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Nathan Nzanga: “Being vulnerable with your art allows others to see themselves in you”

I see art as an opportunity to be there for someone. Being vulnerable with your art allows others to see themselves in you. I am you; therefore, I’ll do my best to do right by you in hopes that you’ll do the same with me. Prodigy Camp, myself, and Director Caleb Slain just released a […]

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I see art as an opportunity to be there for someone. Being vulnerable with your art allows others to see themselves in you. I am you; therefore, I’ll do my best to do right by you in hopes that you’ll do the same with me. Prodigy Camp, myself, and Director Caleb Slain just released a musical short film titled ‘enough.’ The film speaks to seeking empathy and vulnerability amid racial injustice and police brutality.

We hope the visuals and the music will inspire others to have more conversations that lead to equality.


As a part of our series about music stars who are making an important social impact, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Nathan Nzanga.

Born and raised in Seattle, Nathan Nzanga is a first-generation Congolese-American storyteller with a whole lot of love to share. Sonically, Nathan wears all of his influences on his sleeves, blending hip-hop with elements of folk, R&B, soul, gospel and musical theatre. Recognizing the power in his pen, Nathan speaks a universal truth while taking his audience on an invigorating ride, reflecting on his journey through life’s ups and downs.

https://www.nzangamusic.com/enough


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?

I was born in Seattle, and I grew up in a town just north of the city called Shoreline. My parents are Congolese immigrants with strong Christian values. They had a daughter followed by three boys; I’m the second son. Whether it was sports, video games, grades, or rap battles, we were very competitive growing up, but the competition made us a tighter group. My little brother and I started writing music with our friends in middle school, and it’s been what I try to do every day since.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

Growing up, my mom always had Congolese Gospel choirs and Christian Rock playing on the radio. She put all of us in the church choir when I was around five. The power of harmonies and collaboration was ingrained into us from then on. I started doing musical theatre in 5th grade and continued throughout high school. When I was 17, I learned the importance of storytelling from Prodigy Camp, a film and music summer camp that teaches kids how to nurture their creative talents. From then on, I knew making art was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career? What was the lesson or take away that you took out of that story?

The second time I did a show in LA, I went on a pregame hike in the morning. By the time I finished, I was exhausted but felt inspired by being outside and taking everything in. It’s interesting how being on a hike and away from everything can make you feel so connected to the world around you. The lesson I took from that day was that it’s important to slow down to get your mind in the right place.

What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?

Everything is art! Anything and everything can be used to spark inspiration. Take in as much of the world as you can, hone that information and watch what starts pouring out of you!

The majority of my songs have been motivated by the genuine conversations I’m having. Sometimes those conversations are with friends and family; sometimes, it can be with a complete stranger. You might even find inspiration on a walk. There’s no telling when God might throw it your way.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you explain how that was relevant in your life?

“We > Me.”

I find myself living a much more fulfilling existence when seeking what I can do for others versus what others can do for me. Try to find as many opportunities to be there for your people as you can. I feel that everyone’s gotta take care of one another, so I’m just doing my part in that.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I spent almost every weekend in high school learning how to make music with my friends Cameron and Royce at their houses. The moment we started recording, both Cam and Royce’s parents told us that we had something special. Uncle Russ, Aunty Claire, Uncle Gene, and Aunty Katy had our backs from the get-go. Every weekend, they were housing and feeding a bunch of loud teenage boys figuring out how to make music. They were always giving us advice and pushing us to make art. Later on, they came to all of our shows, and they even helped us get our merch and equipment together. They believed in us and made everyone that came through feel like family. I want to have my kids, and their homies back’s the way Uncle Gene, Aunt Katy, Uncle Russ, and Aunt Claire did for us.

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?

I see art as an opportunity to be there for someone. Being vulnerable with your art allows others to see themselves in you. I am you; therefore, I’ll do my best to do right by you in hopes that you’ll do the same with me. Prodigy Camp, myself, and Director Caleb Slain just released a musical short film titled ‘enough.’ The film speaks to seeking empathy and vulnerability amid racial injustice and police brutality.

We hope the visuals and the music will inspire others to have more conversations that lead to equality.

Can you tell us the backstory about what originally inspired you to feel passionate about this cause and to do something about it?

In the summer of 2016, I was a 17-year-old boy at Prodigy Camp, learning how to make a difference with film and music. Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, and five Dallas police officers’ murders had taken the news by storm. It was weighing on my mind heavily, and I was at a storytelling camp, so I wrote the song “Truce” that week. “Truce” was about seeking love by giving love. In 2020 after the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and countless other individuals at the hands of police brutality, I was fed up. I started writing the song “Enough.” to expand on those ideas. When they heard the song, my Prodigy Camp family decided to dedicate that summer’s efforts to creating a short film out of “Truce” and “Enough.”

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?

When I learned about the power of storytelling, I knew it was what I had to do to find peace within myself. Stories help humans build an authentic connection with one another. There’s been a racial and political disconnect within our society from the jump. Stories find a way to help people see themselves in one another. That’s what I seek to do with my music.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

A guy named Ashton DM’d me on Instagram and told me that my song, “Seeds,” helped him through some really dark days. His reaching out meant a lot because “Seeds” was one of the first full songs I’d ever written. I wrote that song when I was 15 to get through my difficult battles. That DM continues to motivate the telling of my stories no matter how hard it gets. When you find the courage to share your voice from a vulnerable place, you never know who might benefit from your words.

Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?

The first is accountability. In order to have an equitable society, everyone should be held accountable for their actions regardless of their job or social status. We have to keep the powers that be accountable for unjust and unequal treatment of communities. No one should have immunity from accountability.

The second is learning how to lead with love and empathy. You’ll hear this a lot from me because there’s no way you can take action backed by genuine love that won’t lead to positive change.

The third is realizing that everything is art. Art is a connection. Use your story and your art to build that connection to something greater. Be willing to be vulnerable. Allow yourself to be seen so people can see themselves in you. I am you. You are me.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. I wish someone would have told me to practice playing an instrument every day. I remember picking instruments for the 5th-grade band and orchestra. I really had a lot of fun trying out the Violin and Viola, but I ended up choosing percussion instead. I don’t regret learning drums, but I wish I would’ve started learning string instruments early on. I wish I knew a lot more about music theory as well.
  2. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. I was in a music group in high school with five other artists. My friend Royce is the one who has seen the most mainstream success thus far because he was the most committed person. He was constantly pumping out music and making the right connections. Royce was the most consistent; therefore, he made the most happen for himself. He kind of set the standard for us on what it’s going to take to be great. I could be the greatest songwriter ever, but no one will know unless I work hard for it.
  3. Rome wasn’t built in one day. Sometimes great art really needs time to sit before it reaches its full potential. Some songs and projects I’ve been working on are years in the making. I want to be sure they’re at their absolute best when the time is right. I have a friend who will start a song, get bored if the song loses direction, and then delete it. I find that sometimes revisiting old ideas later lets you bring an entirely new perspective to the music. Fail forward. I heard a Pitbull quote that said, “There’s no such thing as mistakes, only must-takes.” Something not working today doesn’t mean it won’t work tomorrow or inspire a brand new idea.
  4. Take in as much art as possible. Read as much as possible. Go watch live theatre and new movies. Listen to any genre of music from any era. There’s so much inspiration to pull from all sorts of mediums. I can’t imagine where my lyrical penmanship would be if I read books on a regular basis.
  5. People gravitate towards authenticity. Be yourself. Make art that means something to you and give it everything. People will naturally start wanting to help you and your movement when they recognize you putting your all into it. Vulnerability is key. People will resonate with what you have to say if you give them your truth.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The movement would be leading with love. If more people took time practicing empathy, imagine what that would do for the world. The simple act of saying “good morning” has the potential to change the energy of someone’s day completely. If anything, I’d like to influence people to add more love into their actions each day.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Politics, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Kanye West, because his work ethic is undeniable. Breaking out of the producer box is hard to do, and even the people he admired cautioned against him picking up a mic. Understanding that and seeing how far he’s come just by believing in himself places him at superhero status. He’s now one of the most influential artists of our generation. I’d love to talk to him about his process for collaborating.

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring, and we wish you continued success!


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