The mesmerising sister-act on creating 10/10 R&B sound waves.


Every so often, you’ll hear something that is such pure pulsating, mesmerising magic, you’ll find yourself immediately WhatsApp-recommending it to all your friends. You might even send follow-up messages because you can’t bear the thought of them going idly without (sorry, absolutely no chill). And this is very much the case of Nigerian-American sister-act, VanJess.

The silky intertwining vocals of the duo – comprised of Jessica and Ivana – trickle like honey over reverberating R&B beats. And deft electronic brushes here and there give it that added kick.

Last month, the sisters released their debut album, Silk Canvas, as well as absolutely fire visuals for their track “Control Me” – enlisting the help of Brooklyn contortionist, Nicholas “Slick” Stewart (who’s danced for RiRi and graced the cover of Bey and Jay’s Everything Is Love album). It. Will. Leave. You. Floored.

We caught up with VanJess and chatted about their Nigerian-American identity, whether it’s hard doing the sister-act thing, and of course, Drake…

Why did you guys start making music?
Jess: It was genuinely our way of having fun and expressing ourselves, so it came naturally to us. As we got older, it felt like it was our purpose.

Who did you grow up listening to?
Ivana: Brandy, TLC, Toni Braxton, Stevie Wonder, Michael, Janet, but also people like Amy Winehouse, Lauryn Hill and Corinne Bailey Rae.

Is your Nigerian-American identity important to your music?
Jess: Most definitely, it has to be, because when you’ve had a dual cultural experience, it shapes who you are. It’s a beautiful thing.

What is “Control Me” about?
Jess: It’s about someone who makes you feel like you’re literally in their control, and you can’t fight the fact that you want them so badly in every way. You’re internally pleading that they leave you alone, but in reality, you let them keep you caught up. It’s the worst, but fun too.

Love the music video for “Control Me”! What made you want to feature dancer Nicholas “Slick” Stewart?
Ivana: Our director Dylan Knight had sent us his videos and told us he wanted him for the video. We had already seen his dancing and what he does is so unique – we were big fans already.

You guys sing in pidgin English on the track – was incorporating the Nigerian part of your identity important in the songwriting process?
Jess: You know, it wasn’t actually intentional at all. We definitely always wanted to at some point, but you can’t force things like that or it’s corny. Ivana wrote the song that way because she had genuine inspiration, and I think that’s how we would always want to go about incorporating pidgin into any songs in the future.

You’ve just released your debut album, Silk Canvas. What’s with the name?
Ivana: Silk represents our overall sound: smooth and sultry with some sensual aspects. The canvas represents us having a blank slate, a fresh start.

Nigerian-American sisters VanJess
Nigerian-American sisters VanJess

What were the main themes you wanted to approach in the album?
Jess: It’s beautiful, because we wrote these songs when we were growing as people and experiencing new things, whether it be heartbreak or new love.

Are you guys similar or different?
Ivana: We are definitely different and I think that’s what makes our bond together as sisters and our musical chemistry so unique.
Jess: I would say I can be reserved, but when you get to know me I have a lot of layers and I can be pretty fiery. I bring the organisation and structure while Ivana brings the calm and flow. Very yin and yang. It really makes us a dope team.

Does being sisters sometimes make working together hard?
Jess: Obviously we are individuals and bring our own unique vibes to the table, however there is a beautiful respect, so we create with harmony.
Ivana: Hell yeah, we fight. If you say you don’t, you’re lying. Don’t get me wrong, we aren’t out here throwing hands, but we’re not afraid of giving feedback, and it comes from a place of love and wanting to make the best music we can.

What style of vocals do you each contribute to the band?
Jess: I definitely bring a very cool, jazzy vibe. People say I remind them of T-Boz, which is such a compliment because she is an inspiration. I do have layers, so sometimes I give that raspy low tone and sometimes I belt and showcase my higher range.
Ivana: I bring a sensual soulfulness to the group. Whether it be harmonies or adlibs, I am definitely giving you a feeling.

You guys started off doing YouTube covers… Any covers you’d like to do now?
Jess: I can’t lie, Drake – “In My Feelings” is my favourite song to sing, and I wouldn’t mind showing Drake a VanJess rendition…

Who would you love to collaborate with? 

Jess: Man, there are too many artists we would love to work with: Kehlani, H.E.R, Drake.

What’s next for you guys this year?
Jess: One of our biggest goals this year was dropping an album, so we are just excited about the feedback we are receiving from it. The possibilities are endless and the future looks good from here, so we are just gonna have to wait and see what happens.

Maybelle Morgan

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