We had the good fortune of connecting with Saidah Nairobi and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Saidah, why did you pursue a creative career?
As early as I can remember I have always loved music and entertainment. I remember playing Dorothy in a local community play of the Wizard of Oz in Queens, NY when I was 5 years old. I remember taking african dance classes in the summer. I remember watching The Bodyguard with my Mom for the first time and going into the bathroom crying after she sang “I Will Always Love You.” I remember trying to break dance in my living room, and watching hip-hop videos when I would visit my big sister in Far Rockaway. I’ve been moved by the arts since a little girl who lived in Queens until I turned 7. When I moved down south with my Mom and stepdad it was music that became my best friend. And not so ironically, my best friends growing up all could sing or dance. I attribute my performing arts high school Dekalb School of the Arts to really affirming what felt most at home to me. The joy in having productions to rehearse for, the excitement in preparing to go on stage, the fear and anxiety in solo moments and the comfort in singing and dancing in groups, I experienced it all in high school. High school prepped me for the career I ultimately chose. I would really say my artistic career chose me and I just had enough courage in myself to follow my heart and pursue a dream. I was willing to take the risk and see just how far I could go in this very unorthodox, unpredictable, but rewarding profession.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
In the summer of 2017, I published my dance memoir, “Leap of Faith: The Journey of A Dream” on Amazon, which goes into great detail to the story of my journey from aspiring dancer to professional dancer and the lessons and gems gained along the way. At the time, I was 10 years into my career having toured the globe as a backup dancer for artists Beyonce, Usher, Ciara, and NeYo (who I work with to this day, and at the time of this publication, just completed an Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, and Philippines show run) Since publishing my book, there have been a number of milestones and transitions in my life. I am now the mother of two amazing daughters, Imaani and Saja who were born in 2018 and 2019. I also added actor and realtor to my list of professions. I started studying acting while living in Los Angeles in 2012. I have always wanted to do it all – sing, dance, and act, because that was the world I had come from and feel most at home. Since the release of my memoir, I began the transition into film and television work as an actor. Some of my credits include: Queens, Step Up: Highwater, Queen Sugar, and Johnson. I also danced in major feature films including Black Panther 2: Wakanda Forever and The Color Purple.
To help paint the picture of my life in real time, in 2022 alone I was being filmed as a dancer in The Color Purple (set for theatrical release December 2023), I danced back-up for NeYo in Vegas, Mexico, Dubai, Connecticut, California, and did a UK tour, I filmed as a recurring co-star actor for television series, ‘Johnson,’ as a realtor I showed dozens of homes, put in countless offers on properties, and ultimately helped several of my clients achieve their goal and close on their home, and had two shows airing on television that I was acting in at the same time, in addition to the theatrical release of Black Panther 2 which I had danced in. On top of all of this happening career wise, I am still raising my 2 daughters all while going through a separation and divorce.
Having a career like mine that consists of many titles and being a mom takes serious mental, emotional, and spiritual agility and grace. Now you see why my shoutout was so extensive lol. It takes a village both professionally and personally to survive and thrive.
I plan to release my first EP which has been a long time in the making due to my own inhibitions and fears. I share this because nothing is more authentic than being vulnerable and allowing people to really see you for who you are. For years I tried living up to this facade of having the best of both worlds – a healthy marriage and a successful career. Being someone young people looked up to, and particularly my ex-husband and I as a couple, it was hard for me to fathom ruining their perception. But when I had my daughters, so much of what I had buried deep down began rising to the surface. And I realized the grave disservice living a way for the sake of other people is. No longer was I ok with pretending everything was ok at home. I was taught very early that what happens in a marriage stays in the marriage, and you don’t speak about your marriage to other people. So I spent years suffering in silence because I was taught to silence my voice. And it’s a large part of why as much as I’ve wanted to have a career as a singer, I had been mortified of doing so because it directly conflicted with what I had been programmed to believe – my voice and what I feel, is not to be heard. So dance continued to be my outlet of expression. I could be as fierce and powerful and commanding as I wanted to be so long as I didn’t speak. Taking acting classes started to unravel, unmask, and reveal a lot of what I had hidden and buried within myself. It became therapeutic in releasing the toxic conditioning I allowed myself to be exposed to and believe as my truth. Couples counseling as well as individual counseling was also instrumental. The lie that I needed to be silent was finally coming undone.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my journey is this – I AM WORTHY. Period. I am worthy of everything in my life reflecting love at the highest vibration, because I am love at the highest vibration. And I take accountability for the mixed signals I used to send the universe that I was tolerant and accepting of treating myself and being treated in ways that did not reflect my belief and understanding of my worth. And that’s the beauty in growth and evolution. And while I can say that I’ve had a lot of highlights in my career, I feel like I am just getting started. Because now I have more clarity of self, and from clarity of self, clarity of purpose emerges, and now everything in my career and life aligns from that clarity. I am starting over in more ways than one, and I am excited for what’s to come and how God will use me to share my gifts.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
This is such a fun question because I am prioritizing the fun in my life again. So if me and bestie have a week to ourselves in the A and I’m assuming this is her first trip here, for breakfast spots we’re going to Le Petit Marche off Glenwood, Breakfast at Barney’s in the city, Two Eggs in Conyers, Waffle House (cuz she may not have experienced it before lol), Another Broken Egg in Vinings, and brunch at Old Lady Gang, then I’m cooking breakfast over the weekend. For sightseeing day spots, we’re hitting up the Ponce City Market, Aquarium, the MLK Center, and Trap Museum. For evening fun, Dave and Busters, Trap Karaoke, Cascade Skating Rink, if there’s a R&B/Hip-hop concert at State Farm or Mercedez Stadium we’ll go to that, hit a Buckhead rooftop bar cuz that’s always a vibe, and also a few lounges, especially one with hookah cuz ATL love some hookah lounges. Dinner spot for seafood will be at Wild Crab or Juicy Crab. If she wants some good steak we’ll go to Little Alley Steak, South City Kitchen for a cute Buckhead dinner spot, for good Dominican food, we’ll go to Versace in Lawrenceville, and for Caribbean cuisine, Escovitchez in Snellville and Spice House in Lithonia. Then lastly, I have to take her to a few creative hubs like St.James Live and City Winery for good live music, Apache Cafe for the classic Atlanta open mic experience, and Xcel Studios so she can see her bestie’s pictures all over the walls of the dance studio lol.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My shoutout is extensive but so is my gratitude, and I will not take for granted the opportunity to give thanks in this way. I would love to shout out my village, my family and friends who are always in my corner and truly hold me up no matter the highs and lows. Thank you Mom, Dad, Ayhanna, Matt, Tiffany, Kerisse, Viv, I love you. DJ, Adrienne, Deanna, Sharaye, I love you. Jet’aime, Cekoya, Quasha, I love you. Shannarra and Donald, I love you.
Shout out to my incredible real estate team, Homes By Chiv & Associates as well as my ERA Sunrise family. Thank you to one of my great inspirations, the legendary choreographer and creative director who believed in me and gave me my first opportunity as a touring dancer, Jamaica. Thank you to my sister and dear friend Chi Chi and producer/director Maya who were very instrumental in providing my earliest professional experiences in dance. To my agent Aris, thank you for being in my corner well over 15 years. To every artist, creative director, choreographer, dancer, artist manager, production manager, tour manager, stage manager, production crew, stylist, wardrobe, and glam personnel, musician, band, director, musical director, producer, casting director, crew, castmate, songwriter, engineer, editor, videographer, photographer, and real estate client that I have ever had the honor and pleasure of working with, thank you. The conversations, experiences, and memories shared inform the woman I have become and I don’t take for granted any of it.
Thank you to all of the creative and artistic legends in music, dance, theater, and film of and before my time.
And last but certainly not least, to my beautiful and brilliant baby girls, Imaani and Saja, Mommy loves you deeply.