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Ngozzi Learns Through Experience

Written by on November 22, 2021

With her bags packed full of influence from Atlanta, Paris and Morocco, Ndidi “Ngozzi” Morton is finding her place in the Chicago music scene.

Inspired from her upbringing in Atlanta, her music composition studies in France and her travels to countries like Morocco, singer-songwriter Ngozzi has decided to call Chicago home. After discovering its vast underground music scene, she has fallen in love with the city. Recently adding “singer” to her songwriter title, Nogzzi’s voice resembles the classic female R&B artist with a modern twist. Over smooth and rhythmic instrumentals, Ngozzi’s euphonic vocals express feelings of intimacy and captures truth.

Her third single, “Never Loved Before,” was featured in Vocalo’s “In Rotation” playlist for Nov. 2021. We got to know Ngozzi by chatting with her about travel experiences, her transition from just songwriter to singer-songwriter and more.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

What was your favorite place you visited on your travels, and why?

After I graduated from undergrad I moved to Paris, France to study music composition with French composer Pascal Zavaro. France is probably the first place that I felt good with myself. It was the birthplace of my self-discovery as an adult. I lived there for three years, and within that time so many of my ideals as an American were challenged and my musical palette expanded profoundly. For this, France will always be at the top of my list.

In a close second would have to be Morocco. Oh, Morocco, what a beautiful country with beautiful people. I went there to study the darbuka but ended up learning the djembe. Go figure!

Here’s the thing about Morocco. People think America is this unique melting pot, but Morocco is just as rich — culturally, ethnically and musically. And this has been the case before America was even thought of. There’s a type of music in Morocco called Gnawa that captivated my soul. It’s the music of formerly-enslaved sub-Saharan Africans who were brought to Morocco hundreds of years ago. This music has basically inspired the development of much of Morocco’s popular music, pretty similar to the way blues and jazz inspired the foundation for American popular music here. The parallels are striking and, really, I fell in love with this country through the people and through the music.

What made you want to shift to singing after being solely a songwriter?

Dang, this is a really good question with a bit of a complex answer. But, in short, it was the death of my mother that caused me to make the shift. I never wanted to be a singer. Not only did I never want to, I never even thought twice about it. It was my mother’s death that made me realize that for so many years I had been hiding so much of myself. So, once I began healing old wounds, being a singer just seemed to arise. I guess it’s when you deconstruct who you are and once you begin to reconstruct yourself you realize that so much of you is now different and the way you express yourself even looks different. It’s fuller, more robust and more authentic. When I lost my mom, I started to hear this internal screaming, so I had to reach down into the abyss of my soul and pull out someone who was drowning. And when I pulled her out, this is who I found — Ngozzi, the singer-songwriter.

Tell us about the songwriting and recording process behind your new single “Never Loved Before.”

Oh man, I don’t even remember when I wrote this song or for who, but I know that this is kind of my theme song. This song expresses how I feel every time I get into a relationship with somebody. Super excited and on cloud 15! This song is like the giddy little girl in me.

The recording process for this track was really fun. The day before I was supposed to go into the studio I realized that I never wrote the chords for the song, so I was up til like 2 a.m. the night before my session trying to get the chords together. I went to RaxTrax over in Lakeview and presented it to my boy Noam — he’s my producer and engineer — and he knew exactly what to do with it. I sang it to him and played it on guitar for him. And then he picked up the guitar and he played while I sang and we just vibed out for a bit, trying to catch the groove. Working on this song with Noam felt magical, because we were so musically in sync. I’d be sitting on the couch and he’d be playing the acoustic guitar on a part and I’d just be sitting there thinking in my head, “Dang, I hope he adds the electric guitar on this part.” And then five seconds later he’s like, “You know what, I wanna try the electric guitar on this part.” And I start screaming like, “Noam, what the heck! I was just thinking that.” The entire recording process was filled with moments like that.

“I find that, as I’m still coming into myself artistically, Chicago is nurturing and nutrient-dense. The soil is very, very rich here, and it’s an extremely advantageous place to be planted.”

– Ngozzi

In an Instagram post you wrote, “There’s nothing more sacred than having people around you that you can artistically trust.” What does it mean to you to artistically trust someone, and how often can you find someone like this?

Okay, so I find myself, as an artist, constantly in doubt of myself and my abilities. Even when I feel like I’ve written something pretty darn good, I’ll get ready to show somebody and shrink. Sometimes it’s just difficult to have perspective when you’re creating a song, so it’s hard to know when to stop adding instruments to the production or if this song sounds good with a bridge or not, or if the song even sounds good at all. So I find it so helpful to have someone who I can bounce an idea off of and know that they’ll give me solid feedback or help me calm my nerves. No “yes” people. Just an honest person who truly believes in me and my ability. I don’t find someone like this too too often — but when I do, they’re gold to me.

You were born and raised in Atlanta but are now based in Chicago. What motivated you to move?

Oooooooh, life! Chicago was like a spin the bottle choice. I knew nothing about the city, just that my sister was in school here at the time, so I said, “Why not, I’ll move to Chicago.” And honestly, it’s been the best move. This is where I’m supposed to be right now. I love Chicago. I always say that I feel like it’s the most underrated city in America. This is the place where Ngozzi came to be, so Chicago will forever be etched into my heart.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

In your experience, how do the music scenes in Atlanta and Chicago differ? How are they similar?

Atlanta! First and foremost, let me just say that Atlanta is a special place and I’m so glad to have been born and raised there. And for Black people Atlanta is doubly special. We all know that Atlanta has done its thing and will continue to do its thing musically. I grew up with the trap sound that has dominated hip-hop over the past few years. I mean it wasn’t as developed as it is today, but if you listen to earlier T.I. and even more local Atlanta artists, like Baby D and Crime Mob, it’s right there. Then we have LaFace records that was in Atlanta, basically dominating the R&B charts with artists like Monica, TLC and Usher. This is what I grew up immersed in. So as far as talent and creativity goes, Atlanta has always been ahead of its time.

But what I love about the music scene in Chicago is that it’s still so fresh. There have undoubtedly been amazing artists to come out of Chicago, but it hasn’t had the explosion yet the way that Atlanta has. There’s still this underground vibe to even the hottest artists in the city. It actually reminds me of growing up in Atlanta and what the music felt like. It’s still attached to its soul as it hasn’t become fully mainstream yet. I mean, this is what I loved about Kanye’s The College Dropout. It’s funny, because after living in Chicago I understand this album — one of my favorite albums — so much more. It is Chicago. And I find that, as I’m still coming into myself artistically, Chicago is nurturing and nutrient-dense. The soil is very, very rich here, and it’s an extremely advantageous place to be planted.

How did music in Atlanta influence your own style and preferences, if at all?

Gosh, this is really hard to put into words. I’m not quite sure how to articulate this answer because I can’t find the direct link, but I know I’ve been influenced, no doubt. I think the greater influence is just how Atlanta — the city, the culture — has influenced me in general. Atlanta has influenced the way that I think, how I see the world and what I expect from the world. All of this shaped me as an artist and ends up showing up in my music in some way.

When did you write your first song? Do you remember anything about how that felt?

I think the first song that I wrote was with my brother. We took the melody from TLC’s “No Scrubs” and wrote a song called “No Crackheads.” I’m laughing now just thinking about how ridiculous that song was. It was pretty bad but we were proud of it!

Follow Ngozzi on Instagram, and stream her music on Spotify below.

Interview edited for length and clarity by Milo Keranen

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