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ELLE Artist of The Month: Kayan

By Fawzia Khan  July 1st, 2021

For Ambika Nayak, better known as Kayan, music was almost written in her destiny. Brought up in a household immersed in music, dance, theatre, and the arts, it was only a matter of time that she would choose it as her career. The electronic and hip hop artist is best known for her soulful vocals that lilt deliciously through venues when she fronts Kimochi Youkai, duets with Nothing Anonymous, or performs solo, leaving audiences in rapture. When she is not singing, Kayan can be found on Instagram, modelling for well-known brands or acting in commercials. In March, she took the virtual stage at SXSW’s Third Culture showcase, leaving an indelible mark on international audiences with her innate ease and silken voice. With the release of her new single, Be Alright, ELLE catches up with the Mumbai native about how she does it all.

ELLE: You sing, DJ, lead two bands and make your own music. How did it begin for Kayan, the artist?

Kayan (K): I am very lucky to always have been surrounded by music. My family is very culturally well-informed, so while growing up, I had music, art, and dance around me all the time. While I was training in Bharatnatyam, I joined vocal training and piano lessons. A few years ago, when I joined music school, a lot of things changed. I got exposure to this whole new world, and that helped me start my various music projects. And now, finally, I’m doing my thing as Kayan.

ELLE: What’s the story behind Be Alright?

K: Be Alright comes from a space of wanting to be alright. We’re in very strange and turbulent times right now, and there’s so much negativity around us. I feel it’s a bit of a responsibility as an artist to help the situation in whichever way I can. I chose to write something that feels reassuring and lets you know that we gon’ be alright.

ELLE: Who are your influences, and how did you develop your unique sound? Does genre limit or liberate you?

K: I take inspiration from a lot of artists – not just musicians but fashion designers and artists and even people around me. To name a few musicians: I love Jorja Smith, Kali Uchis, Tyler the Creator, and The Internet. I think just listening to a lot of music and learning a variety of different songs can help you understand what you like and don’t like. My sound will always be evolving. Genre helps me search for music, I feel, like organisation. That doesn’t limit me at all, though.

ELLE: Is there an underlying theme to all your songs?
K: Everything I write feels like catharsis, as of now. These are real-time experiences turned into songs. That’s the theme: life.

Image credits: Bharat Rawal

ELLE: Albeit virtual, what was the SXSW experience like?
K: Absolutely exciting. It was an amazing opportunity we got, and we had a lovely response to the concert as well. I’m definitely looking forward to experiencing SXSW IRL soon.

ELLE: What should we be excited for in 2021 from you?
K: I’m really excited for this one particular release which we’re working on right now. There’s not much I can say about it, but the vibes are going to be delivered just right, and maybe with a li’l surprise.