This Wednesday, Nikki Hill will come back home.
The singer-songwriter will return to her Durham hometown for a live show at the Blue Note Grill. Even though she currently calls New Orleans her home, the Raleigh-Durham area will forever be the place that taught her how to love music.
“The Triangle allowed me to have a hub that, especially in the ‘90s and early 2000s, so many bands were coming through and touring in the area,” says Hill, 32, calling from N’awlins. “I give a lot of credit to the Triangle for, you know, being able to see so many, diverse music, being able to sneak into clubs like Cat’s Cradle and Local 506 at a really young age and, you know, seeing everything from more kind of local, garage-rock legends like Dexter Romweber or being able to see the Carolina Chocolate Drops perform in libraries before anybody knew who they were.
“I didn’t think it was anything at the time,” she says. “I thought there were cooler, bigger cities with a lot more going on. But then, in retrospect, I was lucky to be able to see so much stuff.”
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For Hill, sampling all that live music, as well as dipping into the rock, soul and blues of yesteryear, gave her an education on how to be the hellacious rock-and-soul performer she is today. The press has already compared her to such icons as Aretha Franklin and Etta James. But Hill’s brand of Southern-fried roots rock is also reminiscent of the country rock white gals like Linda Ronstadt and Bonnie Raitt used to do back in the ‘70s.
“All of those ladies definitely inspire me, from Linda Ronstadt to Joan Jett,” she says. “But, I mean, I like to reach even further back to the ladies that inspired them and the ones that really kind of kicked off what we know is rock and roll in general – people like Sister Rosetta Tharpe or The Duchess (Norma-Jean Wofford), the guitar player that used to play with Bo Diddley, or Bessie Smith. I mean, I draw from all those influences as well.”
With those hard-rocking sistas as inspirations, Hill feels that it’s basically her duty to remind audiences that women of color can rock too.
“I’ve been listening to alternative music and rock and roll since I was really, really young,” she says. “So, it’s really something that has not fallen silent on me, of being the only person of color in a show constantly or having to be the one that explains that rock and roll is black music and having to explain that to white and black people.
“I mean, I can get really salty about it sometimes,” she says. “But, at the end of the day, I know that I get to be myself and that’s kind of ultimately what I’m here to represent and show people. You can’t categorize black people. We’re very complex and we’re very into different things and we’re very out here and ready to kind of take on everything that comes with that, including people’s misrepresentations.”
Hill says she’s had “an insane couple of touring years” after dropping her full-length debut “Heavy Hearts Hard Fists” in 2015. Not only has she toured around the country, but she’s done shows over in Europe and Australia. And while bandmates have come and gone over the years, there is still another person who has remained a constant: her husband and collaborator Matt Hill.
“We met and we were friends years before we started dating,” she says. “And he was always kind of my partner in crime, musically… He was one of the primary people that introduced songwriting to me as a means of therapy, as a means of expression, and he thought it was something that I should try.”
So, Nikki Hill is soldiering on, going to whatever venue will have her and knocking people out with her hard-driving, soulful rock stylings – just like the African-American ladies who influenced her.
“Being a musician, it’s been a real sense of pride for me to kind of put the original face back on what this music is,” she says, “and to also be somewhat representative for kids that don’t know that American music is black music, and vice-versa.”
Who: Nikki Hill
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Blue Note Grill, 709 Washington St., Durham
Cost: $10 ($15 day of show)
Cost: 919-401-1979 or thebluenotegrill.com