How ‘Daisy Jones & the Six' Star Nabiyah Be Rediscovered Her Musical & Personal Purpose
PHOTO BY RAUL ROMO
Oftentimes Black characters are tokenized in popular novels, used as pawns to support the main (and usually white) characters. Luckily, we’re continuing to push past that archaic framing in this millennial age with refreshing twists in the form of television and film reboots.
In the case of Amazon Prime’s Daisy Jones & The Six (which ran from March 3-March 24), the showrunners transformed Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel of the same name into an even more multi-dimensional story. It focuses on a fictional rock band in the 1970s, following their rise from humble Pittsburgh beginnings to taking over Los Angeles bars to stadiums and charts nationwide, soon becoming one of the most legendary bands in the world. But along with the band, there is a character named Simone Jackson—a disco pioneer—who is introduced as Daisy Jones’ supportive best friend.
The series revs up Jackson’s story, who is portrayed by actress Nabiyah Be, by adding a heartfelt subplot that ties into the queer community that grounded the disco scene. The casting was perfect, as the Brazilian-born Be is also a singer-songwriter in her own right, getting her footing as a teenager being a background vocalist for Brazilian artists like Daniela Mercury and Carlinhos Brown before moving to New York City to further pursue her career. She graduated Pace University with B.F.A. in acting and starred in theatrical productions of Hadestown and School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play before making her film debut in 2018's Black Panther.
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“It was quite humbling to learn so much about it. Production gave me this 200+ page research of the disco world. I definitely took a lot from that in building Simone, making sure that she was truthful to the women that made the genre,” Be tells EDITION of her role in Daisy Jones & The Six. “There was a lot of conversation between [executive producer] Will Graham and me about how to make Simone a human being with different levels of complexity because we didn't have that in the book.”
Below, Be speaks to EDITION about the parallels between herself and Simone, the importance of visibility and just how fun her discovery of disco was.
You discovered all the greats like Chaka Khan and Diana Ross through your research for the show, but you mentioned in a previous interview that you were healed a lot by Minnie Riperton’s “Reasons.” I'm curious what was it about that song that drew you in?
I love the lyricism of that song and the way she sings it, specifically the lyric, “The sweet delight to sing with all my might.” She has such conviction in her gifts and her talent. At some point at the beginning of the process, they did offer me to sing Minnie Riperton’s “Flowers,” and my thought process was that I didn't have the range that Minnie Riperton does, but I did discover that other song. I kept coming back to it to feel that sense of conviction in one’s gift or purpose. The other artists that meant a lot for Simone were Claudia Lennear, who was doing background vocals for the Rolling Stones and Mick Jagger. The other one who did backup vocals for the Rolling Stones was Merry Clayton. Names that weren't as big as Diana Ross, Chaka and Donna Summer, but they basically made the genre as well.
How fun was it to time travel and rediscover all these incredible sounds? I love disco, so I'm always curious to hear how other people become fans of the music itself.
There's still so much of the story that we can tell. It was really like a little tip of the iceberg that we got to hit. The most important part of the tip of the iceberg that we hit was the fact that disco was born in these little underground clubs. They were Black, they were queer, they were Latino, and we got to showcase that. There's just so much. The interesting thing about the book is that it parallels rock and roll and disco, and really what's going on between those two genres at the time. It was just such a big parallel to the social-political climate of the time.
You mentioned that sense of community because disco was initially played in a lot of queer clubs and allowed a form of escapism. Back in the ‘70s, they silenced so many of those communities, but they found solace in the music. I would love to hear your thoughts on the power of that visibility.
I think in some spaces, you will still hear the argument and the narrative that dance music is somehow less worthy or less refined. I beg to differ. It brings me back to the power of tribalism and the primitive nature of drumming, singing and dancing, and how cathartic that can be. As human beings, that's how we used to celebrate, so just bringing it back to the essence of the body, core and guttural expression. That parallels itself with folk music, too. It's very intellectual. It's so much about songwriting, almost the opposite of dancing. When I am writing, for the most part, I feel like I have to be very still, to find the best word to express my soul. With dancing, it's the opposite to me. It doesn't have to sound or feel elaborate for it to be truthful to what I want to express. It is an expression of freedom. It ties back to the sense of community because, from a more tribal perspective, that's as fine as it gets. People are able to come together and express themselves freely, without disregarding their bodies.
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You’re also a musician in your own right. Did you see any parallels between yourself and Simone?
I didn't get to go as deeply into the show with her songwriting, but she does start as a songwriter. It was a conscious choice between the showrunners and us to make her sing a cover because that had a lot to do with the choices she was making to cover up who she was. I think playing Simone definitely helped me go into how to construct or write a song starting with the bass line instead of the lyrics. I identify with Daisy's songwriting process, but Simone helped me find different ways to construct a song that might not start with lyrics or a guitar in my hand.
I was reading that this role also helped heal parts of yourself as well. What have you learned, aside from the songwriting and the music, playing Simone?
Oh, absolutely. Her last scene in which she gives up on the record deal. In the moment of shooting, it was a bit mind-boggling to me because at that moment in my life, I didn't have that same level of defiance and trust that she has. That fueled me to find that again. Also, the nature of who she is. She's so compassionate and giving and forgiving, and I really had to keep my heart open. A lot of times, I found ways to close my heart because I was so unflexible with my ideas. Simone doesn't do that. It was a huge lesson, and really humbling to constantly have to keep my heart open in the scene, and I definitely took that with me.
As Black women, we are often framed to be people-pleasing in a way. Towards the end of the show, you call Daisy a “selfish bitch,” which is one of my favorite scenes. Going back to Simone being a Black woman in the music industry, sometimes it's hard to navigate being selfish. I’d like to hear your perspective on keeping that balance.
That was really hard to be real with you. I was at a very different place in my life where I was like, “How do I speak up my truth?” What happens as women in general, is that when you're silent for so long, and you've learned that being silent is the safer way to go, when you start speaking your truth it doesn't come out as talking. It comes out as yelling, as a guttural yell of everyone and all the women you stand on. It's the cry of so many people. I've been attached to this project since 2019. In these years, what happened was that I started to learn how to approach a situation from a more healed place, and from not coming from my wounded place. I find that I am more purposeful, useful and gifted when I do that, and that's when other people understand me the most. People understand me also from my from the place of my wound, but that tends to bring me to another frequency if I may say so.
That does tie back into the messaging of disco. On one hand, you have people who may be wounded, looking for answers, trying to cope or trying to overcome trauma. They searched for those answers through the music, but then they come out of it being healed. I think there's a full circle moment where the art and the power of the music, as portrayed in the show, really helps.
Yeah, this is not to take away the anger and the rage. There's a space for it, and silencing that part of us is dangerous. It comes out with explosions in places uncontrollably. There was a version, for example, with one of the scenes in Episode Seven. We all had rehearsal for it, and there's a version of that scene that was a lot more violent. We see a little bit of that once Daisy said that, Simone looks away and then she goes to touch her. That move with my arm was initially supposed to be a lot more violent, and she even gets scared by that act of violence. There was a version of it that instead of “selfish bitch”, it was “cunt,” and there was a lot more anger to it. That's just as realistic. Maybe in other spaces, just as valid. We went with the vulnerable choice because ultimately, that's the glue of relationships. Relating to people from an honest, vulnerable place instead of a place of defense.
PHOTO BY RAUL ROMO
Speaking of vulnerability, what I've noticed watching the show is the growth of confidence shown through your hair. When you're with the people that you trust the most, whether it's Bernie or Daisy, you're rocking your afro. But when you’re performing around others, you would often wear a wig. It is an interesting contrast where you let your hair down with the people that you confided in the most.
Yeah, absolutely. That was a very conscious choice for me and the team. Simone is a person who made the choice to bypass certain racial conversations because she wanted that mainstream success. And that's okay, that's valid, that was truthful. Her choice of wearing wigs, especially in the beginning, had to do with that as well. She kept the wigs going later on as well.
You and Riley Keough (who plays the titular Daisy) have such a vibrant connection onscreen. I'm wondering if that happened naturally because you both come from musical backgrounds. Of course, your father's Jimmy Cliff and her grandfather is Elvis. Did that help bring that natural connection on screen?
I don't know if it was the music link. I would say Riley and I are both very spiritually inclined people. I think it helps to have a similar outlook on life to create a bond and a friendship. I learned a lot from her, I really did. I think I think she helped me feel safe coming as a somewhat newcomer into a process like this.
Is have anything else that you have coming up or that you’re working on this year?
Yeah, I'm really excited to release my music. Simone helped me delve deeper into production and what it meant to deconstruct an idea of a refined song. She showed me how to find grace in dance and dance music, as well as an interest in genre-binding art. I'm really excited about that.