At 10 years old, drummer Nandi Bushell has already conquered musical milestones most artists would be lucky to reach in a lifetime.
In the last few years, the spirited, budding rock star from Ipswich, England, has played talk shows around the world, starred in musical commercials, booked endorsement deals with top drum and guitar brands and rocked out with Lenny Kravitz at London’s O2 arena.
(“Can I have a hug? I watch you all the time on your page,” Kravitz told her before they jammed to “Are You Gonna Go My Way” together.)
Most recently, Nandi has transfixed the internet by challenging Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl to a viral drum battle, which she is winning.
“I’m glad that it makes people smile,” Nandi says during a Zoom interview with The Times, “because it’s good to have people smile and feel happy when they watch my videos.... Their support has been really nice.”
Those videos — tweeted back and forth between the Zulu British prodigy and the former Nirvana drummer over the last several weeks — have collectively amassed millions of views on Twitter and YouTube, where Nandi regularly uploads flawless covers of upbeat tracks ranging from Nirvana’s “In Bloom” to Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now.”
“I don’t really look at the numbers,” says Nandi, whose popular YouTube channel boasts more than 192,000 subscribers and counting. “It’s not about the numbers. It’s about: People like it, and they feel happy watching it.”
Displayed on the office wall behind Nandi and her dad, John Bushell — who’s also on the Zoom call — are dozens of framed portraits of the father-daughter duo’s music heroes, including Queen, Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Bob Marley, John Lennon and the Beatles, who inspired Nandi to begin drumming at 5.
The young musician remembers listening to the Beatles while whipping up pancakes with her dad as part of a weekend family tradition in which the Bushells bop to rotating rock ‘n’ roll playlists during breakfast.
“I’d always look on Ringo Starr’s drum kit on YouTube, and I’d always love it,” Nandi says. “And I did really well in this maths club, so I got to ... get a toy drum kit. ... I’d just start practicing it. We got a teacher for a couple of months and then we started doing grades and jam with my dad. And then we took it to the next level!”
Despite their shared passion for rock, Nandi is quick to clarify her dad “isn’t really a musician” and “doesn’t play that well.” (“It’s true,” John confirms.) And her “mum likes singing, but she’s not very good at it.” But that hasn’t stopped the proud parents from supporting their musically gifted daughter, who also plays guitar, bass and piano. And yes, she sings too.
“We genuinely love music, and we genuinely love sharing our love for music with the world,” John says. “I think that’s what’s captured so many people’s imaginations. When Nandi’s playing the drums — or whatever instrument she’s playing — that love is so obvious, and it’s visible for everyone to see. When I watch her videos, I get the same kind of emotional happiness that I think most people get as well.”
That infectious, positive energy radiates from Nandi’s cover videos, which see her effortlessly slay beat after intricate beat while singing along, twirling her drumsticks like a pro and occasionally letting out one of her signature rock star screams.
“I feel really excited and pumped up and happy,” says Nandi, who can’t help but subconsciously shred the air drums while answering questions about her craft. “I like playing rock music, and with rock music, you scream.... It just gets all my anger out, and it feels really satisfying.”
For her latest trick, Nandi showcased her myriad skills on multiple instruments, including her voice, by visiting a “proper recording studio” to create “Rock and Grohl” — an original song dedicated to the Foo Fighters artist and their social-media showdown.
Grohl did not respond to The Times’ request for comment but has publicly praised his young opponent as “an incredible drummer,” adding that he’s “really flattered” she has chosen some of his songs to learn and perform “perfectly.”
Her most recent video sees multiple Nandis put on an energetic, one-girl show in response to Grohl’s sweet Round 2 entry: a superhero theme song dedicated to “the No. 1 supergirl,” Nandi.
“That was epic,” a beaming Nandi says over Zoom while sporting a black Nirvana T-shirt. “He wrote a song about me .... I thought he was just going to play some jazz — some technical beats. But no. He wrote a song about me. That’s crazy!”
In August, Nandi kicked the drum battle off with a wicked take on the Foo Fighters’ 1997 hit, “Everlong,” because she loves “all the screaming in it” as well as its “straight-on, heavy-metal” succession of 16th notes. Grohl became aware of the video and challenged her with a similarly fast-paced rendition of Them Crooked Vultures’ “Dead End Friends” — which Nandi inevitably “smashed” for a first-round victory.
“Took me only three days to learn it,” she proudly declares.
Actually, John chimes in, she mastered the expert-level tune in just one day — but they had to wait 48 hours for a Grohl-esque, red flannel shirt to arrive in the mail before filming the video, which has racked up more than 1.7 million views on YouTube.
“I play it slowly, bit by bit ... to get it right,” Nandi says of her process. “That’s my way of working: play each section bit by bit and then eventually do the whole song in one go at full speed.”
Nandi triumphed again in the original-song round, but the “Pretender” hitmaker hasn’t surrendered yet — so she and her father have begun plotting their next move by “having some fun jams” and “coming up with some cool beats.”
“It’s been an amazing experience, and I’m very proud of me and my dad because my dad organized everything,” Nandi says. “We feel very proud of ourselves and very grateful that we got to have a drum battle against Dave Grohl.”
For John, who enjoys helping Nandi brainstorm cover options, study other drummers, write music and film content for her YouTube channel, witnessing the enthusiastic response to his daughter’s work — from fans and musicians alike — has been nothing short of surreal.
“We’re all going through a difficult time at the moment around the world, and ... Nandi’s pure joy is a break from the difficulties,” he says. “There is hope and there is joy in this world. And there is innocence, and there’s something to look forward to. And I really thank Dave for giving Nandi the opportunity to be who she is.”
When she’s not alleviating the weight of the world with her musical gifts, Nandi is a normal 10-year-old girl — attending school with the rest of her sixth-grade COVID-19 “bubble,” studying for exams, skateboarding and watching TV.
And she wants other girls to know they can be rock stars too — a message illustrated by a painting of the female symbol that decorates her drum set, along with a tribute to Grohl and a fist representing “power and equality.”
Up next, Nandi dreams of collaborating with another female, Gen Z music phenom Billie Eilish (“Duh!”), before officially launching her own one-woman band while also joining another as a drummer. As for an album, there’s nothing officially in the works — yet — but several record labels have expressed interest representing her when the time comes.
“Some boys say, ‘Oh, women can’t play the drums because they’re girls,’” Nandi says. “But girls can do just as much as boys can.... Lots of people like music, and ... it’s important that people get treated fairly and equally.”
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