This year, Nil Bambu wants to leave behind overthinking and second-guessing herself.
"In 2023, we're bringing consistency, confidence, and inner knowing," she says.
It's been six years since she released her debut EP, Diamond Sutra, a cosmic, meditative collection of songs that introduced the world to Bambu's artistry and vocal prowess. In 2021, she released a slew of singles to starving fans, hoping to satiate them until she was ready to release another body of work.
"I didn't know people were going to like it. I didn't know people would want more so quickly," she adds.
Still, Bambu firmly believes in quality over quantity.
"I believe in the art and the quality in what you're doing," she says. "I feel like things should be able to age. We should not have to drop so consistently. It's just the artist in me. I think finding the balance between being a true artist and not caring what others have to say while also being mindful that this is a business. The past few years, I've been learning that, and I think I finally got it."
Despite the pressure to keep streaming numbers high, it's not unusual for artists to have huge gaps between releases. Kendrick Lamar took a five-year hiatus until the release of his tumultuous album Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, Beyoncé had a six-year gap between Lemonade and Renaissance, and SZA took five years to release her follow-up, SOS. Nil Bambu is looking to follow in those same footsteps. During her musical absence, she's honing in on her artistry and embarking on her journey of self-discovery.
Speaking to New Times on a calm Sunday evening over Zoom, the 29-year-old is eager for the world to hear what she's been working on. She is returning with her latest single, "Incomplete," a warm and hypnotic R&B record, where she's nimble over airy ambient sounds and punchy drums. She floats gracefully with her dexterous vocals that are tender yet commands attention. It's a song about letting go of someone you love for the betterment of both parties.
"I wanted to sonically create a moment that people could feel when you're so in love with someone, but you know it's not working out," Bambu says of the track.
Bambu shows vulnerability through her poignant songwriting, painting vivid imagery through lyricism. Every word holds weight and pulls the listener deeper into her consciousness, feeling the sacrifice she has to make for herself.
The Trinidadian songstress wears her influences on her sleeve. Like most artists, Bambu's musical palette was developed at home — specifically by her mother. Growing up, she was immersed in the pop and R&B landscapes of the late 1980s and '90s.
At 4 years old, Bambu relocated from Trinidad to South Florida. Despite the relocation at a young age, she feels more connected and at peace when she returns to her native home.
"It feels ethereal. The culture, the people, everything — it's just nothing like the States," she says excitedly, almost befuddled by her words. "The people there are more vocal, more upfront, more like a communion."
The island is the birthplace of soca music, where its trance-like rhythms are infectious and uplifting, encouraging people to dance and feel free. One of the most notable artists of the genre is Machel Montano.
"He's like the Drake of Trinidad," Bambu says on Montano. "Well, actually, not even Drake. He's the Michael Jackson of Trinidad."
Like Montano, Bambu's music embraces the same spirit of providing spaces for people to release and breathe. On tracks like "Believe," she embodies being sensual and intimate, carrying the same essence of bringing individuals together in harmony.
Born Lindsi Jade De Leon, Bambu's stage name possesses a more profound message.
"When I decided to do music, I didn't want to go by my real name," she explains. "I just thought about what's something that feels the most like me, and it has something I would like for the rest of my life. 'Nil Bambu' pretty much means to become a vessel for God. When you become empty, having no ego, no mind, just emptiness, you're able to become an instrument for the divine, for God to play through. You become a vessel for God to speak through you and to live through you."
Though she felt the pressure to pursue higher education, she took the risk of following her dreams.
"My mom's my biggest supporter, but the rest of my family was never truly on board," she says. "My family is pretty big on education. I was kind of the black sheep of the family because I always went against the grain, and I was the oldest out of my cousins, so I got the brunt of everything."
Her musical journey was fraught with obstacles, from lacking a support system to sharing a room with her mother while they lived with her grandparents and facing the brunt of her grandfather's anger for opting out of school.
Still, Bambu refuses to live a life of regrets.
"Anything I do that I apply myself to, I can do, but it doesn't make me feel alive," she says. "I always say, 'I don't feel like we choose music; music chooses us.' You have to answer your calling or choose to ignore it if you want — but life is too short. Life is the greatest show on Earth, so while I'm here, I want to run it up to the best of my ability. I rather take the risk and be happy with knowing that I tried and really loving what I do instead of doing something that is safe."
Her upcoming EP, Eternal Lover, set to be released June 9, is a culmination of her musical journey, serving more as a revival than a comeback. It's the beginning of a new era for Bambu, where she's unapologetic and centered.
"On Eternal Lover, I'm the closest I've ever been to myself because it's like I'm just growing. From each project and release, I get closer to my final form, but my true form," she explains. "I always look at it like when you're chiseling a sculpture or something. Diamond Sutra might have been the beginning of breaking down the block, but Eternal Lover is, like, damn, I see what it is now."