Coming Up: Nilüfer Yanya
Emerging English musician Nilüfer Yanya makes elusive music. With sparse instrumentation, mostly from her guitar, Yanya’s voice limbos around. There is an implicit, penetrative power in her work’s subtlety.
With little precedent to be compared to, Yanya’s music is found somewhere between placid folk (“Baby Luv” and “The Florist”) and restless R&B (“Golden Cage” and “Keep on Calling”). While a multitude of emotion is present throughout her music, a worn, lovelorn lyrical direction gives Yanya’s music a refined and assured nature. There is a present and active search for identity that shows itself through self assessment and closing the gap between heart and mind. ”I want to create a balance. You’re kind of always searching for that. I just prefer the sound, and I wouldn’t want my music to be overcrowded,” says Yanya, in conversation with TIDAL.
At her United States debut on November 14 at New York City’s Mercury Lounge, Yanya was the portrait of composure and resolve. With a palpable excitement amongst the night’s witnesses, Yanya’s nimble musicality captivated. Her accompanying saxophonist, Jazzi Bobbi, was all she needed. Nothing more, nothing less.
“I’ve found, with writing, it’s definitely about being present in the moment and just making something that really helps you lunge into all your thoughts,” Yanya tells TIDAL. “It’s not easy to work out what you’re thinking about or what you need to do in your actual life. I feel like I’m always questioning who am I, what am I doing here and who do I want to be. So it helps with that, but in an abstract manner.”
Yanya possesses a distinct ability to make the most intimate notions of vulnerability cut through with harrowing melodies, in a musical “Trojan horse”. On “Small Crimes,” her guitar sidles alongside as she labels herself a “petty thief,” but says “some things I wouldn’t do.” After spending time with her music, there is a residual effect of an emboldened way to communicate through these silky, dulcet melodies. An intrinsic talent to write and sing exists, but Yanya’s true asset is her ability to distill thoughts to their most natural state.
“You can have a really amazing song, but there’s so many things going on in it that you won’t be able to hear it,” Yanya says. “So, it definitely happens from the start, trying to create by carving out the right median. People have loads and loads of ideas, and if there’s loads of things going on in a song, I can’t tell what’s good and what I don’t like. You have one idea, and then you’re making that as good as it can be.”
Yanya’s impulse to create allows her to quickly discover the sound that resonates with her the most. “I was quite young, like 12 or 13,” she says of her songwriting beginnings, her artistic parents and her work in music beyond participating in the community. “I was always writing songs in my head and then started putting pen to paper and picked up a guitar. My parents could have influenced ideas and artwork.”
Yanya’s music reveals her ability to process relationships, with herself and through others. That leaves it as no surprise that she would involve herself with work that is rooted in the desire to take a closer look at humanity.
Assisting her sister’s efforts, Yanya works with Artists in Transit. “It’s a collaborative art project at the moment,” she says of the program. ” You work with people who are refugees, homeless or displaced, create art with them and have them create what they want. It’s about just giving them that space and time to do something else. We don’t know what the end goal is, but it’s obviously about helping people and getting to know them in a deeper manner.”
Ultimately, what makes Nilfür Yanya someone who is both compelling and confounding is her flexibility to channel the perspectives of many backgrounds and communicate the universal essence of their outlook. On her standout song “Baby Luv,” she sings in a reverent falsetto, “I could watch you comb your hair.”
“I don’t know why, but it is this powerful love,” she says of the song’s lyrics. “In my head, I was imagining a mother watching her child grow up. I’ve never had a kid, but people have said to me that when they hold onto their child’s hand, they never want to let go. They could watch their children do the same things again and again and never get bored of it.”
With “Baby Luv,” her first single under the commendable ATO Records, released and her first show in the states now behind her, Yanya is a blank slate when looking ahead. “The album will be a bit exciting because I am in a place where I can put a lot of work towards it and get really involved,” she tells TIDAL. “I can go as far in as I’d want to go in. All the writing I’m doing recently will be part of the album, but it depends on what happens in the next six months, really. I would like it to be really raw, and I would like the sound to not have a sheen over it or a polish. I don’t want any of that. I don’t want it to be too much. I’d just like it be something that makes all the songs fit together, something absorb, and hopefully, it all makes sense.”
“I couldn’t imagine….” doesn’t seem to enter the process for Yanya. There is always a movement to be as open as possible, musically and emotionally. In the slightest of manners, Yanya depicts her multitudes, as both the sail and the wind.
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