An Interview With NRaca: One of the The Dynamites in Hairspray

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NRaca’s a Dynamite
Alameda Times
By Chad Jones
May 21, 2004

At 3 years old, NRaca accompanied her mother, Bay Area vocalist Baomi Butts-Bhanji, to a rehearsal. The little girl was drawn to the spotlight and followed it all around the stage.

Now at age 22, NRaca (pronounced en-rah-suh) is still following the spotlight. The difference is that the spotlight has found her in a big way.

Born in San Francisco and raised in Oakland, San Jose and Hayward, NRaca is back in the Bay Area as a featured performer in the touring Broadway musical “Hairspray.”

Playing a member of the early’60s girl trio The Dynamites, NRaca gets to wail through spirited songs such as “Welcome to the’60s” and “Without Love” in one of the most purely enjoyable Broadway musicals to come along in quite a while.

Since she left the Bay Area after high school, NRaca has been part of an R&B and hip-hop group called Four Colors that had a Top 10 hit in Europe called “A, B, C, D.”

When her time in Europe ended, NRaca landed in Los Angeles, where she worked with Madonna twice. The first time was in the controversial video for the song “American Life.” The second time was in a Gap commercial Madonna made with Missy Elliot. In that commercial you see Madonna bumping bottoms with a person you think is Missy Elliot. In truth, that bottom, which also appeared on billboards, belongs to NRaca.

“My butt is more famous than my face!” NRaca says on a recent day off.

People always want to know what Madonna was like to work with, and NRaca says: “She’s just another person. The people around her make more of a hoopla than she does.”

“Hairspray” marks the first time NRaca has been on a national tour, and she is enjoying the experience, even though, she says, it can be “emotionally and physically exhausting.”

It helps that her boyfriend, Jesse Johnson, is also a member of the company. Theirs was a road romance that started out with friendship and led to their families having spending Christmas together last year in Chicago.

When the tour started about nine months ago, NRaca was wilder than she is now. She and current “Hairspray” star Keala Settle were, in her words, “party buds.”

“But now it’s like, ‘I love you, too. I’m goin’ back to my room,'” she says.

As for co-star Bruce Vilanch, NRaca says she has two words: “A hoot.”

“He is so intelligent,” NRaca says. “It’s so fun to talk to him. You can have a smart conversation, a raunchy conversation or a comic conversation. He’s all over the board.”

Vilanch’s penchant for wearing clever T-shirts has rubbed off on NRaca. She now has different shirts for different occasions. In a good mood she’ll wear one that says, “I’m Big in Europe.” In other moods, you might see her wearing, “I’m Not Your Friend” or “Stop Crying. I Don’t Like You.”

The “Hairspray” tour heads to Los Angeles next, and while she’s there, NRaca hopes to score a recording contract, audition for a TV show or just generally work to make herself more famous. As a child her goal was “international superstardom,” and that goal hasn’t changed much.

NRaca’s unusual name comes from an unusual source.

“I named myself,” she says. “My mom tells me that when she was pregnant with me, I spoke to her in a dream and told her my name, how to spell it and that it meant ‘healing strength.'”

NRaca knows her mom is proud of her.

“She tells me all the time,” NRaca says. “But she’s proud of me whatever I do. That’s why I’m able to do whatever it is I do — because my family is so loving and supportive.”