By Reggie Goudeau
Jazz musician and third-year Sehréa N’dayu (she/they) recently performed their stunning Oberlin junior recital on March 9th. I interviewed N’dayu at Azariah’s Cafe the day before her performance. She has been making music since at least the age of four and music runs in their family. “Music is a huge part of my upbringing. My mother is a vocalist as well — she’s sensational. She’s also a pianist, a writer, composer, visionary, et cetera,” N’dayu said, adding that both their biological father and stepfather are also artists.
N’dayu also cited improvisation as a significant part of their childhood. “I grew up doing cyphers, and it can look like a lot of different things.”
“Me and my family we’d all get in a circle and freestyle, rap, just improvise you know? It’s so interesting to see how that’s a recurring theme in black music. A huge part of Black American music,” they reminisced.
When asked about her favorite musical genres, N’dayu mentioned reggae, afrobeats, lofi music, neo-soul, jazz fusion, and traditional jazz. They also enjoy hearing instrumentals from producers like J Dilla, or listening to Erroll Garner, who she called “a lovely pianist.”
Their list of current inspirations is just as numerous. “I grew up listening to Lauryn Hill, a ton of rappers, Erykah Badu, Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, and Deangelo. All of those influences come out without me even thinking about it, and sometimes, I’ll be listening back to recordings and I’ll be like, ‘Wow that sounded just like so and so growing up.’”
When asked about one of their favorite experiences performing, N’dayu cited an experience with MNGLW (Moon Glow), a band they formed with friends on-campus. It consists of N’dayu, Isaac Byrd, Nathaniel Coben, and Max Grossman. N’dayu believes the band has been growing both as individuals, and a group sound.
Elaborating on that experience, it happened when the group opened for Madison McFerrin, which she called “a lovely opportunity.” They later spoke more in-depth about getting lost in the experience of performing. “Something happens where I just surrender to the music. Like the deeper we go, the more I go with the vibe and don’t think too hard about it.”
As they would put it, N’dayu would close their eyes, smile and go to a happy place. It feels sunny, warm, and leaves them completely free. “A completely open vast sky that feels like the universe and infinite possibilities.”
Was this collaborative recital with Nash McBride intentional? “It just kinda happened. I selected my date, and then Nash was like, ‘I also selected that date — do you wanna just do a joint recital,’ and I said yes.” Despite this, N’dayu believes she could not have done a recital like this with anyone else.
Although N’dayu mentioned their chemistry quite a bit, their recitals were relatively independent of one another. “We’re not actually in each other’s recital. So I’m gonna go before him, and then he’s gonna go after me. I’m gonna do my five songs, and he’ll do his X amount of songs.”
“We’ll be sharing energy, we’ll be in the same room, we’ll be in the same space, and we’ll be supporting each other,” N’dayu confidently asserted.
Winding down from our conversation, N’dayu offered words of advice to others. “For all who have come or have not but are reading this article. I would like to share the energies and frequencies I’m meditating on to you. I want to let you know that things may not always feel certain, and you may enter spaces where you really don’t know WTF is gonna happen. But I would say do the next right thing. Literally, in this present moment, if you don’t know what to do, do the next thing that feels right. That’s something that a really good friend told me in the past that has stayed with me.”