Nonô’s Instagram bio describes her as “Made in Brasil • Shipped to London”: a snappy summary of the 6,000-mile journey she made at 18 to further her music career. Five years on, her cross-continental leap of faith is paying off with ‘Midnight Mimosas’, a brilliant debut EP that marks her out as a gifted and versatile singer-songwriter. When she sings “I’m-a be a rockstar” over pan pipes and a muscular R&B beat on ‘Rockstar’, it’s a reflection of Nonô’s ambition, not a rigid genre preference. Asked to describe the music she makes, Nonô fires back a one-word answer: “Free.”
Then, expanding on this idea, she notes that her Instagram bio “literally” sums up her M.O. as a musician. “Before I moved to London I was sort of in this little bubble in my hometown in Brazil,” Nonô says. “But then, suddenly, I went to this whole other continent and immersed myself in the many different cultures that you find here in London. And that has affected [my music] completely.” Throughout our Zoom chat, Nonô is as bright and lively as her EP’s striking cover art, which shows her sipping a mimosa – what else?
Nonô isn’t exaggerating when she says her music doesn’t cleave to any particular genre: the EP also features the guitar-driven ‘Lola’, the bossa nova-flecked ‘Mimosa’ and the minimal pop perfection of ‘La La La (2 Dollar)’, a song Little Mix could have a hit with it. Earlier this year she teamed up with DJ-producer Marcus Layton for a club-ready cover of Gorillaz‘ ‘Feel Good Inc.’ that’s racked up eight million Spotify streams. Nonô says that when Layton pitched the idea to her, she said yes straight away. “Coincidentally, I was already playing around with “Feel Good Inc.'”, she recalls, pointing out that she and her musician friends would often rehearse the song during jam sessions. So Layton sent her the track, she recorded her vocals in her bedroom, pinged it back and it was pretty much done. “I remember my brother introduced me to Gorillaz, like, way back, so it feels like it was meant to be,” she says.
After Nonô’s parents divorced when she was young, she and her siblings, plus her mum, moved in with her aunt and uncle. Growing up in a crowded nine-person household meant she soaked up an incredibly eclectic range of music. Her brother would be blasting System of a Down bangers while her grandmother played bossa nova and her mum listened to jazz classics by Billie Holiday and Chet Baker. Meanwhile, Nonô fell hard for the “true queens” Beyoncé and Rihanna. When NME mentions the interminable wait for the latter’s next album, Nonô replies excitedly: “Rihanna is holding her songs hostage! But if she releases something this summer, I honestly think she could cure Covid.” She lets out a little laugh. “But really I grew up listening to everything all at once,” she adds, pivoting back to her own music. “And I think that’s why I don’t like specifying what I am today. I think everything I do is a mixture of everything.”
Nonô’s determination not to be pigeonholed musically also prompted her move to the UK. When she was 16, she appeared on the Brazilian version of The Voice and did well enough to make inroads into her homeland’s music industry. However, finding the right collaborators proved to be a struggle.
“I had a few experiences working with producers which made me think: ‘Oh, this isn’t really what I want here,'” she says. “I think it’s really hard when you’re unsigned and really trying to experiment with different genres.” During the same period, Nonô also realised she wanted to switch from writing songs in Portuguese to writing in English, which meant a move to London – where luckily, her uncle already lived – was the obvious solution.
Though Nonô had loved visiting London as a kid, she admits that her permanent move didn’t get off to the smoothest start. “It was so lonely at first because I didn’t know anyone and I was so far from my family and friends,” she says. “And I was a bit against the idea of doing university because we grow up with this whole idea that rockstars don’t do university – they don’t need it because they just blow up on their own.” Salvation came when her uncle, a sound engineer and course coordinator at the Abbey Road Institute, suggested she join the youth choir at London’s famous Roundhouse music venue. He also introduced his niece to a music producer friend whom she began to write songs with whenever he had a free hour or two. In time Nonô had a “good group of friends my own age” and started bouncing between songwriting sessions with a growing network of collaborators.
Nonô says she’s now “writing songs, like, every day” but chose the five that appear on ‘Midnight Mimosas’ very carefully. “I wanted to represent Brazil and I wanted to represent London, which I feel like these songs do, but I also want to tell a story,” she says. That story might delve into Nonô’s breakups and past mistakes – ‘La La La (2 Dollar)’ is about bumping into an old friend she drifted apart from – but is ultimately an empowering one. “I have a lot of young fans and I want them to know that they don’t have to depend on anyone,” she says. “I want them to know they can be strong if they need to be, and the main character in their own narrative.”
Boosting the confidence of her young fans is an admirable ambition, but at the same time, Nonô’s vibrant and direct music should strike a chord with listeners of all ages. After 18 months of closed doors and social distancing, her fundamentally “free” approach to songwriting is just what we need.
Nonô’s ‘Midnight Mimosas’ EP is out now
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