NAYANA is a young singer songwriter from North London whose talent has been nurtured by her time in UD’s Flames Collective and Incubator programme. Having released multiple original, heartfelt singles and performed at the Camden Assembly (supporting friend and fellow UD member, Molly Elizabeth), Jojo Jones jumped on Zoom to find out more about NAYANA…
J: So NAYANA, let’s go right back to the beginning. Where did your singing journey start?
N: I always loved music, I always loved singing. When my mum passed away I sang at her funeral and my friend Maya who’s in the [Flames Collective] choir, after she’d heard me singing she was like, ‘mate you need to come to Flames.’ After joining Flames I started writing – Flames was literally THE reason why I started leaning into music a lot heavier.
J: So you joined Flames in 2018, before that were you always the person who everyone would say ‘oh, you should be a singer’ to or did singing almost come by accident?
N: I always sang but it was never something I really took seriously, but everybody knew that I could sing. I used to sing at family events. And my mum really encouraged it as well because she realised how much I loved to do it. I was always more academic – or I was before actually doing music. I was [at one point] going to go on to be a lecturer in philosophy. Music was always just a side hustle for me. And I was told that by a couple of people, when I was younger, they were like, ‘yeah, you should do it like you can actually sing’, but I never really paid attention to it until I came to Flames.
J: How did it feel when you realised ‘maybe this is something that I can do more often and that maybe I want to learn more about’?
N: To be honest at first it felt a bit out of reach because I jumped into it. Like not having any understanding of even how to put a song together, I didn’t really have a producer, I was using Youtube type beats. I just tried to sing my heart out where I could and learn along the way. But, at the same time, because of the type of person I am, I’m putting more than my hundred percent in; everything that I have I’m putting into this. So it was learning curve. It was a fun experience especially with the help of UD.
J: And how did it feel starting with UD’s Flames Collective? What has your journey in the collective been like?
N: It wasn’t what I thought it was going to be! In my mind I was thinking like a movie, like high school musical vibes [laughs]. I don’t know, I was thinking I was gonna go once, get signed, and that was the deal – I was gonna blow. But obviously, when I came, my voice wasn’t where it needed to be for me to be able to do solos and things like that… So I’m thinking, yeah, I’m going to come in, they’re going to be like, yeah, like she needs to be in the front! [laughs]. But it wasn’t a that ting!
I came in, I was doing ooo’s and aaa’s – and that’s okay – cause you have to earn it. I realised that obviously Andy Gilbert (tutor) – and everybody else – had a better understanding of even, for example, staying in harmony. I couldn’t sing in harmony. I didn’t understand my voice, like I didn’t have my own sound properly.
It was just a lot of learning for me. It was learning to sing with other singers… Being an instrument with another singer is a hard thing to do because there’s a lot more ego in the way. So it was having to learn it’s not just about me. Like this is me helping you learn and you helping me learn so we can all be better together. And through UD Flames I just grew and started to feel a little more comfortable in the creative industries and the creative scene altogether. Because I had never really been around creatives as well, after joining Flames I started to find myself being comfortable around not only musicians, but photographers and all types of creators. Going to more and more networking events and just talking to people and gaining my confidence in myself and my craft. Because for a while it was like, I could sing for you, but I wasn’t comfortable with what I could sing for you. Through Flames I’ve gained more confidence in myself.
J: And did that lead you on to wanting to study music as well?
N: I came to BIMM (where I study vocals & performance) to try to get myself to the next level. And then around that time I was offered the chance to join the Incubator programme (UD’s Incubator programme is a six month talent and career development opportunity to develop the creative and business skills for talented, independent musicians emerging in the music industry). And I was thinking, ‘yeah, I’m ready now, they’re gonna sign me, I’m going to blow!’ [laughs]. Not realising, of course, that I still wasn’t ready yet. I still needed some time to just learn aspects of things. I had a lot of plans to do things musically and through the advice of (industry guru) Jade Richardson and Incubator, I realised that maybe I should take a lot more caution with what I’m doing, like making sure my tracks were produced to the best quality and whatever I’m putting out is of a better quality as well.
J:. So did you learn more about being a singer, but also about being in the music industry?
N: In the Incubator [programme] they taught us everything. All the behind the scenes stuff, copyrights, PRS, legal stuff. I was so gassed, I was like this is everything that I need! On top of studying at BIMM, they went hand in hand and it helped me a lot.
J: I’ve seen you live a couple of times now and it is your confidence on stage particularly that really makes you shine as a singer, and I’m sure as a person as well. How have you found that confidence? Does it come naturally to you?
N: I wish you could have seen my first performance. It was so bad. Obviously I built up my confidence with Flames, but we were always performing as a group. I just wanted to start doing more and more gigs [solo]. Every time I performed, I analysed the videos. I just kept thinking ‘what do I want to see from an artist when I’m sitting in the audience? What do I want someone to be giving me?’ At the same time I want to be able to have fun while I’m doing this.
My music is about, ‘I’m here to tell you a story.’ Like the culture that I’m from – I’m Trinidadian – the way that we talk is storytelling, there’s a lot of body language [gestures] a lot of this, a lot of motion. There’s a lot to it, a lot of emotion, so I try to bring that into performing.
J: So going into UD and learning to write and produce songs, what was that like?
N: When I was younger I remember I used to have little books. I used to squiggle words, and I would think, ‘one day I’ll be able to write’ and then eventually I was just writing! Like I was trying to write and then one day I woke up and wrote ‘AMP‘ and another day I woke up and wrote ‘Skins‘. It just happened. One day I could just do it! Obviously I’ve never really been taught to write. And through Incubator, I had a one-to-one session and they literally gave me a template for writing songs. And from there it’s kind of like second nature to me now.
J: The thing that I’m impressed by from yourself and other Flames members are how self aware you are, and how easily you can express deep emotions in your songs. Is that something that comes easily?
N: I don’t know, it’s becoming more normalised. I think the way that came about, articulating myself more in my songs, is because that’s me as a person. I can have deep conversations, you can talk to me and I can help you if you’re feeling away, but I’ve never been one to be like, ‘I’m upset about this’. I think when my mum passed away, there was a lot of friction between me and my dad, and me and a couple of friends, because I was going through a lot but I’m not saying anything, and because I’m not saying anything, no one was able to help me. And it literally just started coming up in my music. Amie Blu (another Flames Collective member) was one of the people who inspired me to use my music to get out how I was feeling.
J: I am sure you have made amazing friendships and relationships with the other UD Flames collective members. What’s that like having a community of singers around you?
N: It is the best thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. They just know what you’re going through, especially when you’re creative, like creatives are emotional people. So it’s just kind of nice to have people who understand that, and who you can actually talk about it with.
J: And finally, tell me about your new single ‘Drowning‘?
N: When my mum passed away, I went through a phase where I wasn’t really processing my emotions. I was just keeping myself busy, partying, distracting myself. So the song was just a reminder to myself to stop drowning! Pull myself together. It means a lot to me because it’s a reminder to myself that there’s gonna be times where I’m drowning and I get a bit lost, but I always have to find myself again and find my feet.
NAYANA’s new single Drowning is out on all streaming services, listen & watch here: https://linktr.ee/Nayana88
Listen to Jojo Jones on the first Wednesdays of the month, 1-2pm on Voicesradio.co.uk