You know those people you connect with immediately? You meet, you start talking, and soon, you’re laughing non-stop. You have so much in common it seems like you might’ve been following the same paths for years.
That’s how I feel when I meet Nyasia. Her full name is Nyasia Arredondo, but she goes by the mononym Nyasia (she taps her leg as she explains: “Knee like the body part and Asia like the continent.” I know she’s explained this before). Twenty-two years old, she lives in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis, and she’s been working with music since she was 14. She’s currently recording her first EP, which she hopes will come out in 2017. In the meantime, she performs about once a week, but you might have trouble finding her name on bills just yet; as she fine-tunes her personal material in the studio, she sings back-up for artists such as Nick Jordan, who’s a close friend as well as a colleague.
The first time her music caught my ear, I was listening to “Vulnerable,” a single she released in the spring. It leaps open with sharp synths, and the beat kicks in just before her R&B-smooth vocals. It sounds exuberant, with percussion calling back to early Michael Jackson and a Nick Jordan feature like Ne-Yo.
Without meaning to, Nyasia and I talk about vulnerability for a good part of our time together. She starts out self-conscious, but after our first exchange centers around my bleeding toe — I need a bathroom, I say with some alarm, after meeting her — both of us relax. At shows, she later says, “I have my guard up,” but she’s getting better and better about knowing when to be vulnerable.
Nyasia is definitely up front with her joy; her song “Vulnerable” opens with the same laugh I hear dozens of times while we talk. She straightens while describing her favorite artists: Amy Winehouse, first of all, and Sade and Janet Jackson (“They’re the Holy Trinity for me”). She says, “When [Winehouse] won her Grammy, she had a bronze rose in her hair.” Her forearm bears a rose tattoo in remembrance. According to Nyasia, Winehouse saved her life.
“I’m such a music nerd, obviously.” She blushes. “But you are too, so it’s okay.” We talk about her family’s taste in music; “My dad is the Questlove of my life,” she says. “He just knows every song. I’ll be like, ‘What does this song sample?’ And he’ll be like, ‘Oh, that’s Average White Band.'” When she was seven, her dad gave Nyasia her first tape player and a Sade cassette. “I wasn’t listening to MTV or VH1,” she remembers. “I didn’t have that. I think that’s why my taste is really old-school.”
She’s definitely a fan of Prince, having seen Judith Hill and alt-R&B trio KING at Paisley Park.”The first time I saw Prince, he sang ‘How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?’ on his piano, and my heart felt so warm. That man’s never hit a wrong note in his life.”
She asks if it’s okay to ask me questions, and we end up talking about music software (“Pharrell uses Logic, so you can’t go wrong”), mental health (her song “Doubts” is about “having depression and being in a relationship, and how depression affects your relationship”), and Kanye (“[The College Dropout] is probably why I dropped out of college,” she half-jokes before quoting, “‘If I die, at least I had these degrees!’”)
This month, she played a benefit show for the Sexual Violence Center (3757 Fremont Avenue N., Minneapolis). The Artists Against Sexual Violence (including Lydia Liza, Lizzie Fontaine, and Kaoz) made “a really cool and creative safe space,” Nyasia says, to raise money for a cause that still goes untalked about. “If you have been sexually assualted,” she says, “and I have been, it’s really scary. I became a hermit for like a year, and I didn’t leave the house. I was definitely very terrified of talking to people, and that’s where all of my anxiety and depression came from.”
But now, she’s making progress on music and her career, and she’s also becoming kinder to herself. “If I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m stupid,'” she says, “I have to tell myself, ‘I’m not stupid. I just didn’t know how to do this one little thing.'” She looks forward to her EP release and all that lies ahead, saying, “I’m very optimistic about the future.”