Already featured in the top spots of the industry's Ones to Watch of 2016 lists (BBC, Apple Music), London artist Nao (pronounced Na-yo) mixes soulful, charming vocals with today's flexible electronic sensibilities and created some of the most enticing sounds to come out of 2015. Although both R&B and electronic music have seen a surge in revivals and popularity, Nao's work stands out for its addictive energy and sharp, silvery beats.
Growing up in East London, Nao got her start with training in vocal jazz. She played the teacher role herself for a while, teaching students how to sing at a South London school before embarking on her own musical project. Her collaborations with equally unique artists, including A.K. Paul, George Reid of AlunaGeorge, and Disclosure on her two EP's, So Good and February 15 have established her as a multi-dimensional talent. Now running her own recording label, Little Tokyo Records, Nao maintains creative control of her ever-evolving sound.
In an interview with Pitchfork, the artist lists her musical influences as ranging from Prince to Miles Davis, to Sam Cooke. The impact of these diverse influences comes through in the singer's versatile voice. “Apple Cherry” from February 15 is breathy and voluptuous, building to a neatly controlled climax. Going deeper in “Bad Blood,” released in November of last year, Nao's voice leaps flawlessly alongside a 90's-tinged beat. It was her collaboration with another of BBC's Sounds of 2016, electronic mastermind Mura Masa on “Firefly” that initially got me hooked. With an album expected to drop this summer and an upcoming UK/Europe/US tour in the works, the moment is certainly right for Nao's modern rendition of R&B to take off.
Header image taken from the video for "So Good" by Nao & A.K. Paul