By Diane Anderson-Minshall
Originally published on Advocate.com February 16 2012 4:00 AM ET
Sister acts are nothing new, but when the siblings are as hot as Latina identical twins Nicole and Natalie Albino, people tend to pay attention. And the fact that one of them is a lesbian that makes it all the hotter for LGBT audiences. Headlining the Dinah, an annual lesbian pilgrimage, the women of genre-defying Nina Sky — they devised their band name using the first two syllables of their names ("Ni" and "Na") then added Sky (as in the sky's the limit) — are riding a wave of success this year.
They had a smash hit with "Move Ya Body," which earned them instant global recognition when it hit number 4 on Billboard's Hot 100 Chart, but it certainly wasn't their first duet. "Our first song was called 'Sisters,'" says Nicole. "It was really wholesome and nice. The lyrics went 'Sisters, we're gonna get through life together, and I will not let you go.' Our family was always super supportive of us wanting to be singers, especially our mom. She would bring us to auditions."
Raised in Queens, N.Y., the girls grew up listening to salsa music, their Spanish-speaking mother making traditional Puerto Rican food in the kitchen. "I don't know about all Latin families, but in ours family is very important — we are all very close, family first," recalls Natalie. So close that when one came out as a lesbian, the family rallied behind her.
Growing up, they were also exposed to some wonderful Latin singers who greatly influenced them, Natalie says. "We love La India. Her voice is incomparable to anyone and she's performed everything from salsa to house music."
Their influences may explain why the music of Nina Sky is so hard to define. An eclectic mix of hip-hop, rock, pop, reggae, and R&B, Nina Sky's self-titled debut album for Universal was unprecedented coming from young Puerto Rican twin sisters who were easy on the eyes. A slew of singles and collaborations soon followed.
"The first time we heard 'Move Ya Body' on the radio in 2004, was a 'We made it' moment. We made it to the radio!" Nicole exclaims. "The first time we traveled overseas and saw our faces in magazines gave us the same feeling. All of those things are great milestones in our career, but we're always striving for more." More would soon follow.
In 2010, Nicole became one of the first Latina recording artists to publicly come out as lesbian. She married fashion designer Erin Magee (who made her own news by sporting a tattoo that read "Mrs. Albino" across her chest). Sister Natalie has never talked about her orientation, though both women have been sporting a decidedly more butch style in recent years; gone are the long flowy locks and slinky dresses. And they have been vocal about LGBT rights, performing at Rome's Pride festival and posing for the No H8 campaign, for example.
As musicians and DJs, they've been garnering fans overseas and at home in droves. After a battle with their record label, Polo Grounds, over lack of support, Nina Sky independently released an eight-track EP, The Other Side, direct to fans for digital download last August. "We wanted to make tracks like the music we listened to a lot in the '90s instead of re-creating the music that you hear on the radio today," says Nicole, who describes the new EP sound as R&B-based house. "We went independent because we felt our label didn't have our best interest in mind. We wanted to make music without everyone pulling us in different directions of 'what's hot' at the moment. It came directly from us, and that felt amazing. I think our fans have always appreciated the realness we give."
"When I heard Nina Sky's latest EP, I was blown away. It's so good. I want to get them in front of their lesbian fans and show them how much our community embraces them, appreciates Nicole coming out, and just plain loves their music," says Dinah producer Mariah Hanson.
Hanson should know. Each March over 20,000 women from around the globe flock to Palm Springs, Calif., for the world's biggest all-girl party and music festival. The parties are sun-drenched desert poolside shindigs, and the music is top-notch. The Dinah has helped push some artists into international fame, like Pussycat Dolls and Ke$ha. Artists at the top of their game, including Lady Gaga, have appeared on Dinah stages, as have veteran hit makers, including Pat Benatar, the Indigo Girls, and Salt-N-Pepa. This year all eyes are on Nina Sky.
With a new (as yet untitled) album coming out this spring and "You," a recent collaboration with Creep's Lauren Flax and Lauren Dillard, gaining traction, the twins are busy shooting videos, dropping singles, and wooing fangirls (and guys) everywhere they go.
"Our fan base look like the coolest motha effas you've ever seen," says Natalie, without a hint of irony. "We absolutely adore our fans and are so grateful for all the love and support they've given us over the years."
Though some naysayers might call a twin singing duo gimmicky ("What's the gimmick?" Natalie asks. "We were born this way!"), the two are content treading paths trod before by Tegan and Sara, another twin performing pair. The great music, hot girls, and queer activism come with a winky self-awareness.
Just how often does someone say, "Twins? Hot!" "We've heard this quite a few times," Natalie says with a smile. "Can't get mad at someone for stating the obvious."
That might be why they have more than their fair share of lesbians flying to Palm Springs this month just to see them. But can we call them groupies? Natalie is uncharacteristically coy: "You're going to have to come to a show to see for yourself."