Not so long ago 21-year-old singer Nilüfer Yanya slogged it out in an “intense” London fancy dress shop. “They used to have loads of good things apparently but because no-one wants to spend any money on hiring—they just want to buy a one-time outfit—it’s all crap…” She bemoans, reflecting on the last two years. “On the back it just says ‘FLAMMABLE’. The shop was full of boxes and plastic packets… I’d just think, ‘If there’s a fire, that’s it, I’m going to die here!’”
The first time one of her songs was played, she was stuck in that polyester deathtrap. “I think it was on Amazing Radio,” she laughs, catching her breath. “It was at 2pm and I was playing it on my phone, serving a customer like, ‘Yep! One sec!’”
Singing since the age of 11, Yanya honed her husky tone at CYM Saturday music school in her teens, but it took a while for her to realise that writing was her way out of the stockroom. “It was always something I wanted to do but I was scared…” She confesses while we sit reverting to childhood in a Hackney playground, “It’s hard, you have to put yourself out there.” When she finally did, uploading her debut demos online two years ago, it led to her first official release. August 2016’s “Small Crimes” EP—just two tracks and their remixes— plucked her out of cellophane wrapped obscurity and flung her to the front lines.
“I’m just living out my teenage dream,” she smiles as if she’s still surprised. “Small Crimes” won Yanya airtime with Radio 1, propelling her into the press and pushing her track “Keep On Calling” to over 1.5 million plays on Spotify. Her newest song, “The Florist” is set to do the same, with her subdued but impassioned vocal style becoming her signature. Written “last, last summer” Yanya reflects on the “bittersweet realisation that relationships end”. It’s a coming-of-age of the realest kind, set to swelling, muted guitars.
A running theme for Yanya is hindsight. “Golden Cage”, her next release, is about “looking forward and back”, outlining the epiphany that not everything is as rosy as it once seemed. Despite her worldly outlook, she doesn’t feel grown up just yet. “I’m just not qualified! I’m not ready to be an adult,” she squirms and exhales. “There should be a test. I’m just not… Sometimes I’m really not all there.”
“I’d like to do an album,” she says before we part, “probably next year. I think it’s because I’m still young and everyone around me is still finding themselves, I think I’ll feel more like myself when I know more about me.”
Taken from the Summer 17 Issue of Wonderland; out now and available to buy here.
Joe Pickering at Stella Creative Artists using Bumble and Bumble
Louise Dartford at Stella Creative Artists using Kjaer Weis