Khadja Nin was born in 1959 and raised in Burundi, a small African country squeezed in between two gigantic territories, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania. She grew up peacefully in a family of eight children, where she made her first steps into music.
“Music was always for fun“, she confesses, though she already wished to be Myriam Makeba. When she turned 16, she left her family and went to Congo to pursue her studies. At the age of 17, she met her future husband and moved with him into the forest, where they ran some lodges for tourists in search of big thrills. She also gave birth to her son and thought that for her music was definitely over.
In 1980, while everything seemed to flow happily, her life changed dramatically. She left Africa for Europe with her new family. But her first experience on the old continent turned out to be very tough. She first lost some of her close relatives, then her husband suddenly died. “I was left alone with my child in a foreign country and I didn’t know anybody. I started to apply for jobs, sometimes the lowest ones in order to make a living“, Khadja says almost casually. In 1985, she met musician Nicolas Piszman, who proved to be a positive turning point in her life. Nicolas fell artistically in love with ‘this princess from out of the blue’ and soon they started to write songs together. Khadja says about him: “Nicolas is the Nin of Khadja Nin. “They had to wait until 1991 to sign their first recording contract. Immediately seduced by this duet with a unique blend of African and European sounds, BMG signed them on the spot. Their eponymous debut album was well received in the world music scene.
In 1994, she released her second album Ya Pili and performed live continually – “Something essential in one’s musical career. Being on stage is the only way to improve, to take risks and to directly thank your fans” – she comments.
Real fame came in 1996. In an attempt to buy itself some cultural credibility and to make a break from previous fake projects, the most powerful French TV channel, TF1, selected Khadja Nin as its summer act with her third album Sambolera (which consisted of broadcasting one of the artist’s videos several times a day during the summer). It could have been a risky choice for-the channel, as well as for Khadja herself. “People often asked me whether I was afraid to be swallowed up by TF1. The answer was: ‘No, I’m not edible’. This opportunity just helped me to reach a larger audience and to move faster. As I knew exactly where I stood, I did not fear anything for my own credibility.”
The future proved her right. Her career and her music kept the same level of credibility after she had sold more than 420,000 copies of Sambolera worldwide, a huge success for her partners and a big acknowledgement from France and the rest of Europe. In 1998, Khadja recorded Ya. “The whole set up for the recording of Ya… was great. We moved to South London and stayed in a country house where we installed a mobile studio. Thus, I could invite my musicians and guests, such as I Muvrini (from Corsica), as if I was at home. Beside the friendly spirit of the place, it gave us a chance with Nicolas to develop our working relationship much further. He writes most of the music and I concentrate on the lyrics, but we speak the same language. After so many years together, our style gets sharper and finds its own harmony,” said Khadja.
Khadja sings in Swahili and Kirundi. “Ya… is a bit different from my previous albums as it marks a big change in my life. The first twenty years of my life were wonderful and I will always keep them in my mind. The following twenty years were tough with the loss of very dose people and my experience of war, hard times and loneliness, with a child to raise. So I hope that the next twenty years will be a rebirth, a new freedom. With this record, I cast off my old skin for a new one. I treat the former era with a lot of respect and decency but I definitely get rid of my mourning dress.”
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.