Nihara Jay

The essence of a sound is made to move and resound across borders, a language unbiased. Music is a medium of communication that connects one soul to another. It is one of expression and a movement of inspiration. Throughout ARTRA’s journey of eight years, we’ve recognized the potential and capacity of the music industry in Sri Lanka and have been documenting the careers and journeys of musicians and performers to understand and explore their perspectives and provide a platform for their performances. Our exclusive segment Sonic Sitdowns; a series of documentaries of performance artists, together with Yamaha Music Centre in celebration of local music and musicians of which our first episode featured Musicmatters, co-founded by Sumudi Suraweera, is Sri Lanka's revered music school that introduced alternative study courses for Western music education. We met Nihara Jay, an up-and-coming singer on the set of Sonic Sitdowns. The young artist was among the community of musicians and performers at the establishment – an ambience of soulful vibrations drifting across the room as they expressed and communicated through the language of music, melodic symphonies and harmonious undertones.

Australian-Sri Lankan Singer Songwriter, Nihara Shanelle Jay from Sydney moved to the Island about two years ago. She studied at JMC Academy and worked alongside musical mentor Sam Saint Jones. She made her first mark in Colombo for her performance at Kacha Kacha in 2016. Upon meeting the musicians of the Musicmatters Collective, Nihara performed for the first time in Sri Lanka as the opening act at The Soul Sri Lanka’s launch of their debut album and has since played gigs across Colombo and Down-South. She is also one third of the original all-female band Topicap and band member of Owl Tree-O!

Q | Can you share with us your journey in the industry?

A | I have been singing for years and had always wanted to be a singer since I was a kid, but I only started taking it seriously a couple of years ago! When I was still living in Australia I was surrounded by a lot of original musicians but I was so used to singing covers that I didn’t feel confident enough to attempt to write my own music too often. Once I decided that it was time I do this, I moved to Sri Lanka! I felt that in order to be as authentic as possible I should immerse myself in the culture here and get in touch with my roots. I'm currently working on my solo debut EP.

Q | Who are some of your inspirations and how have those influenced your music?

A | This isn’t the easiest question for me to answer because I grew up listening to such a mix of music that I always find it hard to name a few. I grew up listening to musicians like Bob Marely, Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, The Corrs, Coldplay, Alicia Keys, Beyoncé and had a slight obsession with Earth, Wind & Fire too when I was a teenager. However as far as musical influences go, I think I get influenced by everything I listen to in some way. I recently started playing bass so lately I’ve been listening to a lot of bands like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard and The Whitest Boy Alive. As a vocalist, I guess if I have to name one person that’s really inspired and influenced the way that I sing it would have to be the late Jeff Buckley. His vocals are ridiculous! The level of control and emotion in each note is unreal. I could always feel every note he sang and that really pushed me to be a more powerful vocalist!

Q | Can you talk about the creative process and music making behind your songs?

A | I used to always write lyrics first and then create vocal melodies around that, but that process has changed in the last 2 years. Now, it honestly depends on my mood at the time! Sometimes the lyrics and vocal melody comes first and then I try to create music around that story, and sometimes the music comes first. I have learned so much about different ways of creating through the Musicmatters Collective and also being involved in two bands where the creative processes vary between each band. In my opinion, there are so many ways to approach the process of making music that I just like to focus on what feels most natural and real for me at the time.

Q | Please share with us the ideas behind your original songs and what they mean

A | I guess a lot of my songs are about experiences from my past and present, and hopes for the future and some are meant to be fun and just make me feel good. I always loved listening to musicians that could make you feel what they were feeling and that you could connect to but can also make me forget whatever I was feeling. So, that’s the real idea behind my original music.

Q | What are you up to now and where do you hope to see your career in the future?

A | I am still working on my debut EP that I will release at the start of the New Year (fingers crossed). I'm also a part of a new original band in Sri Lanka called 'Topicap'. We're a full female band with Avanti on guitar, Zahara on drums and myself on bass and vocals. We'll be releasing our first original song along with our first music video by the end of the year which is really exciting! My ultimate goal is to be able to contribute to the music industry by inspiring more female musicians of Sri Lankan background and to also reach a wider audience to bring more attention to the original music scene here in Sri Lanka. I hope that every step I take in my career will get me closer to achieving this.

The concept of ‘feel-good’ music is created through its capacity to transpire through harmonious symphonies and tuneful melodies a medium to both express and experience. A nostalgic moment or curious desire, an encapsulated feeling or a pictorial memory – music conveys in trebles and semibreves, the resounding drum beat and strum of a guitar string, the vocal cords in perfect notes and pitches. Nihara’s soulful sound and intrinsic music-making allows her to be able to convey these moments and experiences, her inherent musicality carried through her poignant voice instils in the listener a wholesome sensation. Nihara’s performative capabilities are those of beauteous nuances as she continues to make leaps in the industry.

You can follow @niharajay & @toppicap on Instagram to stay tuned for upcoming releases and gigs!

6th November, 2020 Performance Art