Soul sisters (and real sisters) Ivana and Jessica comprise the R&B duo VanJess. Born in Nigeria, the girls moved to the U.S. by the ages of eight and ten while 90s R&B was still at its peak. Much of that 90s R&B influence permeates through their debut full-length album, Silk Canvas. Released in 2018 via Keep Cool, the fourteen-track album plays as a journal of their lives up to that point and touches on all the relatable tropes of love, heartbreak, and personal growth. Features on the project include a whose who of their emerging adult contemporaries like Masego, Leikeli47, and GoldLink. I'd describe their music as orthodox R&B tinged with dance, electronic, and hip-hop.
They first started gaining attention when they began uploading YouTube covers of popular songs in high school. After releasing covers consistently, they started gaining attention from celebrities on social media. Around 2011, they decided to take music more serious and it was around this same time that they released their biggest YouTube cover to date. It's a mash up of Drake's "Headlines" and Frank Ocean's "Thinking Bout You" which has garnered over three million views to date. Taking time to fully develop their unique sound and voices, they released three singles in 2016. "Adore", "Through Enough", and "Touch The Floor" were all well received and helped solidify them as artists to watch out for.
Fast forwarding to 2020, we were so lucky to have VanJess perform at our All Eyes On showcase earlier this year. We were able to catch up with them for a few quick questions as well. Watch their performance of "Honeywheat" above and read our interview with them below:
Photo: Mark Peaced
Ones To Watch: You guys released your debut album, Silk Canvas, in 2018. So, where are you guys right now in your musical journey?
Jessica: After the album, We were really overwhelmed with the reception and the positivity that we got from our fans and peers. Right now, we're just focused on elevating. There's always room to grow but we feel really proud of the music we put out and the legacy we've created so far because we did it on our own terms and made a project that we're really proud of.
You were both quoted saying "Silk Canvas was a journey of R&B through the VanJess perspective." What makes your perspective unique?
Ivana: We're talking about our lives and what we're going through on a daily basis - individually and together. All of the songs are about different phases in life that we've gone through and that a lot of our listeners can find relatable.
Jessica: We've always had an array of influences, sonically. Growing up in Nigeria and then moving to the US, we not only listened to traditional Igbo praise songs but my mom played Elton John, 90's R&B, pop music, UK pop, and hip-hop. This gave us a wide range of influences.
How are you both approaching your second project?
Ivana: Everything we did that first time around was a trial, so this time we're being more intentional with what we're saying because we've gone through a lot, especially this year. A lot of what we're talking about is directly hitting on what's going on in the world and what we're dealing with.
Speaking on things you're dealing with. A lot of Black women in the industry recently have been very vocal about hate and disrespect from fans at live shows and on social media. How do you deal with being black women in the music industry?
Ivana: As a creative and black woman, you have a responsibility to lead. It is important for us to be seen in a positive light and to encourage other black girls that they can do this too. We're always looking out for comments from girls saying "wow, she looks like me." It's really such a beautiful thing and it just lets us know that we're doing something right and we're doing what we've always wanted to do. We're making an impact in the right way.
Jessica: We know how important it was for us growing up. One reference I can think of is Brandy. Growing up, I didn't necessarily feel super confident in the way I looked and people would always tell me that I resembled Brandy. I would look at her and think that she was so beautiful and when I saw her in all these commercials, it made me feel better about myself. It's crazy because we did an event for our label last year and she was there. She came up to me and said, "you look like me." I was blown away. I don't think she understood that she was the reason I was able to accept myself. I hugged her and it reminded me that it's so important for us to not only be represented, but for us to support each other and see each other in these positive lights.
Stream Silk Canvas here.