James Weaver reports on NI-COLA, UK's R&B gospel diva now breaking through onto radio
With two singles, "Dear Mum" and "T.I.M.S (This Is My Story)", currently on the Cross Rhythms' playlist, Manchester-based, MOBO-nominated R&B gospel diva Ni-Cola is continuing her slow but steady rise since first emerging on the scene in 2004.
Talking about her "T.I.M.S (This Is My Story)" radio hit, Ni-Cola said, "I remember singing the original hymn, written by the blind American songwriter Fanny Crosby, and loving the lyrics and melody and thought, imagine this being sung in the club or on the dance-floor. Since the beginning of time, the world has been discovered and rediscovered through the art of storytelling. As a songwriter, I love to capture other peoples' stories and weave them into my songs with my own interpretation."
Nicola Monique Witter began her musical journey at a young age, her first solo was at a family event where she repeatedly sang the hook of a well-known pop song. By nine years old, Ni-Cola was singing in a church choir and went on to form a dance group GSD (God Said Dance) in the late 1990s. She later attended Bible School under the ministry of Ulf Ekman at Word of Life Bible Centre in Sweden, during which time her zeal to win souls for Jesus Christ grew. But it wasn't until 2004 when she took her first major steps to establish a career in music. "Still Here", her debut single, was released in 2005 and it paints a picture of pain for the emerging songstress. Grief, fear, suicide. Whilst not particularly pleasant subject matter, the pain of Ni-Cola losing her mother drove her to write what would become her debut musical outing. "This had been my childhood fear and now it was my reality," recalled Ni-Cola.
Channelling her pain and grief at the loss of her inspiring mum, Ni-Cola's pursuit of music, in a sense, can be traced back to the strong work ethic set by the head of her household; her mother. "There were times when food was scarce, and yet mum spent her money sending all four of us to private school. There was a strong work ethic in our home, and Godly discipline." Years later, this traumatic experience would later be revisited with radio hit "Dear Mum". As she said, "'Dear Mum' is the love letter you didn't get to write, it's the intoxication of both joy and suffering and the journey of the one who's lost and left behind. The one who grieves over the loss of the relationship, the memories shared and the unspoken conversations. The song is also a celebration of life and encouragement to those who still have their precious mums to never take them for granted, to love on them, to cherish them, to value them because these Queens are one of life's greatest, most unsung heroes!"
With sweet harmonies, catchy melodies and a drive to proclaim the Gospel working in unison to be the pillars of her sound, 2007 marked the second time this musical approach came to fruition with the release of her debut album 'My Passion My Heart'. If debut single "Still Here" displayed a young songstress with heaps of potential, then 'My Passion My Heart' opened the floodgates for Ni-Cola to capitalise on her impressive energy. In the years following, she underwent heavy touring, including a 20 date US college tour in Ohio, Baltimore and Alabama and a UK headlining run, until the release of her second effort, 'Love Out Loud', in 2011. Although Ni-Cola had made her breakthrough in the years prior, working with young rapper J Vessel and producer GiantKiller on 2015's single "Breakthrough" marked another opportunity for the Northern singer to expand upon her collaborative efforts that were first explored back on 'Love Out Loud'.
"T.I.M.S (This Is My Story)" and previous single "Dear Mum" arrived after a three year wait since the release of Ni-Cola's 2016 single "Let Me See Those Hands". Three years in the music industry feels like an eternity, and given the current climate of streaming and consumption, blink and you'll be long forgotten if you don't maintain a regular release schedule. After several years away from the music, in which Ni-Cola admirably pursued her charity work, the wheels of her comeback are now in motion as album number three looms on the horizon. "I wasn't quite sure if I had any more songs left in me, but the passion to perform and create music never died," said Ni-Cola.
Numerous award ceremonies (2006's victory as Best Newcomer at the Oasis Awards, 2010's nominations for Best Compilation Album at the Dove Awards and nominations at the prestigious MOBO Awards for Best Gospel Performance in 2012 and 2015) and gathering praise from critics and fans alike, Ni-Cola's sustained climb up the ladder is the real deal, not just a flash in the pan.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.