One of the highlights of last year’s revered Austin City Limits Music festival happened when Sharon Jones pulled a young man named Nakia onstage for an impromptu duet. Jones quickly discovered what the cheering crowd already knew – he was one of Austin’s brightest new stars. In fact, Nakia “brought the crowd to its feet,” with his own set the next day the Austin Chronicle reported. “He’s a soul man all the way,” the paper raved. The next time Jones made an appearance in Texas, it is no surprise who she asked to come sing with her.
And all it takes is a listen to his debut album Water to Wine (out April 7) to understand why, as Nakia (pronounced nuh-kee-yah) is “the real deal,” Singer & Musician magazine proclaims. Recorded with producer and guitarist Mac McNabb, the album summons the joyous rhythms of southern-fried brown-eyed soul; buoyed by his band, The Southern Cousins --and his back-up singers The Fresh Up Girls.
Along with his potent voice, Nakia shows off his writing by renewing the Stax/Volt spirit with “On The Bus” complete with a “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” whistle part, and a groove as deep and wide as the Mississippi. He struts on “Choose Your Poison” -- and testifies like a true believer on the title track and “All Over You.”
Water to Wine also includes songs written by and with Michael Fracasso, one of Austin’s most acclaimed singer-songwriters, as well as a number co-written by the Austin hit country songwriter Monte Warden — two of Nakia’s many supportive peers within the city’s music scene. Together, they take listeners on a grand and scenic tour of Southern soul and R&B from the church (“Safe Inside”) to the street (“There Goes The Neighborhood”) and to the bayou (“Elizabeth Lee”.)
Growing up in the only biracial family in a small northern Alabama town, the son of a Hispanic father and mother of Irish stock, Nakia teethed on a variety of music from his family and began singing at the age of 5, and never stopped. He set out on a journey of jobs and cities, winding thru the music business and tech world, but always kept singing and performing as his priority.
Nakia first hit the stage in Austin as a highlight of Miles Zuniga’s (of Fastball) campy revue side-project, The Small Stars. Soon, Nakia & His Southern Cousins band and began pulling in sell-out crowds at residencies in successive Austin clubs. In early 2007, he released an EP, Playing The Cards, winning play on KGSR -- and was hailed in Performing Songwriter as “a striking set of Texas-bred rhythm ‘n’ blues” thanks to his “bold, brassy presence.”
Now, on his national debut, Nakia echoes the finest soul voices in American roots music. Water to Wine is suffused with the potency of a man determined that his deep love for singing be heard, and to keep bringing crowds to their feet all over the country. Nakia will be touring nationally in the spring, with appearances at SXSW and other festivals.