She moved to the UK in 2017 from Berlin, and that year produced and performed a major commission for Manchester Collective. ’Cabaret: A Show About the End of Love’ was a musical exploration of love and loss, weaving a series of stories, letters and poems through an unlikely set of songs, arranged for jazz trio and string quartet. The show was toured throughout the UK, revived for HOME Mcr’s Push Festival and performed live on BBC 3 In Tune. Nishla rejoined the Collective last summer for the Cubitt Sessions, a set of performances curated by Kings Place, London.
In March 2018, Nishla
recorded a debut single, Blue Dream
Nishla is a Manchester-based jazz composer, vocalist and storyteller.
at the old Granda Studios with support from Manchester Jazz Festival. She made an accompanying narrative video, conceived around colour blocked scenes of domesticity rising incongruously from the Northumberland wilderness– it was described by Staccatofy as ‘a sheer delight.’ Following a residency at Sage Gateshead, she formed an original jazz band, the Nishla Smith Quintet. The quintet have performed at Manchester, Lancaster and Marsden jazz festivals, and Vortex jazz club London. In 2019 they joined Jazz North’s Northern Line artist roster, and will release a debut album this year.
In March 2019, Nishla began developing a staged song-cycle: ‘What Happened to Agnes’, commissioned by Opera North’s Resonance.
‘What Happened to Agnes’ tells the story of her great aunt who disappeared as a child in Malaysia in the 1930s.
It features immersive textural visuals by artist Luca Shaw, and a part-improvised piano score by Tom Harris. After development with Leeds Playhouse and HOME Mcr, ’Agnes’ toured the UK in January-March 2020 with support from Arts Council England. The show’s success led her Nishla and her collaborators to form Ulita, a cross-disciplinary collective to create music-driven theatre. Ulita’s second show ‘Sister’ is a two act play with songs, written for two actor/singers and an eight-piece improvising ensemble. ‘Sister’ received a Developing Your Creative Practice grant for its R&D period, and will begin rehearsals at Britten Pears Arts this summer with support from Arts Council England. The show has been picked up for Mercury Musical Development’s BEAM, a showcase for new British musical theatre. This February, Ulita released a digital micro-commission for Lancaster Jazz Festival. Entitled ‘The Secret Elevator’, it uses a blend of poetry, music and visuals to tell the story of a rogue elevator who kidnaps its unwitting occupants, and takes them on unwanted adventures.
In November last year, Nishla was announced as City Music Foundation artist.
She’ll be working with CMF over the next two years to develop the various strands of her creative and performance practice.
Nishla is half of electric jazz duo Night Porter with saxophonist Emma Johnson, who have just been awarded an mjf originals commission from Manchester Jazz festival for their debut project 'Spaces'; and plays in Shrews– a four piece band focussed on contemporary reinterpretation of classic jazz repertoire. She is working on a solo commission for East Neuk Festival: ‘Aether’, a five movement song cycle exploring environmental crises in partnership with St Andrews University department of Earth Sciences.
After a hiatus from performance in 2020, Nishla is working on a series of new shows from late spring 2021. She’ll be performing repertoire from her upcoming album with the quintet, and is collaborating with duo partner Tom Harris on a concert programme blending original songs and lyrical jazz standards with new narrative interludes. Some in-person tickets will be available dependent on restrictions, and most shows will be available to live-stream.