Nestled amid a tale of hardship and torment, “Keep It Movin’” is a bright spot in the newly released adaptation of “The Color Purple.” Just as sisters Nettie and Celie (Halle Bailey and Phylicia Pearl Mpasi) are about to be torn from one another, they find a brief moment of respite and optimism as they sing to one another on the beach. “Nothing’s gonna take you down, oh / Just let it go / Life can never break your soul,” sings Nettie, instilling a feeling of hope that flickers and wanes in Celie as the film endures.
As one of the few original songs included in director Blitz Bazawule’s revival of “The Color Purple,” “Keep It Movin’” has already emerged as a focal point for the movie, which earned the second-biggest Christmas Day opening in history following its release on Dec. 25. Beyond its buoyant charms, it’s resonated beyond the screen with various award nominations and, most recently, a prestigious inclusion on the Oscars’ best original song shortlist.
“[We’re] super elated—actually kind of surprised as well,” reacts Denisia “Blu June” Andrews, one-half of songwriting-production duo Nova Wav alongside Brittany “Chi” Coney. Together, the pair collaborated with Bailey and Morten “Rissi” Jensen to pen the swinging number. “The list is compiled with a lot of great songs, so just really excited to be even considered. But also I feel like it’s a great song, so I feel like we deserve to be there, and hopefully we can advance to the nominations.”
Accolades are nothing new for Nova Wav, which formed in Atlanta back in 2011. In the time since, Andrews and Coney have become dependable titans behind the scenes, working with Nicki Minaj, DJ Khaled and Ariana Grande. To the Beyhive, they’re best known as the force behind half of the songs on Beyoncé’s “Renaissance” album, including “Cuff It” and “Alien Superstar.” Alongside Beyoncé, they’ve won four Grammys for the singer’s solo songs as well as The Carters, her collaborative project with husband Jay-Z.
Approaching an original song for “The Color Purple” presented its own pressures. They had already worked with Bailey for “Be Yourself,” a Chloe x Halle song included on the soundtrack for 2019’s “Little,” so the chemistry was there. But then came the obstacle of penning a song that not only had to stack up against the lineage of “The Color Purple,” but also for a scene that Nova Wav hadn’t even viewed. In their first session together, Bailey had to describe the sentiment and setting for the tune, which they also co-produced.
“Halle painted the picture very well,” says Andrews. “I think that was the catalyst for us to just go in in one session and nail it.” “There is some pressure,” adds Coney, “but there’s also some preparation in what we’ve done, because if you look at our discography, we always write from a point of empowerment. And that is our biggest message, just empowering women, number one, but empowering the spirit. To be a fighter, to think highly of yourself. How does God fit in the picture? What’s the bigger picture? What’s the story of it?”
For Nova Wav, they recognized the similarities between creating a song for an artist’s original project and a major studio film. “You can go in the studio and have a couple of claps and 808 and a piano and have a song, but you have to really set a tone and actually paint a picture,” says Andrews. “Even though we went in that one day and the concept of that song was done in one day, the work wasn’t done in one day. It was continued because you have to make sure everything fits. It’s a lot of hard work. It’s not as easy as people think it is, that’s why a lot of people don’t do it.”
It’s a reality that the pair knows all too well, as one of the premier female songwriting and production duos in music. Throughout “The Color Purple,” the sisterly bond between Celie and Nettie is what keeps the former from succumbing to a life of tragedy. Nova Wav has experienced this themselves, in an industry where women often have to work twice as hard to achieve a modicum of success as their male peers.
“The irony of the song being about two sisters… Chi and I, our relationship and how we’ve been doing this for so long and the trials we face as a duo and as sisters, I think there’s an irony there,” says Andrews. “You have two sisters and then you have us women who helped create this record. How amazing is that?”
By the time Nova Wav saw the finished film, they realized the impact they had made on the newly minted version. They cried, they recall, not simply because of the legacy they’ve joined, but also because of what it means for them at this point in their career. “We’re elated. We couldn’t be more thankful, to be honest with you,” says Coney. “This is a staple in our community, this film and this musical that has won so many awards. To have the opportunity just to be tied to it and again to be people that are of service and empowerment, and for that to align within our futures and the film, it’s really God’s blessings.”