Jazz-singing scholar has us feeling good

Tunisian scholar Nayress Ben Gaga showed off her fantastic voice to Chevening at an end-of-term jam session at the Jazz and Improv Society, a student society at Goldsmiths, University of London.

We took the train down to New Cross to meet Nayress, and to find out how she began singing jazz at the age of 19.

‘I discovered jazz by accident. My mum received a present from a friend of hers, which was a couple of CDs of “big name” jazz artists. That’s when I realised that there was something there that spoke to me.’

It was a large gathering at that evening’s jam session, hosted by a local New Cross pub. The size of the audience doesn’t seem to daunt Nayress, who was also a competitor on the third season of the Arabic version of The Voice, a television programme which will be familiar to UK viewers. She sings Feeling Good by Nina Simone, and Back to Black by Amy Winehouse, both accompanied by a live band featuring other Goldsmiths students.

‘When I sing live I feel like home. I feel back home. For some people it’s stressful to be on stage. For me, everything else is stressful. Life every day is so stressful. Before the stage is so stressful.

‘But once I get there, in front of these people, starting that moment it’s just like heaven. I love it.’

Alongside competing in The Voice Ahla Sawt, being awarded a Chevening Scholarship is another recent achievement for Nayress. She won the scholarship to study an MA in Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths, and she’s enjoying what she describes as the ‘liberated’ and ‘free’ studies at the university.

‘People in Goldsmiths are very open-minded. You can approach all subjects without a fear of being politically incorrect, or without a fear of people reacting badly if you say the wrong thing.’

‘Lectures are very approachable too. You can discuss topics with them, or send them your work or questions and then they send you content. People are very diverse and I’ve made friends from all around the world here too.’

Goldsmiths is based in south-east London and Nayress says living in the UK’s busy capital has lived up to her expectations.

‘It’s one of those places that you see on television and in movies and you’re like, “I want to go there!” It’s a beautiful city; very charming. To use British words, it’s “wicked”!’

‘I really like how British people interact with strangers. I’ve never felt alienated here to the extent that I have felt in other big cities.

‘And there’s jazz; there’s a lot of jazz.’