Raised in Oregon but now based in London, 17-year-old artist Nyah Grace demonstrates her world class potential with the release of her debut single ‘Black Coffee’.
Citing the likes of Lauryn Hill, Billie Holiday, D’Angelo and Ella Fitzgerald as influences, ‘Black Coffee’ sounds like an artist with years of experience behind her. Nyah’s voice is the star of the show: rich, evocative, tender and sensual, it’s a remarkable gift for any artist, let alone one so young. The spacious, organic production complements that voice, but what’s most surprising of all is that ‘Black Coffee’ is just the third full song that she ever wrote, back when she was 14-years-old.
“I started writing it about a friend who I stopped being friends with,” she recalls. “It could be interpreted as being about a boyfriend, but it’s mostly about growing apart in a relationship. You’d like for there not to be that distance between you, but little things like black coffee remind you of them.”
The song’s meaning has continued to evolve for Nyah since it was first written. She grew up in Monmouth, Oregonto a family steeped in the farming tradition – although her great aunt was a hugely successful backing vocalist in the ‘70s, singing for Chic at their peak. Her parents had some interest in music (‘80s hits for her mum, old school rap for her dad), but her destiny was shaped when she began singing lessons as a child and her teacher encouraged her to try some jazz standards. She’s been hooked ever since.
As she summarises, “Music is something that I’ve always loved, it’s been so deeply ingrained in me since I was six. It’s my first and only passion.”
As Nyah grew older she discovered Lauryn Hill, D’Angelo and Estelle (who she recently covered on Instagram), artists whose neo-soul sound echoes the jazzy chord progressions of those early jazz icons. Nyah wanted to be a singer “but I didn’t think it was a rational dream” until her manager came on-board and introduced her to Steve Chrisanthou, the Grammy, Ivor Novello, BRIT and MOBO nominated producer/songwriter who’s best known for his work with Corinne Bailey Rae.
Nyah made several trips from Oregon to London (including The Dairy in Brixton with Michael Graves) and up to Chrisanthou’s studio in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire. The result is a growing songbook mixing neo-soul, R&B and jazz as she continues to work on her debut album. She even spent a “nerve-wracking” session with Corinne Bailey Rae – one that was all the more memorable as she recalls singing along to ‘Put Your Records On’ as a child.
Another once-in-a-lifetime moment occurred when she featured on Al Gore’s broadcast ‘24 Hours of Reality: Protect Our Planet, Protect Ourselves’. As one of the youngest artists on an all-star bill spanning the Foo Fighters to The Lumineers, Nyah met both Al Gore and Bill Nye.
Realising that she was maximising her potential, Nyah made the life-changing decision to move to London on a full-time basis. “It’s definitely an adventure,” she admits, “but it’s way more fun than tough.” That dedication is already paying off. Not only has ‘Black Coffee’ been released, but it’s earned huge support from Caffé Nero, who are giving it regular airtime in every one of their 900 UK stores.