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#RedefineAtoZ: Nix, the Musician and Storyteller Who’s Traveling Far With Her Ukulele

NAME: Nix

AGE: 22

HOMETOWN: New York City (and also Malaysia)

INSTAGRAM: @pixofnix / FACEBOOK: ukewithnix / YOUTUBE: uuuuuuuukewithme

Nix
Nix's ukulele covers on YouTube have gone viral, and now the 22 year old is challenging herself to write her own music. Paulo Chun / NBC News
How do you introduce yourself?

Hiiiiiii ~ My name is Nix, and I like to tell stories with my music.

What inspires you?

Well, I have to give it to my friends and family for being my brightest source of light and inspiration. But, thinking about my younger self (ages 0-12) also inspires me! I was a lot braver then, and a few pounds heavier. But I didn’t really care about what others thought of me, at least not in the same way that I did when I became a teenager. I remember entering myself in all sorts of competitions/events — drawing, calligraphy, storytelling etc., and it never phased me when I didn’t go home with a prize. I was more willing to put myself out there, and less afraid of failing. I think this is also why I love seeing someone like me/my younger self, a Southeast Asian woman, in my audience.

I’ve been lucky enough to travel around the country and perform for campus groups of really passionate AAPI/Asian students. In sharing my story through my music, they give me a glimpse of theirs in return. It’s a really magical feeling when someone tells you you’re the reason they started playing the ukulele. All these things keep me motivated.

SEE THE LIST: NBC Asian America Presents: A to Z - The 26 Emerging Voices of 2017

What challenges you?

This might not answer the question, but I really like working with constraints. Perhaps this has to do with my love for math, but I’ve found myself to be most creative and productive when I am limited. When I moved back to the States at the age of 12, I barely spoke a lick of English. With my poor language proficiency, I tended towards classes like art and math, both which had minimal English instructions. This really nurtured my passion for the two subjects, and (as you can tell) directly impacted my pursuits in college and in my career.

My aunt and I also shared a room in a tiny apartment in Chinatown, NY during middle and high school. Since I didn’t have the emotional and physical space that I craved as a teenager, I took to music and built that space for myself. The bathroom became my private room of songs and secrets. I can also write essays about how the ukulele’s price point and accessibility were the reasons why I picked up the instrument. Crazy what a tiny four-string "guitar" can do huh? But I’m always finding ways to be inventive with the resources around me.

A project that I’m currently working on is to master playing the ukulele and piano simultaneously while singing! Ya girl doesn’t have a loop machine, so she works with what she has.

Tell us about the biggest risk you ever took.

I think one of the biggest risks I took was when I decided that I was going to attend a small liberal arts college in Maine. Having lived in both NYC and Malaysia, I was always in very diverse environments. So, moving to one of the whitest state in the country was not an easy decision. For a long time, I felt stuck in a campus dominated by white/upper-middle class culture, and I felt like an outsider. This feeling isn’t exactly foreign to me, but until then, I have always prided myself for my ability to make myself comfortable anywhere I go. It took me a while to truly settle into my college.

I also studied math and economics, so would often be the only woman/woman of color in my classroom. Only in my last few semesters did I commit to being more vocal in class. I think in the end, it taught me how to own it and not be afraid. I’ve been channeling that mindset to what I do currently as well. It has made me open to more challenges and opportunities, so I’m thankful.

NBC Asian America Presents: A to Z (2017) 3:46
What are you reading/watching/listening to these days?

I’m working really hard on writing my own songs right now. I’m not super great with words, but I’m trying! I am a big fan of genius.com, where artists and listeners come together to give insights on a song they love. I enjoy learning how artists’ headspace are like during their creative process, and how their art is then interpreted by the audience. The site is crowdsourced and very collaborative, and reading the annotations definitely gives me a different perspective on songwriting. This translates into my arrangement and reinterpretation in my covers. I like music that tease out memories where the listeners can enrich it with new meanings. I want that for the music I create!

If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what job would you want to have?

I’d like to think that if I weren’t making music now, I would still be creating some sort of art. It’s funny because I started playing music only after my family had discouraged my pursuit of a career in the visual arts. So, art has always been my most natural form of self-expression, and I would be really sad if I couldn’t incorporate my creative interests in my career.

I do however feel an obligation to share what I love with my surrounding community. While I am a performer on-stage, I am also a part-time art/music teacher in two NYC public schools. I try to find intersections between what I do online and offline, and they usually entail communicating my passion for the arts while working with humans (even little humans!) face-to-face. I really can’t see myself doing anything else but this.

What’s your motto?

To listen mindfully, and to drink lots of water! That’s what my mom and aunt (second-mom) would always say to me. They are not particularly deep, but they stuck with me. Today, I have a tattoo of the former, and a 40 oz. HydroFlask for the latter. Thanks, moms!

I celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month because…

...of the space it creates for AAPIs to unapologetically showcase, reimagine, and rediscover what it means to be Asian American.

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