Interview with Brother and Sister Singing Duo “Nia and Nikai” by Katie Ewles
When I first approached Nia and Nikai standing on Charles St, they were surprised and shy. They were not used to strangers taking an interest in what they do. “People act like we’re invisible,” said Nia. It quickly became apparent I had found one of Baltimore’s hidden gems.
Aged 16 and 14, siblings Nia “Nink Nicole”, and Nikai have been performing on the streets singing acapella for the last 5 years (since ages 11 and 9). They are the middle children in a family of 9. Though the young performers have never received any formal musical training, both are completely committed to their future as creative contributors- their passion for success is striking. When asked where they saw themselves in 5 years, Nia confidently responded, “I see myself as a superstar.”
The young musicians currently attend KASA Public Middle and High School in Catonsville, and expressed their frustration with the schools lack of involvement in the Performing Arts. According to Nia, “there are people in the school that stand out in creative ways, and people want to learn more about that,” She wished the school provided more opportunities for artistic programs and talent, fashion, and art shows.
The siblings also expressed frustration with the recent civil disorder in Baltimore and the negative repercussions on the city. Nia said, “There are a lot of people out here with talent and people just be sleeping on us. They think Baltimore is a bad city, because of the riots. It did make us look bad, and it kind of ruined chances for others, and I don’t think that’s fair. Not everyone was in the riots. I was at home watching it on TV just like you!”
The pair went on to describe how they have overcome hardships in the last year: dealing with some family issues, surviving muggings while performing on the street, helping to provide for a family of 9, and local civil difficulties, all while still in Middle and High School! Still, the teens’ maturity is clear, and despite the challenges of recent years, the young musicians remained positive about the future. According to Nia, “In 2016 we promised each other it was going to be our year, because in 2015, 2014, our lives were just hard- we went through a lot. But 2016- we have to make the best out of it. We realized that nobody is going to help you out unless you get it yourself—and if you want something, go get it. You can’t wait. Have faith in yourself, push to your full potential, and just… believe, and dream.” —wise and inspiring words for someone only 16 years of age.
While they work as a duo, the siblings remain supportive of each other as individuals. Nia described her bright blue hair and how from a young age she “hated fitting in and getting mixed up and compared to other girls” so she would style herself as a “rainbow,” but how that resulted in her getting bullied. Nikai is proud of his older sister, stating she is “very unique and very creative.” When Nikai described his talents saying he can “sing and draw… but nah I can’t dance!” Nia quickly chimed in with her brother, laughing, “I can’t dance either!”
Nia and Nikai’s humility is touching. Though from humble means, the teens repeatedly said they want to achieve their goals as artists so they can help other young artists achieve their dreams. Nia asserted, “We don’t just do this for the money- we do this because it’s our dream, it’s something we really love doing. Some people mix up the two.” Many days they make no money performing on the street, yet they have been performing there for almost every day for 5 years.
The duo would like to gain more exposure, and expressed an interest in applying for a permit to perform in the Baltimore Inner Harbor, where they believe there are more opportunities. They conveyed some frustration with the current necessity for a performance license as they are “just kids” and are working to make money for things they need and therefore cannot afford permit fees. They have had several unfriendly encounters in the harbor when attempting to perform there and they had no license to show to the authorities when questioned.
The still young pair maintain a lot of drive, commitment, potential, and passion. Nia hopes to transfer to the Baltimore School of the Arts in the coming year, and Nikai intends to eventually follow suit. The singers hope to gain more exposure in the streets in the coming summer months and hope to score some sort of recording deal.
Katie Ewles is a Baltimore-based writer, composer, vocalist, pianist and visual artist. You can find more of her work at www.katiethecreator.com.