Actress/Musician Nabiyah Be, Discusses Her Acting Career, Childhood, And Releasing Her Debut Album
By: Natasha Marsh
You may have heard of Nabiyah Be from her role as Linda in Black Panther, her performance in School Girls, or because she is the daughter of famous Brailian musician, Jimmy Cliff. Nabiyah is a true triple threat, an actress, musician, and dancer who has been making a big impact in the New York sector for the last seven years. Trained in acting but having performed on tour with her dad as a child, Nabiyah is excited to get back to making music. She is currently working on her debut album and has plans to release it in the fall. We sat down with her to hear about her childhood in Brazil, her acting career, and what’s next for her music career.
QUESTION: What was it like growing up in Brazil and how has it influenced you creatively?
Nabiyah Be: I grew up in Salvador which is the capital of Bahia, Brazil. It was amazing growing up in Brazil; my father is a very famous musician there and I remember I would go with him on all his tours. Essentially, I grew up on a tour bus. I didn’t quite realize what it meant to be a kid on stage till later. My parents raised us on music of the 60s, at the time the dictatorship was quite prevalent in Brazil. All artists, whether it was musicians or painters, worked hard to convey how disappointed and unhappy they were with the government. It was this type of protest music that I grew up on that is still quite relevant to my sound today. I was taught that music should education and produce certain feelings and I always have that in mind when creating.
QUESTION: What is your creative process?
Nabiyah Be: The city where I am from takes a lot of inspiration from West Africa and this is still very much in me. When I first started making my own music, I would start with chord progression and attach lyrics to it later. Now it’s hit or miss, sometimes I start with the chords, sometimes the lyrics, or sometimes I just have a melody in my head and go from there.
QUESTION: Does your album have a specific theme?
Nabiyah Be: Without giving too much away it is definitely a narrative. The funny thing about storytelling is there is an inclination for strong subject matters. You come back to certain things whether you want to or not. For me it’s identity, transgenerational trauma, or family dynamics. You will definitely see that in my upcoming album. It really is just the unraveling of my life over 10 songs I really believe in.
QUESTION: Do you ever get performance anxiety?
Nabiyah Be: Yes, definitely. Acting had been my main focus for quite some time. I have been singing someone else’s songs and telling their stories for so long that it is really scary and challenging telling your own. Usually, in acting, the focus is on how the artist wants it to sound or look. Now creating on my own, I have to think about what I want to sound like and how to become a better messenger of my own story. This is something that I am constantly working at. At times, it is uncomfortable to write or even share my work that I just want to go in hiding. But I tell myself that is probably a good reason to continue and so I do.
QUESTION: What was it like working on Black Panther?
Nabiyah Be: Crazy and important. It was actually my first on screen performance. Just as a bit of background, I moved to New York 7 years ago for school. I attended Pace University to study theater. Pace was the only university I found that you could take classes and work. My second year, I immediately was casted for plays and by the time I completed my degree at Pace I auditioned for Black Panther. I actually auditioned to be Chadwick’s sister but the director saw me as a better fit for Linda. Black Panther was amazing, everyone involved is extremely talented. It sparked my interest to be on screen and after I finish my album I plan to get back to that.
QUESTION: What advice would you give to someone starting out in music?
Nabiyah Be: Find and understand the feeling that moves you forward and stick to it because that will be your foundation. I think often times we will base our foundations on what other people say or we compare ourselves to much but honestly it’s the feeling, and then what you do with it. Because that feeds the feeling.