providing a yard where the pans can live and the steelpan men and boys can play, meant “vulgarity”, “looseness…” Most of the women who were a part of orchestras during pan’s early days and during World War II were not playing the instrument. Their roles were of flag women, which was originally done by men and/or boys; and in many cases women showed their support of the steelband movement by providing safe havens for the boys and men who played in bands. Thus, the underlying discouragement stemmed from both the stigma of criminality, Victorian idealism of respectability, and as well as the norms of sexism intersecting in this ridiculous organism.
“Women were vital from the outset. As heads of households many were in a position to give succour to the youths at a time when they most desperately needed it, because a steelband without a home quickly died. Such women were supporters, lovers, flag-wavers, sex objects, weapon-bearers or even fighters in the band but almost never pannist. Their role was just another aspect of the traditional sexual division of labour.” The Illustrated Story Of Pan, pg. 238
The criminality/respectability of the steelpan slowly shifted in the seventies through the nineties, and this may have been heavily influenced by Trinidad and Tobago’s public recognition of the steelpan as the country’s national instrument, dated August, 30th 1992, which may have been encouraged by the shift in imperial power from British to the United States, coinciding with the global recognition of the steelpan as the first, and only instrument created in the 20th century. The country’s middle class, mothers, radical movements such as the country’s vibrant trade unions; these groups involvement in the steelband movement helped shape the future longevity of the steelpan by cultivating the instrument into the education system which ultimately made it accessible to women and girls. With these shifts in power and ideals, the image of the steelpan began to change, and more women (although still disproportionate to men and boys) began to play.
This shift is most dramatically demonstrated in 2014, as women and girl pianist’s involvement were highlighted/documented in that year’s Panorama. I believe this initiative is related to the creeping rise of feminism in the Caribbean. In fact, Trinidad and Tobago appointed the country’s first woman Prime Minister, honorable Kamla Persad-Bissessar, in 2010, precursor by Jamaica’s honorable Portia Simpson Miller, in 2006.
Since my passion for the steelpan never died; wanting to play tenor in the orchestra still absorbed me at twelve. Knowing I was not going to stop running away to the panyard, my parents allowed me to join. I am really thankful they finally did; as I daydreamed about playing for our village. With a great sense of what may have been pride, I hungered for Panorama. Every chance I got, I continued to steal my brother’s sticks… I wanted to be like the brilliance that is the late artist Pat Bishop, and all pioneering rebel women steelband orchestra conductors. I wanted to be a crackshot. I wanted to play.
The Illustrated Story Of Pan, Kim Johnson
Trinidad & Tobago National Library and Information System Authority: http://www.nalis.gov.tt/Research/SubjectGuide/Music/Steelband/tabid/239/Default.aspx?PageContentID=429
Listen HERE to a song I wrote on the steelpan for a very special woman I met recently. The song is called FEVER TO TOUCH and there’s a poem that goes with it as well that I wrote awhile back called Everyone Should Know This. I’m hoping to turn the poem into lyrics for the song.
As you can tell, this woman had a huge impact on my senses, enough so that I’m still grieving over the loss of not getting to know her in the way I envisioned.
I’m still thankful to have shared those moments that were gifts of kindness, an awakening… I felt like I could love, and be loved again. Maybe that was the point of our encounter, who knows. But I’ll keep the joy I felt close at hand as I walk these streets of uncertainty.
I’ve been working with Magnetic Island, an exprimental, indie rock band based in NYC, on the single Subterfuge.
Not only did I play the drums, and the steelpan on the single, I also sang!
It was so great being back in the recording studio, and playing in general. Even though at times it was a challenge, I learned so much from the experience.
Working with Magnetic Island was really refreshing as the sound is completely different from my band Telenovela Star.
I think the difference is that I was more focused on percision rather than power. Less concerned with trying to prove how fast I can play or how much agility I have, but more concerned with how to bring out the song, make it tell the story that it’s dying to say.
Working with these guys also gave me the opportunity to break out my steelpan, which has been sitting in my closet for sometime now, and as well as to sing. Being brought back to my first instruments, my voice and the steelpan, reminded me of why I desired to be a musician. I was blown away. I didn’t realize that I was capable of expressing myself through these other mediums, especially singing. I realized that I can do more than carry a tune. I have a voice. I can sing.
All in all this was an eye opening experience for me, and I’m thankful to have had the chance to work with such talented, and genuinely remarkable musicians. They brought out a side of me that was starving to be explored.
Here are some shots of us in The Fort recording studio: