Before the release of New Era Frequency, the debut EP from her new project Nattali Rize & Notis, The Pier caught up with Nattali Rize. Known for her work in the Australian Roots outfit Blue King Brown, the global front-woman has chosen to stomp out the path for her solo career.
On an late summer night, during the last Sunday sets of Wakarusa, we got to know more about this rising singer/songwriter star. After watching her impress on stage just hours before, in an artist lounge decorated with items of woodsy-bohemia, Nattali spoke on her history as a musician, shared thoughts on Reggae and playing the American scene, as well as details surrounding her latest project.
Interview: Nattali Rize
The Pier: The first we heard of you, it was a while back, when Blue King Brown got going. We really started to listen to your music more recently, this past November, when Blue King Brown released their third full-length, Born Free. Having now seen you live, we were all very impressed by your energy on stage. Not only when we heard you at Cali Roots with Blue King Brown, but also here too during your two Wakarusa sets. But why haven’t we seen much of you before over in the US? Where did you come from?
Nattali: I’ve been performing with the group Blue King Brown, which I started in Australia. With the bass player (Carlo ‘OneRebel’ Santos). We’re both the main song writers and musical directors of Blue King Brown and that band has just gone on 10 years now.
A lot of our work has really been in Australia, obviously, but also we’ve done a little bit of shows in the states, but more in Canada and more in Europe. I feel like this part of the world (the US), maybe it’s me, maybe I’m more ready for this part of the world. And whatever it is that has driven me to come back to the Northern Hemisphere, I say back because I was actually born here, in America (San Diego). Whatever has driven me to come back has been really strong and actually unavoidable. So I’ve just followed my intuition on that.
I’m planning on spending a lot more time in this part of the world. Between here and Jamaica, because Jamaica is one of my main bases now, with the music that I’m making and the musicians I’m working with. I come from that background of performing. I actually started performing on the streets, as a percussionist. So as a street performer, and just building a band up from scratch, as an independent act in Australia who plays Roots, Reggae, AfroBeat, Latin music. It’s actually really hard, because the Reggae scene in Australia is minimum. Like tiny. The Sound System culture is a bit bigger. But the live Reggae scene is just growing. So even now as we came to California Roots, it was a real eye opener for me to see how the support for Reggae culture is THRIVING on the west coast.
The Pier: Blue King Brown is still performing, but right now you are just focusing on the solo-collaboration thing, or do you all still have plans with Blue King Brown? Where are you heading in this US market?
Nattali: Definitely. Blue King Brown, we did just release our album, and we are giving it the push and the energy that it needs to keep going, because the songs are very important on that album, Born Free. That’s why I go between here and Australia because Blue King Brown is still doing festivals around Australia. It’s definitely very much kicking, but I guess the difference is that my energy is split now between the projects because I am spending and focusing more of my musical time in Jamaica with my solo project and with this collaboration with Notis, the Jamaican band.
The Pier: In this new project, the musicians of Notis back you, a powerful front woman. In Blue King Brown there’s that same aspect as well as a similar surrounding of instrumentation with added percussion. Would you explain the differences of how these bands came about or formulated?
Nattali: With Blue King Brown it really started with me and the bass player and a drummer. We all just played percussion, and then we wanted to start this band with more generic instrumentation, guitars and things. It started off as a five piece and just build, as more of the organic band story. We started small and just grew like a normal band does.
But the difference with Notis is that the initial connection was made when the drummer (Wayne ‘Unga’ Thompson) was touring Australia with Jimmy Cliff. And quite often when Reggae acts come to Australia someone will link them with us, because we are one of the only Reggae bands. We hung-out, and we wrote a song start to finish that night (“Rebel Love”). Just had a great connection.
I went to Jamaica, said all right this was something special lets see what happens. Long story short, we collaborated over six months. We wrote almost our entire album together. And now we’ve just prepped a live stage show where the drum and bass are Notis. They’re kind of like the new era Sly & Robbie.
The Pier: We heard him really killing it back on the kit, vocally, and with the rhythms.
Nattali: He’s very talented. And he’s the writer and producer of all the songs as well. In that sense, it’s different because it’s a unique collaboration. I’ve come from the pacific region, and them from Jamaica, and from all my experience as a front women for Blue King Brown and as a musician, and then all their experience, we’ve brought our own backgrounds together in this live show. Which is why these are our first shows of the tour, this is our first time playing in front of a crowd ever!
The Pier: You began your summer, playing on an impressive set at California Roots and are scheduled to play all around the US. A lot of artists from Jamaica and many others from various international stages want to play this market. While it is hard for many of the performers to get here for various reasons, you have been able to break onto the scene.
Between yourself, Leilani Wolfgramm and Hirie all playing at Cali Roots. There’s also Anuhea, Kimie and Wakane on the list. Just recently we were able to catch No Doubt. The infamous Gwen Stefani, one of the first women in the US to play Reggae-Rock, is still doing it after 25 years. You are different than her, but could you talk about the emerging women-led US reggae scene?
Nattali: It’s similar in many genres. Obviously Pop, the biggest stars are female. But definitely in Reggae the female artists are always the minority. It’s interesting for me to come into this scene and really feel it for the first time, in Cali especially, and America’s Reggae scene. I’ve never heard of the female artists. I’ve never heard of Leilani. I’ve never heard of Hirie. I wasn’t aware of them. My awareness has been pretty strongly rooted in Jamaica. Artists like Jah9 and other Reggae artist from there.
It’s the same everywhere, the female front people are the minority. It’s important for me to see other women performing. I love that Leilani played the same day, I think right before us. I was like ‘awesome you know!’ And I’ve never met her but I was like, big ups Leilani because, powerful set.
Something that people don’t get to see a lot. And it’s really about the balance too. Like where we are in this time in the world. The feminine energy is re-balancing. Any form of that being shown in massive through music, through art, through theater, through whatever creative outlet there is, is important and is powerful.
The Pier: I just love the way you put it. Your words just come out so beautifully. Not just now as we talk, but also on stage. Is there a reason you choose Reggae or roots music to spread your messages?
Nattali: For me as a person, Reggae resonated with me as a kid. My mom listened to great music. Jimmy Cliff and all that, Bob Marley, as well as Santana, who I love, and a bunch of other artists. Reggae has always been one of the mainstay genres that is conscious. So what I realized now, that what I connected with as a child, is the vibration of the music, and the feeling of Reggae, just the rhythm. And then as I grew up, I tuned in to that they are actually singing something about something important. And that resonated with me because that’s just who I am. It’s curious; at the same time things are meant to be. Things happen for a reason. I had an affinity with Jamaica for a long time, and it’s taken me this long to get out of Australia and live in Kingston. It’s Far, but at the same time it’s not that far, not today. It’s that thing, it’s timing, the ebb and flow the way the universe works. And when it’s meant to happen it can happen.
The Pier: It’s great you are finally spreading your sound. You hit a good handful of major music festivals in North America this summer and you are set to go on tours with Katchafire and Michael Franti. What are your thoughts on those exciting opportunities?
Nattali: Franti is unstoppable! Inspiring. Michael has been a great supporter of Blue King Brown and myself as an artist. The first time I jammed with him, he pulled me on stage as a percussionist. Because as I was saying, we used to jam in the streets of Byron Bay, and Byron Bay Blues Festival happens every year. Many of the artists would come through and see us and go, ‘yo jump on stage with us.’ And this was one of those such occurrences, and Michael pulled me on stage in front of a ton of people. Ever since then I’ve always been welcome in Michael’s musical area. And he’s always really supported me.
He also really crosses over, its not just Reggae fans, its everyone. Of course as a younger artist, watching someone like that perform…. He just holds it together. The show is seamless. And I learn a lot. I learn a lot as a front person, and how to just run a show and carry a crowd. In fact, it’s very interesting because Blue King Brown’s first ever tour in America was supporting Michael Franti and Spearhead. Nattali Rize and Notis, our first ever tour in America is again supporting Michael Franti and Spearhead. It’s just interesting how things come around like that.
The Pier: Playing around the world with Blue King Brown, as well as traveling to spread this new sound, what’s the transition like to go from playing in Australia or Europe to the American scene? Is there a challenge or language barrier, or different types of fans abroad or over here?
Nattali: Europe has a great appreciation for music in general. Then there’s the countries like Spain and Germany where Reggae is huge. It’s mainly Blue King Brown that has done more touring over there. And we really cross over as well. We do Blues festivals, World festivals, Reggae festivals; we can really mix it up. As far as languages, no man there’s no language barrier, really. And besides I love languages. I always learn something in a local language because I just love to connect with them.
But you know, music transcends all barriers and all language barriers, especially Reggae. Because you just feel it. I mean with me, that’s the vibration. And even when you just have that positive vibration, people feel it because it’s energy. Words are an energy, and not just the word, the intention behind it. When we transmit those things, people absorb them, you know? That’s how we all feel about artists like Bob Marley. You hear Bob’s songs now and you might not realize, ‘ah is that what he was saying in that line of that song,’ but you feel it. Every thing is frequency.
The Pier: With a release date set for August 7th, you are working hard to promote the album’s release. Tell The Pier about a few of the details surrounding this new project.
Nattali: This tour we are on is called the New Era Frequency tour. It’s the name of mine and Notis’ debut project. We are releasing it this summer. First we released the single and video for “Rebel Love” then we are releasing a new single called “Generations will Rize.” The track features Kabaka Pyramid. Who is a really incredible artists out of Jamaica. The song is coming out then the video the week after.
It’s fresh! We filmed it downtown, mostly in a really volatile downtown community in Kingston. Where these young Rastafarians have reclaimed the space and created this really amazing artistic creative hub where they facilitate activities for youth and for visitors. We were like ‘yeah these guys were for real.’ We even got a mural painted on one of the walls, it’s in the video. (Check out the video below.)
We tossed out what to call this project, but its an EP. New Era Frequency has six tracks and three dubs, so it’s a decent length.
Discover the sound of Nattali Rize & Notis yourself, preview their debut EP, New Era Frequency below.
For more about Nattali Rize & Notis, thier music or information about their tour dates, check out the details below.
1.) Generations Will Rize (feat. Kabaka Pyramid)
2.) Midnight Remedy
3.) Rebel Love (feat. Zuggu Dan)
5.) Heart of a Lion
6.) New Reality
7.) Dread Mountain (Dub)
8.) Rebel Love (Dub)
Nattali Rize Website
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Blue King Brown Website
Blue King Brown Facebook
Blue King Brown Twitter
Interview By: Aaron Solomon
Photos By: Peter Monti
Full New Era Frequency EP preview on Soundcloud:
WATCH: Nattali Rize & Notis – Rebel Love (ft. Zuggu Dan)
WATCH: Nattali Rize & Notis – “Generations Will Rize” (ft. Kabaka Pyramid)