Through its hugely popular YouTube channel, COLORS challenges the traditional music landscape by showcasing the most exciting up-and-coming artists.
In this series we present special sessions recorded at the COLORS studio in Berlin, alongside an interview with the featured artist. For this episode we’re talking creative restlessness and celebrity godmothers with Caribbean-German artist NoMBe.
26-year-old Noah McBeth, aka NoMBe, embodies the generation he sees himself as part of. Open-minded. Restless. Explorative. Having more opportunities than any previous generation and an awareness of the obligation to seize them.
“Millennials are very indecisive,” he says. “Or at least I am. But this generation is not particularly tied to one genre.” True to form, in 2017, the LA-based singer released a new track each month, ranging in styles between electro, soul, blues, rock and funk.
“I have to do a little bit of everything through my productions,” he says. “People want variation. The days of albums are over, and everything is singles now. You can easily have an album where a house song is followed by a rock song, and people will appreciate it because our generation has such a short attention span.”
Other artists of this generation, like Oh Wonder, The Chainsmokers and Bruno Major, have been releasing new songs in similar ways. This is largely down to their relationship with streaming, which is the main way they have ever interacted with new music. But there’s more.
“I think it all started with downloading,” NoMBe explains. “That feeling of, oh my god, I want this Black Eyed Peas song so let me just download that, and then not caring about the rest of the album.
“Nowadays, there’s just so much music out there. The market used to be dictated by supply, but now everybody makes it with Soundcloud, and the supply has gone crazy. If I wanted to, I could listen to 20,000 new songs today, but no one has time for that.
“When you don’t have the time to really digest an album, music becomes a buffet, and so if I make one good R&B song and one great rock song, I can get into different playlists and reach more people. It’s a strategy of cross-pollination.”
It certainly seems to be working. NoMBe’s singles have been streamed 70 million times, and he’s adding 1.5 million plays every month on Spotify alone. It’s broken into mainstream culture, with radio plays from Adelaide to Atlanta and his track Can’t Catch Me was handpicked by Pharrell for his HBO documentary series Outpost.
I never wanted to have a ‘thing’ that people could pinpoint, but I’ve always wanted to surprise people and make them think.
But his success also raises a creative question – is this how artists want to make music?
“It’s a fine line,” he admits. “I hate the idea of having marketing affect the way I make music, but at the same time, I really want to make music cross genres. Previously it was a problem for me, not knowing in which direction I wanted to go, but with this approach I can try all the different things I’ve always wanted to try.
“I don’t go into the studio to make a specific record; I go into the studio to make 20 good songs and then we discuss how to package it afterwards.”
As an emerging artist, NoMBe is clearly energized by his ability to try on different styles, but at some stage he does see himself settling on something more consistent.
“I’m definitely not where I want to be; I’m on my way to finding something. There are moments in the studio where I’m thinking, this is it, this is what I want to sound like. But then weeks later, I’m over it already.
“Realistically, I don’t think I’ll ever figure that out completely, but the pursuit alone is also fun. I never wanted to have a ‘thing’ that people could pinpoint, but I’ve always wanted to surprise people and make them think.”
For now he’s coined his own term – electric soul – to sum up his style. “I usually tell people it sounds like if Chet Baker had been produced by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, or if Lenny Kravitz played in MGMT. I hate when people try to put a genre on my music, but even for me, it’s difficult to sum it up. But electric soul sounds like music with energy and Jimi Hendrix made the word electric a classy term.”
Now, after a year of monthly releases, NoMBe’s tracks have been collected together in a traditional album format, They Might’ve Even Loved Me.
And though, as we know, the record isn’t tied together by any single musical direction, it is centred around a female-oriented narrative. Each song is inspired by the women who’ve shaped NoMBe’s life – his girlfriend, his mother, his ex-girlfriends, his summer flings, and his celebrity godmother, Chaka Khan.
“A lot of people don’t know this, but Chaka lived in Germany for many years and she speaks German quite well. She dated my dad’s best friend and she would babysit me as a kid, so she decided to be my godmother.
“She and my dad have been friends now for 30 years. She hasn’t influenced my music, even though a lot of people in the press have been making the connection. She’s always been a friend, and I didn’t even understand she was a star until I was a teenager. As a kid, she was just auntie Chaka!”
Words by Søren Lund Nielsen