Interview with Niu Raza

Niu Raza

Written by Brandi Currelley
We are delighted to introduce the first artist in our Berklee City Music Ambassador Campaign, Niu Raza. Niu, a Berklee alumna, is an award-winning singer-songwriter from Madagascar. She is known for her unique sound which she describes as a blend between her traditional Malagasy heritage and modern music. Niu believes her music has the power to insight change not only in her listeners but across the globe. Her music has led her to several ventures in advocating for women empowerment, children’s rights and teaching the next generation of musicians. Niu hopes to bring greater appreciation and exposure to her home country, Madagascar, and the entire African continent, where she believes is the birthplace of all music. This month we had the pleasure of speaking with Niu one-on-one about her musical journey, vision, and involvement with City Music Berklee, including her work on our first ever anthem “That Feeling” which she performed alongside our students at the 27th Annual Encore Gala.

I want to first ask you about your origins: Who are you? What do you do? How do you express yourself creatively and how you have arrived at where you are in your creative journey today?

On the surface, I am a singer-songwriter from Madagascar. I always talk about layers though because you're never just one thing. We keep evolving over the course of our lives. Every day, you're not the same person you were a month or even a week ago. I would also say that I've been a melting pot of different people and places, my culture is the same. My ancestors are a melting pot of different people and places as well. So, I would say I'm a citizen of the world. I am from multiple places, and therefore, I feel that I am able to connect with so many people because I didn't always grow up with people who looked like me.

I would love to know in general, what role has music played in your life? Not just in your career, but your life thus far - Has it healed, raised, taught, or guided you? How has it played a role in your life as a personified force?

I would say music is my everything really. And not just in the sense that, "I've only known music and I'm a musician, so I'm breathing, living music," but in the sense that music indeed raised me. In African culture, you sing with everything. When someone passes by, you sing. When there's a happy event, when you’re sad, or when you go to the market, you sing. We have a song for everything. Music is also a communal thing. Something for all of us to do and enjoy together. I feel like that has always been my main thing. It was and is a tool to bring change. I also felt that while growing up, I was exposed to and have seen many beautiful things, but I've also seen war, and seen people dying from disease. Music has always somehow been a glue or some form of light. So, for me personally and not just my career, I saw and used music as a hope. During my hard days, I use it to heal. I also use it to create and to hopefully, help others in their creative process and growth as artists. I see it as a way for ALL people to understand and connect to what I talk about and what resonates with them. And it truly has helped me connect with the world. My voice has reached places I have never even set foot on. So I live for it and I'm here for that connection.

Niu Raza 2

How has mentorship played a role in your growth and development?

I didn't have a music background when I came to Berklee, so it didn't make sense for me to go to college for music when I hadn't taken any music lessons, I just knew music was my way to change things. I just didn't know how, but down the line, things began to become clearer, and I feel like that's why you have mentors. Mentorship really helps you. It's a person that grounds you and presents a clear perspective on where you're heading. Because of that, I refer to it more as a “passing of the torch” instead of mentorship. Mentorship can sometimes make it sound like this really difficult work that you must earn the right to do. But when you pass the torch, then it's just as though you're using the knowledge you possess to help someone else better themselves. THAT is what mentorship is to me. It's not about your age, it's not about your degree. It's just all about you taking the wisdom you’ve gained from the things you've mastered or learned and sharing that knowledge with others. When you guide and help to elevate others, then you are ultimately winning as well. You never lose by teaching or sharing.

You’ve talked a little bit about your why, your purpose, your kind of life's call to action. Can you tell us more about that?

I've always been about impact and placed impact before fame. In the past when people would ask me, "What is your main goal?” or, "What do you want to do? Do you want to make your music known?"… It's always been, "No, I don't want my music to be famous for people to sing it. I want it to have an impact." I feel like that is my reason, my “WHY”. Having a positive impact on others regardless of whether they're listening to my music or my teaching it's always been down to the impact, how I can reach and connect to others. For me, it really comes down to your spirit, your energy, how you treat others. Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world, but it is so because of how we define wealth economically. But when when you look at the people's hearts and how we treat each other, how full everything is around us, when it comes to nature, food, culture, and love, for me that is what it means to be rich For us, those are the most valuable things in life that money cannot buy. It's really all about perspective, but that is my “Why”.

What has been your experience with working with our students and why are you a part of the City Music community?

There's something so beautiful about working and teaching when you inspire others, because they in turn inspire you. I also believe that it is essential, not just for creatives, but for all students and children to be believed in and encouraged. As a kid, I was always really into music but never had a supportive system where people would say, "You want to have a career in arts? Okay, let's invest in that. I believe in you." I never really had that. It was always like a joke. Part of why I am a part of this community is to show students that you can always pave different paths for yourself. You can create, own, and open your own doors where there are none. You can make your own reality all you have to do is see beyond the limitations that society places on us.

You were on set with our students and wrote our first ever City Music anthem and played a big part in the storytelling of how we impact our students through that song.

I want to hear more about what your inspiration was behind the writing and more about your process and what it means to you to have "that feeling", that light bulb moment.

When I wrote this song, I had some major creative blocks. It just wasn't smooth. I think it was mostly because I move and create based on emotions, vibrations and how words carry me. It was on such short notice that I just had to create something meaningful in a shorter amount of time. When I think about the creative process of the song itself, it's all about consistency not just with music really, but any work, any dream that you have. You have to put in the work and be consistent. It doesn't matter where you come from or what your past is, it doesn't define the now or the future. That is why the first few lines are, "I come from nothing, but I make the most of my day. I started to believe in myself, not listening to no one else." I found that when I was in that feeling and relating to my experience with City Music, I was no different from them. The main thing about being in the arts is that it all starts with you. You must believe in yourself before anybody else can or will believe in you. We can all use music for something good and to make our world into a better place and it all comes back to hope. Music is the hope of a better tomorrow, the light at the end of the tunnel.

Niu released her very first album last January, 2021 titled: “Mm-Hmm”. The album won the World Act of the Year - New England Music Award last month. She is now gearing up to release her brand new single, “Zoriko Ny Lalako” (Malagasy for “I’m going to keep moving forward”) this November. You can stay up-to-date with all of Niu’s upcoming projects and latest releases through her social media account and through the Berklee City Music website.