Lowri Llewelyn meets Nesdi Jones – India’s most unlikely starlet
“We were at a shisha bar and a table behind us was discussing Punjabi music artists,” says Nesdi, also known as Nêst Aneirin. “This guy mentioned big names, then he mentioned me – saying how nice I was, how we’ve had drinks together, how I’m a hard worker – but when I caught a glimpse of him I had no idea who he was. He was just trying to impress a couple of girls!”
It was a volunteering programme in India that would spark Nêst’s passion for Hindi and Punjabi music.
On her return to Criccieth, she began uploading videos of herself singing popular Bollywood and Bhangra songs to YouTube – which caught the attention of rapper-producer Yo Yo Honey Singh, also known as the ‘Eminem of India’.
Yo Yo invited Nesdi to co-write a song, and within 24 hours of its release London had reached
number one in the global Punjabi charts. To date, the video has garnered over 16 million views.
But the madness was only just beginning. Nesdi, also known to fans as Desi Gori, meaning Indian white girl, was named Best Newcomer at the British Bhangra Awards 2014, a title awarded by public vote.
A succession of hits followed, including Tere Naal, the video for which was filmed in Portmeirion. But even back on Indian soil, Nêst hadn’t anticipated the magnitude of her fame.
“I had people pulling at my clothes. My friend asked me where my security was – I said I didn’t need security. Trying to leave the venue, we realised we couldn’t get out.”
A crowd of 125,000 came to watch her performance at the Birmingham mela [South Asian music festival]. “I was throwing up in a bin! It’s giving me shivers thinking about it.”
But not everybody was been supportive, and she admits to feeling apprehensive when cultural appropriation became a hot topic. She recalls one incident when fingers were pointed by a white woman. It was the Asian community who would rush to her defence.
“They would say: ‘Do you know her? She doesn’t claim it as her culture; she’s lived in India for six years, she has embraced and shared our culture.’” Still today, mention India and many of us think Slumdog Millionaire, but Nesdi’s music is a celebration of all she loves about India. But this life was threatening to overwhelm Nêst. “I couldn’t keep up with the persona,” she says.
Returning to North Wales for a sabbatical from the music industry, she took a job as deputy manager of a restaurant – where she’s only managed to remain somewhat anonymous. “They’ve started sniffing around,” she laughs. “They ask my boss: ‘Is it true Nesdi Jones is here?’ and take photos with me, but then end up eating in the restaurant next door so my boss goes mad!”
Alongside becoming a mother, being back in the UK has given Nêst time to focus on her mental health. With the topic still a taboo in India, fans were shocked when she candidly opened up about the sexual assault she suffered as a child. But, the response has been positive.
“I had young women saying I’d made them realise they needed help. Some people don’t even know they’re suffering from anxiety, because it’s not spoken about. I’m showing that they can feel sad, they can talk, and if they do need antidepressants it’s not like black magic.
“It’s so hard to be Nêst going through a hard time, and Nesdi Jones,” she continues. “Now I can tell my fans: ‘Look, I’m not feeling good right now.’” Today she travels the country sharing her experiences. “I was in Porthmadog recently; speaking about mental health in my local community was hard.”
She also regards social media as a powerful platform for change. “You see people with 50,000 followers and all they do is tell you to buy some hair vitamins. I was like, how about you don’t tell people to look different or lose weight or drink a special tea that gives you the runs?” she cackles. “So that’s when I decided to try and say more through my music.”
Having been on the Asian music circuit for almost a decade, fans have grown up alongside Nesdi. “I’ve got one who followed me in my YouTube days. Then he heard the track London. He loved both these girls, and then he figured out we were the same person. Three years ago he said: ‘Madam, I know you’re in India. I’ve seen it – you’re filming a video. Can I please come and see you?’ He travelled in a rickshaw in the freezing Delhi winter and just sat there in awe. I asked if he was going to speak and he was like, ‘I can’t believe!’ Then I gave him a hug and he took photos with my mum!”
She may be back in Britain for now, but she isn’t letting life as a new mother hold back, with her next track already mixed and mastered. “There’s going to be two versions – one in English and Punjabi, one in Welsh and Punjabi. In English it’s called Dignity, in Welsh it’s called Deud y Gwir.”
Her vlog Motherhood, Music and Madness, meanwhile, documents her unconventional life. “I did my latest photoshoot with my daughter sat on my knee while someone put false lashes on me. I’m not portraying myself as some glam person; I’m disorganised, I’m messy. I’d rather people see that side.”
And since her channel made it into the UK Book of YouTube 2018, her music has been introduced to a whole new community – with Bollywood mashups featuring the likes of Beyoncé and Bieber going down a storm. “There’s so much rubbish being said these days: ‘They took our jobs! Brexit! Grr!’ It’s nice to introduce other cultures through music.”
Thinking back to that shisha bar, Nêst reflects on her journey. “It was really bizarre hearing my stage name like that. Like I was a somebody to someone.”
Be sure to follow Nesdi @NesdiJones and @MadMusicMam
All of Dan’s vlogs can be viewed at www.YouTube.com/TheAspieWorld, and don’t forget to visit www.TheAspieWorld.com for blogs, merchandise and further resources