It isn’t clear whether it’s the calm heartbrokenness of Nilufer Yanya’s lyrics, or the ukulele-like pace of her guitar, but audiences feel an instant intimacy toward her work. When we find ourselves in Yanya’s hotel room at the Hilton Bomonti one afternoon, we definitely feel a similar way about her personality.
After winning accolades from industry-leading publications like Pitchfork (“Best New Track”, “Golden Cage”, 2017) and BBC (“Sound of 2018, The Longlist”), the West London-raised artist is back to play in Istanbul for a third time around, warm and familiar as if all that success belonged to someone else. Yanya, whose work we first heard on Radio Nova’s “Nova Tunes 3.4” album with her Pixies “Hey” cover, has since moved from uploading her demos on Soundcloud to releasing EPs, playing at the SXSW Music Festival and is currently working on her first full length album. When we bring up what she has achieved so far, she looks slightly surprised.
Perched atop her bed for the night, “I guess I don’t feel accomplished at all,” she says. “I want to get better and better and I want to make more music.” Yanya has been playing the piano since she was six. Although she applied twice to a prestigious music academy in London, she was rejected on both counts. When asked whether that led to any hesitation regarding her career path, “I wasn’t like ‘oh I’m gonna do music, I need to do a degree to do music,’” she says. “It was more like it was an option I was thinking about. Either way I’m still gonna do my own music, I’m still gonna be an artist.”
“I’M IN THE PRESENT AND I NEED TO MAKE SURE I CAN KEEP DOING THIS FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE.”
Indeed, she designs her own album covers, shot her first music video, “Small Crimes”, with her sister, and comes from an artistic family: Her Istanbul-born father (peintre-graveur) AliYanya and half-Irish, half-Barbadian mother (textile artist) Sandra met at their mutual friend’s exhibition opening. “My parents looked at each other and met, or that’s what they say to me,” she recounts, giggling. In a few hours, at her concert at Babylon she will call out to the 300-person crowd: “It’s a beautiful night, because you,” in broken Turkish and the audience, in one voice will correct her, loudly and lovingly.
In July, Yanya played to an audience of 19,000 at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago, and she will be touring alongside Interpol throughout the fall. However, it doesn’t seem like she has strategic, elaborate plans to race anyone to the top—obvious from the sudden sparkle she gets in her eyes when she discusses something she’s passionate about, and the wide smile that accompanies it. Witnessing her carefree nature, one can’t help but ask what she expects from the future. She thinks this over for a moment: “I’m in the present and I need to make sure I can keep doing this for the rest of my life,” she says. “I just want to do music as long as I can.”