-Hi Lékan, hope you are well, healthy, and safe! How are you handling the pandemic, lockdown, and restrictions, what has it changed in your life?
I’m doing good. Hope you are too. This year has been truly testing and I’m just trying to come out passing with flying colors. Whatever that means… The pandemic started and I moved from one apartment to another. It was pretty stressful and everyone thought I was nuts like “bro, we in a lockdown. Why’re you moving?”. And then a few months later I got laid off from work. On the bright side, it has afforded me time to reflect on a lot of things, one being music. Music heals everything for me so I feel blessed.
-We loved “Savannah Red,” and “Emptiness,” please tell us more about the inspiration behind your debut singles?
That’s kind, thank you. Writing Emptiness was very personal for me. It was an experience I actually lived through. I don’t think anyone can ever write something so specific without having walked the shoes. It’s like the one time I was listening to Pearls by Sade and she said “it hurts like brand-new shoes” and my eyes lit up. I was like “yooo, when I younger playing basketball and I was growing tall so fast, I had to change my sneaker size often and when I did, breaking into them hurt like hell”. Or when Biggie said “I used to eat sardines for dinner”. I remember being in Nigeria and we had an avocado tree, and there were times we couldn’t afford to spend big on groceries and we would literally pick the avocadoes, whip em up like guac and toss some sardines in there. Then we’d spread it over bread, and that was dinner. So, each time I hear that Biggie verse now, it makes me smile. Some might hear it and be like “I get it”, but there are some who hear it and go “no, I really get it. Like I know that pain in the tone of his voice when he says that. I can feel the hunger cuz I’ve been that hungry before. Like, I have literally had sardine dinners too”. It just hits you different when it’s that personal. So that is all Emptiness was; a personal account of my personal experience.
Savannah Red is interesting. I wrote it while reflecting on this one time I threw a house party and everyone and their mother came. This girl I was dating showed up, and everything you hear in Savannah Red is what happened between us that night. The title of the song was inspired by the color of the light in the studio when I recorded it. I bought out the studio to record and engineer myself, and the studio owner was trying to help me “set the mood” before he walked out. He kept flipping through different lights with some app on his phone and then he got to this orange-reddish light and it was called “Savannah Red”. I chose it to be the official light of the session and also the name of the song.
-How did growing-up between the US and Nigeria shape the kind of music you make, and did you have musicians and artists in your family?
I don’t have musicians in my family. My dad used to play 70s/80s soul and OG Yoruba music. He loved Marvin Gaye. My mom would listen to Nigerian church music. Growing up in both the US and Nigeria has had tons of influences on my sound. My first musical epiphany was when I heard Woo Hah! by Bus. I was in the passenger seat of my dad’s car and I froze as I listened. It was spiritual. This happened somewhere in NY in the 90s. Then the second was in Nigeria, also in the 90s, when I watched the music video for No No No pt 2 with Wyclef on DSTV’s Channel O. I also froze as I processed what was going on. Then being in Nigeria and being exposed to urban sounds of that time was interesting. But of all the sounds from Nigeria, the one with the biggest influence over me is Fuji. It’s like street music for Yoruba people. For those that understand the Yoruba language like I do, you get to appreciate the slang and the swag in how they sing and what they say.
I felt like for a while it sounded like noise to me and it made my head hurt, but then I lived with my grandma for a few years and really learned the language and then I remember this one time in her living room when Wasiu Ayinde came on and it was a mix of joy, happiness, soul, and intellect all in one song. I felt a deconditioning happen in my brain that I can’t explain. For non-Yoruba speaking people, I say imagine hearing the roundness of the voice of Sade, sung by I’m coming out Dianna Ross or Baby Be Mine Michael Jackson, mixed with Future’s ATL slang, with some J Cole and Nas in the middle, all in one song. The effect is one moment you’re feeling joy and dancing like there’s no tomorrow, the next moment you have this look on your face like someone stole your lunch, and then you go from that to feeling dumbfounded and you’re sitting on a chair with blank stares, trying to process the wisdom you just heard. That is what Fuji music is like and when I read the lyrics of my songs now, I appreciate where I get it from.
-When did you realize you had a god-given vocal gift?
That’s kind! Umm, I always knew I had a voice but couldn’t quite figure out how to use it until 2009. This is a funny story, but I had wings with blue cheese and I don’t know if it was the blue cheese or if I was allergic to the rub on the wings, but I woke up the next day with my tonsils so swollen that I could hardly breathe, talk less of eat. I had an emergency tonsillectomy done and my doctor said “I’ve been doing this for 30 years and you had the biggest tonsils I have ever seen”. Long story short, that tonsillectomy opened up my vocal cords in a way that allowed me to hear my voice more and figure out how to use it. I’ve been on the grind ever since.
-You don’t appear in the music video for “Savannah Red.” Why this choice?
A lot of people ask me that, and they are shocked that I didn’t ball hog every scene in my own video. I actually appear in one scene for a few seconds, I’m just not the point of focus or dominating it. Honestly, it was more important to me that the story got told without distractions. I felt like my voice was already doing a lot and my presence would have taken away from people feeling the impact of the story’s characters.
-Your incredible blend of past and modern is very interesting, can you tell us more about your vision bridging between 80’s pop, 90’s R&B, and today’s music?
Thanks for noticing. I think time will tell where I go with this. To me, the 80s birthed the realest catalogs of music there are. A lot of musicians spent time in the 60s and 70s experimenting and creating genres and sub-genres, and I feel like the 80s was when a lot of artists said “cool, we’ll take it from here.” And what you got was this buffet of refined sounds from all genres. Music was at its peak. Also, everything was mixed with analog consoles so the tones were warm and real, and they just hit you different. The singers were very soulful and you heard it in their voices.
You also had the iconic Roland synths that served their own purpose. For this reason, I try to embed similar synth sounds into my songs here and there. The blend into modern pop is also reflected in my choice of melodies. A lot of the melodies in my pop songs are inspired by that time. Now 90s RnB to me is just the height of black sensuality in music. You can’t not appreciate artists like Babyface, Whitney, Mariah, Aaliyah, Maxwell, Erykah Badu, and all the others. You felt it in the bassline, the intro, the outro, the tone, the attitude, the delivery. It’s like a whole language of its own. Not every song calls for sensuality but for the songs that do, I like to channel that 90s energy to get my message across. In conclusion, I just think there is a lot of opportunity with today’s music to stay true to the time, and be as expressive and experimental as possible.
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