Audio

First Look Friday: The Ethereal Soul Of Mizan

Okayafrica's new First Look Friday series showcases the ethereal soul of Ethiopian/New York-based songstress Mizan.


First Look Fridays have long been a tradition in the Okayplayer network. And it's with great pleasure that we present Okayafrica's very first First Look. For the inaugural installment, we had something extra special in mind. A few weeks back we came across one of the haziest most gut-rattling videos to hit us in weeks. The ethereal ballad in question, "Anxious," came by way of New York-based Mizan. We didn't know much about the Ethiopian-raised soulstress, and we certainly wanted answers. What did she listen to as a kid? Where did she grow up? How has being Ethiopian shaped her music? That was when we schemed up our Okayafrica's First Look Fridays series, which just so happens to come on the heels of Mizan's brand new third single, the 90s R&B nodding "Thru" (which you can listen to below). And so without further adieu, we present our Q&A with Mizan.

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OKA: Where were you born and where did you grow up?

Mizan: I was born in the U.S., grew up in Ethiopia, and came back to the U.S. for college.

OKA: Where is your family from and when did they move to the states?

Mizan: They are from Ethiopia. They moved outside of Ethiopia to escape an oppressive and fascistic political regime that was especially severe on people in their demographic- the politically active youth. They moved to the U.S. around 1979.

OKA: What did you grow up listening to?

Mizan: I grew up listening to my dad's taste in music which, looking back, was phenomenal and eclectic. Simon and Garfunkle, The Supremes, Fleetwood Mac, The Beatles etc. And when I was a tween it was the 90's, so I listened to a lot of R&B and Pop.

OKA: Any Ethiopian artists you're listening to these days?

Mizan: Gigi's self-titled album which was released back in 2001. It's one of my favorite albums.

OKA: How has your Ethiopian upbringing shaped your music?

Mizan: I suspect it's my Ethiopian upbringing that somehow instilled in me a compulsion to only write meaningful and somewhat subversive music. I'm not interested in writing about trivial things because I grew up in an environment wherein there was no place for things that are not real or important.

OKA: At what point in your life did you write "Anxious?"

Mizan: It was as I approached my mid 20's. I felt as though I hadn't met a lot of goals, but neither did I have the desire to live a conventional life, so I felt trapped by the standards that were set by the generations of the past. As a result, Anxious is about the angst of becoming an adult, about recognizing a lot of things that you didn't as a child; negotiating with life and demanding to live it in your own terms and realizing that that's not always the case.

OKA: What's in store for the rest of 2014? Any music we should look out for? Shows coming up?

Mizan: Well, Dark Blue EP, which is my first EP, is coming out slowly. I release a song every month or so. "No Fool" was the first release, "Anxious" is the second, and the next two are coming out within the next two months (both video and audio). They will be out on mizank.com. We are planning shows as well, check back on my website for schedules.

Interview

Interview: Terri Is Stepping Out of the Shadows

We talk to the Wizkid-signed artist about the story behind the massive hit "Soco" and his latest Afro Series EP.

Certain afrobeats songs have made in-roads in international markets and paved the way for the genre's ceaselessly-rising widespread recognition. Among these history-defining songs were D'banj's "Oliver Twist," Tekno's "Pana," Davido's "If" & "Fall," Runtown's "Mad Over You," and of course, Wizkid's "Soco." Wizkid released "Soco" under his label imprint, Starboy Entertainment in March 2018, and the song spread like wildfire across Africa and beyond. "Soco" was an Afro-pop wonder delivered at a time when the 'afrobeats to the world' movement was gathering steam, further cementing its electric nature. The Northboi-produced song was co-signed by celebrities across the world like Rihanna, Cardi B, and Paul Pogba and has accrued well over a hundred million streams across streaming platforms worldwide.

"Soco" was not only a trailblazer amongst mid-2010s afrobeats records, it was also the introduction of the first Wizkid-signed artist, Terri. Just weeks before "Soco" was released, Terri was discovered by Wizkid's longtime producer, Mutay, who saw him covering the song "Oshe" on social media.

Before "Soco," Terri Akewe was well on his way to fame. At fifteen, he had performed at street carnivals in his neighbourhood and, one time, was carried all the way home by neighbours after winning a Coca-Cola sponsored singing competition. Before his life-changing meeting with Wizkid, Terri had a seven-track EP ready for release, as well as a viral song titled "Voices." "One time I was on set with the video director T.G Omori, he told me that 'Voices' was the first time he heard of me" Terri tells me as we settle on a plush couch at his home in Lagos.

Regardless of Terri's initial career trajectory; signing to a label headed by afrobeats' biggest superstar was bound to accelerate his musical journey, and at the same time, cast a huge shadow of expectation on his career, especially given a debut as spectacular as "Soco." With his latest EP, Afro Series, powered by the sensational single "Ojoro," one thing is clear: Terri is stepping out of the shadows into his own spotlight and he is doing it on his own terms.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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