Countdown with the Diva
Stephanie Lyew , Gleaner Writer
Nicole Duhaney, better known as Nikki Z, has moved from mainstream radio to a niche audience with the programme 'World Chart Countdown' in the Sunshine City, Portmore, on a new station called Sun City 104.9.
Since her hiatus from the scene in Jamaica, this driven diva has been counting more than her blessings.
On a recent visit to the island, the Connecticut-born-but-Jamaican-by-heart chatted with Saturday Life on the goings-on in her life.
Tell us about your current project.
The project is sponsored by LIME. 'World Chart Countdown' is an entertainment programme that features the hottest songs from reggae, dancehall, hip hop/R&B and even alternative music in the Caribbean, as well as the United States. Interviews are also conducted with disc jocks, radio personalities and artistes worldwide.
Where else is it being aired?
The show is being aired in most Caribbean islands already, such as the US Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos, St Vincent and also in Africa.
Africa. Does that pose a problem, for example, the language barrier and culture difference?
Not really. My greatest fan base is in Africa. I receive tweets and emails from Kenyans all the time expressing their love for the show. Music and entertainment break any barrier.
What influences your choice of songs for the countdown?
I observe and listen to a lot of individuals in the music industry and see how they react to different genres and artistes. While in Jamaica, I'd go out to clubs, parties and street dances where music is born, but while in Connecticut, I just listen to music constantly.
Compare the entertainment scene in Connecticut to Jamaica's.
It's not great at all. The culture is so much different. Not much to the party scene. It's nothing like Jamaica.
Are there any challenges that have arisen because the show is pre-packaged?
Only if 'piece a news drop' when the show is complete. I can't add it until the following package, even though it is aired on stations at different times.
You also host interviews with international artistes on 'real-life' issues while in Connecticut. What inspired contacting Curly Lox of Twin of Twins to conduct an interview surrounding the Tivoli uprising in May?
I did it because no one was talking the truth. It was only what the media had to say from the political standpoint. Twin of Twins have managed to stay real on many issues that most people choose to remain silent about and that's why they are always on trial for what they say. But quite frankly, they are real and spoke from the people's view.
What else are you involved in?
In the United States, I am involved in radio programmes with stations such as Irie Jam, Hot 93.7 and Power 104, as well as alongside Rubber Ranks on BBC 1xtra in the United Kingdom. However, I am focusing on World Chart Countdown for now.
Apart from your day-to-day job as a media person, you balance it with the job of being a mom to your 12-year-old son. How do you maintain a balance?
Well, in relation to the show, it is recorded in my at-home studio so my son is involved entirely. He helps choose songs and gives his opinion on everything that's done. When I'm away, my relatives support me by taking care of my son. He also has a mobile phone and we communicate via calls and text messages.
So, we know what you're up to, but where did the diva Nikki Z start off?
It all began at ZIP FM. On the first day, I was put in studio I was told I'd have to select my own music. I had always wanted a disc jock there with me but it was not possible at the time. So, Johnny Cool taught me a few things and, over time, I learned more. The late, Carl Young called me Nikki Z and it just stuck with me.
You seemed to enjoy being employed as a radio disc jock. Why did you give up on trying to get back your position as one of ZIP FM's radio disc jocks?
It wasn't really a choice to give up, and as I said before, it was never my thing to select music, I learnt all that while at ZIP. After I was suspended for playing a song with indecent language in it, it wasn't a sure bet as to when I'd return. Being the type of person I am, I was not going to sit and wait around. It was time to move on to greater things.
Describe the day you played the track with the expletive on air.
It wasn't the first time a slip like that occurred. This day, however, was chaotic! I'd received a CD on arrival at the studio and was uploading the tracks while on air. I happened to select that same song but never realised it was from the CD (just uploaded) and it happened that this one was not the edited version.
In light of recent suspensions of fellow ZIP disc jocks, do you think the executives were harder on you because you are a woman?
No. I don't think it has anything to do with gender. However, I do believe it just had to do with who I am and where I was from. From the day I entered those studios, I was always closely scrutinised.
OK. What's the hardest part of your career?
Being taken seriously, because I am a jovial person and I am always joking around or laughing. People don't see me as a threat.
So you've stuck with the tag of being a diva. As such, your website is www.divanikkiz.com and all your links include the word 'diva'. But who, by your definition, is a diva?
A woman who is self-reliant, focused, strong, independent and knows what she wants and works hard to get it. Also, one who can rock her own style and still stand out among the best of them.
Personal style. I see you're wearing heels. Do you wear them while you drive?
I wear heels all the time, even to drive. It's part of my personal style and most people would know me for that.
Back to music. How did making rhythms such as Ghostrider and Z March, which both Mavado and Vybz Kartel voiced on, become added to your list of accomplishments?
Honestly, that was the idea of Jam 2. I just gave input where necessary, basically saying what vibe I wanted and Demarco and Jam 2 made those rhythms happen.
And what about your career as a singjay, having collaborated with Leftside?
The single Belly Ring was not something I planned to take seriously. Leftside just asked me to come on a track with him and I said sure, why not. I am not planning to take my career as a singjay any further than that.
The one experience that sparks the most interest is your tenure in the United States Army. What impact did that have on your personality, demeanour and view of life?
I was in the army for four years and spent some time in Saudi Arabia. It made me a stronger person. I was able to build up confidence within myself to know that I could conquer anything.
Speaking of conquering, let's address the rumours about you and the 'Gully God', Mavado. You dealt with it with such an admirable stance. Why do you think these rumours began to surface?
I had always linked with people in Cassava Piece and had friends there and eventually developed a friendship with David. He and I are both Sagittarians and it has been said that as friends, one is always weak without the other. He is my source of strength and I don't know what I'd do without him.
Yes, but that still doesn't explain the rumours.
People are always coming up with things to say about me. There's nothing to it. We are good friends who have great chemistry and we share similar energy.
Is there anybody special in your life right now?
No. Right now I am focused on my career and getting the show launched in more places.
What would you have to say to a female in her final year in university but searching for someone to share her life with?
That works for a few people. One should always take the time to know oneself better. Sometimes, being with someone can interfere with that. As you try to constantly please someone, you become more focused on that aspect.
Since you've returned, is there a particular spot you have visited or must visit before heading back to the States?
Well, (last night) I went to Stulla Wednesdays at the Quad; the vibe was crazy. But I don't really go clubs. As for food, while in Jamaica, Prendy's on the Beach and Ital Vital, right in Half-Way Tree. Love di street food.
Nikki Z's Top Ten:
1. When You Feel Lonely - Mavado
2. Coming Soon - Mavado
3. Your Love - Laden
4. Caan Mad Me - Tnez
5. Foot Pon Shoulder - Vybz Kartel
6. Right Thru Me - Nicki Minaj
7. Mother - Tarrus Riley
8. Times Like These (City Life rhythm) - Queen Ifrica
9. Before Them Gone - Chino
10. My Life - I-Octane
Link Nikki Z: