Amaal Nuux Talks "Last Ones", Love Army, & Her Upcoming EP
Amaal Nuux is an artist who wears many hats: musician; immigrant; refugee; Somali woman; Toronto artist; the list goes on. Thankfully, her instinct is not to compartmentalize each role—instead, all are intertwined, art influencing origin and vice versa. It’s in this multifaceted place that we find Nuux, fresh off of new visuals for her hit “Last Ones” track, a lengthy visit to Somalia (both by herself, and later on, with the Love Army movement), and on the heels of an upcoming EP.
If it wasn’t obvious, Nuux is prepared to go all in—and with a drive that can only be attributed to her upbringing as a refugee in a foreign place, she’s developed a love for the multicultural, and an empathy for the marginalized. Both her music and her work with Love Army—a nonprofit working to bring desperately needed food and water supplies to drought stricken areas of Somalia—stem from this passion, and it should come as no surprise that it makes for damn good music, too. Peep the new vid above, then keep scrolling for our full interview with Toronto’s latest.
So the “Last Ones” video has been out for a couple weeks now; what has the reception been like so far?
Yeah, it’s been out for two weeks, and what I’m getting so far is that it seems like people have been really touched by it. People are writing me messages saying, you know, “You’ve given me inspiration,” or “It’s so nice to see myself—or someone who looks like me—being given a platform to be in this video” because you know I had women of different ethnicities—Filipino girls, Indian girls, Somali girls—from all different backgrounds, in hijab at one point, and a lot of people were really touched by that. So I feel like the response has been pretty positive and overall it’s been an outpouring of love and support actually.
I did have one person actually say something, and it was somebody on my Instagram, and they were like, “A video like this, with Muslims in it, is very distasteful and bad timing, especially with the way Muslims are behaving right now.”
Yeah, somebody actually said that. But you just ignore those messages, right? It’s just one person. That’s it. You have to ignore that. But overall, 99 percent was completely positive and people were really happy.
I know that the song is for people who have ever felt oppressed or marginalized; what was that like bringing those ideas to life visually?
So I felt like, because the song was written from that space and that experience that I not only went through in my life but also people around me have as well—and Toronto being dubbed one of the most multicultural cities in the world, I’m very fortunate and lucky to have been raised here and had friends from all walks of life. It’s their stories that have inspired me to do music and put those messages of hope and resilience in my music. It felt right, to use that platform to showcase all of us, to show that diversity and to show that celebration of us, coming together and showing our strength. So I thought, I had to have a video that was reflective of what I saw growing up and the marginal groups that I was hoping to connect to these songs. So definitely, just being from Toronto and being from a multicultural city, I wanted to represent how I see my world.
You immigrated to Toronto from Somalia—as an immigrant in a totally foreign place, having that kind of upbringing, do you feel like that influenced you as an artist?
Oh, completely. One hundred percent. I did come here at a very, very young age—when we came as refugees I think I was about six months old, so I was quite young. I don’t really remember the civil war or any of those traumatic things that my parents and older siblings witnessed. But for me, growing up—just living in this community with people who shared similar stories—we definitely had our own set of struggles. I think I fell in love with music at the age of 10 or 11, and for me it was just to see how powerful and moving and how inspired people can get off of music, once they listened to a song that could sort of help them get through, when I saw that and felt it myself I thought, “This is something that I really want to do in my life.” It started from short stories, to poetry, and then from poetry to writing lyrics and putting melodies to them, so my goal has definitely always been to do music. A lot of it has to do with my upbringing. If I didn’t have my upbringing, I don’t think I would have the same drive and push, if that makes sense. That’s definitely what pushes me.
Can you talk about your work with Love Army? I know you guys took a recent trip back to Somalia.
Yeah, definitely. So Love Army, at the time that the drought was happening, everybody from the Somali diaspora was really actively using their platforms to raise funds and get as much attention to what was happening as possible. In 2011, we also had a drought that did turn into a famine and killed over, I believe, 300,000 people, most of them women and children. So we all felt a responsibility, like, maybe we could have done more last time. So we all took to our social media accounts, everybody, including myself, was raising funds for this, and I went back on my own in end of March, beginning of April, and was there close to a month by myself, with whatever I raised, to go and distribute food and water. When I did return, I was contacted then by Love Army.
Now they had Dustin, Jerome, and Shaka, and Ben Stiller and a few other names, who all used their social media accounts and started a GoFundMe page and were able to raise over 2.5 million dollars. So it was powerful, because even though we were all trying, they have massive followings, huge influence, and they recognize that the beauty of using social media is this. It’s stories like this that should be celebrated. So they raised that 2.5 million and when I returned they were looking to connect with young Somali diaspora youth who were on the ground, working there, that they wanted to involve in their initiative, and so they contacted me. From there I just completely canceled my entire schedule for the next few months. They asked me to return back to Somalia, so I went back with them and we were there distributing food and water, and they’re also working on developing a bunch of self-sustainable things right now, too. Anything and everything that they needed, we all came together and were helping, for the people. Right now there’s close to 6.2 million people that are facing no food and no water, so we just wanted to get as much food and water to as many remote villages as possible. It was quite a powerful experience because it was all through social media that this was made possible. And people made it possible, from around the world.
Can you talk about why you feel like it’s important for you to not only talk about your music, but issues of social justice as well?
It’s such a difficult question to answer, because it’s so deeply rooted into who I am, that I can’t even explain it. I feel, because I came here as a refugee, and because I was lucky enough to be raised in Canada and have the opportunities I was given and to make my life what I wanted it to be—just that alone, the privilege in that—there is a duty. I mean, when I went back, I was around young Somali people, and I thought, this could have been me. The only difference is just that I got to leave. That’s all. That’s the only difference. Had they had the opportunity and the chance that I had, they would have also, I feel, done the exact same thing, would have excelled even more, because it’s just proof that when somebody comes from that type of environment, they want to do so much in their life because they want to give back to the community. I just feel like it’s a duty for not only me but for all human beings, that we’re all a part of this big one family and we should all…if one is hurting, we should all do something to help one another. As cliché as it sounds, I think that should be so deeply embedded in who we are that it shouldn’t come as a shock when somebody does it. I think that’s another thing that I thought was surprising, was when people were like, “Oh my God I’m so happy you’re doing this, thank you for doing this,” I felt very uncomfortable, because I didn’t feel like that’s something to be thanked for or praised for. I think it’s something that should just be normal and that we should all do. And again, I’m lucky to be in Canada and to have been raised here, so I feel I have a duty to go back and do as much as I can so other people can have the same opportunity in life that I’ve had.
Well I think, at least right now, it’s definitely not the norm in the States, so we need all the people like you in the world that we can get.
[Laughs] Yeah, well that’s so sweet, thank you.
I really want to circle back to your music before we finish up—can you tell us a little about your upcoming EP?
Yeah, I’d love to. It’s coming either this summer or fall. Things change—I mean, for me, I did want to release it this summer, but because for most of March and all the way to two weeks ago, I was mostly in Somalia, so I did put everything on hold. It definitely adds a bit of a delay, which I don’t mind. It’s definitely looking like maybe end of summer/fall. But I’ll be releasing songs in between just to have something out there, because I feel really strongly about it and I’m in love with one of the songs that I recently recorded. So I’m finding that the music is…there’s definitely a story, and it’s a story from my beginnings, from when I first came, to my experiences here, to my first love and first heartbreak, so it’s a map of my life and you’re kind of joining me on it. My first love, my first heartbreak, my insecurities; it’s just a ball of emotions, I would say. And I have different elements and different sounds from around the world, so it’s very soulful, it’s very R&B, which will surprise a lot of people, because I’m used to doing these very pop-y, sort of epistemic songs. And there will be that, too, but it’s weird, the direction has completely changed for me—I just wanted to do more of a stripped down, very simple project, and just let the lyrics and the vocals sort of be the standout, which is very different for me. Usually it’s very produced, very clean. So I quite like the direction we’re going with it. And I’m working with a producer, his name is Slakah the Beatchild, he’s an incredible producer, from Toronto, an artist also, and the next song that I’m releasing is called “Protest”. It’s a love song. I’ll just leave it there. It’s a love song.
Featured image courtesy of Amaal Nuux
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