EAR Interview: Nila Raja

By Lindsey Last edited 120 months ago
EAR Interview: Nila Raja

16 artists are being nurtured by the Southbank Centre as Emerging Artists in Residence in what they're styling an "eclectic hub for music and performance". Keeping you ahead of the curve, we're getting closer to this multi-talented bunch of singer-songwriters, rappers, MCs and beatboxers, spoken word artists and DJs in a series of interviews.


Who are you and what do you do?

I'm a singer... started when I was little and always wanted to sing soprano in the choir thinking I could hit those notes even though I couldn’t…quite a determined one. I also play Viola, which is a beautiful warm instrument…And finally, I play piano, Persian santoor and tabla. My new thing is BASS. Well, bass has always been a big part of my life. I LOVE BASS. Any bass frequency. Dub, reggae, Prodigy, double bass, the list goes on of great things about bass. Anyway, the most important thing is I’ve been very kindly given a sexy electric black bass that’s a bit rough around the edges (like a perfect man). My Bass is called Sebastian because Seb Rochford, this cool drummer with great hair and stick control gave it to me.

Where do you live and what do you like about it?

I live in a squat in Dalston, on the outskirts of skinny jeans territory so it's OK, I can wear my mini-skirt and tights like I normally do, sometimes leggings if it's cold. I like it here because the corner shops have every food and obscure fruit juices you could think of. And everything’s really cheap, cheaper than going to Tescos. We just painted the squat two shades of blue, which we got free from the paint shop. There’s 15 of us, an interesting bunch. I like it because we all take it in turns to cook for everyone and usually vegetarian food, which is great for me. It’s a really communal and practical way of living. We all share and support each other and there’s a lot of creative and political people there, which is an inspiring environment to be in. It’s a great place free up your body and escape the normal world outside for a bit. I feel like I’m going to write a lot of songs here.

What inspires you about London? What's your favourite bit?

Little alley ways. Secret hangouts. It’s a great place for meeting people and staying in touch. You meet people from all different places with a different story to tell. Studying Popular Music here at Goldsmiths was also great as it introduced me to a bunch of musicians in London as soon as I moved there. On my first night in London I remember being driven with all my cases through central London on a Saturday night. I think we were going through Soho and I saw a over elaborately dressed transvestite hailing a taxi in heels bright red lipstick smudged everywhere. There were people everywhere. Looking up to the tops of buildings I could see people hanging out of windows smoking, a girl getting dressed in dim light, party people. They all looked like actresses and musicians. It was a slightly Sex in the City film-like idea of London. Of course it's not actually like that but sometimes I happily find myself wandering off round London thinking I'm in a film or discovering something amazing that no one else knows about.

How much time do you spend at the Southbank Centre? Have you found any secret bits?

Feels like a lot. Feels like a home now. I sometimes shower there and use the internet and get discounted coffee. I also do a lot of rehearsing there with my band. I had the launch party for my EP: Unattached to Desire in the Queen Elizabeth Hall foyer and of course I perform there with EARs in various parts of the building. I like going to see concerts there, I’ve seen Grace Jones (amazing - I want her stage set especially the industrial fan), Tribute to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan which was so beautiful, and John McLaughlin with Chick Korea and some other famous jazz heads. It was an amazing experience. There are lots of secret dressing rooms with special mirrors with lights on. And I like going right up to the top of the building and hanging out on the roof terrace.

What does the EAR programme mean to you?

It’s basically bringing together a bunch of different artists and trying to create a coherent show in which we collaborate and develop our music. It means big gigs, big stage, which means I can wear my big shoes and prance around on stage!!

What do you hope to achieve through it?

I would hope to learn and acquire new skills and knowledge from collaborating and watching different people perform. A great advantage is that we can go and see concerts at the Southbank as well, which can are inspirational and give me the urge to practice more and write new music I hope that as emerging artists, we have managed to reach out to a wider audience than before. When I do gigs outside of Southbank, sometimes people recognize my music from EAR, which is great, as it’s a way of spreading music. I would hope that we have created shows that people enjoy and want to follow up when the residency ends. Even though the residency is ending, I still hope to have a relationship with Southbank and invest in some new projects that explore and push my musical abilities and introduce to me to new musicians.

What was your first place to perform in London and where do you aspire to perform?

I think it in a local pub in New Cross doing a set of solo piano and vocal tunes as part of some festival for some charity - so bad that I've forgotten what it was for. It’s mad really answering that question because it makes me realize how things have changed, how my musics changed and how the band has eventually turned from 1 person to now 6 people: Max (drums), Joe (guitar), Jean-Michel (chapman stick), Hugh Jones (sax and electronics), Kadialy Kouyate (kora) and me (piano and vocals. It feels quite good to have achieved that and I will aspire to write more music, explore more musical territories and experiences, develop my style. I’d like to write lots of albums, each one completely different to the other, like folk then punk. I aspire to perform in other countries, I’d like to take my music around Europe, India, China, Japan…world tour man. I also want to play some really massive whopping stages, the bigger the stage the better, the bigger the hair and shoes the better, the bigger the music the better. I’d also like to play for a Hawaiian beach party with lots of beach huts, coconuts and hula skirts. Sunbathing in the day and singing at night. Sounds perfect. Maybe I should write some surf music.

Who in your genre should we be watching / listening to and why?

My music’s like skittles. Lots of different colours and flavours. So actually it doesn’t conform to the genres that we know today. But, in order to at least try and answer this question, I will give you some artists that I think you should go and listen to now if you want to understand me: Skunk Anansie, The Prodigy, Orbital, Sigur Ros, Beyonce, Joni Mitchell, Natacha Atlas, Nick Cave, Ray Charles. I guess my vocals are mostly influenced by Diamanda Galas mixed with Natacha Atlas. My ideas that are forming into songs at the moment, sound more like Skunk Anansie as one vibe and Sigur Ros / Room of Katinas as another vibe.

What would mark you, by your own ambitions, as an Established Artist in Residence rather than an Emerging Artist in Residence?

I would hope that by developing myself as an artist and performer, by showing variety at each performance from outfits, to songs to band set ups, I would be viewed as an Emerging Artist that progressed and developed into an Established Artist in Residence. Actually, I think we’re all emerging. Because, think about it, if you’re an “Established Artist in Residence” then you got nowhere else to go because your not emerging anymore, you have emerged, So I guess I’m always welcoming the next adventure and aspiring for change in my musical career rather than sticking to one thing and becoming static.

Have you ever busked? Would you ever?

I’m sure I have at some point but I cant really remember. I would do it again. In an afro wig, stilettos and a catsuit. And with a drum kit. I’ll play tambourine and sing and play 80s synths.

Have you ever been sick on the tube?

Ew, no!

Listen to Nila online and catch her with all the other EARs at Takeover, 27 February at the Festival Hall, £6.

Last Updated 27 January 2009