Nakisha Esnard

“I’ve got a direction. I am Reggae/Soul, that’s essentially what my genre is… And also I know my history with regard to both genres as well. This is my background; this is every bit a part of me as my hands, as my heart beat. Everything I’m doing is part of that – everything! So it’s just a case of, “Yeah, I got this!” – Nakisha Esnard


Photo: Courtesy of David S. James

The UK continues to be a hotbed for original, fresh, creative and innovative musical talent. Vocalist, composer, writer, pianist and ukulele player Nakisha Esnard definitely ticks all of the aforementioned boxes. Michael J Edwards sat down with this elegantly poised, well spoken and career focused young lady at top West End cocktail bar Zebrano to enquire as to her musical background and moreover, her unique selling point (USP) within such a demanding industry.

Michael J Edwards: Nakisha, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Does your name have a meaning?

Nakisha: No it doesn’t, but it’s the vibration that I respond to.

Michael J Edwards: Please give us some background on Nakisha Esnard, how did you start out into this music thang?

Nakisha: Well basically, I’ve always had music playing in the house growing up in England. Growing up in England and having a West Indian heritage – my parents are from St Lucia and Barbados – there’s always music playing – TV off, Reggae on! (Laughs) So there was always interest in music when I was a kid. When I was seven years old I learned how to play the violin at school, and then I just started learning Classical. So I can read music and play violin, then I picked up piano, cello, percussion – any instrument really. And then when I went to high school, I started going to music school outside of my normal school.

Michael J Edwards: Where did you go to High School?

Nakisha: Cardinal Newman in Luton. So I went there, and started going to music school outside of normal school at the weekend. When I was about fifteen years old I started making other groups at the school, to make it fun for the other kids, as well as learning lots of music. I’ve done quite a few things such as concerts for the Queen as well; this was while I was at school, I was still a teenager. So I had a very early Classical career when I was a kid.

Michael J Edwards: The school employed some extremely specialised teachers then?

Photo: Courtesy of David S. James

Nakisha: They were the music service for Luton, so all the pupils in the nearby schools who were getting instrument lessons, these were also their teachers in school, and then we came together at the weekend for anyone who wanted to develop further and be part of this group. And I was someone who always naturally wanted to do music; I just had a buzz for it. So then I started taking over the classes where some of the teachers might have been a bit boring, such as the Samba and percussion group. So I started teaching that at fifteen, and had all the kids in there. We did long bits of music, where they would remember it, and they found it to be so much fun, which they didn’t before. And we did lots of concerts where a western meets Eastern orchestra, with lots of Indian music coming in. And all Classical Indian instruments as well – such as sitar, santoor, tabla, a violin, viola and cello.

Michael J Edwards: So how has that foundation in Classical music helped you?

Nakisha: It’s helped me greatly, because it means I can work with lots of other musicians in different ways. Because I feel it, it’s all natural, but at the same time I’ve got the Classical training, so I can communicate how I need to, and I can write how I need to write the music, if we ever need session musicians on stuff. Also it’s the basic understanding of it, so I know what rules I can break. So one of the things I do is a Reggae/Opera version of a Spice Girls track. I can hear the chord progressions in Reggae, especially Roots Reggae which has got more of a minor feel to it. I can hear how those progressions are very similar to a lot of Opera, and the only reason I can hear that because I’m classically trained. I started singing Opera stuff over the Reggae stuff, and it actually does work! It works really well! (Laughs)

Michael J Edwards: Are there any particular Reggae artists who really impacted on you growing up?

Nakisha: Not any particular artists, obviously there was Bob Marley who we listened to. A lot of the stuff that I listened to as a kid, I don’t even know the name that, because my dad was also a Reggae producer. His name is Jazbo – he’s quite well-known in the Reggae/Dub music scene. He used to make lots of mix tapes and stuff for my mum, so she used to play a lot of those jams around the house, so I don’t know who those producers could have been…Then as I was growing up my Big Brother introduce me to Jungle music. That had a lot of the old Reggae/Bashment tunes mixed in with it, so it was easy for me to like that. And also my brother’s girlfriend moved into the house and she really loved Soul music, so she introduced me to Lauren Hill.

Michael J Edwards: And this was around what age?


Photo: Courtesy of David S. James

Nakisha: From when I was born through to when I was about fourteen, I was constantly having these new influences being brought into the house – And obviously then going to school and having friends who liked Rock music and all that kind of stuff, including Indie and Alternative. So I listen to everything, I really love and listen to everything. So it’s all been inspired by what I listen to. As long as the song’s good you’ve got my attention.

Michael J Edwards: You’re doing music now, but was music always your career goal?

Nakisha: Yes, it’s always been about the music! I’ve done other things, I’ve got a History and Business background as well, and that’s because it’s all transferable skills that I can now put into my music. It’s always been music always. At fifteen i was thinking about becoming a musical therapist, and for some reason that went wrong, as it does; the universe works in mysterious ways. And now I’ve been pushed into doing more and this is what I’m doing now, and it’s exciting! The universe pulls you into where you’re supposed to be, and now I know this is what I’m supposed to be doing – mixed genre, mixed culture.

Michael J Edwards: Bringing Nakisha to the masses?

Nakisha: Exactly – Something original.

Michael J Edwards: Where was the first venue you performed live?

Nakisha: Solo-wise i was in Boo-ga-loo, Highgate; with the stuff I’m doing now. I had just picked up the ukulele and taught myself three songs. A month before that I had spent a month in hospital and almost died twice – I’ve got a health condition; I’ve got a heart problem. So when I came out of hospital I was sat there feeling depressed, and I remembered I had bought myself a ukulele. So I wrote myself three songs and got into gigs straightaway, and I haven’t stopped since then.

Michael J Edwards: Why did you buy a ukulele? What attracted you to the instrument?

Nakisha: I played violin, but I couldn’t play guitar! I tried, I bought one, but I couldn’t do it. So I thought the ukulele is the exact same size as the violin, but it works a bit like how a guitar works, so it was easier for me. And then I just couldn’t put it down, it was just so much fun, and I loved it! And I can play it really well now. Now i’ve learned to play the guitar in two weeks, because I’ve been playing the ukulele for so long.

Michael J Edwards: So a parallel could be made to playing the piano and then transitioning to playing the organ?

Nakisha: Very similar to that, yeah. Exactly that!

Michael J Edwards: Please expand further on your mash-up for want of a better term regarding your playing of the ukulele over Reggae melodies?

Nakisha: It works really well surprisingly! Lots of people immediately think of George Formby and ‘When I’m Cleaning Windows,’ but actually when you listen to the ukulele and you play the chords, it sounds really island-like, because it’s from Hawaii. It’s a lot smaller than a guitar and sounds more like a toy, but actually back in the day, back in the Caribbean when there wasn’t any money, and there wasn’t all these amazing instruments and stuff, they made their own instruments from whatever was the hand. The ukulele captures that early Ska sound. I would call it West Indian Folk music; it’s that early Ska sound in these instruments. The ukulele was actually used quite a lot, which lot of people don’t know about. They were used quite a lot because they were island-based and had a unique sound. So a lot of what you could be listening to on those early Ska recordings could be ukulele.


Photo: Courtesy of David S. James

Everything that I’m doing, there is something that is driving me that’s behind it, and I’ve always had an interest and a thirst for knowledge. So If I played the ukulele and I like Reggae, I want to know why this naturally comes out of me. So I looked into it, and a lot of this early Ska music includes a lot of these instruments and sounds – that sometimes can even sound like they’re out of tune – but that’s the whole thing that makes it. You know when you’ve got a cult TV program that everyone’s watching, like cult comedies; they’re done cheap and on a budget. That’s part of the reason why it so good; this kind of the same thing.

Michael J Edwards: So what musical style and direction can we expect from your first album project?

Nakisha: I’ve got a direction. I am Reggae/Soul, that’s essentially what my genre is. But I do it in my own way and no one’s really doing it like me. Even though there are a lot of Reggae/Soul artists out there, I’ve got the edge I think because of my writing style and I’ve been doing it for so long. And also I know my history with regard to both genres as well. This is my background, this is every bit as part of me as my hands, as my heart beat. Everything I’m doing is part of that – everything! So it’s just a case of, “Yeah, I got this!” I’ve been writing some new material which is very summery, very uplifting; It’s positively charged as well. And it’s got a bit of Reggae inside it as well the Soul side. So I’m using more soulful chords in the Reggae, which adds a different twist.

Before I was playing Reggae chords with a soulful singing voice, now what I’ve done is just put some Reggae stabs on there but with more soulful chords, like seventh’s and ninth’s on the guitar. So I’m using all those sorts of chords on the guitar, but with a Reggae style, and then using my voice in the Reggae way in the way that I pronounce things and stuff like that. So I’m combining it in that way now, and that works really well, as well as the way I was doing it before. So it will be a complete mash-up of two different styles of writing, with a mixture of some of my old songs that I’ve reworked, and some new songs I’ve been working on recently to all come together.

Michael J Edwards: Who are you vocal influences?


Photo: Courtesy of David S. James

Nakisha: Definitely Lauryn Hill, listening to her. I was able to pick up some of her techniques just by listening to what she does. And without realising it I picked up her technique. How she uses her voice has been a big influence on how I now use mine, in the sense of how she projects it, her vocal range. Little things like that and the accents she uses on the end of phrases. I picked up on some of those things, and the way that I use is different, but it still comes on her and what I learned from listening to the music.

Michael J Edwards: Would you like to collaborate with her?

Nakisha: I would be too scared to collaborate with her, she’s my hero! (Laughs)

Michael J Edwards: Is there anyone else would like to collaborate with?

Nakisha: I’m collaborating with artists who are unknown at the moment, but of the recognised artist I would love to collaborate with John Legend and Pharrell Williams as well!

Michael J Edwards: Well Nakisha, it looks like it’s a case of watch this space, there’s a brand-new face in town, there’s a brand-new voice in town, there’s a brand-new sound in town, and she’s coming correct and bringing a freshness into the music scene! Do you have a final message for the readers of uk vibe and beyond?


Photo: Courtesy of David S. James

Nakisha: I would love for them to check me out and just be involved in the ride. Definitely keep an open mind, and open your hearts as well because I’ve got a lot of love going into this music, and it would be really nice if they were open to my love basically. If they could receive it and accept it, and hopefully send some back if they like it. So it would be great for them to check it out and get involved in the journey, because that’s what it is, we’re all in this together!

Michael J Edwards: Thank you for your time Nakisha, we look forward to that.

Michael J Edwards

A Big Mike and UK Vibe thank you to Zebrano Marketing & Events Manager Patrick McLean and his staff for accomodating us.

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Photo: Courtesy of David S. James