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Saleka, daughter of M. Night Shyamalan, brings her soulful R&B to ACL Fest 2021. But there's a twist

The up-and-coming singer isn’t the only daughter of a famous director making her ACL debut this year.

AUSTIN, Texas — “Holy s--t this is so fun,” rising R&B star Saleka told the crowd as Weekend 2 of the Austin City Limits Music Festival kicked off.

With sparse arrangements, soulful vocals and personal lyrics, Saleka draws from influences such as Etta James, Sarah Vaughn and Amy Winehouse. She grew up taking piano lessons, destined to become a classical pianist, but started honing her singing and songwriting skills as a teenager.

“I feel like it all went really smoothly and flowed together, because all the training that I learned from classical piano I was able to apply to songwriting,” Saleka told KVUE after her set. “It helped me be able to communicate with other musicians, talk about music theory.”

Kicking off the Honda Stage on the first day of ACL Weekend 2 on Friday afternoon, Saleka had the presence of a young artist coming into her own. In true singer-songwriter fashion, ­Saleka introduced each song before playing.

Her set on Friday included two covers – Amy Winehouse’s “I Heard Love is Blind” and “A Sunday Kind of Love,” made famous by Etta James. Her vocals on “A Sunday Kind of Love” in particular had fans hypnotized.

But it hasn’t always been this way. Embracing the attention that comes with greater stardom and performing has been a challenge, the artist told KVUE after her set on Friday.

“I never really thought that I would be a singer or anything. I was kind of focusing on classical music,” said Saleka. “It’s been a process of identifying myself as a singer, and even now I feel like I’m more a musician than a singer.”

All Saleka’s hard work will culminate in a debut album, “Séance,” due out next year.

She couldn’t have done it alone. Saleka’s younger sister and best friend, Ishana, directed three of her four music videos, and Saleka said her art has always been a collaborative effort.

“We’re sisters so we’re really close and she was there during the whole process of making the album,” Saleka told KVUE. “She’s very intertwined with the subject matter that I’m writing about. She knows me really well, so it was a perfect creative connection.”

Saleka’s fourth music video, for her track, “The Sky Cries,” was directed by her father, “The Sixth Sense” and “Signs” director M. Night Shyamalan. Saleka doesn’t shy away from the privilege of having a famous father, but she always credits his influence and support for where she is today as an artist.

“My dad broke that barrier generationally with his parents and decided to become a filmmaker, and I think that broke a lot of boundaries for a lot of people in my family and my extended family,” she said. “My generation and my cousins, we’ve all been inspired by that, and we feel like we can do anything.”

Oddly enough, Saleka isn’t the only daughter of a famous director making her ACL debut this year. Gracie Abrams, daughter of J.J. Abrams, will play the Miller Lite Stage at 1:35 p.m. on Saturday.

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