Nandi Bushell is midway through a busy Saturday when she logs on to Zoom: She’s just spent the morning taking advantage of a rare snowfall in her home of Ipswich, England. “First, I just threw snowballs at my brother,” says the 10-year-old musician, who became an online sensation last fall thanks to a YouTube drum battle with one of her idols, Dave Grohl. “Then, all of the other kids in my street started playing. We got the sled out and sledded down the street, and then it got too cold.”
She could have been describing any kid’s winter-weekend fun, but Bushell’s childhood has been anything but standard. A few years ago — with help from her rock-loving father, John — she started posting her impressive drum covers of everything from System of a Down’s “Chop Suey” to Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s “Crazy in Love,” eventually earning co-signs from big names like Tom Morello, Questlove, and Lenny Kravitz. After her wildly charismatic 2019 take on Nirvana’s “In Bloom” started making the rounds online, she covered Foo Fighters’ “Everlong” and challenged Grohl to a virtual drum-off. He accepted, and last fall, the two started trading videos back and forth, with Grohl even writing an original song for Bushell that named her “number-one super girl” and “best drummer in the world.”
“A rock legend has been inspired by me. That is amazing,” says Nandi, who’s seated in her dad’s study flanked by framed photos of John Lennon, Aretha Franklin, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and, aptly, Nirvana. “I’m inspired by [Grohl], so the fact that he’s inspired by me … speechless.”
Nandi first became interested in drums during Beatles-soundtracked breakfasts with her family. “We would make pancakes and listen to ‘Hey Jude,’ and see Ringo Starr playing on a drum kit,” she says. “I thought that was really awesome.”
When she was five, her parents bought her a child’s drum set as a reward for doing well in math club, and soon she was jamming on the White Stripes and Rage Against the Machine with her father and sitting in at the local pub. By 2019, she was meeting up with Questlove at London’s On Blackheath fest and joining Kravitz at an O2 Arena soundcheck
Recently, Nandi has moved on to writing her own songs — including a folky New Year’s pick-me-up (“It’s been a really trying year/The world is full of fear …”) performed with John, her mother Lungile, and her younger brother Thomas — and using a loop station to cover rock staples like Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” on guitar, bass, and drums simultaneously.
She’s happy that her clips have been a bright spot during a difficult moment in the world. “I feel proud of myself and honored to know that people like watching my videos and feel happy watching them,” she says. “You know, they feel less sad because of all this Covid stuff.”
Post-pandemic, Bushell knows exactly how she’d like to translate her online success into the real world. For one thing, she’d love to meet Billie Eilish: “I like her style. It’s a style that hasn’t been invented — it’s her own, like, anti-pop.” Then, she adds, “Maybe I’ll fly over to America and perform at the biggest stadium. I want to write more songs, eventually create an album, tour around the world, and make that album platinum. And hopefully get a Grammy by 14 or 15.”