In an industry with a limited view of who gets to be mainstream, Naomi Cowan’s real accomplishment is staying true to her artistry. As she racks up one notable performance after another, the Jamaica Reggae Industry Awards Breakthrough Reggae Artist of 2018 is chasing fulfillment not fame.
Disrupshion Magazine Digital Cover
Words: Angel Neal
Director & Cinematography: Yoram Savion
Photography: Othello Wulf
Editor: Nicole Sison
Styling: Anya Swapp & Courtney Blackwell
Make Up: Skye's Artistry
Cover Designer: Amari
A storyteller, a multipotentialite, the voice of now. So get acquainted, she has no plans of slowing down and with a unique voice like hers she has not reason to. Born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica the youngest of seven siblings, under the mentorship of her parents Tommy Cowan, OD (reggae music producer, songwriter & former road manager for Bob Marley) & Carlene Davis OD (international reggae vocalist). Finding her voice came naturally but it took some self-reflection and starting over to get her name on the music charts.
Cowan speaks about leaving a comfortable technology job in Toronto to pursue her music career back in Jamaica. Her bravery is a lesson to us all. Questioning what was it that made her happy everytime she did it? Well music, of course. She grew up surronded by creative music geniuses.The Paradise Plum singer recently released a full-length debut project tilted Star Girl collaborating with Walshy Fire of Major Lazer who executive produced the EP. The project features a blend of versatility of musical genres like reggae and R&B. Disrupshion took Cowan away from the cool breeze of paradise in Kingston, Jamaica to hop on Zoom in get candid in her most revealing interview thus far. We talked overcoming her fear, finding her voice and tapping into her individuality as an artist. Get into the exclusive interview below.
With the seamless blend of reggae, dancehall, afrobeats and R&B. What was the vision behind Star Girl?
The vision with my Star Girl Ep was to show my versatility. To show the elements of who I am and what make me up as an artist. In to dig into the different types of music that influence what I do and how I do it. There’s a fusion of different genres, overall the whole vision was just let’s show the world what I can do. Coming from Jamaica people expect a certain type of music, which is fine because its our music. At the same time as a creative you’re constantly inspired by so many things, artists and genres. I really just wanted to have fun with it. I wanted to put stuff together that feels good and put it out there and let the people just vibe.
Whats your favorite track on Star Girl?
I would say Energy stands out to me the most because for the first time when I recorded that song it felt like the first time I wrote something I was very honest about. Before that I was more so writing what I felt people wanted me to say, you know making people comfortable. When I got into the writing session for Energy as well as a song called Jaded I just didn’t hold back in my thoughts. The track really helped me to level up as a writer and of top of that the music itself, the production of Energy was produced by Izzy Beats. The production was so different from anything I had ever done. It was just really cool to hear my voice and that context in like a pop song and feel good about it. So Energy for sure favorite track, Jaded is a close second and Lucky Me would be my third pick.
So you write, play the piano and acoustic guitar. Are you self-trained on these instruments?
I was not the most discipline child. I use to play the piano as a a kid, but anything I do now is naturally self-trained. So the guitar was something I taught myself to play mainly for songwriting meaning I felt really connected to the guitar for that. I love to listen to music that has an acoustic guitar quite a bit. There’s just something spiritual that happens when I play it. I mean I don’t claim to be the best guitar player in the world but for me music is not so much about you being the best at any of the skillsets that come with it is more you being your best you, through the music. Like Bob Marley may have not been the best guitar player but something energetically happened when he would pick up the guitar in stood in front of a crowd of people. Nobody could have done that like he did.
Let's talk writing, did that come natural to you as well? What age did you start writing?
I’ve always considered myself a storyteller ever since I was a child. As early as I could remember I use to create my own skits and stuff like that and I use to record my voice freestyling and stuff like that pretending I was on a radio show or TV show. I’ve just always been writing whether it’s been on paper or just out of my mouth. I’ve always told stories. I can’t put an age to it. I grew up around song writing but it’s a different experience when you do it yourself. The first song I ever wrote and like actually released is called “Naked” and that song is also quite honest and a bearing of the soul type of track. It was the first song I wrote from start to finish. The truth is because I’ve always been a listener of music and always loved reading and storytelling. I’ve just always told stories and now I just tell them through music.
Can you describe how you tap into that creative writing process?
Sometimes in music you start with a beat or a melody. What I ty to do is tap into the dominant emotion or a word that makes me feel a way. For example, my latest release, the song Holiday, I heard the beat and I instantly felt like this feels like a holiday. I didn’t have a hook or a melody I just had the word holiday. So some songs I’ll just have a dominant feel or emotion attached to what I’m hearing and I’ll create a story around that. Now for the track Lucky Me the song came about because someone very close to me was going through a bad breakup and separation and because I’m so close to that person that day I was feeling her feelings and everything she was going through. So when I walked into the studio I said to the producer someone I know is going through this crazy thing and I think I want to write about it. I was carrying that vibration. So it was writing from that perspective. The resolve I had about it was good for her, thankfully at the end of the day she was able to leave something that wasn’t healthy for her and a way its bittersweet so that’s why we came up with the title Lucky Me. I don’t know how to explain it but I get a sense or a visual picture or see a circumstance and I go from there and follow that, that’s my writing process.
Speaking of your latest release Holiday. We love the metaphor for the song Holiday, (loving you feels like a holiday). What’s the background story on the lyrics?
When I heard the instrumental for the song, I felt like it was a love song but I felt an escapism happening in my mind. You know when you spend time with people that you really connect with time passes so fast. The instrumental reminded me of that kind of feeling. As I said earlier the word Holiday came to me and made me feel a lot of joy and rest. The concept of a holiday is a lot of joy and fun but also there’s the element of rest with the ones you love. The song holiday just made me feel that type of connection, a person that becomes that safe space for you, your holiday.
You've said before confronting yourself lead you to take music seriously. A lot of us in the Black community whether it be American or West Indian we battle with our purpose in life. You said you chose music to save yourself from yourself, can you explain that to us.
There’s a note I had written to myself in my phone one night when I was half sleep. I had to write down what was going down in my mind. I felt a clear message in my mind, that it was time for me to move back to Jamaica to do music. I was so terrified in that moment because how tangible it felt. So I wrote down these things and one of them was “I love everything about my life except for my work and what I do for work matters because it ties into my calling. Every day I spend working elsewhere is one day away from what I’m called to do." I had a conversation with myself to make a decision to switch careers and leave Toronto to go back to Jamaica. I also wrote down the shame I might be feeling and all of that. Choosing to start over was me realizing that 10 years from then I didn’t want to look back and regret it. Even when one day when I become a mom I don’t want to be projecting my fears on to my kids. So I knew I had to face it for myself. I was like if I don’t do it now then who is going to do it. I had to recognize I was constantly suppressing a specific part of who I am and it was not fair to myself and it was really fear that was making me do that. I got to a breaking point when I realized I just couldn’t live like this. It was an act of self-love to choose myself in that way.
Follow Naomi Cowan on social media via @ naomicowan !