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Credit: Phil Smithies for Pigeons & Planes

By Jamie Milton

Nao’s London upbringing was anything but ordinary. She was, in her words, “on the cusp” of two worlds. On one side, culturally diverse Walthamstow, on the other, traditional Woodford, home to jellied eels and old school East End fellas. Her friends were from Woodford, but she’d always travel to the other side of East London.

“That’s where I could get my make-up, where I could get my hair done,” she explains. “That’s where I learnt to sing.”

Her upbringing is central to For All We Know, a daring pop hybrid of a debut album that arrives after two years of steadily increasing hype. The album title is taken from a beloved jazz standard, originally written in 1934 and sung by numerous artists, from Aretha Franklin to Nao’s favourite musician Donny Hathaway. Two tracks consist of iPhone voice memos, one dating back to her past as a backing singer. “See—I look after my phones! That’s the moral of this story,” she jokes.

Back in those voice memo days, Nao had to decide whether to pursue teaching full-time or give life as a solo musician a shot. “I loved teaching,” she remembers. “When I was younger, music in school was so boring and unrelatable. When I was teaching in South London, kids were telling me what they were listening to, so I arranged a Miguel song for the choir. They could relate to it, but they could also learn about techniques and chords.” Still, she decided to leave that world behind, and within months she was on every industry bigwig’s lips, thanks in part to her debut track “So Good,” a head-spinning collaboration with A.K. Paul.

“I didn’t see my name in lights,” she claims, despite a notable slot as tour support for Little Dragon swiftly following the success of “So Good.” “Even up to this moment, sitting talking to Pigeons & Planes, this feels really cool and unreal.”

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Credit: Phil Smithies for Pigeons & Planes