Nishla Smith (Live at Barts Great Hall, 19 May 2021/ Announcing New Album on Whirlwind Recordings)

Nishla Smith is an Australian-born jazz singer. As a current City Music Foundation (CMF) artist, she will be performing in Bart’s Great Hall on 19 May as part of the CMF lunchtime concert series. She is also announcing a new album writes Juliette Kay.

Photo: Benjamin Ealovega

Nishla Smith grew up in Sydney, has studied in Berlin and currently resides in Manchester, a place where she ‘found [her] feet’ noting Manchester’s warm and open community. A feature of her work is the raw vulnerability woven into her music. In March 2019, she developed a staged song-cycle ‘What Happened to Agnes’ commissioned by Opera North, a story about her great aunt who disappeared in Malaysia in the 1930s. ‘I’m a natural storyteller,’ she says. ‘I love taking audiences on an adventure’. This storytelling will reappear in her upcoming album ‘Friends with Monsters’ with her quintet, which will be released in later this year with Whirlwind Recordings. The album was recorded at Giant Wafer Studios in Wales. The album is set in a troubled night and spans from dusk to dawn. There will be four interludes in the album: Twilight, Midnight, 3AM and Dawn. Nishla has written duos for each interlude which will include pianist Richard Jones, bass player, Joshua Cavanaugh-Brierley, drummer Johnny Hunter and trumpet player Aaron Wood.

This storytelling will also make an appearance at The Great Hall at St Bartholomew’s Hospital on 19 May. Nishla will be joined by pianist Tom Harris, who will be performing with her throughout May on various livestreams. On their partnership Nishla explained that, ‘I work with him on my stage work. We often work to find characters and voices in our songs. Storytelling will be a big element in our duo performances. For the May shows, we’ll use poetry and new interludes to weave the songs together into three loosely connected programmes.

Nishla was still residing in the UK when lockdown began last year, but is currently in Australia. On the subject of creative blocks and finding motivation within a challenging year Nishla remarked: ‘When the lockdown happened, I thought I was going to write all this new music, but you need a lot of mental space for that. I actually did this panel for Jazz North and the topic of inspiration came up, I’ve realised that it’s often when your brain is busy with something else you actually get inspired. I love reacting to other people’s work-going to an art exhibition, listening to classical music or seeing a really good film. Part of your brain is occupied but some little back part can get free’.

The upcoming album ‘Friends with Monsters’ is borne out of Nishla’s struggle with sleep yet ends on a sunny note with the “Dawn” interlude. Nishla stated that, ‘I have a night brain which is irrational but also has a lot of creative ideas. At the end of it, you get a lot of relief with dawn arriving, capturing a feeling of inexplicable joy. Hopefully the album will take you on a journey on all those feelings’. Incorporating personal themes into her music is a productive outlet. As she says, it is ‘incredibly rewarding and cathartic. I’m mainly aiming to write songs which feel authentic’. And musical influences? ‘I listen to all sorts of music across different genres’, she says, ‘but it always sticks out when you feel something real in their voice and lyrics’. For Nishla, those ‘real’ voices include Cécile McLorin Salvant, Joni Mitchell and Nina Simone.

LINKS: Nishla Smith’s website

Live review by AJ Dehany from 2019

Artist page at City Music Foundation

Nishla Smith is also performing at Ronnie Scott’s on 13 May and at Wiltshire Music Centre on 26 May. Sebastian Scotney is a member of the advisory board of CMF.


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