Lights that sing
As she steps lightly across the hot asphalt, her red dress sparkles under the glow of neon lights—beacons of the Las Vegas stages Kayy Nova knows well.
By day, Las Vegas blends in with the dusty landscape of the Mojave Desert. But at night it becomes the city of lights, the city that never sleeps, Sin City. It is home to the one-armed bandits and the sleepless dreamers who pray for the favor of Lady Luck. While some fall under the spell of the casino games, others find themselves enraptured by the displays of tigers, magicians, and dancers.
And what do Las Vegas’s forty million annual visitors have in common? They all revel in this nightly oasis, a mirage of fortune and an escape from daily life. Fantasy is what this city thrives on. After all, it’s a city that doesn’t actually produce anything of its own—other than glamour and glitter, that is.
But there’s another Vegas beyond this fleeting chimera. A Vegas that appeals to the young blues singer Kayy Nova.
Kayy was born in Georgia but grew up in Indiana—home to the United States’ most celebrated auto race. It was in Indiana that Kayy first discovered her greatest gift: her voice. She honed her vocal talent over the years by singing in a gospel choir rather than through private lessons. Music soon grew from hobby to vocation, and she wanted nothing more than to surround herself with it. So Kayy, her husband, and their young son left their old life behind and set out for Las Vegas without any definite plan. Only the feeling that this was what they had to do.
Kayy is speechless as she stands before the
Kayy is removed from this paparazzi-like attention herself. She flicks back her hair, plays with the seat heating, and hums one of the melodies from her debut album, The Notebook, released late last year. The seven-song history chronicles the ups and downs of life. An eclectic and captivating mix of blues, R&B, neo-soul, and hip-hop sung by a voice that needs no amplifier to capture the hearts of her listeners.
But has Vegas captured her heart? Just about. Kayy Nova doesn’t much care for the widely advertised tourist attractions and pop shows—they’re too artificial, too anemic. It’s the life outside the Strip, just past the mainstream, that calls to her. She describes her new home as safe and child-friendly, with mild winters and hot summers. It is a side of Las Vegas that visitors rarely take the time to see, as it often gets lost behind the smoke and mirrors of the city’s reputation. Downtown, a vibrant mosaic of shops, is Kayy’s personal city center. “Down there, that’s where I perform. That’s where I can feel an honest response from the audience,” she says. “Would you like to take a look?”
Ten minutes later, we roll into downtown Las Vegas, and it’s as if we’ve been transported to a different city—hip, cool, and authentic. We steer through a maze of narrow streets as the first rays of sunlight illuminate the storefronts of shops and cafés opening for the day.
Kayy guides the
There’s time for one last stop with our shuttle. To get there, the
“How beautiful,” she enthuses once we’re back in the
With a smile befitting her last name, Kayy Nova leans back and basks in the morning light. And then a magnificent sound fills the air: Kayy sings one of the songs from her new album. Like the city itself, it is bright and colorful. Like the
By Dani Heyne
Photos by Frank Kayser
The blues—songs of perennial challenge, of sorrow, of world-weariness—are integral to America’s musical DNA. One of its modern descendants is garage blues rock, a fusion genre that is part of Kayy Nova’s repertoire.
Originating in the cotton fields of the Deep South, the blues has since taken on a variety of forms. It may be performed in a more traditional style, featuring strong vocals along with an acoustic guitar accompaniment. More recently, it has also been known to use synthesizers, incorporating downbeats and hints of hip-hop. Throughout the years, legends including Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and Bo Diddley have revolutionized the genre, leading it in entirely new directions. Jimi Hendrix, too, became a poster boy for the electric guitar. Although his colorful headbands remind us more of the huge Woodstock Festival of 1969, which he headlined, it is his charisma and energy that stay with us to this day—a wounded genius who even in death remains immortal. By the 1960s, the blues had become a global phenomenon; British guitarists such as Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Jeff Beck soared on the wings of the blues to become rock icons.
As its name might suggest, the blues prefers the shadows. Its favorite time of day is the black of night—in a world so dark that the only flicker of light emanates from the neon signs of nightclubs.
The classic blues musician is a thrilling contradiction of suffering and coolness. He is a habitué of the smoke-filled bar; whiskey flows through his veins. He has nothing to lose, which makes him the most dangerous and unpredictable of them all. With the break of day, he takes up his instrument and sets off once again, though he does not know where he might be headed.
There are certainly plenty of women who have made their own mark on the blues genre as well. While men cultivated deeper registers and wild outbursts, female blues singers typically offered a gentler experience. But there are always exceptions. Janis Joplin, for example, whose powerful voice has yet to meet its equal. And Bonnie Raitt, who as a young woman honed her guitar skills under the tutelage of old Mississippi Delta pros.
The blues has been telling the same universal stories for over a century now. Stories of forsakenness, of sorrow and challenge, told by souls with no place to call home. This brokenness and vulnerability are what lie behind the appeal of the blues—the art of admitting that one’s life is anything but rosy, yet persevering nonetheless. Melancholy but optimistic. Modern blues has remained popular; the themes of loss and loneliness have not narrowed a broad appreciation for the genre. It is continuing forward into a future that—despite life’s troubles—inspires hope and confidence.
By Ralf Niemczyk