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Baby Bushka returns to the stage after immense loss and grief

Christina Liu
Baby Bushka vocalists Lexi Pulido, Natasha Kozaily and Nancy Elizabeth Ross perform on stage in an undated photo.

A year and a half after the death of bandmate Nina Leilani Deering, "the Kate Bush experience of your dreams" re-forms and returns to live audiences at The Casbah and in Los Angeles this weekend.

For Baby Bushka, San Diego's world-famous Kate Bush ensemble, the last 19 months have been overwhelmed by disappointment, loss and grief.

The band self-identifies as "the Kate Bush experience of your dreams," and eschews simpler titles like tribute or cover band. Of course, Kate Bush fans will hear their favorites at a Baby Bushka show, but the performances are something else entirely.

The band was formed in December 2017 with vocalists Natasha Kozaily, Lexi Pulido and Nancy Elizabeth Ross, the late Nina Leilani Deering on piano, guitarist Shelbi Bennett, bassist Dani Bell, violinist Batya MacAdam-Somer and drummer Leah Bowden.


With enchanting multi-part harmonies, a full rock band, choreographed dancing, and theatrical props and costumes, there's a strong current of drama, emotion, humor, weirdness and an undeniable magic — not unlike Kate Bush herself.

The pandemic struck just as the band awaited the release of their album and the start of their tour — including a return to Kate Bush's homeland in the UK. They released the album in April 2020 anyway, and canceled and rescheduled the tour, twice. Then, they waited.

RELATED: Baby Bushka Has A Lot Of Strength Left

Unfortunately, a deeper loss would soon strike the group. On June 11, 2020, pianist and singer Nina Leilani Deering died tragically in a car accident at the age of 34.

Christina Liu / courtesy of Baby Bushka
Nina Leilani Deering was known for her intense, intimate and heart-wrenching performance of "This Woman's Work," pictured at a Baby Bushka concert several years ago. Deering passed away suddenly in June 2020.

"It's very hard to talk about Nina in a straight ahead way because she just wasn't straight ahead. She was very layered and complex," Kozaily told me shortly after Deering's death. "She was this angel or something that was put on the wrong planet. She lived in music."

The group came together at Deering's memorial service to sing "This Woman's Work" — a song Deering would famously, devastatingly perform to rapt audiences at Baby Bushka shows, and that still remains the only single from their 2020 album available to stream online — but resuming Baby Bushka again wasn't really at the top of anyone's to-do list.

"After Nina died, I didn't really think about what happens to Baby Bushka," Kozaily said this week. "It was just, we were in this whirlwind of her death and the grief of that."

RELATED: KPBS/Arts newsletter, June 18, 2020: Remembering Musician Nina Leilani Deering

Right away, Kozaily and several of the other members dove into several major projects to memorialize and honor Deering, including transcribing all of the music Deering composed, and publishing a book of Deering's poetry and lyrics.

Despite their grief — and the gaping hole left by Deering in both the band and in San Diego's music scene as a whole — they knew they would continue, though it would be almost a year before the group could reunite to play music together, in the same room again.

"I just felt this urge, like we needed to continue, and I think everyone else felt like that even more so," Kozaily said. "To finish the story of Baby Bushka on that note just didn't seem right."

Erica Joan
The band Baby Bushka — many of whom are pictured wearing their "Hounds of Love" masks — will return to the Casbah Dec. 4, 2021.

When Baby Bushka finally returns to the Casbah this Saturday, Dec. 4, almost exactly four years after their first performance, things will seem a little different. Without Deering, they've reworked her beloved solo, "This Woman's Work," and will perform it in honor of Deering with Kozaily singing the lead. They'll also add a ritual-like memorial arc to their traditional two-act performance.

Kozaily also said it'll feel a bit Christmas-y, with a gift market as a merch table.

"So it's almost to the day, that first Saturday in December again, we're playing and starting this new chapter. It's very poetic, and I didn't plan that," Kozaily said. "It's like all the stars coming together: yes, you're doing everything right. You're exactly where you're supposed to be."

Christina Liu
Baby Bushka performs in an undated photo.

Of note are two brand-new members. Along with the loss of Deering, guitarist Shelbi Bennett has stepped aside to focus on her (many) other projects. Marie Haddad joined the band earlier this spring as the piano player, and shortly thereafter Heather Nation came on as the new guitarist.

"I think it probably is a little bit of a weight off of Marie," Kozaily said. "But I imagine that it's nice to not be the only new person in this band with so much history."

Nation is part of synth pop band Belladon. "She's a ripping guitarist," Kozaily said. "So she's added this other kind of new element."

Haddad brings an impressive and award-winning history in bands and solo work to Baby Bushka, and a thoughtful sensitivity to the circumstance of her joining the band.

"Being a part of the band is very special to me, and I'm honored that they chose to include me after all that they've been through," Haddad said.

Haddad is a longtime fan of Kate Bush (she is the only member to have actually seen Bush perform live) and has been a big fan of Baby Bushka since their first show.

"To step into the band and take over the Kate Bush piano parts — that in itself is an honor. And I think in the show we pay tribute to Nina and her memory and try to help heal a little bit" Haddad said. "Her passing just really affected the entire San Diego music community."

Each member of Baby Bushka — aka "the Bushes" — takes the lead on a song in the show. Haddad's will be "Moments of Pleasure." A recent Instagram post encouraged their fans to learn the chorus and be prepared to sing along.

Baby Bushka will play more San Diego and LA shows next spring, followed by a tour in England, Ireland and Scotland beginning in mid-May — hopefully. Hope, like the magic, is something entirely palpable in a Baby Bushka show, as well as in the way they talk about their future.

The new members mark a new era of Baby Bushka — one swirled with complicated memories and loss, but with heads held high towards new possibilities.

"I told both of them, especially Marie: You're not replacing Nina. We don't want you to sound like her. We know that we're not going to sound the same ever again. It's going to be a new band and a new chapter, and we should embrace that."

Details: Baby Bushka performs Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021 at 8:30 p.m. doors, 9:30 p.m. show. The Casbah, 2501 Kettner Blvd, Midtown. $15.