‘Nobody sings my lyrics better than me’

Nilufer YanyaPicture Molly Daniel

Nilüfer Yanya, the 26-year-old indie singer and guitarist from London, is at a café in Amsterdam fifteen minutes too early as the epitome of modesty. Even in her comfortable sweater and with a messy tuber on her head, she is instantly recognizable. She has the same hesitant modesty as the night before when she played the stars of the sky in a sold-out Paradiso Noord.

Yanya released its acclaimed debut in 2019 Miss Universe out, an album filled with impressive guitar playing, performed by a young woman with a warm but battered voice singing about broken hearts, dreams and promises. She quickly became the darling of music critics, from an interview in New York Times to the rare 8.3 rating of the strict music platform Pitchfork. The album was released in March painless has been received even more enthusiastically than her debut.

The success story stands in stark contrast to the introverted, searching person who sits at the cafe table and searches so carefully and patiently for answers. Or as she sings in herself The dealer: ‘I need some time to find out who it is, I need to know now who I’m dealing with. It’s the kind of patience that breaks your heart. ‘ (“I need time to figure out who it is, who I’m dealing with. It’s the kind of patience that breaks your heart.”)

Nilüfer Yanya's debut album Miss Universe and second album Painless.  Picture

Nilüfer Yanya’s debut album Miss Universe and second album Painless.

How can an artist who seems to doubt so much of himself be so productive? In the last four years, Yanya has released three major projects: In addition to her two albums, in 2021 there was also the EP Inside out† Her need to always be productive is part of being an artist, even though she would like to spend a little more time on her projects. ‘I feel guilty when I’m not productive, to compensate I work fast and a lot. Afterwards, I sometimes wonder if it leads to the best work. ‘

She attributes this guilt to the inner critical voice she hears when she is not creating. “The less I create, the louder the voice that says I can not do it, but as long as I keep doing it, she remains silent.” She does not know whose voice it is, but she is not entirely ungrateful to her. ‘As a result, I constantly challenge myself and look critically at myself.’


painless is about the pain that comes with feeling nothing, suppressing the numbness in your emotions. ‘Since my EP I have not been able to write anything for a long time, I have not had any deep feelings that encouraged me to make music. Only when I started working with my producer Will Archer (producer of Jessie Ware, Sudan Archives and Celeste, among others), red.), everything came together. The lack of feeling was a great source of inspiration for this album. ‘

She is frustrated that artists are often expected to suffer before their work. ‘The more pain, the more the media and the public absorb the work. You also see it in talent shows on TV, where they edit sad music for a candidate’s life story. While creativity can also come from a safe and happy state of mind. The romanticization of the tortured artist can lead to dangerous situations. ‘ She can now be heard on the song Boys in movies by the Danish band Liss, who last year lost their 25-year-old frontman Søren Holm.

From an early age, Yanya was encouraged to be creative. Her Turkish father is a visual artist, and her Barbadian mother would have liked to have been a professional pianist. ‘Her parents did not allow her, so she encouraged me to go to school. From the time I was 10 to 18 years old, I sometimes played the piano three to four hours a day. I did it primarily to make my mother happy. ‘

Nilüfer Yanya statue Molly Daniel

Nilufer YanyaPicture Molly Daniel

She also took the guitar when she was 14, but she could not manage to play the piano every day. It was therefore natural that she would study at the prestigious Goldsmith College in London, the School of Art and Social Sciences, where, among others, Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz) and John Cale (The Velvet Underground) studied. But Yanya decided to put an end to it. ‘I intentionally filled out my application forms sloppily and was probably not even accepted for an audition because of it. My mother was shocked that I had been rejected after all these years of study. I have not yet dared to confess that it was deliberate sabotage ‘.

It shows her conflict-averse nature, a trait one would not expect when listening to her music. ‘I try as much as possible to avoid confrontations in everyday life. Music is the only place where I can honestly say how I feel, it’s a kind of rebellion for me. ‘

She never blamed her mother for chasing a dream that was not her own. ‘I learned to understand music early on. Many of the tunes I write come from my skills as a pianist. It’s taken me to where I am now, even though I had to adjust it a bit to make the music I’m releasing now. ‘

It was Yanya’s guitar teacher Dave Okumu, singer and guitarist for the rock band The Invisible and guitarist for Amy Winehouse and Tony Allen, who encouraged her to sing in her teens. ‘He quickly noticed that I was writing lyrics and he said he was sorry he hadn’t started singing until late in his career. After all, no one can sing my lyrics as well as I can. Not because I have such an interesting voice, but because my voice is tailored to my lyrics. ‘


However, authenticity does not exist, according to Yanya. “Everything I do is something I’ve heard somewhere and I play it wrong. I think it’s making music. You hear a melody and years later you play your own version of it while you no longer know where you know that tune from. ‘

Finally, she gives her definition of authenticity: ‘That you do not have to ask permission for your creation, for no reason or external reason. That no one has asked for your work, but that you still feel the need to do it. I think it’s the most authentic form of creation. So you do not limit yourself by measuring the work in relation to a quality standard: you do it the way you want it, whether it is good or bad, it does not matter anymore. ‘

null Statue Anne Van Den Boogaard

Statue Anne Van Den Boogaard

Her music is therefore primarily intended for people like herself. People who have a hard time standing up for themselves and avoiding confrontation even though she does not have much in her environment. ‘A lot of people around me are not afraid of confrontations. I seem to be attracted to what I do not have in myself. It is also a misconception that because I am an artist, I am outgoing. Just because I have the confidence to stand on the stage does not mean that I have that confidence in all aspects of my life. ”

As soon as the weather allowed, Yanya’s agenda was fully booked with shows. She has just completed a European and American tour that culminated with a performance at the popular Coachella Festival. Despite her fully booked live program, the stage is not necessarily where she feels most comfortable. “Sometimes it feels like a waste of time to keep telling myself that I like to perform. Live shows are not the reason I wanted to be a musician. It’s not for nothing that I think my shows gets worse the more I do ‘.

Yanya is the example of an introverted personality who can make the most beautiful music through his attention and sensitivity, but who struggles with what it takes to be an artist: to present your work and yourself. Making music all her life is the ultimate goal, she finds her comfort zone in the studio and preferably when she is alone. “I enjoy all collaborations, but I know my best work is done when as few as possible are involved.”

When asked when something is good enough, she answers that she still has a hard time celebrating her success. “There are lots of people who deserve success before me, who practiced piano ten hours a day and still have not reached where I am today, who were not born in the same place or given the same opportunities that I was given. Luck plays a big role in success. ‘

Nilüfer Yanya statue Molly Daniel

Nilufer YanyaPicture Molly Daniel

Nilufer Yanya plays on Sunday at 17.30 at Best Kept Secret, Hilvarenbeek.

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