So, how do you say “Fresh” in Albanian?
NJOMZA (pronounced NEE-YOHM-ZA) is one way…
On so many levels, it makes perfect sense that NJOMZA’s name translates to “Fresh.”
Sporting bright ever-changing neon hair, dressing like a character out of Kill Bill, and crafting music that dips in and out smoked-out space age soul, high fashion R&B, and even a little psychedelic spirit, the Kosovan songstress consistently positions herself a step or two ahead of the Zeitgeist.
Something of a sonic chameleon, she never stops progressing.
“I like to switch it up,” affirms the artist. “I don’t want to just have a recognizable sound. Instead, I want to be fresh every time I do something. My music will evolve just as I do. I’m super open-minded. I wake up everyday seeking new inspiration. Each project literally represents a different chapter and time in my life.”
Each chapter thus far has been nothing short of fascinating. Prior to her birth in Germany, NJOMZA’s parents fled their native Kosovo in the midst of the Serbian war. By the age of four, the family relocated to The Bronx before settling in Chicago. At 14-years-old, the budding talent fronted her first band. By the end of high school, she attracted a following through uploading acoustic covers of Kid Cudi, Wiz Khalifa, and more to social media. Mac Miller caught one of those covers and signed her to his Remember Music label around her 20th birthday. Settling in Los Angeles, she cameoed on “Planet God Damn” from Miller’s acclaimed 2016 offering, The Divine Feminine. Thereafter, 2017 saw NJOMZA unveil her acclaimed debut EP, Sad For You, which Noisey described as “sweeping and accessible pop tunes that channel the atmosphere of 90s R&B with modern compositions.” In between collaborations with everyone from Skrillex to FKi 1st, she headlined various shows and made festival stops at Bonnaroo and beyond.
2018 marked another shift. Amicably parting ways with Remember Music, she inked a deal with SinceThe80s/Motown and set about crafting her debut for the label, the Vacation EP. Aesthetically, she drew inspiration from psych rock a la Janis Joplin as well as repeat viewings of nostalgic favorite flicks like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Pulp Fiction, and The Big Lebowski.
Abandoning the pink hues and lyrical heartbreak of Sad For You, she assembled what would become Vacation in a new (and blue) mindset altogether.
“The title Vacation came to me right after Sad For You came out,” she recalls. “First, I made the intro ‘Mania Is Temporary.’ I felt like I was at the beach any time I listened to it. I kept focusing on the word Vacation. Every song leans towards that subject matter with a beachy sound. Obviously, the ocean and the sky are blue, so it was the perfect color. It’s a brighter phase altogether.”
To bring this vision to life, she enlisted the help of producers Blair Taylor, FKi 1st, Dot Da Genius, and more. On the Taylor-produced first single “Lonely Nights,” her stark vocal resounds through a haze of spacious synths and glitchy electronics before culminating on an icy hypnotic hook, “I could make it right for you.”
“It’s about feeling alone and knowing you don’t have to feel that way,” she explains. “You want to escape that loneliness. You’re sure it’s possible to escape if that one special person is around to distract you from the feeling. I kept saying ‘Lonely Nights’ over and over, and the song organically came together.”
Dreamy piano reverberates beneath a delicate croon on “Me & You” as her impressive range takes center stage on the hook.
“Following right after ‘Lonely Nights,’ it’s about me and that other person coming together,” she goes on. “It’s a romantic couple song. There’s so much bullshit happening in the world that we all have to deal with. Sometimes, you want to lose yourself in another person like a form of meditation.”
Elsewhere, acoustic guitar underscores the upbeat and undeniable R&B delivery of “One Foot In The Water,” while the finale “Don’t Know Why” teeters between catchy and confessional.
“Vacation is about going through life and recognizing I can’t get too attached, because I’d been hurt on Sad For You,” she admits. “I’ll find peace in myself first. Until I do, I can’t give myself fully to someone else, yet.”
Maybe NJOMZA doesn’t have to give herself to anybody else, because the music connects for her…
“I want people to connect with the sounds, lyrics, and my voice,” she leaves off. “I hope it’s an escape—like a safe haven. I hope it’s positive. We’re all going through the same things.”