This Trinidadian soca songstress is known for her high-pitched vocals and vibrant, upbeat lyrics that celebrate Trinidadian culture, life, and individuality. Nailah Blackman comes from a family with a musical legacy, most notably her grandfather Garfield Blackman, aka Ras Shorty I, who is credited with inventing soca music, and her calypsonian mother, Abbi Blackman.
Blackman gained recognition in 2017 with her breakout hit Work Out, featuring Kes the Band. She was nominated for the Best New International Act award by BET in 2018, and has won awards including Best New Soca Artiste at Jamaica’s Your View awards and the Groovy Soca Female of the Year at the International Soca Awards. She has since released other popular songs, including Baila Mami, Badishh, We Ready, Together We Reign, More Sokah, Iron Love, Dingolay, as well as her album, Teknique, in 2022. Some 2023 releases were Best Friend, Bodum Bodum, Rum & Raisin, and Come Home.
2023 was a year of diversification for this soca princess. In April, she launched Sokah Galor, an earthy glamour-inspired swimwear brand, founded and designed to celebrate her Caribbean heritage. She has also published a children’s book, inspired by her first carnival experience: Love Lah Lah will be out later this year. Blackman had an active year in 2023 musically as well, performing in different locations across the world including the UK, US, Canada, Trinidad and Bermuda.
We’ve located the busy entrepreneur and artist, and jumped at the rare opportunity to ask her a few questions.
What was is it like growing up in such an illustrious musical family?
It was very interesting to say the least, I was always in awe by what everyone was capable of and, from since I could know myself, I learned a lot.
Were they your inspiration to pursue a musical career?
Yes my family was indeed my inspiration for starting music as it came so naturally to me growing up around musicians and wanting to take on a professional career was to further that legacy.
Can you tell us about how your grandfather’s and mother’s music styles have influenced your music?
When I was a little girl, my mother would write all my songs, so when I started playing guitar and writing for myself, naturally,I adopted some of her style. As for my grandfather, soca music was not the genre I was more inclined to do, so I studied my grandfather as he is the creator who really learned how to construct and create a well-written soca song.
Could you share insights into your creative process when writing and composing songs?
I write with purpose, either for a specific message or a feeling I’d like to convey. I often write from my experiences and each song process is different and unique to itself. I try to be true to myself or whatever phase I’m going through in life.
Can you describe the themes and inspirations behind your album, Teknique?
Teknique was a unique blend of so many different genres and fusions sounds that I want to combine effortlessly without feeling forced or out of place and sharing a bit of my story and how I express myself.
Is another album set to follow, any time soon?
Yes, I’m actually releasing a compilation album for Carnival 2024 entitled Best Self, and I’m super excited about it.
How does it feel when you step out on stage and hear the crowd singing your lyrics back to you?
It’s honestly a euphoric feeling that cannot truly be described by words. I absolutely love connecting with my fans and supporters in the truest form.
You have collaborated with Kees, Teejay, Shenseea, Skinny Fabulous, Mical Teja and a host of other artists. Are there any collaborations we should be looking forward to, and who would you absolutely love to do a duet with, if the opportunity ever arose?
I have a host of new collaborations out for Carnival ‘24. Just to name a few: my aunt Marge Blackman, Nisha B, Hey Choppi, Teddyson John and a couple more you’ll just have to wait to see.
How has the journey been as an ambassador for Angostura White Oak Rum, and do you see yourself taking on any more such roles. Is there a brand you’re dreaming of working with?
I have absolutely loved working with Angostura for all these years. They’ve supported me from the beginning of my career and we have a very good relationship going. I would love someday to take on a sports brand in some way. A brand like Nike or Alo as I’m very active from dance to gym, and my performances are a serious workout.
What have been the highlights of your career so far?
Some highlights of my career would have to be my BET nomination, performing at Coachella, the Olympia in Paris and winning various awards for my music throughout the Caribbean and the USA.
What have been the challenges?
Drowning out the noise, staying true to your vision despite all outside influences, adjusting to change and growing into womanhood are a few things I found quite challenging throughout my career.
Are there plans for another Sokahchella?
Yes, but SokahChella was just the theme for Sokah Origins last year, and every year, we change the theme; this year’s theme was Garden of Eden.
Recently, it has become the norm for celebrities to collaborate with designers. What inspired you to buck that trend, design a swimwear collection and start your own brand?
I’ve been designing my own clothing from the inception of my career till now. I’ve been teasing the idea before I even broke into the soca industry so it’s just a matter of time before we’re cooking with gas!
And what inspired you to write a children’s book at the same time. How has the journey to writing it been, especially having put yourself in the shoes of a little girl?
I am always looking for new avenues to express myself. I love children, and I live in my child-like self a lot every day. My childhood nickname and my family history inspire my book Love Lah Lah. It’s more of a riddle than a story. Very fun and playful, and the illustration speaks for itself.
Five years from now, do you still see yourself making soca, or are there plans to branch out into other genres or another career path?
I’m kind of a wild card. I go where my spirit takes me. I’m always changing, always growing and I’ll never be stagnant. My music speaks for my current feelings, circumstances or desires. I’m not sure where my desires may take me five years from now, but I’m sure I won’t be where I am right now.
Can you share any insights into your creative direction and upcoming projects for 2024?
I’ve never done traditional soca, but this year, I’m dabbling in sounds that I believe to be closer to the source that we know. I’m still very different and international with how I approach things, but it’s a new sound for me and I am excited to see how my fans receive it.
Do you have any advice for aspiring young female soca artists?
To every young female artist who is trying to get their shots, I would advise them to work harder than everybody else around them. Hard work cannot be replaced by talent or good looks. Make sure to keep good people in your corner and express yourself in the way you see fit. Being an artist is not just about singing a song. It’s about being an entity, a force to be reckoned with. From your delivery to your style, think through everything and do your homework.
Nailah’s release, Jam of the Year is a beautiful groovy soca song written alongside producer Anson; Nailah and Anson wrote, produced and recorded the track, then shot the video on a recent trip to Tokyo, Japan.
Some of her other notable songs are: Round and Rosie, Best Self a collaboration with Lyrikal, Born To Fly, featuring Pumpa, Tip Tip with Nisha B, and Wine Low, featuring Jamaican dancehall artist Stalk Ashley.
You can keep up with Nailah via @nailahblackman on Instagram.