Oakland High Schooler Naima Nascimento on Playing BottleRock and Releasing Her Debut Single

4 mins read

Image courtesy of BottleRock Napa Valley.

Among wine moms, rock bands, and DJs emerges a 14-year-old and her guitar. “I’m Naima,” she tells the crowd before diving into her first song. It’s the first day of the BottleRock Napa Valley 2024 festival, and Oakland-based high schooler Naima Nascimento is ready to be in front of an audience.

Nascimento has been singing and writing music for as long as she can remember. In fact, even though her debut single “Blood Sweat and Tears” came out just a few days ago on May 24, performing at BottleRock isn’t her first taste of the spotlight. In 2020, Nascimento went viral for writing a social justice song inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and posting it online.

“I wrote my first song—with chords and lyrics and everything—when I was eight,” Nascimento said. “It definitely wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad. I think it was catchy. But of course, as I get older, my vocabulary gets better, so I can improve my writing with deeper meanings and better rhymes.”

At BottleRock, Nascimento played one cover and five original songs, all of which were accompanied solely by her acoustic guitar. “I write most of my songs at home on my guitar, and that’s how I performed them today,” she said. “I’ll normally write songs because something just happened in my life and I’m feeling strongly about it, but other times I’ll just be on my guitar and I’ll try different things until something sounds good.”

I write most of my songs at home on my guitar, and that’s how I performed them today.

Naima Nascimento

Opening her set with an unreleased original called “Forgive or Forget,” Nascimento quickly established an intimate vibe through personal lyrics, relaxed yet articulate guitar abilities, and impressive vocal agility. Even though she may come across as shy when talking between each song, the moment she starts to sing, you can tell she knows exactly what she’s doing.

About rehearsing for the performance, she said, “Since I’m in school, I don’t have that much time to practice every single day and drill it in. So, I picked songs for today that I know I’m already solid on and I’ve performed a few times.” The performance was made possible by Follow the Music, a new music education and emerging artists program in the Bay Area.

Nascimento not only performs her own songs and acts in musicals, but she is also in a band called Salty Sally. The group diverges from Nascimento’s solo sound, opting towards the fiddles and twang of bluegrass. “My band is made up of my friends, so playing with them feels good and there is a special connection,” she said. “It can be scarier to play with a band than to play solo, though, because I have to be worrying about a lot more things than just myself.”

I’m really excited to release my music because my dream is for this to be my career. And this is the first step of that dream.

Naima Nascimento

Raised trilingual, Nascimento is fluent in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. At BottleRock, she played a cover of the Spanish tune “Hasta la Raíz” by Natalie Loufacarde. Nascimento explained, “I learned that song a couple of months ago—I think I heard it on TikTok. It’s actually one of my grandpa’s favorite Spanish songs, which is kind of funny since it’s a newer song.”

Though Nascimento has never written a song for herself in Spanish or Portuguese, she did write a lullaby in Portuguese for an original musical she worked on with friends in 2023. “I do want to try writing actual songs in Portuguese or Spanish, though, because I think it would be really fun,” she said.

Nascimento can usually knock out a full song in under an hour. The next day, she’ll go back to it to see if she wants to change any chords or lyrics to get the song officially done.

But that “done” is only for the songwriting process—Nascimento then goes into the studio to record, mix, and produce the track. 

She writes songs alone with her guitar, but often while envisioning what harmonies she wants to add once she gets to the recording booth. “I can always hear harmonies for songs—that’s just how my brain works. But for other production elements, I usually don’t think about them until I get into the studio,” she explained.

Because of the stark contrast between the sound of her songs played solely on acoustic guitar and the sound of her produced tracks, there isn’t one exact way to categorize Nascimento’s music. “Sometimes I can go folk singer-songwriter, but some stuff I’m releasing is more produced and is more R&B. I listen to literally everything and love all kinds of genres of music, so I feel like my own music is pretty fluid,” she said.

I listen to literally everything and love all kinds of genres of music, so I feel like my own music is pretty fluid.

Naima Nascimento

“Blood Sweat and Tears,” however, makes a statement for the sound she’s going for. “I wrote it at home on my guitar, and that’s how I performed it today. But I wanted to see what it would be like to make it a little more produced by adding drums and other instruments. In the studio, I’d hear something and ask my producer, ‘Can you make this sound like that, or make this bigger?’ I think the studio is really fun because there’s a lot of different stuff to try out,” she said.

The song features a foundation of electric piano chords, a trap-esque beat, and synth flourishes. Thematically, it finds Nascimento singing gut-punch lyrics about someone getting closer and closer to her heart: “You’re the scars in my skin to the stains on my clothes / You’re the place that I call home,” she sings.

After her own BottleRock sets—she’s playing three in two days—Nascimento is excited to enjoy the festival as an attendee. “I want to see Stevie Nicks and Megan Thee Stallion, but they’re at the same time, so I’m not sure how I’m going to make that work! I’m also really excited to see Kali Uchis because I love her music and I love that she also sings in Spanish,” she said.

In the span of just a few days, Nascimento released her first single and played a major music festival. She doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon. In fact, she’s gearing up to release Inbetween, an EP that showcases many of the original songs she performed at BottleRock.

“I’m really excited to release my music because my dream is for this to be my career,” she said. “And this is the first step of that dream.”

Ben Siegel is a junior at M-A and in his second year of journalism. He is an Editor-in-Chief and manages Bear Tracks, the M-A Chronicle’s weekly newsletter. His opinion piece calling for improved Holocaust education was recognized by CSPA as the best personal opinion about an on-campus issue in 2023. You can find more of Ben’s music journalism at Riff Magazine.

Celeste is a junior in her second year of journalism. She is the co-writer of the weekly column Bears Doing Big Things, featuring alumni. She enjoys covering issues affecting the M-A community through features and writing about student culture. Her story on La Biscotteria was recognized as a top-10 NSPA Blog Post of 2023.

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