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Nemahsis is one of the most compelling singer/songwriters to emerge this decade. Her music is a subtle, sometimes soaring contemplation of her backstory, driven out of a personal backstory which turns the unique into the universal.
Nemahsis’ musical instincts developed when she was tiny. ‘I was a very quiet kid,’ Nemahsis says. She grew up the middle child of five, in a sprawling farmstead outside Toronto. ‘Before I could even speak to people properly, I would pick up on melodies.’ Tunes have always been her friend. ‘It felt like I was almost born with this special connection to music. Her calling for music can be heard embedded into the songs Nemahsis has been piecing together to introduce her artistic gift to the world. She sings from a place of deep sincerity, heart, soul and gut. ‘Whenever a string is hit on a guitar it sends me somewhere and I will know within seconds which story to tell.’
Her songs are open epistles of personal revelation, structured to withstand the most skeletal production, often reduced to the simple assets of voice and picked guitar. ‘It all builds a narrative, which starts with the feeling.’ Her soaring storytelling capacity in song is divined from a place of sharing secrets. Her songs are tales of escape and retreat, self-acceptance, denial and, ultimately redemption.
Her ascendency began in 2012, after she’d begun posting music and makeup tutorials online. ‘As a Muslim, Hijabi woman I refuse to be tokenised,’ she says. By authoring her own story, self-publishing online, her talent could speak for itself. She has had to build a confidence fit to take out her songs to the world, toughen herself up and use all her resolves of strength. She knows that she has few predecessors so is determined to make her own path, on her own terms.
Nemahsis’s stunning first single, What If I Take It Off For You, detailed the horrific experience of shooting for a multimillion dollar corporation a major campaign before realising they didn’t intend to pay her. In the mesmerising video, she sings into a cracked shard of glass, a reflection of the world around her. The camera pans out and we see her sitting in a room full of flowers. Blossoming is possible for everybody. ‘I had beaten myself up so bad, as if I did this to myself. I felt like such an idiot. I was supposed to be strong and independent. I was too proud to admit what had happened. I will not be anybody’s victim.’
Elsewhere her music scorches from other deeply personal resonance. On Dollar Sign, she sings about the look that she can see in businessmen’s eyes when they first spot her commercial potential, the beautiful girl who might unlock audiences they are desperate to reach. On Paper Thin, she will break your heart, the story of the young Nemahsis, making deals with God to try and pray her skin a little lighter, her hair a little straighter.
The only thing that Nemahsis demands of her musical career is that it is conducted on her terms. The world has moved on. Progress has happened. Divisions have been ironed out online by a generation that understands differences cannot be defined from one perspective, they must be shared. By unravelling her own magical journey, Nemahsis feels like a needle-in-a-haystack artist, a gentle musical agent of change. Her mission statement is decisive. She is in control.
‘Music is my therapy,’ she says. ‘This is about expressing myself, fully.’