Nainnoh (pronounced nine-oh) knows what it means to run. Originally from Georgia, formerly a USSR-held territory, she came to America nearly 20 years ago ─ to not only escape a restrictive government but to fulfill her childhood dream. Her song “Run” celebrates severing toxicity from your life, in whatever form it may take, with rhythmic production and sweeping strings. “Remember how I was treated, feeling so low,” she sings. “Even though you have thrilled me, I’m letting you go.”
The accompanying visual stars champion dancers and choreographers Kristine Bendul and Abdiel Jacobsen, known for helping break gender boundaries as a gender-neutral couple in ballroom dancing. They’re also known as frequent collaborators with Twyla Tharp and former principals in the Martha Graham Dance Company. In the video, Bendul and Jacobsen sculpt an evocative dance piece that fully embodies the song’s fluid and ethereal motions.
“I didn’t know it would be a dance piece [at first],” Nainnoh tells Audiofemme, but when she started thinking about doing a video, she turned her eyes to the fledgling artist community of New York City. A close friend originally suggested she star in the video herself, but that didn’t feel right. “Why should I showcase myself when I can actually support and give life to other people?” she offers.
Nainnoh met Jacobsen and Bendul last year at Stepping Out Studios, a central Manhattan space, home to dance, Zumba, and bootcamp. “I was so impressed by them. They’re such beautiful people. I read about their story, and it was so heartbreaking and symbolic,” she says. “I’ve always been passionate about supporting minorities, Black Lives Matter, and LGBTQ+ rights.”
“I gave them creative freedom because they’re both choreographers and they’re very good at what they do. I trusted them,” she adds. “They did an amazing job. It’s an emotional song, and they just crafted it beautifully.”
“Run” is the second single from Nainnoh’s forthcoming self-titled debut record, which took nearly a decade to complete. One thing after another, from personal tragedies to a hectic schedule, kept putting the music on the backburner. Appropriately, the collection cultivates personal turbulence with spiritual awakening and results in a true testament to her growth as a human being. “[The album shows] how we all are connected and should cherish each other,” she notes.
Looking back, she sees herself as quite “sincere and kind. I didn’t know how to face darkness. I didn’t see other people. But I started to and started to feel what they were feeling. That was a major discovery for me.” Many of the songs were written around the time she had these revelations, so the record really is a celebration of her evolution. Musically, there’s an air of transformation, as she veered away from pure pop in those early days to folk, rock, and psychedelia. “People can feel how I’ve grown as a musician, too. I feel like songwriting is some kind of stream and I have to download it,” she muses with a laugh.
Album opener “Cambium Rings,” for example, harkens back to her airplane ride from Georgia to the United States. “I actually wrote it on the airplane,” she says. “I was like ‘Oh my god, I don’t even have an instrument here. What am I going to do?’” She kept pen to paper, however, and the song sprang from her soul.
Nainnoh’s debut record is very much her liberation movement. Her childhood in Georgia – a country known for its suppression of individuality – instilled within her strength and endurance in the face of adversity. “Growing up there, it was so hard for me to express myself, artistically,” she says. It was even difficult to obtain any vinyl records from America. “Somehow, my parents secretly obtained these records, and I was listening to so many artists like Nina Simone and Ray Charles. These extraordinary sounds really inspired me,” she remembers. “I think it’s very important at the early stages of a child’s development to develop a musical taste ─ to introduce them to these great artists and musicians. I was lucky.”
With restrictions around who she could even hang out with, she longed to immigrate to America, where “you could do whatever you wanted to do. Right now, the country has changed and is completely different, thankfully.”
Nainnoh also loved and studied the work of such novelists as Fyodor Dostoevsky and poets like Shota Rustaveli, a Georgian writer from the 12th Century “who was in love with Tamar, the female king of Georgia, at that time. He was a Shakespeare before Shakespeare or before Hafez or Rumi.”
Her curiosity led her deep into songwriting when she was only 11. “My grandmother gave me the biggest gift of my life when she purchased a piano,” Nainnoh remembers. “After a couple weeks, I started writing music. I didn’t want to sing what other people were singing from TV like all my friends in my circle. I wanted to write songs myself and what I felt.”
Her album, expected in 2021, pieces together themes of strength and power, while also imparting the listener with their own understanding about the world. “I hope the listener takes away the knowledge of existing in the darkness and still finding love and kindness,” she says. “We can survive, and we’re going to be okay.”