Nigerian Recording Artist Iyanya Speaks In London

Okayafrica talks to Nigerian recording artist Iyanya in London.

Iyanya is the Calabar-born entertainer behind some of Nigeria's most infectious dance ballads, like "Kukere," "Ur Waist," "Sexy Mama," "Away," and "Le Kwa Ukwu," since making his full-length debut in 2009. With two solo albums and a recent collaborative LP with his Made Men Music (Triple MG) label now under his belt, the Nigerian recording artist is set on making waves internationally. Okayafrica contributor Jacob Roberts-Mensah caught up with Iyanya last week in London, where he recently set out on a UK tour with his Triple MG family...

Jacob for Okayafrica: First of all, congrats on the new single ["Mr. Oreo"]:

Iyanya: Thank you

OKA: What was it like filming the video out there in NYC?

Iyanya: I was on tour and found that everyone started spitting the words of the song left right and centre everywhere and we just thought yeah people like the song so let’s just do a video but let’s do something different because we are in the states, let’s take it easy and simple

OKA: Do you have many connections out there in the states?

Iyanya: Oh yeah I’m cool with everybody

OKA: We know that you are trying to break into the mainstream, so what moves have you been making to make this happen?

Iyanya: There’s a couple of songs that I’ve done with Angel and I’m also looking at doing collaborations and productions with other UK artists, like Sneakbo and Wretch 32. I’m just trying to reach out and I believe God that by the end of this year or next year we’re gonna be working with one of the labels over here [in the UK].

OKA: Are there any artists from NYC that you reached out to while you were there or would like to work with?

Iyanya: No not really… In ATL yeah

OKA: Which artist from ATL?

Iyanya: Future…yeah a couple of guys in ATL.

OKA: Were you able to get in the studio with Future?

Iyanya: Oh no I didn’t say I met Future, I said in ATL he’s someone I wish I met. But I met R.Kelly. It was his birthday but we didn’t do anything in the studio, but I would definitely like to work with him on my album.

OKA: Oh wow I think I read that he was one of your influences.

Iyanya: It was a blessing to meet him, and to be at his party it was like a dream come true for me.

OKA: Do you always try to top the success of "Kukere" with every new song you drop?

Iyanya: Hey bro I’m just doing music man, I’m just trying to make sure that I’m out here for as long as I can be. I can’t just wake up everyday saying “my aim is to make a song that beats Kukere,” then I’m just gonna be on that for a long time but if you make good music it will always speak for itself.

OKA: You started off with rap, R&B and now "afrobeats." What made you move through these sounds and genres?

Iyanya: It’s me challenging myself and also knowing that every artist has to be versatile, and the place that I worked too, where I did karaoke, also exposed me to a lot of genres– rumba, salsa, all that stuff. I was singing all those songs, all that Frank Sinatra, Opera and stuff, so I am just ready to do anything right now.

OKA: What are your top three songs to perform?

Iyanya: Okay top three… "Flavour," "Le Kwa Ukwu" and "Kukere."

OKA: How do you find your reception over here in the UK?

Iyanya: Every day I’m adding more fans. More African fans more UK fans… it’s just a blessing.

OKA: What's your favourite city to perform in?

Iyanya: So far... London holds it down. But everywhere I go it’s the same love, but I’m just saying London always holds it down.

OKA: What exactly is your involvement with Made Men Music Group?

Iyanya: I co-own Made Men music with my manager. We have Selebobo, Tekno Miles, we have Baci, we have Emma Nyra.

OKA: Can you tell us about these artists?

Iyanya: Everyone on there is signed and doing well for themselves and they are dropping hits. Selebobo is one of the baddest producers in Africa, and he has written and still writes for a couple of known artists in Nigeria, including myself.

OKA: Do you have a supervisorial role? Produce?

Iyanya: I don’t supervise, we all work as a team. They give me ideas, I give them ideas, we all just come together to make sure it’s a good song/album.

OKA: What was the process like for this album [The Evolution]?

Iyanya: I’ll say shout out to Selebobo on this one because he produced like 90% of this album. Most of the time it was just him saying “oh I did this beat, come and hear it and put a verse on it” which just made things easier for everybody.

OKA: Was there an overarching theme? With a name like The Evolution I thought it had something to do with how you guys are about to change the music industry or something like that?

Nobody said “The Evolution” album was to change the scene. We all said The Evolution album was an album put together by a group of guys that have come together to make history. It’s just what it is. We didn’t put it out to compete with other labels. It’s just us doing our music.

OKA: How long did the album take?

Iyanya: A couple of months

OKA: Where did the name Made Men Music Group come from?

Iyanya: It was me and my manager saying “yo we got nothing right now but we are made still.” It was all a dream and we are label owners now and doing big things.

OKA: What moves do you feel you are making to push the culture of Nigerian and African music forward?

Iyanya: The only thing I am doing is being me, staying original, and working on my sound. Recreating it. Maintaining it. That’s the only thing I can do to represent African music. And also look out for young people that I inspire and say I can help them maybe with collaborations, productions, with lyrics…whatever

OKA: What young artistes have you seen that are good and that you would like to shout out or help out now?

Iyanya: Man… there’s too many… The talent back home is incredible, I don’t want to mention any names right now but trust me there’s a lot of young guys out there doing stuff.

OKA: Who do you study when you're trying to get to the next level? Who inspires you?

Iyanya: Jay-Z because his confidence is just incredible and you have to be a boss to have that kind of confidence. Kanye too, he’s bold and he says how he feels. Ryan Leslie is too talented he’s one of the world’s greatest songwriters, producers, and performers… these are people that I watch. Also Tyrese… doing good with his music and his movies. People like Don Jazzy. I’m not saying that for people like Don Jazzy I know (exactly) how he started, but I know the story. So you have to respect him and look up to him. He is a big brother and he is humble too.

OKA: What are your favourite Jay-Z and Kanye West records?

Iyanya: My favourite Kanye West song, "Good Life" definitely, and my favourite Jay-Z song is "Holy Grail." It’s reality man.

OKA: With guys like Ryan Leslie that’s a very good, but also very interesting choice, just because to the layman he hasn’t dropped anything new. Although he’s still a genius in the studio...?

Iyanya: He doesn’t need to drop anything new to be Ryan Leslie, he is Ryan Leslie. He will always be remembered because he is incredible bro! This guy plays all the instruments, he records himself, he does his harmony by himself, he writes his songs himself he writes hits for other people... what else? He dresses well, he carries himself well, he’s just…he’s amazing.

OKA: Last thing... what's your work ethic in the studio. Are you the kind of person that’s there all the time and doing 5, 6 songs in a row?

Iyanya: That’s me man!

OKA: Or do you drag it out?

Iyanya: I just go in! So many times some songs that you record won’t make sense, but as an artist just never stop recording, that’s what I believe. No artiste has any excuse as to why he should be away from the mic for long. It's your life. It's the choice you’ve made. So the only way you can be better is, “oh yeah I recorded this,” and it’s nice and you play it to somebody and they go “oh so you can actually change this?” That’s how you make hits.

Made Men Music's 'The Evolution' is out now and available on iTunes.

Still from "Kasala!"

Meet The Nigerian New Wave Director Behind the Film 'Kasala!'

One of Naija cinema's new wave, Ema Edosio talks about what it took to film her exciting new film in the streets of Lagos.

Ema Edosio is the director of "Kasala", a comedy set in present day Lagos and centers on the lives of four young men who go on a joyride to a party in a Honda Accord one of them has taken from his boss Taju without permission. Their evening is ruined when one of them crashes Taju's Honda breaking the windscreen and denting the car's body. With just four hours before Taju returns home, all four boys hustle around Lagos to raise money for the car repair.

Taju, who is a struggling butcher, is faced with a big problem of his own: his debtor has just given him an ultimatum to pay back money he's long owed. Bitter and frustrated, Taju's retribution will be double-fold, if he returns home to find his Honda is damaged. The four friends do not need more another reason to expect the worse from Taju if they're not able to fix his Honda before gets home in the next four hours.

"Kasala" is a vivid portrayal of contemporary Lagos and a riotous combination of physical comedy, inventive turns of phrases combined with fluid camera work and committed performances from some of the young and bright African acting talents.

Written by Temi Sodipo and directed by Ema Edosio—who is also the cinematographer and editor—"Kasala" was chosen for the closing gala of the 2018 edition of Film Africa in London this November, out of a total of 39 films from 15 countries.

Edosio flew into London for the film's UK premier at the Rich Mix cinema to a largely pan-African crowd who lapped up the rollicking comedy. Ahead of her trip to the UK, Okay Africa spoke to Edosio about her debut feature, the joys and challenges of shooting on location in Lagos and the rise of Nigeria's so called "Naija New Wave" cinema.

Photo courtesy of Ema Edosio

The fast pace and energy in Kasala is constant all through the film. Was this a deliberate injection or did it come as a result of the writing?

I worked as a video journalist for the BBC and I would go into the streets of Lagos to film, and I would see everything that made Lagos what it is: the traffic, the smell, the dirt, the vibe, the energy, the people. And I wanted to make a story that is authentic and that is the reason why I decided to make Kasala this way.

All the four friends and main characters jell naturally it would seem. How did you get them to work well together?

When I conceived of the film, I knew that I didn't want to work with any "known" faces. I knew that I wanted unknown actors. So I put out an audition call and these boys worked into the room and I told them to read together. And immediately it was like magic.

Why do you think they're largely unknown to the majority of Nigerian movie watching audience?

I think one of the reasons is there's not a lot of movies written about young people. Most of the scripts are for a certain kind of male character: the superhero who goes to save the damsel in distress, and the hunk and a lot of roles are not written for these amazing actors and that's why they're largely unknown.

Tomiwa Tegbe who plays "Effiong" is a good comic actor and has been in "On The Real (Ebony Life TV)" and "Shuga (MTV)". What does Kasala bring out in Tomiwa Tegbe that these other directors and film material that do not?

The thing that made Tomiwa Tegbe and the rest stand out in Kasala is that I gave them freedom to act and I wasn't micromanaging them. They became very comfortable in order to do their best to the film.

The cast as a whole is largely new and young with Jide Kosoko easily the most experienced. Why did you cast him for the role and not yet another "unknown" face?

The reason is I couldn't afford to hire known faces to work in the film and I honestly didn't have the budget. I [also] wanted to bring in a sense of familiarity and that is why I got Jide Kosoko. Even though they're guys are unknown, and they're are fantastic "here is someone you know who is in this movie playing with these amazing actors" which is why I worked with Jide Kosoko.

The different locations in the film are those of back corners, mechanic garages, meat market, communal flats most of which have the red and brown of rust and decay gives the cinematography a visual harmony. How much attention did you give to finding the right locations?

I think I made Kasala with a vengeance. I've had the privilege to work with Ebonylife tv which was beautiful but Kasala kept pulling me in: the people I met in the streets, the things I'd done on the streets of Lagos, the visual aesthetic kept pulling and I decided to make that. I wanted to see Lagos, I wanted to see barbwires. I wanted to see gutters, I wanted to see the people. I knew that the location was a character on its own. And I wanted to be able to find the right location that would be able to represent that boys and the lives they live in Lagos. I'm forever grateful for the people there who let us film there.

Your camera adopts the often frenetic pace of the film and is rarely still for long. Why this visual approach?

I'm very influenced by Guy Ritchie, Edgar Wright, Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese. And I would always say to myself that "these characters in their films can be Nigerians". I think that the camera should be fluid, breathe, move with the audience showing us "oh yeah this is a wide, oh yeah this is a close up". My influence by these directors was what I put into Kasala. And this is what made the film dynamic.

Are there any interesting, unplanned events during shooting which you could share with our readers?

Shooting in Lagos is one of the hardest thing to do. You have these agberos [louts] who come to you and literally want to take your equipment. I went with a very small crew and I'm very petite and they would see me and say "who is this small girl? She doesn't have money. Leave her alone, let her shoot". I started bringing them into the film to act and it was very beautiful seeing them react to it. One of the most interesting things is the children in the estates [on location] who act in the film, the joy and the playfulness. In some ways we brought back some joy and some fun into the neighbourhood.

Still from "Kasala!"

Did you worry much about what may be lost to foreign audiences who may not be clued up the pidgin English and "Nigerianisms" used in the film?

You can't come to Lagos and make a film about the slum in English. I felt like the pidgin English was as important as the location. My mind was not about where the foreign audience would accept it or whatever. My mind was "how do I make a film that is authentic to Nigeria? How do I make a film that would show of Lagos?" It would do no justice to use English.

Who are the other key players in Nigeria's "nu wave" film and tv you would like to highlight?

When you talk about new wave key players you're talking about Abba Makama whose film "Green White Green" inspired me to make "Kasala". CJ SeriObasi, ImoEmoren, Jade Sholat Siberi, Kemi Adetiba. So many new directors are springing out nollywood. And they're new directors making amazing stuff. I'm really really excited about the future.

How did you raise the funding needed to make "Kasala"?

When I wanted to make Kasala, it was not the kind of story people would fund. I decided in order to bring this story to live, to use the skills I'd gained over the years—to produce, direct, shoot and edit. Not because I wanted to be in control, because I didn't have the budget. That is the sport of new director coming in now. We're fighting against all odds and it is now beginning to be clear that it's way beyond nollywood. Kasala has been to over 20 international festivals and counting. And there an audience for our films, there's an audience for our voices.

What are you expectations for it at the festival?

I really don't know what to expect. I just hope that they love the film. For the Nigerians in the diaspora,I hope that it brings back memories of Lagos. For black people I hope it gives them a sense of how we are back home to help them connect with us as Africans. For the foreign audience I hope that they see a Nigeria of passion, of community, of tenacity, of brotherhood of love.

"Kasala" will be released worldwide on December 7th


Indomie: Unpacking a Nigerian Tradition

What does Nigeria's way of preparing this beloved brand of instant noodles say about the country as a whole?

Before I came to Lagos in September to begin a collaborative performance project, I imagined all the ways the place would challenge all I had read and heard about it, and all the ways it might remind me of my home, Trinidad and Tobago. Of all the kernels of similarities I've encountered so far, Indomie is perhaps the most intriguing.

Indomie, a brand of instant noodles originating in Indonesia, has become the household name for all instant ramen noodles in Nigeria.

As a child, I would make Top Ramen, but ours was far less intentionally adorned. I had never seen anyone add anything but Golden Ray. I would try to be fancy with my own and add eggs, but they never quite attained Naruto ramen standards.

Indomie was my first meal in Nigeria. I had arrived in Lagos about two hours earlier. In those two hours I had seen something of the character of the city. In the midst of the clouds of dust and engine exhaust fumes I saw a woman almost fall out the car she was getting into, I saw men sitting atop a truck, like wrinkles in the night sky fabric, I saw selling, so much selling and buying and haggling. It seemed to me that everything was happening here.

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Fela Kuti's 'Zombie' Is Coming Out On Limited Edition 8-Track

"Zombie" and "Mr. Follow Follow" are available in the nostalgic 8-track cartridge.

"Zombie," Fela Kuti's 1976 protest anthem and scathing attack on the Nigerian military, is getting an 8-track re-release.

Knitting Factory Records, Kalakuta Sunrise and Partisan Records have made 300 limited editions copies of Zombie/Mr. Follow Follow which you can pre-order now ahead of its December 7 release.

Fela Kuti's classic song uses zombies as a metaphor for soldiers mindlessly following orders. The song is thought to have triggered the Nigerian government's horrific assault on the Kalakuta Republic, in which the compound burned to the ground, Fela was brutally beaten and his mother, Nigerian feminist icon Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, was murdered.

You can pre-order Zombie/Mister Follow Follow on 8-track now and read more about each song from Mabinuori Kayode Idowu's text accompanying the release below.

Purchase Fela Kuti's Zombie/Mr Follow Follow on 8-Track

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