I already wrote about her when I reviewed 88rising’s “Head in the Clouds II” album. The Indonesian singer not only collaborated with Joji on one of the tracks but also had two solo songs with “Indigo” and “La La Lost You.” Her voice is a mix of girl next door with an edge.
Twenty-one this year, Nicole Zefanya began her music empire in high school to crown herself as an R&B princess, according to her Spotify biography. The singer writes, records and produces her own music, and her talents gained her fame in 2018 when her EP “Zephyr” was released. That same year, she also joined the 88rising label. 88rising itself is still growing and successful in its goal as a label and marketing company of representing Asian hip hop and R&B talent from the United States and Asia.
I have played “Zephyr” at least 10-15 times throughout the past year. It was the soundtrack to my airplane rides as I bounced from country to country. I never hit shuffle on the album because each track went from soulful to upbeat to pensive at just the right times. Although NIKI has found more fame through 88rising and producing music with them, singing in collaborations and solo features in “Head in the Clouds” and “Head in the Clouds II,” I find this EP has the most pure sound of her output. I liken her to Ariana Grande with a pop princess kind of voice at times but with a bit more talent.
If I could write lyrics half as thoughtful as hers with sound, I might be just as famous. She seeks to also be a representation for Indonesian and Asian females in a cultural setting. She said in an interview with Refinery29 that she had no one to look up to (https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2019/08/241493/niki-zenfaya-head-in-the-clouds-88-rising-interview).
“I never really felt like there was anybody who looked like me, who correctly represented me, and so I just feel like I want to be that for little kids that look like me, talk like me or are from my hometown,” NIKI said.
Last year in early August, when the 88rising label put on their Head in the Clouds Festival, NIKI made a comment on Asian representation.
“I just want to say, as an Asian female, I do not take this day and this stage for granted. My hope is that above everything else today, that you feel heard, you feel understood, but most of all that you feel represented,” NIKI said to the 10,000 plus people during her set that sang along to all her songs following the ultimatum for Asians in music.
One of the songs that resonated the most with me from “Zephyr” is “Say My Name.” It’s sad, sexy and liberated but also wanting to call all the guys that I should probably have never talked to in the first place.
When she starts singing “Go yell and fire away / I’ll just roll my eyes and wait / Too much pride to say you’re sorry / Just heat it up like Kalahari / So baby,” I felt that. The instrumentals in the background are also soothing, a nice contrast to the keening sounds of NIKI’s voice.
If you need a feminist power anthem, look no further than the first song on the track “Newsflash!” How can you not pump your fists to lyrics such as I am not interested in being a pretty name on your list / I got dreams and aspirations with prettier lips to kiss.”
NIKI had opened up her festival set with the song as a commentary to the patriarchy of Eastern countries.
“But I want to show Indonesian girls that you can be Indonesian, and you can be feminist at the same time. I’m doing it. You can too. I want to present that choice to them,” NIKI told Refinery29.
If you want a hype song before a night out with the girls, listen no further than “Vintage.” It’s a feel good song, with a beat that goes strong throughout the whole song. The title itself does not reflect the modern pop sounded of this R&B princess, who is a true representation of strong female Asian artists among many others.
“And I know, I know, I know / We’ve been better off alone / But we laugh about old pictures on your phone and I forget / And you make, you make, you make / It easy like a zephyr.”
Three Songs For Your Playlist:
La La Lost You
Kimberly Nguyen is the associate digital editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.