With her distinctive guitar and vocal stylings, London newcomer Nilüfer Yanya is taking no prisoners
Every now and then a new artist crops up and makes an awfully big impression with just a few songs. Newcomer Nilüfer Yanya has been doing just that with her jazz-flecked guitar playing —she was mentored by The Invisibles founder and Jessie Ware producer Dave Okumu—, melancholic vocal talents, and a drop dead cool look to rival the original Sugababes line-up.
The 21-year-old Londoner first emerging with a cover of the Pixies’ “Hey”, that was featured on Bullion’s covers album. Yanya followed that up with her “instant classic” debut singles, “Small Crimes” and “Keep Calling”, revealing her own sound in all its glory. Released through the Blue Flowers’ label, “Small Crimes” deals with petty theft and inequalities in the justice system, while “Keep Caling” is a middle finger to someone you don’t want to talk to anymore.
Trust us when we say her intimate songwriting and killer hooks will steal your heart.
Nilüfer Yanya is a properly incredible name, where does it come from? What’s your heritage?
It’s Turkish, My dad’s Turkish and my mum’s from Barbados.
How do you think that’s influenced your music?
I don’t know how much it actually influenced me. When you come from one place there’s a stronger cultural influence, but when your family is mixed, it’s more even. My dad plays a lot of Turkish music, but mum plays a lot of classical music. You have to build your own musical identity and do something original, you can’t just rely on your background.
When did you first get into making music?
I begun with the piano when I was six and then started with the guitar when I was about 12 and writing my first songs. I didn’t go to uni, after college I did this artist development course for a year and have been working anddoing my music ever since.
Nilüfer Yanya - Keep On Calling (Music video)
Directed by Molly Daniel
DP: Joseph Gainsborough
Hair & Make-up: Sash & Bronze
Do you remember the first song you wrote?
I remember the first song that I performed in front of my school. I think it was called “Let It Go” but I got my friends to sing it, I just played guitar.
What’s your writing process?
Mainly it’s on guitar, I come up with something that I like and then that kind of gives me the momentum to write the rest of the song. I have to find something that inspires me like a lyric. When I write with other people it’s easier in a way because you’re in a room with someone and you know you have to write something, so you do.
Is it true that Dave Okumu mentored you as a guitar teacher?
He was my first guitar teacher at school. He was really cool. He only taught me for about two years. I was really bad at playing though, I’d literally just started learning.
What’s your debut single, “Small Crimes”, about?
I wrote it when my bike had been stolen, used it as a story and wrote the lyrics around a image I had in my head. It’s about how small time criminals have so much stigma attached to them and about the struggle of getting out of that cycle of being a small time criminal; whereas all these bigger criminals who are committing real crimes against everyone, get away with it all the time and are never brought to justice.
Have you ever committed any small crimes that you’re prepared to confess?
[Laughs] Probably. I got fined in Cologne for not buying a ticket on the train. Instant karma.
You’re traveling to Athens to run a therapy workshop for refugees. That’s a pretty great thing to be doing!
I’m going with my mum and my sister. My sister’s a youth worker and my mum’s an artist and we’re going to this refugee camp to do some art workshops with the children there. They’re just normal people and we want to give them something creative to do and think about, and hopefully help them. I’ve never done anything like this, so I don’t really know what to expect. It seems more useful than just sending clothes.
You tweeted something deep the other day, “Everyone needs to take back control of their minds, stop letting them think for us”, what was that about?
I think I’d seen an advert on Facebook for some fitness thing and it said “take back control of your body” and I thought it was so stupid. You need to take control of your mind, you’re already in control of your body. It just seemed weird to say take back control of your body when someone else can be controlling what you’re thinking about yourself or your body.