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Aya Nakamura on her new album 'DNK'

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DJADJA")

AYA NAKAMURA: (Singing in French).

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Aya Nakamura's music gets played a lot - billions and billions of streams. This one track called "Djadja" off her 2018 album, "Nakamura," has more than 390 million plays on Spotify alone.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DJADJA")

NAKAMURA: (Singing in French).

SIMON: She is one of the most popular musicians in the world with a distinct combination of pop, hip-hop and Afro Caribbean beats that fill earbuds and sweep dancefloors from France to Senegal to the U.S. Now, Aya Nakamura has a new album, her fourth. It's called "DNK." She joins us now from Paris. Thanks so much for being with us.

NAKAMURA: (Speaking French).

SIMON: We are also joined by Farima Kone Kito, who is translating our conversation. You perform as Aya Nakamura, but this title, "DNK," is kind of a nod to your real family name, Danioko. Why did you decide to do that?

NAKAMURA: (Through interpreter) Why this choice? Well, I made this choice because while I was making this album, I was not necessarily thinking of myself as Aya Nakamura. I was not there as a singer. I was there as Aya Danioko, and that's what I wanted to convey through this album.

SIMON: We want to listen to it 'cause there are lots of Caribbean beats, especially from a dance music genre called zouk, and this album features the acclaimed zouk star Kim. Let's listen to a little bit of another song, "SMS," where the zouk beats are particularly prominent.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SMS")

NAKAMURA: (Singing in French).

SIMON: Tell us about the zouk and Caribbean influences that we hear on this album.

NAKAMURA: (Through interpreter) So from my perspective, I felt like I was going back to my roots because I actually started music by exploring the genre zouk. And I also - this was an ode to my adolescent years. I was listening to a lot of music from Kim specifically, who was a superstar for me, so it was only so natural for me to bring her on this album.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SMS")

NAKAMURA: (Singing in French).

SIMON: You are a huge international superstar, and we are very fortunate to have you on our program. Do you care if you're well known in the United States or not?

NAKAMURA: (Through interpreter) So for me, I wasn't necessarily always curious about what's happening in the U.S. I mean, I listen to a lot of American artists here and there, but I don't necessarily understand the language. And so it's - you know, it didn't necessarily come to mind to dive into it, but I would like to visit first, maybe, and then, you know, see, but because my fan base is not necessarily in the U.S., then it's not something that I'm, you know, thinking about always.

SIMON: You've never been to the U.S.?

NAKAMURA: (Through interpreter) No, never. I never visited.

SIMON: Yeah. I want to play a little bit of a song that you have in here about love and relationships, "Tous Les Jours."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOUS LES JOURS")

NAKAMURA: (Singing in French).

SIMON: What are you trying to put across about love, relationships?

NAKAMURA: (Through interpreter) So through this song, what I'm trying to say, it's like I'm trying to speak more about desire, sex appeal, very romantic aspects of love. And that's what this song is essentially about.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOUS LES JOURS")

NAKAMURA: (Singing in French).

SIMON: People have put your face on posters in some protests against violence against women in France. What do you think they find in your music?

NAKAMURA: (Through interpreter) My songs sometimes vehicle, you know, the emancipation of women, freedom and, you know, the ability to use your voice for you to liberate yourself, essentially. And so I have a feeling that it's something related to that. And, you know, ultimately, that's what I sometimes like to put forth in my music. But I hope that, you know, this is what people take away, 'cause at the end of the day, we have responsibilities as women, you know, when it comes to music, because I'm thinking about my family. I'm thinking about my children, my daughters. I want to make sure that I contribute to that positively. And so I'm not sure, but I think that's why people use the music and myself as a symbol to push for conversations like that.

SIMON: Yeah. I have to ask, does it undercut that message when - I don't have to tell you - you were in court with your partner, facing a domestic violence charge?

NAKAMURA: (Through interpreter) Well, for me personally, I don't think they're related. The message is the message.

SIMON: Without trying to judge the case, did you fail to live up to your own message?

NAKAMURA: (Speaking French).

FARIMA KONE KITO: She's essentially saying that she would rather change the topic.

SIMON: Well, we can change the topic, but it's - I mean, she, I think, would agree domestic violence is an important topic, isn't it?

NAKAMURA: Oui.

KITO: Yes, of course. Yes.

SIMON: What do you hope that this album will give to a lot of the people around the world who love your music?

NAKAMURA: (Through interpreter) When I was working on this album, I was feeling good. I was feeling good about myself, and that's the feelings that I wanted to convey to people. I wanted women and everyone who listens to my music to feel, you know, joy, to also go through their pains and feelings in general that sometimes, you know, we may be overwhelmed with. So I wanted to provide an album that would help people reflect on their emotions and at the same time, you know, get them to understand, hey, like, it's not that bad. Sometimes we feel amazing. Sometimes we feel pain. Sometimes we feel sad, but ultimately, all of this is beautiful.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BABY")

NAKAMURA: (Singing in French).

SIMON: Aya Nakamura - her new album, "DNK," out now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BABY")

NAKAMURA: (Singing in French).

SIMON: By the way, our interpreter has been Farima Kone Kito. Thank you both so much for joining us.

NAKAMURA: Thank you. Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BABY")

NAKAMURA: (Singing in French). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Danielle Kaye
Danielle Kaye (she/her) is a 2022-2023 Kroc Fellow. Before joining NPR, Kaye worked as a business reporter at Reuters, where she covered compensation policies and union organizing at technology and retail companies. She graduated from UC Berkeley in 2021 with degrees in Global Studies and French. While studying in Berkeley, Kaye reported and produced for listener-funded radio station KPFA, covering protests and housing issues in California for KPFA's morning public affairs show. She was also a researcher at UC Berkeley's Human Rights Investigations Lab and a news reporter and editor at the student-run newspaper The Daily Californian. Kaye lived with a host family in Dakar, Senegal, in 2019, which inspired her to write her senior thesis about threats to Senegal's artisanal fishing communities.