Gaining recognition, support and acknowledgement from one of the pioneers in your field – who also happens to be a childhood hero – is a career-defining moment for anyone.
When that career happens to be in the music industry, where a rising young star can benefit exponentially from the hard-earned wisdom, technical know-how and practical tips that a seasoned professional can pass on, it’s a life-changing experience.
As one of the winners of American Express’ new Backed By initiative, Cambridge-born singer/song writer/producer Kyan is receiving powerful backing and mentorship from none other than music legend Nile Rodgers.
For Kyan, the whole experience is surreal.
“It’s a kind of clarification that you’re on the right path and making the right choices,” says Kyan, who understands that many of the young artists creating memorable music these days are doing so thanks to the backing of a bigger artist (think Jorja Smith and Drake or Maggie Rogers and Pharrell to name a couple).
“It’s amazing to have Nile Rodgers’ support at this stage of my career and for other people to see he’s backing me.”
When you hear Kyan’s retro-futuristic soul sound in his latest single, Like Summer – crisp vocals and raw honesty in every lyric – it’s no wonder Nile calls him the “real deal,” “unbelievably impressive” and “so unique.”
Kyan has long admired Nile for his determination and his refusal to do what’s obvious or expected.
“He’s adding in unexpected chords, keeping people on their toes. As a musician, that’s always something I respect. You can see it in everything he’s touched, from Chic to Sister Sledge to Madonna, David Bowie and Daft Punk. You can feel the same energy throughout everything,” says Kyan.
The two first met in person in August 2018 at Abbey Road Studios; Kyan was warming up at the piano, waiting for Nile to arrive and totally absorbed in playing his own music. So much so that he didn’t even realise that Nile had walked in and was listening to him play until Nile tapped him on the shoulder and introduced himself.
“We started chatting straightaway about lots of technical musical things, and I played him Like Summer there and then,” says Kyan.
“I wanted to see what he thought of the album, so I played him two songs acoustically and then a few songs in the studio. It’s an album I’ve been working on for a few years, so it’s amazing to play it for someone with fresh ears and get their reaction to it.”
The Backed By winner met Nile again a week later when he had the chance to perform in front of Nile and Chic during the soundcheck before their performance at Sandown Park Racecourse.
“We’d had some communication online and felt a lot more familiar with each other at that point,” says Kyan. “I was in the zone again when I performed, and it wasn’t until I went back and looked at the footage that I saw Nile singing along to Like Summer. It was amazing to be around Chic and for them to all be so positive about what I was doing.”
Nile is just as complimentary when it comes to Kyan: he’s struck by the young singer’s hard work, talent and the effortless way he captivates an audience.
“Kyan is the real deal. As a creative, what he’s doing is unbelievably impressive. When I looked through the entries for the Backed By competition, he occupied a space which is so unique”, Nile says. “The reaction of the band when Kyan performed says it all. They’re brilliant musicians and they were blown away by his talent when he played during our soundcheck.”
Kyan has been innovative in bringing his latest release, Nothing Beyond, to fruition, initially raising £15,000 in a month from a Kickstarter campaign to pay for the mixing and mastering of the songs before entering the American Express Backed By Nile Rodgers campaign.
Even Kyan’s production technique is unexpected: he’ll write a song on the piano and then resample it and tweak it, as if it were a piece written by someone else.
“My music is all about honesty, all about truth. This album has been a cathartic process and has been about me getting out my emotions and how I feel in the most honest way possible,” says Kyan.
Nile is already imparting more than just technical tips to his protégé – he’s already busy teaching him some major life lessons. Lesson number one? Never give up when you believe in something.
Kyan was particularly struck by a story Nile told him about an A&R meeting where he first played Le Freak. “Many in the room didn’t like or get the song because it was so ahead of its time. Le Freak ended up becoming the best-selling single in Atlantic Records’ history at the time”, recounted Kyan. “I’m impressed with how Nile stuck to his vision and refused to compromise it.”
“It’s a real lesson that if you believe in it and it feels good for you, that’s enough,” says Kyan. “Everybody else can catch up.”
In fact, Kyan’s already adopted this philosophy in his own life, having taken the less-expected path to develop his latest album – and he’s starting to reap the rewards. “I’ve gone about this whole album campaign quite differently to the traditional way in terms of how I’ve funded it and it’s great to know that someone of that calibre believes in the journey and what you’re trying to do.”
“Nile is also a friendly, really chilled out guy. It’s admirable from someone who works so hard and has had so much success,” Kyan says.
While there is plenty more for Kyan to learn from Nile, about song writing, production, performing and music industry business, it turns out Kyan can also teach the veteran musician a thing or two about millennial must-haves.
“He likes Leon - the food chain,” says Kyan. “Being a fan myself, I was telling him how you could get it delivered on Uber Eats and he got it later the same day!”
Nile has teamed up with American Express for Backed By, a new initiative to offer a budding musician the opportunity to win a unique backing experience with the man himself. Stay tuned for more on Kyan’s Backed By experience.
Follow Kyan on Instagram @kyanmusic
Promotor: American Express Services Europe Limited has its registered office at Belgrave House, 76 Buckingham Palace Road, London, SW1W 9AX, United Kingdom. It is registered in England and Wales with Company Number 1833139 and authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.