Soul and sweat
Nikka Costa headlines the Luckman Saturday
By Bliss Bowen 05/10/2012
Spend time surfing Nikka Costa’s YouTube channel, Nikka’s Box, and you’ll not only see amusing videos promoting last year’s “Pro*Whoa!” EP, you’ll also find Costa jamming with friends like Allen Stone and Jacob Luttrell on acoustic versions of her soul-funk tunes as well as standards by Etta James, Nina Simone and the Beatles, and even Mumford & Sons’ “Little Lion Man.” She says Twitter and YouTube, which she updates weekly, put her on a “one-to-one basis” with fans and “disintegrate that barrier” that separated them when she was on a major label.
But, she adds with a laugh, “The YouTube channel is nothing like my live shows. It’s a completely different arm of the octopus.”
Her conversation’s peppered with laughter. She’s more reflective when discussing young artists whose lives play out in 24/7 cycles on TV and the Internet.
“Obviously we all know how crazy in the head teens are, and you don’t know who you are,” she says. “With the Internet, it’s even more crazy. I wish for them that they have some place that they can go to be grounded and figure out all that stuff without having to do it in front of everybody. Not a lot of people get out without becoming totally fucked up.”
The topic isn’t academic for Costa. The daughter of respected producer/arranger Don Costa and the goddaughter of Frank Sinatra, she grew up amidst legends and released her first single, “(Out Here) On My Own,” in 1981 at age 9. It became a #1 hit in Europe. Subsequent albums and tours made her a pop star in Europe and South and Central America.
By 2001, when Virgin released her acclaimed album “Everybody Got Their Something,” co-produced with Mark Ronson, she’d matured into a sassy soul-funk diva who could bust out a thoughtful ballad or twirl a mean mic stand on tour with the likes of Lenny Kravitz.
One thing Costa clearly absorbed from her starry childhood: an old-school work ethic. She understood from the start that music careers aren’t all “glitz and glamour.” As a teenager, disappointed at concerts she attended, where artists merely replicated their records, she resolved to model her live performances after soul shows she’d witnessed as a child.
“It’s like church,” she enthuses. “They’re sweating and singing about all their pain, but there’s joy attached; it’s very cathartic and completely entertaining and very organic. The songs have their own light. To me, that was exciting. It’s taken a really long time to figure out how to do that and a lot of practice.”
Practice paid off; Costa’s lauded as a terrific live act. She says the challenge of playing a seated venue like the Luckman, where she headlines Saturday, “will be to get everyone off their ass and dancing.”
“No turning back now!” she says, laughing. “I’ll be sweating ’til I’m 80.” n
Nikka Costa performs at Cal State LA’s Harriet and Charles Luckman Fine Arts Complex, 5151 State University Drive, Los Angeles, 8 p.m. Saturday; $25-$35. Tickets/info: (323) 343-6600. Nikkacosta.com.