On the move with Nilüfer Yanya

Pacing the streets in a pair of On trainers, the singer-songwriter walks us through the experiences and memories that have shaped this Londoner’s creative vision.

Swiss performancewear brand On have their finger on the creative pulse. To celebrate the brand’s unique approach to artistry and athleticism, we rallied together four rising superstars, from four different disciplines, who are all driving towards success. Leading the charge is London musician Nilüfer Yanya, whose artistic upbringing has given her a distinctive approach to storytelling.

Enlisting the expertise of photographer Danika Magdelena, dynamic filmmaker Will Dohrn and movement director Yagamoto, the crew went on location in West London to capture a day in Yanya’s shoes.

Nilüfer Yanya grew up with creativity in her blood. A born and bred West Londoner, her family home was often filled to the brim with art made by her parents.

Both my parents are visual artists,” she explains. My mum’s background is in textiles, and my dad paints.” It’s no surprise, then, that the 25-year-old has such a strong artistic vision. But she didn’t want to just sit back and pursue the same craft. I was so comfortable doing art, I felt like I needed to push myself in order to be me.”

Over the last five years, Yanya has carved a creative niche for herself through music, releasing a series of pared-back tracks that straddle pop, rock and soul. Guitar in tow, her latest EP Feeling Lucky is a pensive, riff-heavy triptych packed with raw emotion.

When I’m about to write a song I’m just focusing on finding the correct melody and vowel sounds,” she says of her process. Then I try to find the perfect words that fit in. It kind of goes to a very visual place.”

Still, it’s taken time for Yanya to find her stride. Her earliest musical memory scrolls all the way back to school. Sitting cross-legged in assembly she would belt unorthodox hymns” – a bit of Westlife, a blast of Disney – at the top of her lungs, thinking how nice everyone’s voices sounded together”. Whether she knew it or not, that was the catalyst for her journey into music. Taking up the piano at just six years old and the guitar at 11, this natural multi-instrumentalist took her time building confidence.

I was very shy and reserved,” she admits. I didn’t like performing.” But Yanya was encouraged by those around her. Enrolling herself at a Saturday music school, she quickly took to songwriting, sharing her work with classmates and building up her energy for the mainstage.

Basically I started by performing because I felt like that was my weakness. From about 18 I started doing a lot of open mic nights, booking random shows, and at the same time I was putting demos out on Soundcloud. That was the thing back then.”

Fast forward seven years and Yanya’s captivating performances have only grown stronger. She’s gone on to tour packed-out venues worldwide and, at the start of 2020, had just announced a North American tour before things came to a grinding halt.

But as driven as ever, she’s not let the last 18 months of being indoors stifle her creativity. The musician recently teamed up with Brooklyn-based artist Nick Hakim to work on one of her latest headbanging tracks, Crash, and with the smooth production skills of Wilma Archer to bring to life her lo-fi banger Same Damn Luck.

Growing up in a multicultural home, the budding talent listened to an eclectic mix of music, spanning classical to Turkish folk, all of which helped shape for Yanya’s genre-bending sound. Having cemented her London identity, tapping into her mixed Barbadian, Irish and Turkish heritage is the next step. I feel like it’s something that’s still yet to come,” she says. My own identity is still being developed. My family is so dispersed everywhere, I feel like there’s so much more I need to discover.”

Now when she’s looking for songwriting inspiration, Yanya turns to her favourite creative spaces in London – an exhibition or museum, say. Somewhere where there’s things hanging on the wall,” she notes. Equally, she finds it important to strike up a healthy work-life balance, often delving into a good book or exercise to clear her mind. I have to go for a walk at least twice a day. I’ve also started a lot of running and yoga and I love the fact that it’s like mind and body. Not just one thing.”

Sometimes Nilüfer Yanya pinches herself when she reflects on her success. Still so early in her artistic journey, she has big ambitions outside of songwriting: producing, writing a novel or even devising the score to a film. Her vision, like her drive, knows no bounds or limits.

Now I’m seeing why artists feel they need to reinvent themselves, to try different things and change everything up,” she concludes. Because I can feel that. I just hope my confidence and bravery will continue to evolve.”

Associate Creative Director – Daniel Harris
Head of Production
– Rosanna Gouldman
– Natalie Steiner
Project Manager
– Rachael Bigelow
Music Director
– Davy Reed
Cutdown Editor – Millie Gray
– India van Spall
BTS Photographer
– Sulay Kelly
– Gary David Moore
Styling assistant
– Leonor Carvalho
Makeup & Hair
– Jessica Summer
– Danika Magdelena
– Will Dohrn
Executive Producer
– Aaron Z. Wilson
– James Lowrey
– Jack Exton
Steadicam Operator
– Beau Pritchard-James
Movement Director
– Yagamoto
– Tobias Imay
Production Designer
– Dora Miller
1st AD
– Jack Green
– Will Dohrn
– Connor Coolbear at ETC

The best of THE FACE. Straight to your inbox. 

00:00 / 00:00