The dancefloor is a sacred place. A single venue where multiculturalism becomes all-powerful. A space where anything can happen. A limited space, yes, but expansive for the mind and soul. When it comes to combining sounds and rhythms from different parts of the planet – a magical ritual that leads us to completely surrender to dancing – there’s probably no better wizard than Nickodemus. A traveler at heart, a connector of scenes and people around the world, he definitely tops our favorite global sounds DJs.
Of course, Nickodemus is much more than a revered DJ. He’s also a much-loved producer with an extensive career, including five albums of his material, hundreds of remixes and dozens of compilations. His music has long thrived on the mutual respect of friendships he has built across continents, through musical fusions that encompass electronic sounds rooted in Latin, African and Middle Eastern instrumentation. That’s also what his brand-new album Soul & Science is all about, a collaborative effort between old and new friends, recorded in his home studio in Brooklyn but also in several countries while on tour.
“Despite our fears of being taken over by evil-intelligent robots or imploding from our own internal turmoil, human beings endure, converting joy and pain into expressions of art. The voices on this album lead us to the realization that we share more in common with each other than modern media would like us to believe. It’s solid science!”, says Nico in the Soul & Science press release. This fifth album takes listeners on a journey of self-discovery through his eyes, exploring the relationship between humanity and technology in a rapidly changing world, weaving together a vibrant tapestry of musical genres from his time spent crisscrossing the globe as an artist over the last two decades.
Soul & Science is no different in its genre and influence fluidity. Nickodemus has his own style, rooted in the many cultures of New York City, tastefully mixing local sounds such as hip-hop, house and disco music with influences from the different diasporas, from Africa to the Caribbean, from the Middle East to South America. An inexhaustible cultural explorer, he usually displays a very wide range of sounds. Latin music is always there. “Dancehall reggae and Arabic music,” he adds to the list of sonic influences.
“The vocals and heavy beats are very prominent and dominant on the album,” says Nico. “I find the uniqueness of everyone’s voice and timbre to be a hugely important part of this album, and the concept of this album.”Nickodemus albums always feature several guests. But the way these collaborations happen has a lot to do with his lifestyle and his traveling spirit. Artists from different places and cultures come together on Soul & Science. And everyone finds their right track. “The collabs came about very organically and naturally.”
“I have a rough framework of what I want when I think of an album… A hip-hop track that sets the theme in the lyrics,” Nico tells to explain something that happens on each of his albums: the album’s title track – in this case “Soul & Science” – offers a hip-hop lyrical summary of the album’s theme. “Artificial intelligence is irrelevant to my artistry,” rhymes Malik Work of The Real Live Show in the song that also features Indigo Prodigy for the chorus. There are also other inevitable and infallible tracks. “A few dancefloor bumpers,” adds Nico. He’s talking about “Plastic (A Bigger Name)”, a stomping dancefloor anthem featuring NYC Queer icons The Illustrious Blacks who deliver a lyrical performance calling out the social media-driven fakeness that’s taken over our world.
The song that opens the album, “La Noche”, features Antonio Lizana singing. It’s a Nickodemus classic, with a deep trip-hop beat, but with the revealing touch given by traditional flamenco voices narrating that creative burst that artists receive at night. “After seeing Antonio in concert in Madrid, I knew I wanted to do something highlighting his passionate flamenco vocals so that eventually happened,” he says. “There are so many stories and connections behind the scenes that make this album special to us.”
“I wanted to work again with Alsarah,” he says about “The Shadow Thief”, featuring the Anglo-Sudanese singer, recognized for her work with Alsarah & the Nubatones released by Nico’s label, Wonderwheel Recordings. “After going to see a play together about human migration, this song and lyrics came naturally from that.” A purveyor of East African retro-pop, Alsarah’s voice is ideally suited to metaphorically address human displacement, in an unusual song like this, as if a disco gets down inside a souk with a dissonant flute line.
As in everything Nickodemus does, each collaboration involves crossing voices and sounds from different places in the world. Cameroonian vocalist Pat Kalla dives straight into the African disco groove of “Mama Tchipp”, with a funky bassline from Jonathan Maron, Jungle Fire on horns, and longtime Wonderwheel affiliate and rising star Gitkin on guitar. From island to island, with pure Caribbean spirit, “Rumba Tobacco y Ron” is one of the last songs written by the late Puerto Rican star Héctor “Tempo” Alomar, here sung by the talented Cuban singer Haydee Soul.
“To me, a global DJ can be someone open enough to find the commonalities in the huge, wide spectrum of music from all over the world, and have the ability to blend them in a tapestry that unifies us instead of divides us,”Nickodemus explains based on his large experience. “I guess I’ve been doing that since I was a kid: blending rock and hip-hop to unite divided groups at school, or later with dancehall and Aragon music, Latin with house, and on and on.” From Latin America to North and West Africa, from the dancefloors of Europe to the gritty headquarters of New York City, Soul & Science is a celebration of the human spirit in all its multifaceted splendor.
“At this time, AI in music and art has been a big topic,” says Nico. “I almost called the album ‘IAMNOTAI’ or ‘I’m not a Robot’ but instead of saying what I’m not, I decided to approach the concept by showing more of what we are, a combination of ‘soul’ and ‘science’ all collaborating making something unique and special.” Nickodemus invites listeners to put down their phones, free their hands, be open to surprises, and let loose on the dancefloor. Soul & Science is a reminder that, as emerging technologies continue to reshape our world, we must not forget the soulful, magical essence that makes us human.
Nickodemus has not only founded his label Wonderwheel Recordings to release the music he produces but also to showcase unique and great global artists. He has even been part of the Turntables on the Hudson parties in New York for 11 years. How does he manage to do everything? “All my different hats as producer, label owner, and traveling DJ have to be interchangeable at any point in time,” he answers. “After many years of experience, I’ve gotten good at juggling in this circus.”
See Nickodemus live this Friday, September 15th, as he hosts his “Soul & Science” album release part at ZeyZey. Free tickets here.