Being split between the traditional Iranian family life of her parents and Sweden’s conservative middle-class meant that Nadya didn’t quite fit in when she was growing up. It was an issue accentuated by her location: Jönköping, some 300 kilometres from the capital of Stockholm and invariably described by the guidebooks as the “Jerusalem of Sweden”, wasn’t a natural fit for a young Muslim with an identity crisis.
The answer came with music, as it so often does for teenagers who feel at odds with society. Nadya’s school had just a solitary band – a ramshackle punk outfit with a desperate need for a singer who could convey their barely defined brand of rebellious anarchy. She had grown up admiring the usual figureheads of pop, but once she hit her teens the morbid wordplay of Morrissey and the primal rush of The Cramps were an exhilarating life force.
There was but one problem: she couldn’t sing.
Yet most problems can be solved with a little ingenuity. A fan of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Nadya downloaded some of their early raw demos and submitted Karen O’s screeching vocals as her own work. The band were suitably impressed.
“They took me in and I tried to do what she did, just not to blow my cover,” she recalls, almost audibly impressed with her own cunning. “I wanted to shout and scream and destroy things on stage. It was the perfect excuse for me to be a misfit.”
Over the new few years, Nadya flitted from one punk collective to another and also worked on her own material as a singer-songwriter. When she was eighteen she met two DJs with whom she formed the self-described “Middle-Eastern Bass / Muslimstep” trio Compadre whose success included European tours and a huge festival date at Roskilde.
“With Compadre we did as much as we could achieve, and somewhere along the line I realised that I wanted to do my own thing,” she recalls. Nadya had already established enough of a reputation with the band to attract the attention of Warner Music Sweden, and she signed a solo deal with the label in the spring of 2014.
Released later that year, Nadya’s first single Refugee is a fusion of her eclectic influences. A ferocious scattergun of punk attitude and free-flowing raps inspired by her love of Jay-Z and Kanye West top a foundation of pulverising bass and beats – all of which are heightened by an atmospheric sprinkling of Persian influences. It’s a track which demands attention, and earned exactly that with UK-based coverage courtesy of MTV and The Line of Best Fit.
In order to capture the song’s topic – the experiences of an immigrant who feels like an outsider in both the land of their birth and the country from which their parents originated – Nadya hatched a plan to film a video in the Iranian cities of Tehran and Masshad. As the budget barely covered the cost of return flights, she opted to make the video herself with the help of her father, who had fled the country in the early 80s after being injured in the Iran-Iraq war.
“It’s not really legal for women to sing in Iran and it’s definitely not legal to make music videos; generally it’s very hard to even walk around with a camera outside of the house. So it became an undercover operation!”
With the worst case scenario being jail, Nadya and her father relied on their wits to get by: his knack for sweet talking officials saved their skin on numerous occasions, as did her ability to play up to the stereotypical image of the naïve foreign tourist that they perceived her to be. They only managed to keep hold of the footage they had captured after Nadya hid the memory card in her underwear.
Whereas Refugee was an anthem for the outsider, her next single Superstar embraces the idea of gaining strength by being part of a bigger social collective. Its sonic approach is also dramatically different. While Refugee simmered with fierce attitude, Superstar’s sleek grooves flow with a sense of theatrical flamboyance courtesy of a sweeping orchestral sample from Iranian pop icon Googoosh’s classic track Kavir.
Currently working on her debut album, Nadya promises to deliver a mixture of soaring vocals and vitriolic raps; a seamless blend of pop, punk and hip-hop: “It’s very diverse. I’m not afraid of the songs sounding different as long as they all sound like me.”