Dont put Najuah (Nahj-oo-ah) in a box. The Toronto-based sextet, fronted by sisters Hanifa and Juliet, takes the fiery burn of R&B and mashes it with arena-rocking guitars, playing like classic Hole being mashed through Led Zeppelin and Tina Turner filters.
But average rock chicks, they are not. The hard-edged Sirens bring respective triumphs and pitfalls of romance to their upcoming debut EP Misery & Love, a reflection on relationships past. Produced by Bill Bell (Jason Mraz, Justin Nozuka) mixed by Paul David Hager (Goo Goo Dolls, Our Lady Peace) and mastered by Howie Weinberg (Nirvana, U2, Muse, Arrested Development), the electrifying anthems take the emotional spectrum and stretch it across passionate, saucy compositions.
"We just paired the two together and we feel like we're that yin and yang of misery and love," explains Hanifa of the title, chosen while reflecting on their hearts varying perspectives. "I think in the process of writing the songs that we wrote, I think they kind of just spoke to that. They're very personal songs and there was a lot of love, a lot of heartbreak..."
The album shows for it. Recorded in November 2010 in their native Canada and Los Angeles, California, Misery & Love is a roadmap to romance, set to blistering melodies and velvety vocals. First single "Eden" sees the girls baring their souls over slide guitars and an unshakeable melody, surrendering their souls for a night of bliss.
"Eden has that element of sin and love and that summer night where you do crazy things," explains Juliet. Her sentiments align with those of Hanifa - a common occurrence, given their collaborative writing process. "That, to me, is the most personal because it's just so raw and it kind of speaks to something that I think happens to a lot of people."
"This is All" parallels the breeziness of "Eden," stripping away the ferocious instrumentation of album cuts "Whisper" and "Fade Away" and leaving their voices to intertwine over a spidery guitar confection. On the cut, Hanifa and Juliet struggle with unrequited love, promising, "When the silence takes us under / This is all well ever feel / Hold on my love / This war is love / Id die with you."
"Thats a personal song that's very much concerned with the dynamics of a relationship and how there's that struggle in that relationship," admits Hanifa. "Its a song that when I hear it, I get really touched by it."
Their ability to pour themselves into music finds a partner in Bell, who lent his production chops to the project by developing their raw demos. Once they started recording the album, Najuah immediately hit it off with super producer, who they refer to as their "musical soul mate."
"A lot of times, you'll be working with a producer and sometimes it's more of a business transaction than it is a collaboration and a musical relationship. I felt like this here is somebody who really wanted us to thrive creatively and that was amazing," says Hanifa. "With Bill, we just have that connection and I think a lot of artists will tell you that once you find that person you can work with and build your career with as a writer, as a singer, you want to work with them as much as possible."
Najuah traveled a long road before finding that chemistry. Born in Zimbabwe and Kenya, respectively, Hanifa and Juliet spent their early childhood soaking up the sounds of Africa before moving to London, Ontario, Canada. Settling into their new home base, the sisters fell for music thanks to their encouraging Ugandan parents, who put them in piano and flute lessons
Outside of their musical studies, Najuahs front women explored the contemporary musical terrain, listening to everything from Nirvana and Metallica to Notorious B.I.G. and Mary J. Blige. The girls put their songwriting skills to the test after a music shop clerk offered up his recording studio to lay down a demo. From there, they knew that music was their calling.
"Things kept happening that kept getting us into this, so I think we chose it but I also feel like it chose us," says Hanifa. "Because it wasn't something that we set out to do at a young age, like 'We're going to be musicians and in the industry. It kind of became something that we truly believe we're meant to do."
Though they tried their hand at songwriting through their adolescence, it wasnt until they moved to Toronto that they founded Najuah. Established in 2007, the band was originally conceived as a girl group - "It wasnt really true to who we were," says Juliet - and traded in for an upgrade when the pair decided to focus on their live show.
Putting up an ad on Craigslist seeking musicians, Hanifa and Juliet found their backing band and set their plan into motion. Together, they've rocked establishments like The Horseshoe Tavern, The Drake Hotel and The Silver Dollar, booked by indie booking legend Dan Burke (The White Stripes, Peaches). Dazzling crowds with their unique compositions, Hanifa and Juliet not only enhance their live show with their on-stage chemistry, but also with their sisterly bond.
"I think if it was any other person, there would probably be moments where you would walk away, because there are moments, especially as females and as sisters, where we get at each other," says Juliet. "We also know how to feed off each other's ideas when we're writing and just being creative that way. She can almost read my mind."
"We grew up in the same environment, so we always see through the same set of eyes but with a different perspective," adds Hanifa. "She may discover different things that I don't see. It's the same with music. I might not hear something, so I think that dynamic is perfect."
While "Najuah" came about as a combination of letters taken from their names, the duo learned that the word had deeper meaning, translating to "success" in Arabic, "constellation" in Hebrew and "patience" in Swahili. Only later did they notice how accurate the moniker was. "We're kind of hippie-like, so communicating with the stars is that whole mystical vibe. I think it does work with the type of music we make," says Hanifa. "And I think with anything, especially when you're trying to create something, you do have to have a sense of patience, so I think that holds true to who we are as well."
With Misery & Love independently releasing this fall, Najuah is ready to prove that their patience will pay off. Success may be certain, but above all, theyre more focused on sharing themselves with their fans.
"We want to form a connection with someone. We all come from different walks of life, but we all, to some degree, experience love, we experience pain, and I think those are the connections that you make," says Juliet. "I think that's why anybody - even yourself - can relate to a song. It either speaks to you at a time when you're really happy or sad, but you just connect to it on a different level. Regardless of who the band is or whatever. That's an experience that everybody shares.