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Daisy Jones and the Six Helped Nabiyah Be Process Her Music-Industry Past

Photo: Jason Bollenbacher/Getty Images for SXSW

Simone Jackson and her best friend Daisy make for an amusing odd-couple on Daisy Jones & the Six. Simone is the rock to Daisy’s runaway — a big sister the neglected Daisy’s needed all her life. When Daisy doubts herself, it’s Simone who forces the novice singer onto the stage. Both women dream of topping the charts, but when we first meet the pair, only Simone is putting in tough days at the studio, fending off predatory L.A. producers and hiding her sexuality for fear of scaring off record labels. Meanwhile Daisy, a sun-drenched burnout whose drug use careens beyond the recreational, waltzes into the Six, the buzziest young band in rock and roll. It takes more than sisterly affection not to begrudge her — Simone’s a saint.

And yet in Taylor Jenkins Reid’s ’70s-set novel, Simone’s main contribution to the “documentary” is to fill in what really happened when Daisy was blacked out. Brazilian-born actor-singer Nabiyah Be does more than play her in the Prime Video adaptation; she helped shape the character, drawing on her own distinctive personal history as a reggae scion — her dad is Jamaican artist Jimmy Cliff — and her experiences as a Black woman trying to make it in the music biz.

In episode seven, Simone plays Daisy’s hero one more time, flying all the way to Greece after receiving a cryptic SOS. The emergency? Daisy wants Simone to be there as she races down the aisle with a man she’s just met. But when the women are thrown back together, the differences between them — ones they were able to push past before — finally become the subject of an ugly showdown. “Some of us have to work our damn asses off to get even half the breaks you’ve gotten,” Simone tells Daisy, tiptoeing toward an argument about privilege that, as Be reflects, her character didn’t have the vocabulary for in 1977. To Be, it’s a threshold moment for Simone. “That line comes with a lot of weight because it’s maybe the first time they’re getting close to having a conversation about race.”

Simone is such a slight character in the book. How did you build her?
I understood that my point of view was important, being one of the few Black voices in the space and how it would feel living that experience in my body. I had a meeting with showrunner Will Graham after I got the part, and he told me we were going to make her queer. They gave me 200-plus pages of very intellectually meaty disco research to read. When I first started getting the scripts, I wrote a paper of my observations. I sent it to Will and he said, “Awesome, let’s call a writers’ meeting.”

What did the collaboration process look like?
There was a lot of conversation between Riley and me about the dynamic of two aspiring artists in this interracial friendship. We talked about these nuances extensively and went back and forth on how these two women didn’t have a lot of the terms that you and I have as people navigating this new environment of sociopolitical issues.

The queerness was great because it did justice to how impactful disco music was for the LGBTQ+IA movement. It gave Simone more profundity.

There’s a moment in episode seven where Simone and Daisy are in the middle of am ugly exchange following Daisy’s decision to quit the Six at the same moment they make the cover of Rolling Stone. Simone, who’s still struggling to make it, says, “Some of us have to work our damn asses off to get even half the breaks you’ve gotten.” How did you approach that line?
Simone and the race dynamic … it’s never spoken about throughout the show, but it’s inevitable for it to come through in her thoughts. Think of women like Nina Simone, who didn’t get accepted into the mainstream music scene until much later. There was a lot of backlash around her. Simone from the beginning had this ambition of breaking into the mainstream. That line comes with a lot of weight because it’s maybe the first time she’s getting closer to having a conversation about race.

By the time we get to that episode, Simone is dominating the New York disco scene. Did you have specific references in mind when developing her voice?
Because I’m Brazilian, I listened to a lot of Brazilian disco funk. I needed something to fuel my inner world and my own imagination. But I discovered so much ’70s music. I was healed a lot by Minnie Riperton’s “Reasons.” I believe I auditioned with Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody.”

I heard there was a ton of time for workshopping, since the series was cast before the pandemic and filmed much later.
When the pandemic happened, I thought, I have to learn how to run and riff better. By the time I got to recording Simone’s song “Up to You,” I did a first take and I loved it. In fact, I probably like it more than the series’ version. It sounds a lot like me. I ended up going back in and taking some of those riffs out, making sure it sounded like the 1970s.

Earlier in the season, Simone deals with a sleazy male producer when she’s trying to get her record made in L.A. — he comes onto her, wants her to sit on his lap. How did filming those scenes affect you?
It was hard. I’m telling a story of a musician navigating the industry, and I am one myself. I imagined my father trying to be a pioneer — trying to bring reggae music to the mainstream.

With that abuse scene in the studio, I think our rehearsal was probably better because I was so moved. The hardest part was that Simone had to do a lot of silencing herself. That was the strategy then. In my life, I’m at a point where I am ready to speak consciously. I had to understand the different levels of respect when it comes to telling a story truthfully, even though I wanted to advocate for her.

Have you experienced misogyny in the music industry?
Yes. But I kind of took it in my own hands and understood that I had to learn how to produce. I was doing things in the studio and not getting credited for them, but I didn’t know that. I saw an interview with Chaka Khan in which she said, “I wrote ‘Tell Me Something Good’ with Stevie Wonder. I was never credited for it, and he’s credited for it.” Years later, she’s still having to tell that story.

I grew up onstage. I was touring from 7 to 11. It was my first paid job. I had an emotional attachment to a lot of Simone’s experiences, and I had this healing point of view throughout the whole process.

I think we have a lot more resources now as women, as Black bodies navigating the world. We’re getting to a point emotionally, spiritually, in which we understand the nuances of our own power and how to move from wounding to completion. We’re in a different space psychologically.

Your first film credit ever was Black Panther. What’s it like to walk onto a Marvel movie?
When I got that gig, I had just come off of Hadestown; I originated the role of Eurydice. It was basically all women and extremely collaborative. We all knew everything in real time, and the set was built in a way that was circular and communal. I got to Black Panther and I was like, What is this world? You don’t know what your character does or what happens until you get there. Everything is so cryptic because the fans are so crazy about the stories.

Daisy Jones landed somewhere in the middle of those extremes?
Definitely. For episode seven we got a few days of rehearsal in Hydra, and as a theater person, that was the cherry on top. It felt like we were a little company. We got to rehearse in every single space, go through things and do it over and over. It’s something you don’t really get on TV.

When you finally did the Greece scenes for the camera, did it feel different?
Yes, it did. We got the chance to try how different words felt in our mouths. The last thing that Simone tells Daisy, she calls her a “selfish bitch.” In rehearsals, we went from “selfish bitch” to “selfish cunt” to “monster” and back to “selfish bitch.” I’m glad we stayed with “selfish bitch.”

Did cunt just feel beyond the limits of what their friendship could endure?
It didn’t feel realistic with how emotionally we had done the previous dialogue.

Daisy Jones Helped Nabiyah Be Process Her Industry Past