“Mary Magdalene pours perfumes on Jesus’ feet and the perfume that she uses, in Arabaic, is called Nardean and comes from a plant called Spikenard,” R&B and spoken word songstress, Nardean tells me when I ask what her name means.
“It’s funny that you should ask, I looked up the plant the other day and it’s so beautiful, I’m thinking about getting it as a tattoo. And they sell the essential oil too, so I want to know what it smells like.”
Nardean’s voice is even and cool as she sits opposite me in a strangely decorated room in what looks like a secondhand store you’d find on Long Street back in Cape Town. Except we’re not in South Africa, we’re halfway across the world in Sydney, Australia discussing being children of immigrants over tasty lattes.
“I would call myself a hybrid Australian-Egyptian. I was born in Sydney but my family is Egyptian – my mother and family and all my brothers and sisters were born in Egypt and then everyone moved here and they had me. So I grew up in a very Egyptian household and as soon as I stepped outside the door, it was Australian,” Nardean begins to explain.
“I went to a talk where Tuma Basa from YouTube spoke about the third culture, which is the culture that’s born from the children of immigrants. So you have your family’s culture, and then you have the culture of the country you were born in, and then this third culture. So yes, I’d call myself a hybrid.”
The nature of Nardean’s hybridity comes not only from her upbringing, but extends also to her music which is a unique incorporation of slam poetry and hip hop.
I started dating a rapper and it was one of those really synchronistic things,” she explains when I ask how she got her start. “I went with him to a rap show and I saw this woman called Mira onstage and got full body goose bumps. And a voice in my head said, that’s what you’re going to do with your life. So it was all very special.”
“A few days later I sent Mira an embarrassingly long Facebook message fangirling hard and she replied saying, ‘If you want to be a good rapper you should write poetry and perform it at poetry nights.’ Which is the best piece of advice I got for my whole career.” As a result, Nardean’s incorporation of poetry into her newly released EP A NEW ERA just felt right. But it doesn’t stop there as she attributes phrases like “hip pop” and “post-hop” to the type of music she makes.
“The essence of hip hop is storytelling as a voice of the oppressed. There’s this Chuck D quote where he says, ‘We use rap as our CNN.’ What I do is draw from that and multiple elements – sometimes I’m singing, sometimes I’m speaking, sometimes I’m rapping, sometimes I dunno what the fuck I’m doing. So when people ask me what kind of genre I make, I don’t fucking know because it’s not straight up hip hop, it’s just what I feel,” she beams at me.
As a result, THE NEW ERA showcases Nardean’s wide-ranging talent, traversing rap, melody, and poetry and is an exploration of her Arabic roots and Australian upbringing.
“I have this one lyric on a track called ‘Aux Cord’ where I’m talking about growing up in Western Sydney, where there’s a big immigrant community, and the whole song is about the merging of the cultures. And on one of the lines I say, “We came here to give you a good life, stop chasing your dreams just be somebody’s good wife,” she chuckles, referring to her parents’ initial desire for her to stick to a conventional career path.
“And the next line after is like. Fuck. That. Shit,” she says pausing for dramatic effect after each word.
As a woman and an artist who has a commanding magnetism that I feel all through our conversation, Nardean sits in a genre pocket all her own, one that’s buzzing and burgeoning and characterized by her middle finger anthems.