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Laura Guidry | Photography: Hector Muñoz Rosales
When most bands hunkered down during the pandemic, Raleigh-based NiiTO pivoted and became a voice to help others.
Like the titanic band that played to keep everyone calm as the ship sank, Raleigh-based R&B-funk-jazz-blues band NiiTO found a way to keep the live music—and hope—alive during the pandemic, even as venues were shut down and concerts were canceled (or postponed indefinitely).
For seven years, NiiTO—a band of brothers formed by lead singer Aarik Duncan and saxophonist/vocalist Joshua Duncan, and later joined by AJ Daye and VJ Ratliff—has experimented with their sound, singing covers for much of the time they were together. They’ve since ditched the covers for original music, forming a clear voice that’s making a mark on the local soundscape with singles like “MoonDancin’,” a nuanced, emotive piece with an equally impressive music video (filmed on The Dillon rooftop!). Most recently, they rereleased their 2017 EP N’KOGNiiTO.
Over the past year, NiiTO became a balm for the city, delivering their soulful, modern cadence and genre-bending sound by leaning on their business savviness, creativity and ability to pivot.
In filling the void of live music, they were able to give a voice to the voiceless and provide a sense of peace, calm and optimism for better days ahead. While the last year left most silenced and audiences begging for as much as a busker, NiiTO was here for us, performing pop-up in-person shows at Little City and Southern Charred. They also maintained relevancy and built a larger fan base through a free hourlong livestreamed Christmas special at the Garner Performing Arts Center.
“A consistent phrase in the prayer [we do before each show] is to help people who don’t feel comforted, help comfort them,” says Aarik. “People who don’t feel free, help make them feel free, realize that they are free. People who don’t feel loved, help them feel loved.”
Unlike most bands itching to get back onstage, NiiTO never left, becoming for some, the music that got them through the pandemic—something to bop their heads to, even if they were masked.
“We want to be that band for Raleigh—that hope that we give them,” says band manager Saul Parada, who’s been working with NiiTO since 2019. “It’s all about our fans—we’re working hard to spread positive vibes in the community. We want to show that love.”
Now, NiiTO is perfectly positioned to keep going strong in a post-pandemic world, in March kicking off NC’s recently eased venue regulations as one of Pour House Music Hall’s first concerts when the space reopened for live shows.
And almost any day of the week, the band has a gig booked around town. Find them Wednesdays at Clockwork for open-mic night, where anyone can sign up to sing live karaoke with the band. And stay tuned for another livestreamed concert with Garner Parks & Recreation in June (with more pop-up shows to be announced to boot).
A truth through which we can mend: “Music is what brings people together,” says Parada. “Music is therapy. Music is love. There is a movement going on, and we’re right in the middle of it.”
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