Nadia Batson: “I know who I am now” | Own words

Singer and songwriter Nadia Batson on the magic of Carnival 2019; the devastation she masked through Carnival 2023; and the joy of finding her voice, and finally feeling seen — as told to Caroline Taylor

  • Photo courtesy Dynamic Entertainment
  • Nadia with soca artist Adam O and her management. Photo courtesy Dynamic Entertainment
  • Photo courtesy Dynamic Entertainment
  • Nadia baby pic in Tunapuna
  • Photo courtesy Dynamic Entertainment
  • Photo courtesy Dynamic Entertainment

I intend to have an amazing Carnival 2024. Honestly, I felt as though I wasn’t on my A game in 2023. Not with respect to the music … It’s something I never spoke about because I felt it was just a little too dark. I don’t even know how I got through that. I think it’s just my support system. Because there were days I would just break down … didn’t want to go to work, couldn’t function.

My brother was actually murdered in December [2022]. I didn’t say anything during Carnival because I didn’t want to make it a big public spectacle. So I was just dealing with a lot mentally, emotionally, psychologically. There are a few people who heard and would sometimes approach me right before I went on stage, and it would throw me off.

We had such a packed Carnival schedule — I couldn’t disappoint people. I just laced up my boots and did what I had to do, but I knew I was masking for the entire season. I love marketing, but I couldn’t even push songs I usually would. I just wasn’t there, you know?

Obviously, we’re still dealing with that. But I feel I’m back in a head space where I can create the way I want to. I can focus more, and my pen is so sharp. Everybody now is like, “Nadia, you’re writing different.”

In a typical year, I don’t stop working, and I love that. There’s always a carnival or festival somewhere. Right after [Trinidad & Tobago Carnival], we’re outside. I asked [my husband and business partner Don Iko George] not to take as much work during 2023 because of what was happening, and it gave me enough time to get back in studio and write. But typically, my year is crazy.

I always have ideas. I get up in the middle of the night, have an idea for a song or a show. I have a small but very efficient team. I’m not good with logistics at all, but if I can explain to them what I want, they get it done. My concert Artform that I do in Trinidad we also do in New York. It was phenomenal.

My mum is a writer — she used to write short stories and poems. And she works with kids because she’s into drama. So she’d always tell people I started reading at three. I would sit with a newspaper across my legs, because I love to read too. I’d always sit next to her. If she was writing a story, I’d try to write a little story as well. I became known as a songwriter even before I became known as an artist, entertainer, singer. It’s 100% from my mum.

I used to write songs for Silhouette [an all-female singing group we co-founded as teenagers]. So, many soca artists started seeing us on TV and would hire us to do background vocals. I wasn’t so confident in the songwriting, but I used my friends as guinea pigs.

I would give Michelle Sylvester a song and say, “Sing it.” Then she started having so much success. And I started getting calls to write for other artists. I think almost all the songs in the very early stages of my writing career hold a special place in my heart.

Michelle went on to win the first ever Groovy Soca Monarch with “Somebody’s sleeping in your bed”. I remember Blaxx came to me and said, “Nadi, I want you to write a song for me.” And I wrote “Dutty” for him. It was a big tune. Then artists from across the Caribbean started calling. I wrote “Expose” for Tizzy from Antigua. That took her all over the world, to this day.

I’ve written quite a number of songs for Farmer Nappy too. Everybody knows me for writing “Hookin meh”, but I also wrote “Wifey” and “Loosen de chain”. I wrote “Pop a bottle” for Machel. We just took the chance and sent it to him and immediately he was like, “Oh my God!” I was elated. That was Carnival 2015. I was really excited about that.

It was easy to write for others because they’d already established who they were as artists. But I felt kind of scattered

And I think one of the reasons I’ve had so much success writing for other artists is I know how to separate my artistry from theirs. I try my best to channel them, because it needs to feel it came from them. People ask if I’m not vex’ I “give away that song”. No — because it wasn’t for me.

Artists always call and ask for songs, but I hardly have the time anymore. It’s challenging to write while you’re touring.

When I look back especially at the songs I wrote for myself early on, I’d have the sporadic hit, but I hadn’t found myself as an artist yet. It was easy to write for others because they’d already established who they were as artists. But I felt kind of scattered.

I feel I’ve only really come into my own — knowing who I am as an artist and who my market is — very recently, around 2017. In the first few years of my career, I was just throwing darts in the dark. I didn’t know who I was yet as an artist.

So I couldn’t write for me, to know what people expect from me.

Now, I know who I am. People love Nadi — very clean, sunshine girl, smiley … women love Nadia. They always look for something that can make them feel confident and good. So now, it’s a lot easier for me to write hits for me. I feel as though I’m not just swinging in the dark.

I always say my personality is not an accessory that I take on or take off. When I leave the house, I’m always this way — I know who I am and because of that, I’m always grounded.

Sometimes George says, “You do know you’re like a celebrity, right?” And no, I don’t know. I just never connected with that. I’m aware that I’m known and I’m loved, but I’ve never subscribed to that.

I feel like that’s why I’m so relatable too. It’s crazy because that in itself is what fuels me to become an even bigger artist, because I become even more relatable just by being Nadi — it takes my “celebrity status” from one level to the next. And it keeps growing and growing.

I didn’t even know there was media there … I went in and that was a genuine reaction [to hearing Trinidad All Stars play “So long” in the panyard in 2019]. And it just speaks to how grateful I am for things I never experienced before. I’ve had so much success as a writer with other artists and I would always have to watch things from the outside.

With my work, I’d never get that. And I think 2019 was a pivotal year in my career. Sometimes I still get goosebumps, because there are so many things I never spoke about — the magic that happened.

I had fibroid surgery in October of 2018. I knew I couldn’t go into another carnival in so much pain. I had to get this surgery done. So we prepped, and I liked “So long”, and thought maybe I should do a video in the meantime — so while I was recovering, there’d still be something out there.

I’ll never forget when the song came out, I wasn’t even listening to the radio. I was bedridden. I started seeing and hearing little mumblings about the song. But I’m watching everything on my phone and had no idea of the magnitude of it just yet. And then I had a show — a boat ride. I usually don’t do boat rides because I have motion sickness. But I was fed up lying down.

They asked if Farmer and I would close. This was in December. I had just reached my five or six week mark from the surgery. I’d just had stitches out.

I’m thinking I’ll do “Catching feelings”, the song I had the year before. But they said I should do “So long”. I have that performance on my phone still. And every so often I watch it, and people may not get it because they don’t know the backstory. I was in complete shock.

I didn’t even know this was the way people felt about the song. Both Farmer and I had a crazy response. And we did a show in Tobago for the new year, and a video from that went viral as well.

Everything just aligned so perfectly. There’s no way I would have been able to do what I did in 2019 if I hadn’t gotten the surgery. My father kept telling me that’s the reason I had to have it.

So when I went to the panyard, I started to cry because people just didn’t know all that was happening with me behind the scenes. It was just so magical. And then I ended up finding out about five bands doing “So long” and “Hooking meh” for Panorama. Renegades won doing “Hookin meh”. And my songs placed first, third, fourth, and fifth.

It was just a whirlwind. All the things I used to watch other artists achieve with my songs, I felt I started having that success with my work. And it just touched me in a different kind of way. In the panyard, I really couldn’t believe it was happening. It just felt really, really good.

I always used to tell people I felt invisible. I used to wonder, is it me? I’ve had one or two hits along the way — “Caribbean girl”, “Manager” … consistently having strong songs, hits and touring, and it still just would never happen to me.

I started to feel invisible. But in 2019, I felt visible. I felt like I was being seen for the first time in my entire career. Since then, I’ve just been on that particular road where I finally feel safe, seen — and it just feels so good.

So I’m constantly basking in that feeling that my work is now paying off for me as an artist. I don’t take those things for granted at all. Only artists who experience it would know. Kes the Band with “Wotless”, Ultimate Rejects with “Full extreme”, where you have young people, old people, everybody across the board — rich, poor, Black, White, everybody just loves that song … It feels like magic.

I’ve had hits, but that particular feeling with a song that everybody and their mother, father, children and everybody love — I had never experienced that before, ever.

I always say my fans love me in a different way. And I feel like it’s because they know the story. They were there from the beginning. They saw the challenges. So it feels special for everybody. And it hasn’t stopped since 2019.

For Carnival 2024, we’re planning on doing something that is not necessarily a concert — where I can still perform and have a party vibe that will separate me from everyone else. Because everybody has a concert right now. And we’re all good friends. When I do [Voice’s] show, he’ll do mine. So people know if they come to Nadi’s show, they’re gonna see Voicey. And I feel we’re stretching our audiences a little too thin. Because who’s going to have money to go to all dem concerts? So I am trying to think: what can I do differently?

We’re also trying to launch the Nadia Batson Foundation right now, because I do so much work too helping underprivileged people. But I don’t need people to see. I feel like I grew up not having much. And I don’t know how I would feel if somebody had to give me something with a camera in my face. If I’m doing it with a corporate partner, fine. And I also try to ask — if someone wants to be on camera, that’s fine. But I can’t even post it on my social media. It’s just not my style.

I started to feel invisible. But in 2019, I felt visible. I felt like I was being seen for the first time in my entire career

I remember when I met Andre Tanker — who’s actually a “pumpkin vine” cousin — I was doing some background vocals at a studio, and he was just passing through. He said, “You have a nice voice. You must come and take a jam with us, man.” He had his band at an adjacent studio. I just went over and he loved my vibe from jump. I was really young in the business, and he gave me such good advice.

I always tell people Andre was who realised I had something special with my songwriting, and I told him I used to get tripped up because I felt I needed to have “jam and jump and wave” in the music for people to like it.

He said no, you have to write from your perspective, how you feel. He taught me that. He said some of his biggest songs — like “Sayamanda” — people don’t even know what it is. It just feels good.

He was the person who taught me to not try to fit in. Bring your vibe to the table. And it really does work. Andre gave me a lot of experience too — being more comfortable on stage, and teaching us a lot with regard to the artistry. He was just an amazing man.

I always say: people need to fall in love with you, not your music. So even when you may not have the biggest song, they must know you — not just a brand, but somebody they love and respect. It’s not everybody’s method — but I always want people to see me.

Funding provided by the 11th EDF Regional Private Sector Development Programme Direct Support Grants Programme.
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