Ivana and Jessica Nwokike, the sisters behind VanJess started their musical journey singing covers on YouTube as teenagers. Now, they are eagerly sought after by big names from the music industry, having been on tour with Little Simz and with Masego.
Having recently dropped their impressive 14-track debut album Silk Canvas, featuring names: GoldLink,Masego,KAYTRANDA, it’s clear that the sisters are forces to be reckoned with.
Silk Canvas, is exactly as written – a silky, smooth, sultry, exploration of the ’90s and as the sisters call it, “a journey of R&B through VanJess’ perspective”. Jess with her raspy and versatile vocals, Ivana with her deeper, fuller voice that is deeply rooted in the sounds of groups TLC and SWV – when the two come together –it’s electric – at times sounding as if there are multiple people singing.
The album is a smooth, cohesive and feel-good listen, bringing you all the groovy feels of the ‘90s. But VanJess are not in any way pushing out a throwback album or trying to imitate ’90s artists. With tight-knight harmonies, unique synchronicity, the sisters add electro flair and something musically different to each track, very much creating their own wave of R&B music.
The album is very much a collective effort where the sister’s close bond certainly shines through their music. Whilst two people make up VanJess, VanJess comes from one creative mind. Although Jess identifies herself more so as the songwriter, the records where they have equal part in creating and bouncing off such as “Touch the Floor” is pure magic.
What’s the story behind Silk Canvas and what is the essence of the album?
VanJess: We asked ourselves, ‘what words represent our voices?’ and we thought: sultry, smooth, sensual – silky. Silk – that smoothness, sexy bedroom vibe, that’s definitely our sound. ‘Canvas’ was us really wanting to start over on a blank slate, telling the world this is who we are – literally painting on an open canvas. As a creative process it was like starting from scratch.
Ivana: The heart of the album is very sultry, soulful and unexpected. Even production and melody wise – people say they don’t know what to expect. We touch on so many different feelings but they’re all rooted in R&B – just different vibes.
** What’s the creative dynamic between you two as a sister-duo? **
Ivana: The album really is what Jess and I experience – our journey. We’re both two ladies who have relatable romantic experiences. When Jess writes about something I think, ‘that sounds like something I’ve been through!’, then I add my own thoughts to it. We always try to push and uplift each other when making music and also in our personal lives. It’s great when you need another perspective on a song, because we both have our strengths and weaknesses. I’ve always felt that Jess is amazing with lyrics – I’ve always wanted to push myself to go there and think further with my writing.
Jess: We both have our own things we want to work on, but that’s the benefit of working as a duo – we encourage each other just to do it and have no doubts. I’m glad it comes across as unified because that’s definitely something we are.
How does your dual nationality play into your music? **
VanJess: Music is a huge part of African culture – always a celebration, so soulful and happy. That energy and feeling is something we grew up with and represents our nationality. That’s why we’ve always felt we had to have a record that celebrates life. We want to make people dance – feel good. Literally speaking, Ivana included some pidgin lyrics and I have this side to my voice where I bring the accent out a bit.
**How did working with GoldLink, Masego and all these big names on your album come about? **
**Jess: **It’s wild! We met Masego at a GoldLink shoot where we were extras in the video. He recognised us from YouTube, then hung out a few times and thought it’d be dope if Masego could rap on “Touch the Floor”. With “Through Enough”, we met Masego’s friend who is a producer and we sat down and came up with the song. You just can’t plan stuff like that! It’s the way that they came about that a makes all the songs so special.
90s R&B is having a renaissance. What makes you different from the artists that are out there? **
**Ivana: **When we were doing covers of music from that era, it really hit off. But I don’t think people want the ’90s back. It’s the feeling that spoke to us. VanJess – our whole thing is about bringing that vibe and soul to our music. We never want it to be a gimmick, this is who we are.
**How do you want your listeners to feel when they listen to your music? **
VanJess: Feel good, energised and as if something is changing. We do this because we’re two Nigerian girls and it’s important that our voices are heard. Having watched Aaliyah, Janet, all those artists from the ‘90s, we saw how it helped us watching them growing up and that’s what we want our legacy to be. We put this album out hoping to inspire others and bring this change.
Ivana: I have this phrase, ‘when you’re meant to fail, you rise above’. My manager told us that this industry and where we are at is made for us as black women and women in general to fail. But the response has been very reassuring and that’s why we want our listeners to feel like there’s a change.
So who is VanJess Really?
Touch the Floor Feat Masego
Touch the Floor Moma and Guy version
VanJess X Kaytranada dysfunctional (acoustic) feat Melanie Fate
VanJess- Honeywgeat (Acoustic)
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By Vogue UK