Bristol-based vocalist Chiyaka dropped her stunning Descend EP this summer. The six-track EP creates a unique depth of space with floating ballads that Chikaya calls ‘cosmic trap’. It’s been receiving love from Bristol and beyond, with instagram support from Tricky and getting the top spot on Jamz Supernova’s Top 5 EPs on Radio 1Xtra.
Working with a ghost producer, who remains anonymous by choice, Chikaya’s vocals intertwine so harmoniously with the production that it’s hard to separate the two, with both elements giving each other plenty of room to breathe, whilst simultaneously enhancing the other. This is not a vocalist singing over a pre-prescribed track, this is poetry.
This is not a vocalist singing over a pre-prescribed track, this is poetry
‘I love the word cosmic, because it’s a limitless word and it gives me the freedom to explore. Maybe in the future it will be cosmic soul or cosmic R&B, but at the moment I’m really loving the dynamic. The relationship me and my producer have is so perfect. We work really well together and it’s so easy.
Chikaya actually comes from an acoustic background, although the cosmic element has always been a huge part of her sound. Turning to piano first as a way to relieve the boredom of being grounded, Chikaya later picked up a guitar (which she named Bertie) and began developing the sound that she would later refine with the help of a producer.
‘I struggled for a long time because I did not know how to play. I went to a couple of lessons but I wasn’t interested in learning Wonderwall, so I just struggled on until I could come up with something that sounded good. I would always just play in this weird way where everything would sound quite big and atmospheric – I never did plucking or anything. I’ve always like the idea of music sounding quite floaty and twinkly.
I started to feel the limitations of acoustic music
‘I started to feel the limitations of acoustic music, so when I was about 18 I started venturing into different genres and seeking different styles of music that I could sing on. I actually worked with Bristol producer Notion and he introduced me to lots of different underground music that I hadn’t been exposed to. I started getting into that scene, but I reverted back to acoustic, because I knew inside that it wasn’t quite me – and it had to be me, even if it was just crummy guitar playing, otherwise it didn’t feel right. People do music for different reasons, but my reason is that this is how I express myself.’
it had to be me, even if it was just crummy guitar playing, otherwise it didn’t feel right
However, Chikaya is happy to have been able to put the guitar down again, after finally hitting her stride with her current producer and their take on trap. Although they still do every part of the process side by side, they’ve developed a near psychic connection when it comes to the work they do together.
‘I love bass music, Bristol is full of it’ she says. ‘Trap is a good place for me. It’s really upbeat, you can let go to it, I love performing it, I can dance around and I love when people are dancing with me. And then adding my own elements – atmospheric, floaty music – on top of this quite heavy bass music, it works perfectly for me. It just sounds like me, it sounds like Chikaya.
Trap is a good place for me. It’s really upbeat, you can let go to it, I love performing it, I can dance around and I love when people are dancing with me
‘I used to get my keyboard out and come up with ideas, so he got an idea of what I really, really liked. Eventually it got to the point where he would be doing a couple of of keys on the keyboard and I could say “yep, that’s it” or “nah, change it up”. We work so well and move so quickly together because he just grasps completely what I envisioned for myself.
‘In the past, I’ve been sent samples and we’ve kept it in the virtual world and that’s meant that creatively it’s not really there for me. With the relationship I have with my producer now, he sits next to me and we work it all out together. He’s got his laptop, I’ve got mine. I’ll usually come up with the hook quite quickly and we’ll get that down after a few chords have been written on the keyboard.’
In the past, I’ve been sent samples and we’ve kept it in the virtual world and that’s meant that creatively it’s not really there for me
Although Chikaya originally began experimenting in the local music scene when she moved to Bristol over four years ago, she says that she really struggled to find her footing here. She took some time away and moved to London for a change of scene, but luckily Chikaya returned to the South West and found her sound here.
‘I needed to get away from Bristol for a bit, because I was struggling to find my sound. I needed to go to a difference place, be in a different scene and see what I could do there. But I decided to come back and it was a really, really wise decision, because that’s when things started to really change for me.
I was struggling to find my sound
‘I think it was getting a little bit older and realising I hadn’t really immersed myself in the city like I could have done. I also hadn’t really found my girlfriends and they’re the best thing that’s come out of being in Bristol. My two girls Tiff and Sacha, who started the Concrete Jungyals collective, I met them when I came back from London and everything started to change then. We started to grow together; we’re building together and that’s really important, because support is everything.’
we’re building together and that’s really important, because support is everything
A combination of meeting the right people and a synergetic working relationship have allowed Chikaya to not just find her sound, but to amplify it. She’s been playing more shows, including a support slot for Barney Artist at rough Trade last month, and she’s proud to have Descend out there.
‘I can’t speak for everyone, but I know a lot of artists, myself included, are just super microanalytical about these little details and it can prevent you from actually just going ahead and clicking the upload button. It’s a real tragedy because a lot of music doesn’t get heard because of it. I know musicians who have got some amazing music that will never see the light of day, because for whatever reason, that person or those people have gone too into themselves or decided that it doesn’t deserve to be shared – and it’s absolutely not the case.
‘I was terrified to start uploading music, but you’ve got to just let go at some point and say, this is good. I believe in this. I sound like this. This is my thing, this is my art, this is my creation. People might like this, people might resonate with this and it needs to be shared. You’re only going to get better if you actively put your stuff out there. I’ve got a lot better in the last year, my music, my voice – everything. I know I’ve improved and I know I’ll keep improving.’
you’ve got to just let go at some point and say, this is good. I believe in this. I sound like this
Photos by Dominika Scheibinger
29 November – Chikaya, Corner 77