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Malayalee-Australian singer, Jessie Hillel, releases 'Santorini'

"I wrote it for my parents' wedding anniversary"

Malayalee-Australian singer-songwriter, Jessie Hillel aka Jhm released her new song, ‘Santorini’, earlier this month. Featured on Triple J Radio, she has performed at Tedx Newzealand, Grand Hall of New Zealand Parliament, Australian Winter Olympics Cocktail Party 2017 and was also the winner of Fed Live Music Competition 2020.

Usually drawing inspiration from Griff, Solange and FKA Twigs, she combines jazz, soul, R&B, pop and classical forms while injecting them into modern productions, delivering songs that immediately feel like old friends with new shoes. 

Dilpreet speaks with Jhm (pronounced Jim) to know more about Santorini, her plans for the future and how her identity as an Indian-Australian shapes her work.

Dilpreet: Congratulations on releasing ‘Santorini’, Jhm. Tell us the story behind the song. Any particular experience that led you to write and sing the song?

Jhm: I wrote Santorini for my parents' wedding anniversary that they celebrated during the lockdown. We wanted to take them on holiday to celebrate but because of the pandemic obviously, we couldn’t, so I really wanted to make the song sound like a holiday.


The track was written and demoed in my house, which was a new experience to me because I had only just got into music production last year - also because of lockdown and not being able to go to studios and work with producers. It’s been such an honour to be able to have the track come to life in a sense by working on it with The Push, swapping all of the midi strings with amazing musicians from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and having real percussion and horns on the track was so incredible. I feel really lucky to have been able to have the experience to have made this track with so many people I admire!


Dilpreet: How did your journey with music begin?

Jhm: I guess from when I started singing, which was when I was 3 in the car on the way to preschool. There was a Jim Reeves CD playing in the car and I memorised the words to one of the songs called Waiting For A Train (it even has yodelling at the end), which made my parents realise I had an interest in music. From there I started taking lessons and from there I started writing and from there I’m pretty much here. 

Dilpreet: How does your identity as an Indian-Australian shape your music?

Jhm: I think it does in every way from influencing it to inspiring it - I feel like as I’ve grown older and tried to be more honest in the things I write, my own identity and thoughts have started to bleed into the things I make more, which naturally is inclusive of India because it’s a part of my environment and a part of who I am. Musically every time we go to India my grandmother always plays Radio Mango in the morning and she also would send me Malayalam songs to learn, so I think that’s been a big influence in my partiality to strings and in my approach to melody writing too. I also love the sound of tabla and chenda and am planning to use them in the songs I’m writing at the moment, so stay tuned!

Dilpreet: What do you want listeners to take away from your work?

Jhm: I hope my songs make people go somewhere.

Dilpreet: Do you think the representation of South Asian singers is changing in Melbourne?

Jhm: Absolutely! I think more and more of us are sharing our art, which brings more visibility to South Asian culture and how beautiful it is. It’s also super exciting to see creators combine traditional and modern to make things that spread joy and can let 2nd gen kids see themselves represented, there is just so so much talent and dedication within our community and we have something to say - it's definitely only up from here! 

Dilpreet: Let us into some of your future projects, where will we see you next?

Jhm: Releasing more music! Playing more gigs! Posting on social media more (I’m so bad with it)! 

Here’s a tiny part of something I’m working on at the moment!

About the author

Dilpreet is the founder of South Asian Today. More about her can be found here.




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