It’s a cold and rainy night at the Louisiana as 22-year-old Nilüfer Yanya and her backing band awkwardly shuffle onto the stage. The power balance between performer and audience is murkier than most indie pop shows and there’s a melancholy atmosphere. They slowly work their way through Yanya’s fruits of the last two years from her 2016 debut Small Crimes to the recently released Plant Food EP. There’s something spiritual and lulting about her jazz inspired melodies combined with minimal beats, while the odd moment of funk keeps the audience on their toes.
Despite some first-time-performing school band vibes the sound created by her backing band is super tight and professional, growing slightly more relaxed as the audience warms up. The vibe is never completely comfortable, but neither is Yanya’s music. Her voice is husky and delicate, and the lyrical content is raw and heart wrenching at points. The hook of her latest single ‘Baby Luv’ asks the listener ‘Do you like pain?’, it’s unsettling and beautiful in the sweetest balance. The song describes a conversation between mother and child while anxiously questioning how content she is with her own choices. All though singing about existential angst is hardly revolutionary there’s something exciting about her honesty. Yanya’s lyrics have a stream of consciousness feel and are a welcome contrast to most meticulously formulated chart pop songs.
Her sound is engaging and refreshing while drawing inspiration from legendary jazz musicians like Nina Simone and Miles Davis. There’s also a classic feel about her lack of pretence. There are no props or fancy outfits, no dancing or banners. Instead the audience is a voyeur to softly piercing vocals and wandering guitar riffs. As well as a great lyricist and stunning singer, Yanya’s guitar skills are sure to impress - she was mentored by the Invisible’s Dave Okumu. A highlight of her set is a particularly soulful and haunting cover of ‘Hey’ by the Pixies (check out her live session on YouTube)
Despite her talent Nilüfer Yanya peppers the show with quiet “sorrys” and thanks the audience multiple times for simply turning up and showing support. Although I didn’t spot the mistakes that warranted so many apologies, I’m sure if I did I wouldn’t have minded. I am grateful to have experienced a little bit of the magic she’s weaving (particularly before her first album release and even her first US show) and excited to see her perform again soon.
Photography: Iceland Airwaves