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On my radar: Nilüfer Yanya's cultural highlights

Kadish Morris
·4 min read

Singer-songwriter Nilüfer Yanya was born in 1995 in west London to artist parents of Irish-Barbadian and Turkish heritage. She started out playing classical piano at secondary school before falling in love with the electric guitar after being taught by Dave Okumu of the Invisible at Saturday school. Inspired by artists such as Nina Simone, Bill Withers and the Cure, she began releasing demos on SoundCloud in 2014, followed by her first EP, Small Crimes/Keep on Calling, in 2016. She was longlisted for the BBC Sound of 2018 and her debut album, Miss Universe, came out in 2019. Her latest EP, Feeling Lucky, was released last December to critical acclaim.

1. Comedy

Mo the Comedian

Mo Gilligan
‘He went to the same school as me!’: Mo Gilligan. Photograph: Suki Dhanda/The Observer

I’ve watched all of Mo Gilligan’s shows, but my favourite thing in lockdown was the quarantine games that he did on Instagram Live. It was so funny – he just totally improvised. The characters that he has are just the best. My favourite is Kavani, the little boy. I’ve met Mo once, briefly. I was doing this round-table thing for Radio 4 and I didn’t know he was also doing it. I was so starstruck. He also went to the same school as me!

2. Music


My drummer is a big fan of Wu-Lu and did a few shows with him. I guess some might describe his music as a mix between hip-hop and punk, but for me it sounds like really, really cool guitar music. I wouldn’t like to put it into a genre. He’s got a new single out called South. It’s about gentrification and what’s happening to some parts of London. The chorus is full of screaming, which I love. His music is angsty, but he hasn’t done that before, so when I first heard it I thought: “Whoah, this is good.”

3. Podcast

Song Exploder

Singer-songwriter Solange.
Singer-songwriter Solange. Photograph: Rick Kern/WireImage

Different artists pick one of their songs and break down how they wrote it, how they made it, and the story behind it. I discovered this podcast recently, and it really helped me to feel inspired and motivated again. I love the Solange one – she talks about Cranes in the Sky. The one with [hip-hop duo] Mobb Deep takes place on the anniversary of their hit single Shook Ones Pt II. The story of how they composed it and their friendship is really heartwarming: Prodigy died a few years ago; he battled with sickle-cell anaemia. Havoc talks about how he’d always thought that’s where Prodigy’s energy was coming from in his lyrics and his verses. He was using that pain.

4. Literature

Zadie Smith

I’ve been making my way through my Zadie Smith collection. I started with Swing Time and then began reading NW early this year. Her recent book of essays, Intimations, is really interesting. She wrote it during lockdown and it accurately describes what’s going on: the class divide and the pandemic. She also talks about students quite a bit. There’s an interesting essay where she goes to see her masseuse and imagines what his life is like. I love how her work is about London, politics, race and multiculturalism.

5. Art

Home by Ronan Mckenzie

This is a multifunctional creative space in London, set up to be a communal space/community workshop, as well as a place to show artists’ work. It was founded by Ronan Mckenzie, who has a fashion photography background. It’s black-owned and artist-led, which is very rare in London – it’s a direct response to the lack of diversity in the art world and the lack of community. I went to the opening exhibition [by Mckenzie and Joy Yamusangie] just before the last lockdown. It was really cool.

6. Website


An iPhone showing the ebay website rests on a plain wooden table.
An iPhone showing the ebay website rests on a plain wooden table.

My brother has become very knowledgable about secondhand jewellery, so we place bids on things together. I’m into rings at the moment. I got a few birthday presents on there too, including a tiny, cute gold rabbit. The thing I like about eBay is that it depends on your budget, but you can always get what you want. It’s like a game, but then it arrives in the post and it’s really fun. I’m also really into retro Wallpaper city guides. I used to sometimes pick them up in charity shops. You think: “This is so 90s, I bet this club doesn’t exist any more.”