Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Ambika Nayak: Paving the way for future pop stars

From her first gig at a party in Mumbai in 2017 to playing at the Nariyal Paani festival in Alibaug with her then band, Kayan—her stage name—has come a long way, and commands over 70,000 listeners on Spotify monthly

Naini Thaker
Published: Feb 17, 2023 11:11:12 AM IST
Updated: May 31, 2023 05:40:12 PM IST

Ambika Nayak: Paving the way for future pop starsAmbika Nayak Image: Mexy Xavier; Light painting: Neha Mithbawkar & Hemal Patel; Assisted by Zeal; Stylist: Divya Gursahani; Outfit: Pantsuit: Deme Love ; Jewellery: Misho desi; Boots: Louboutinworld

Ambika Nayak aka Kayan | 25
Musician, DJ and Model

Ambika Nayak’s childhood was filled with music, art and dance—her mother a Hindustani classical vocalist and grandmother, a Kathak dancer. She would attend her mother’s concerts or tag along with her for art shows. It was almost as though she was destined to eventually take up one of the art forms professionally.

“First, I started learning Bharatanatyam, and my mom suggested I take up Carnatic classical music as well. Initially, I didn’t like my singing classes, but in retrospect, I’m glad that kind of classical training happened. It has left an impact on all the other forms of music I’ve learnt,” recalls Nayak, who popularly goes by Kayan.

It was only a few years ago that Nayak met a lot of music artistes, and took up music professionally. In 2016, she started studying a contemporary western music course at the True School of Music, Mumbai.

From her first gig at a party in Mumbai in 2017 to playing at the Nariyal Paani festival in Alibaug with her then band, Kimochi Youkai, Nayak has come a long way—starting at less than 500 listeners a day, she now stands at 74,000 monthly listeners on Spotify.

Also read: Anuv Jain: Turning memories into music

“Ambika has broken out of the mould and is paving the path for pop stars in India, a path that comes with a lot of hard work, extreme criticism and pushbacks from many. She has managed to stand tall and has had many landmark projects to her credit,” says Padmanabhan NS, artists & label partnerships head, Spotify India.

Apart from playing as a DJ at gigs across the globe, Nayak also debuted her live performance at the NH7 Weekender in 2022 and continues performing at large-scale music festivals, including Lollapalooza India. When asked to pick between DJing and performing live, she laughs, “It’s a question I don’t have an answer to, they are both different experiences and way too much fun. The plan is to continue doing both, and getting better at it.”

View the full list of Forbes India 30 Under 30 2023 here

In 2022, not only did she become a Spotify Radar selection, but was also a part of the YouTube Foundry—a global artiste development programme that focuses on discovering and supporting talent around the world. Kayan was one of two Indian artistes among the 30 picked from various genres across the world. “It was a great feeling, because so many artistes that I listen to, like Dua Lipa, have been a part of this programme,” adds Nayak, who is also a model and an actor.

Ambika Nayak: Paving the way for future pop stars

Nayak’s music, mostly pop and R&B, is inspired by everyday life. “Every song of mine has, in some way, been a catharsis. Though I feel I’m a great communicator, there are still some things that I can sing, better than I can say.”

(This story appears in the 10 February, 2023 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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