N’eve is unlike any other Jamaican female artist we’ve seen so far. There’s nothing contrived about her, and she’s not the kind of artist who flaunts her sexuality in the absence of anything more creative or long lasting. It’s her individuality – and also talent for singing and songwriting – that brought her to the attention of Oufah Media & Productions last year, after company head Clifton “Specialist” Dillon heard one of her unreleased demo tracks. Specialist is one of Jamaica’s most influential producer and artist manager introducing the island’s dancehall music and culture to a global audience; most recently discovering OMI, whose single Cheerleader was a No. 1 hit in more than thirty five countries last year.
Vocally, N’eve has the understated, dramatic quality of a young Etta James. She doesn’t drown her songs in overwrought emotion, or seek to overwhelm the listener. Instead, she relies on the beauty and strength of her lyrics to captivate us. The joy, vulnerability and wisdom contained in her voice are all qualities that make her songs so memorable.
“I want to make music that inspires people,” she says. “Whenever I sit down to write songs, I’m always thinking about how beautiful it is to be a part of people’s everyday lives. Whenever music is playing on the radio or someone’s phone then you’re there with them, sharing that precious moment. It might be a birthday celebration or a couple dancing to their favourite song and your voice is there, making people feel happy. It doesn’t matter what the occasion is. As a singer you can be present in the moment and that’s what I like.”
N’eve is from Mandeville although she grew up in the Jamaican parish of Hanover, which she describes as “a quiet place with lots of trees and rivers. It’s an environment where you can grow up comfortably and just relax, being surrounded by nature’s beauty.”
Singing was a common language in her home as a child and it came naturally for her. She remembered her mother always singing church hymns around the house and that influenced N’eve and two siblings to often sing together at church. Whilst absorbing influences from different parts of the music spectrum – from Keith Urban and Nancy Sinatra to Bob Marley and Michael Jackson – N’eve began honing her skills by performing in bands and choirs at local events.
“We sang at all types of events but I was never alone,” she confides. “I was always singing with different people. Singing lead was always something private, and that I never spoke about. It was special, and I comforted myself with the knowledge that I probably wouldn’t ever get to use it.”
It wasn’t until starting university in Mandeville and then becoming an intern at a Montego Bay radio station that N’eve allowed her creativity free rein. She’d enrolled on a media course in order to become a journalist, but her gift for writing and passion for singing unknowingly took her on a different path – writing songs. One of the first songs she wrote and recorded is called Count On Me. This demo caught the ear of Clifton “Specialist” Dillon and without delay he invited her to join the Oufah roster.
It takes strength of character to follow your own path, and genuine talent to write the kind of songs that we’ve heard from her so far. The track Pillow reverses the usual notions of feminine weakness as N’eve turns comforter, and provides a source of strength for her man. An infectious rhythm and irresistible chorus do the rest whilst Paradise is the kind of feel-good reggae song that’s impossible to ignore, and is suited for an international audience. Both are impressive for such a new and unknown artist; any doubts can be swiftly cast aside after hearing One More Time – a slow and atmospheric love song that frames her yearning vocals with the sound of a solo violin and choral harmonies.
All three songs are different, and that’s another hallmark of a truly creative spirit. N’eve often writes songs using a guitar, but says there’s no telling how, why or when the ideas may come.
“Most times the melody comes first, although it varies… Sometimes I’m so captivated by what’s unfolding that I just lose myself in them,” she admits. “I actually dream about writing songs and then struggle to remember them in the morning. I have to leave them right there in the dream, y ‘know?
“The most recent song that I’ve written is called Hope. I was thinking about the impact that natural disasters have on people’s lives, and essentially it’s a song telling everyone to stand strong. I actually wrote that one during the Ebola crisis. I wanted to send out a message to the people who were affected but it’s taken on even greater meaning to me now, since my mother’s death. Recently I lost her to cancer and that was my heartbreak right there and since then I’ve been writing a lot of ballads. I guess I have a tendency to lean towards that side of things anyway. I’ve always written sad love songs but she’s become part of my music now, and she’s always with me as I’m creating more music.”
Despite her relative inexperience, N’eve takes an active interest when her songs are being recorded. She already has an idea of the feel and the sound that she wants to hear before entering the studio, and enjoys working alongside the producer and engineers in getting the best possible results. This is yet another quality that sets her apart. N’eve is different and her gifts are by no means limited to Jamaica, reggae music or any other category anyone could mention. N’eve is a true millennial ready to enter the international charts dominating global households.