Through music discovery, I love finding artists who dedicate themselves to a specific aesthetic and create an immense vision through their craft. I was recently introduced to the music of New Age/Ambient LA-based Harpist and Musician, Nailah Hunter. Listening to her music transported me to a world of fantasy and sereness–as if I was floating in a cave pond surrounded by crystals. I got the opportunity to speak with Nailah about her work and inspirations, and a fascinating conversation ensued. Read the full interview below!
Nailah tells me that her musical journey started very early on, starting piano at age four and singing in her church choir. In her time in school choir, she sang a piece called “Ceremony of Carols”, which features harp. Through this she became fascinated with the instrument, and told me that after performing this piece she told herself “I’m gonna have a harp”. With her newfound interest with the harp, she was then gifted a harpsicle.
With her transition to studying voice at CalArts, she recalls how she witnessed a performance by harpist Chelsea Bomar, and decided to take lessons with her at the school. From there, Nailah has continued to play the harp ever since.
Nailah’s sound is very unique; definitely with a specific vision in mind. I ask her what inspires “the sound” and she delves into the idea of accessing “the other plane”. She tells me that the harp’s sound creates a stillness, and “opens a portal”.
I honestly have to agree. The sounds of a harp are almost trance-like.
She mentions fantasy too, especially her love of dragons. “Being a black woman, singing about high fantasy is a choice”. She tells me that her music creates a “safe, soft place” as an act of both care and defiance.
I definitely sense the safe softness she’s referring to. Upon hearing her song “Ruins”, I felt the instant serenity in my mind, immediately entering a somewhat day-dream state.
I ask her to delve further into the topic of fantasy; she emphasizes she’s a huge nerd for the stuff. Some of her favorite Fantasy media includes Narnia, Star Wars, Star Trek, Greek mythology, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Howl’s Moving Castle. She emphasizes that she loves the idea of traditional fairy tales retold through the perspective of Black people as well.
Nailah mentions how her heritage influences her music. She’s inspired by old magic, which provides an opening for her to connect with her Belizean & Haitian ancestors; “Going back, unpacking what my parents packed away”.
Specifically, with her Juneteenth track “Black Valhalla”, she wanted to commemorate all of the fallen black individuals. In Norse mythology, “Valhalla” is a place in Asgard where the fallen warriors go to rest. Through this single, she wanted to “make it black”, and lift up the fallen of the Black community in a special way, thus calling the track “Black Valhalla”.
Getting into the creative mindset, Nailah tells me “I have to set it up”, making her creative space a ceremonial zone. She usually lights a candle, prays at her altar, and lights incense. She also does yoga, and mentions how it, music, singing, and making music are all connected.
Nailah tells me that she’s a “person who likes to collage sounds together”, and plans to incorporate more jazz instruments into her future work.
I ask her if living in Los Angeles (or any of place) has inspired her music at all. As a young person, Nailah tells me that she was taken aback by Los Angeles, however, she mentions places of inspiration of micro to macro proportions. She takes in many details, especially that of nature. She “romanticizes flowers”, and takes inspiration from visuals such as meadows, valleys, mountain ranges, and the ocean. Nailah additionally delves into her love of the idea of hyperspace travel. She tells me that currently “We are on the very precarious slope” our world can become “Star Trek or The Dark Ages”. She tends to explore the Star Trek side of possibilities and the Outer Rim. Through this, she intuitively interacts with the sounds of her synths.
Her dream is to score a fantasy TV show.
Upon discovering her music, I noticed that her album art and Instagram feed show very whimsical and ethereal visuals, and I ask her if she’s spiritual in any way. Nailah tells me that she has “residue of Christian faith”, and she is very much nature-oriented. She focuses a lot on her relationship with the Earth, is a lover of astrology, and a believer in magic.
So far, Nailah’s favorite release has been Black Vahalla, because she “said what [she] wanted to say, but it was concise”. Additionally, she mentions Ruins too, explaining how colors were significant in its creative process. Ruins was actually my favorite song from her so far, so a nice little moment.
Some of Nailah’s favorite artists that inspire her include Imogen Heap, Geotic, Billie Holiday, harpist Elz, Thundercat, and Joanna Newson. She also mentions how she’s met “so many beautiful harpists”, and the people around her inspire her a lot.
As closing words, Nailah tells me “I hope everyone is taking time to make space for themselves”. Additionally, she mentions that we’ve never been safe from the Universe. “Be aware of that and prepared”.
Interview Conducted and Written By: Alexa Terry