UNITED STATES: How Texas singer-guitarist Hannah Jadagu became a rising indie-rock star

UNITED STATES: How Texas singer-guitarist Hannah Jadagu became a rising indie-rock star

By The Huston Chronicle

Hannah Jadagu is mildly frustrated.

“Sorry, my landlord is blowing up my phone right now,” the singer-songwriter says in the middle of a recent phone interview from her New York apartment. “Let me just send him … oh my goodness. One moment…”

That landlord is not the only one trying to get in touch with her these days.

The 20-year-old from Mesquite, a music-business student at NYU and the daughter of Zimbabwean immigrants, is on the rise in the world of indie-rock, and she’s finding herself in demand. Jadagu, who starts a tour this month that lands at White Oak Music Hall Sept. 12, recently dropped her debut full-length album, “Aperture,” a work that Jon Pareles of the New York Times described as “absolutely 21st-century pop: personal and technical, candid and knowing, physical and virtual, shrewdly engineered.”

Her intimate and personal yet jazzy and plush pop, first heard on Soundcloud and then her self-produced “What’s Going On?” EP in 2021, bears echoes of the likes of Arlo Parks and Tame Impala but also stakes out its own territory. Such tracks as “Warning Sign,” “Think Too Much” and “Say It Now” reverberate with a sublime, hooky grace. It was enough to immediately snag the attention of Tony Kiewel, co-president of Seattle’s Sub-Pop Records, home of such like-minded acts as Beach House, the Postal Service and Washed Out.

Singer Hannah Jadagu who is from Mesquite,Texas

“I first heard of Hannah while checking out the ‘fans also like’ page on Spotify for another band I like called Drug Store Romeos,” he recalls in an email. “She had a handful of self-released singles up at the time. Hannah’s clear knack for a pop hook was what first got my attention but it was the beat experiments and subtle production flourishes I heard on her Soundcloud page that made her really stand out to me as a particularly special songwriter. When I found she was recording and mixing everything on her iPhone, I was even more impressed.”

In fact, Jadagu is all about the pop hook. “Sometimes when I say ‘pop music,’ I don’t think people fully understand what I’m talking about,” says Jadagu who initially was influenced by her older sister’s interest in such indie bands as Phoenix and Bombay Bicycle Club. “Pop structure is everything to me. It doesn’t mean that I’m going to make it like Bebe Rexha stuff, though I love her. She has some good stuff with Martin Garrix. But, yeah, I love pop music as a form.”

According to Kiewel, response from the indie-rock industry has been encouraging.

“Press, radio and show promoters have all been incredibly supportive of Hannah,” he says. “Despite only having released her debut album a couple of months ago, she’s already toured the U.S. and Europe multiple times and been invited to perform at amazing stations like (Seattle’s) KEXP and (Philadelphia’s) WXPN. The incredible playlisting she’s been getting from Spotify, on top of the early support from Apple, have been nothing short of remarkable.”

An indie space for Black women

All of this would come as a surprise to a much younger Jadagu, who was a dedicated hip-hop fan involved in her high-school drumline and considering going into medicine, like much of her family.

“I was really into rap,” she remembers. “I listened to Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj. I used to freestyle at school, but when I heard indie music, it just clicked for me and it resonated the most, and it still does.”

Her friends were mystified, especially when she started writing her own songs in the style.

“Oh, my goodness, they were definitely surprised,” Jadagu says with a laugh. “I mean, I come from Mesquite, and not a lot of people actually know what indie music is, still. So I’m in this small suburb of Texas, it was a little weird for people. But I would host house shows, and my friends would come and I could tell they were probably like, ‘We don’t know what this is,’ but because they love me and supported me, they came. But, yeah, I’m sure a lot of people are still a little confused.”

That confusion extends to the wider marketplace where, Arlo Parks aside, there aren’t many Black women in the indie-rock space. “It’s cool in a way because you feel like you’re here to say something, and there are kids who can see you and say, ‘OK, I can do this, too, despite being a young Black person,” Jadagu says. “But there are challenges. You walk into a room and there’s a 90% chance that you are the only Black person. And it can feel really isolating on tour, going to meetings. It can at times feel draining. … But I do feel lucky to have people who support me. So, it’s always a push and pull.”

She’s heartened by the rising tide of both Black men and women in the scene, as performers such as Bartees Strange, Yuno and Jean Dawson attract attention. Even hip-hop acts such as Travis Scott and Lil Yachty have moved in a more indie, psychedelic direction on their recent albums.

“I see the change for sure,” she says. “My homie Miloe is a young Black kid from the Democratic Republic of Congo but lives in Minneapolis, and he’s going to be opening the shows. So we just always try to create a space where we have other Black kids like us on the bill. I think things will change over time … but we’re also making the change, which I think is even more swag.”

Brisket and Buc-ee’s

As a music-business student who originally wanted to be a music supervisor on film and TV series, Jadagu may be looking ahead to the day when she’s no longer performing. But, for right now, she’s concentrating on playing and performing.

“But it would be nice to get my degree and then see where it goes from there,” she explains.

And, just because she’s in New York, she hasn’t forgotten where it all started in Mesquite.

“Oh my goodness, there are so many things,” she says of what she does when she returns home. “Drive my 2003 Jeep Liberty, go to Buc-ee’s, get a brisket sandwich, go to the mall, just silly everyday stuff.”

BLACK INDIE PLAYLIST: To hear a playlist of Black indie-rock, click here or search for “Young, Gifted, Black and Indie: Black Indie Rock & Afro-Punk” on Spotify.

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