Jemilah Photo Graham Hooper

She’s only 16 years old, but already has years of experience with music. Jemilah Ross-Hayes, or just Jemilah on stage, is one of the island’s young talents to keep an eye out for.
“Singing songs on stage is one thing. People can critique your voice. But performing your own songs is harder because everything that is criticised is yours,” Jemilah says.
“I really enjoy performing. There’s a certain pride in having people listening to your music; it always makes me feel grateful,” she says.
In her last year of school at Waiheke High School, Jemilah has many things to see to. She has a big extended family, is involved with Kaleidoscope and sings in the school choir. But she still makes time to jam with friends, write songs and do live performances.
Although Jemilah has been singing her whole life, music really came into her life at nine years old when she started playing the violin and got involved with Kaleidoscope.
“I think my confidence on stage has come from performing with Kaleidoscope. After that I was not only able to perform by myself; I wanted to.”
And then around five years later she became interested in the guitar.
“I taught myself guitar for half a year before I decided I wanted to be good at it. Then I quit violin and started taking guitar lessons,” she says, “It was also about that time I wrote my first proper song.”
Jemilah has notepads full of songs, more than she can count. The first few, she admits, were however very simple like ‘we go up, up; we go down, down’. But they were written when she was not very old. These days, she writes songs with messages.
“It could be experiences from other people’s lives or from my own. The messages are often that there are better things ahead and that you should believe in yourself. It’s about hope.”
Songs are personal to her, sometimes too personal. “It’s hard to want to share your own experiences. I have written a few songs that are way too close to me and so I can’t perform them. I would feel too vulnerable for criticism.”
Not that Jemilah is afraid of constructive criticism, quite the contrary. She knows that “if you want to be an artist, you just have to get over yourself and use the critique to become even better.”
The songs Jemilah does write and share cannot be put into one simple genre. She likes to describe them as “singer-songwriter, acoustic, low key, pop or indie” and says that she is influenced by Ed Sheeran.
“There is so much bad music out there, but Ed Sheeran writes good lyrics. I think it’s inspiring that he still writes about the scary stuff. It’s like he stays true to himself.”
Each new one a little better than the previous, Jemilah keeps writing and performing her own songs. “The best thing about being on stage is how you can move the audience. When people you don’t know come up after a show to tell you that your music impacted them, that’s awesome”, she says.
“One time, I was one of many artists at a gig at the library. After playing, Nikki Ngatai came up to me and asked if I had any CDs she could buy. I didn’t, but that was really cool,” Jemilah beams, “she’s like Waiheke famous.”
She dreams of making money from her music one day, but does not know how she feels about the fame that often comes with it.
“I’m not sure if I want to be famous,” she grins. “Maybe just small town-famous.”
Recently, you might have seen Jemilah at Arts After Hours in the pre-Christmas weekend, at Smokefree Rockquest in town, at the smaller venue the Sand Shack, on the big stage at The Bay for the second Sun Sets festival, or busking outside Countdown.
If you have missed all of the above but would like to hear her perform, Jemilah is playing at Wild On Waiheke, Wednesday 25 January from 4pm to 6pm. The show is free.
To read more about Jemilah, go to her Facebook page or listen to her music on • Emma Haas

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