Nikki Glaspie '05: Beyoncé and Beyond
After a five-year stint drumming with Beyoncé and touring with the likes of the Sam Kininger Band and Ivan Neville's Dumpstaphunk, alumna Nikki Glaspie '05 broke out on her own in 2012 with the Nth Power, a funk, jazz, and soul outfit from New Orleans composed of members of Lettuce, John Brown's Body, and Big Daddy Kane. Back at her alma mater for a concert and Q&A with students, Glaspie shared experiences from her time at Berklee and tips from the road.
Berklee to Beyoncé
Glaspie came to Berklee at the suggestion of a preacher in Raleigh, North Carolina, who saw her drum in church, and by way of Berklee's summer program, Percussion Weekend, after attending a clinic with John J.R. Robinson, who encouraged her to enroll. As a drummer with no prior melodic or harmonic background, she jumped at the challenge to learn and play with a diverse group of educators at Berklee, including Angelamia Bachemin ("a huge influence in my life to this day"); Berklee faculty David Fiuczynski ("Who would have thought a lot of my grooming as a drummer would come from a guitar player?"); and her musical hero Horacio "El Negro" Hernandez (H'10), gaining chops watching and jamming with him at the former Boston Latin jazz club, Sophia’s. “That definitely changed me as a musician. Someone I looked up to for such a long time, actually hanging out, talking to him, playing with him," Glaspie said of Hernandez. "That was probably one of the single greatest experiences I had at Berklee.”
After Berklee, Glaspie relocated to New York, where she responded to an open call for Beyoncé's all-female band. “I actually played in an all-female band here at Berklee. It was always this thing being a female drummer, they just want you to play in a band because you’re a girl," Glaspie said, adding "But that was actually the advantage to getting the gig."
Glaspie was selected for the star’s all-female lineup, along with fellow Berklee alumna Rie Tsuji ’02, current keyboardist and assistant music director for Beyoncé. “I didn’t think it was real and then five years later, 'Oh my god, I’m still doing this!'”
The Power of Visualization and Importance of Listening
Glaspie is well aware of the importance of listening—she made herself a fixture at local jazz club Wally’s while at Berklee, absorbing the repertoire and arrangements of the house musicians, which gave her an edge when she was asked to join in.
And as a member of a major touring enterprise, she listened to everyone from the carpenters to the riggers to the accountants, gaining industry tips along the way. "I definitely had a great school with Beyoncé, because it’s a well-oiled machine, a major production," Glaspie said. ”I paid attention to every single little thing that happened around me. You pick up little gems, 'Oh, this is how it’s done.'"
Glaspie credits her musical journey in great part to the power of visualization, "the power to see something and want it and go and get it. When you say you can’t, you can’t, because you said that you couldn’t," she said, adding, "I never thought that I would be sitting in the position I am in; always wanted to, but part of it is just wanting it and seeing it."
Ambassador of Music
Touring with Beyoncé brought Glaspie everywhere from Saudi Arabia to the White House. "Music is the best platform. I can go places some people can’t go, purely because I am an ambassador of music," But it was a performance in Nigeria that was the biggest culture shock, from witnessing children begging on the highway to a less-than-warm welcome on stage.
“Playing there really opened my eyes to even how the female species is looked at by other parts of the world,” Glaspie said. “Beyoncé said ‘give it up for my all-female band’ and they booed. Because they just don’t think of women in that regard; we’re not equals. If I was born there or somewhere else I wouldn’t even be able to do what I’m doing. I wouldn’t be me.”
She brings that sense of purpose as bandleader of the Nth Power, who plan to release a full-length album this year and continue to tour across the globe. "It's more than playing music for us," Glaspie said. "Just in my short experience living life, traveling around, my eyes have been open to the world and what it actually is and how dark and dirty and messed up it is, so we’ve taken it upon ourselves to spread the light.”