Evocative and Understated: A Conversation with Aisha Badru

Aisha Badru © Neda Bridgeman
Leading up to her breakthrough debut album, Aisha Badru exudes an understated confidence that shines through her alternative indie melodies and deep, contemplative words.

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You may first be attracted to Aisha Badru‘s elegant raspy vocals, but you will stay for her evocative lyrics and understated confidence. A true woman of the world, Badru draws inspiration from the hustle of New York, the literature that she fell in love with in school, and the soul-searching trip she took to Bali. Her electronic songwriter sound glides you over mountaintops and speeds you down interstates. The atmospheric auditory storybooks sketch vivid experiences that are sensed by all five faculties.

Lucky for us, Badru plans to release a full-length album this Spring (via Nettwerk Music Group) which will feature her single, “Bridges.” The electronic leaning track envelopes you with its slow creeping build and ethereal vocals. Although “Bridges” drifts gently along, the power and punch of Badru’s lyrics do not sink to the bottom. In her conversation with Atwood Magazine, Badru discussed her recent travels to visit family in Nigeria, working with other people on her music, and why it’s important to take time to slow down.

Watch: “Bridges” (live) – Aisha Badru

A CONVERSATION WITH AISHA BADRU

Atwood Magazine: So I know one of the reasons we had to push our interview back was because you were traveling. How was your trip to Nigeria and why did you go there?

Aisha Badru: My father is originally from Nigeria and he moved to America years ago to become a college professor. Recently he retired and moved back to Nigeria – that was last year. Now he’s building a home there and last year was the first time that me and my brothers went there. This trip was just to see an update on his house, catch up with relatives, yeah it was really fun. I hadn’t met my relatives my whole life before last year so there was a lot to catch up on. It’s kind of like discovering a whole new side of myself; it was very eye-opening in many ways.

That sounds like an incredible trip. I also could tell from your socials that you've been traveling often and you've recently gotten into philanthropy. How have those experiences this year shaped your artistry and perspective moving forward?

Badru: Well I first went to Bali this past summer and it was my first time in Asia. I didn’t know what to expect and I was just trying to get away. I actually Googled, “What’s the best place to soul search?” and Bali kept coming up. When I got there, there were a lot of things that surprised me. Everything is really beautiful paradise, there’s a lot of tourists, and everyone is happy. Yet the tourists are experiencing a different reality than the people who actually live there. I realized that as a tourist I was contributing to the problem. I felt guilty. After meeting my taxi driver who showed me his home, I felt inspired to do something about the way I was feeling. I wanted to be part of the solution and not a part of the problem. Especially as someone with a platform, I felt it important to use it for something meaningful.

Your story reminds me of my friend who traveled to South East Asia and felt similarly. It's hard to experience the touristy aspects of the trip when you know so many people in these countries are living in extreme poverty. I'd also like to talk about your music video for Bridges - it's truly poetic. What was the process behind making it?

Badru: I worked with director Nathan Presley who called me after he heard the song. He said it reminded him of a relationship that he had been in and it was similar to the lyrics. He designed the visuals for the music video and I essentially let him take the lead on it. I’m not great with the visual arts so to have someone who can interpret my lyrics and so perfectly translate it in to film, it was wonderful.

I love when music videos helped songs click and that's definitely what happened with the Bridges video for me. Although you struggle with the visual arts, I know you also have a love of literature and writing. Do you think that your passion for literature affects your songwriting?

Badru: What I love about literature is how some writers are very visual with their words. I love using metaphors and painting an image with my lyrics. What I’ve gained through reading novels and exploring a wide range of artists is the skill of paying close attention to the words and how they affect you. My favorite style of songwriting is when you can close your eyes, listen to the lyrics, and you can see everything that’s going on.

That really resonates with me. I love when music is visual; it's more vivid and impactful. Are there any novels or literature that you've read that have affected you the most?

Badru: My favorite novel is Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston.

So I know you write most of your songs on guitar, but is that the only instrument you play?

Badru: I play the piano a little bit, but I wouldn’t have the confidence to play any songs at one of my shows. Although for this upcoming album I did write some of those songs on piano.

Great! I know that you work with other people to add other production or electronic elements to your music, but your music still feels raw and intimate. How is the process of working with other people to enhance your music in that way?

Badru: For my first EP Vacancy, I was very hesitant to work with others and allow them to add their own touches to my songs. Vacancy is very stripped, bare, and mostly myself on all of it. For this album, I knew that I wanted to step it up a notch and bring in more creative influences for the production. So I went online and searched for music producers. I found a website that lists all of these profiles for producers. I listened and searched until I discovered Chris Hutchison. I contacted him and sent him a few of my tracks. He sent back one song that he transformed in the most beautiful way; it didn’t take away from what was already happening or the lyrics. I worked with him for the entire album and it was a similar relationship compared to Nathan and the music video. He interpreted it in a way that supported the song and didn’t take away from it.

Well it sounds like most of your working relationships so far have been extremely positive.

Badru: *laughs* Yes definitely. I’m a very reserved person so working with people is new to me.

It's also a vulnerable space to let other people work with your art so I understand that. I know that you write most of your music in your bedroom, but if you could go anywhere in the world for a recording or writing session where would you go?

Badru: I would want to go to a cabin somewhere in the middle of the woods with no one around. I love being in nature and I’m a real loner at heart. I think I would really be able to be creative in the woods. I grew up in New York City where there are so many distractions. I could really draw inspiration from nature and from the quiet instead of being distracted by what’s going on outside.

The Underlying Truth in Aisha Badru’s Video for “Bridges”

:: today's song ::

I feel like that's something you could really make happen. But you've finished your upcoming album right?

Badru: Yes and it’s coming out this Spring.

What are some things we can expect from it?

Badru: The production on this album is very different from my EP. You can expect more atmospheric and electronic sounds.

It sounds like you have a big 2018 coming up. Thank you again for taking the time to speak with us and we can't wait for the album!

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Bridges - Aisha Badru

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The Underlying Truth in Aisha Badru’s Video for “Bridges”

:: today's song ::

Baylee is an aspiring music journalist who currently contributes to Atwood Magazine, EARMILK, and the I Love Memphis Blog. A native (and proud) Memphian, she spends most of her time waiting for the next Bonnaroo, quoting School of Rock, and late night ordering Domino's cheesy bread. Follow me on Twitter for comments on the juiciest releases, climate change, and general revelry.