Tay Iwar. Photo: Terna Iwar.

Tay Iwar Is Nigeria's Hidden Gem

In a rare interview, the reclusive Nigerian singer and producer talks in-depth about writing and producing his new EP 1997, his forthcoming album Gemini and Nigeria's 'Alté' movement.

Tay Iwar wants some space. The word is the title of one of three songs on his new EP and also one that comes up during our interview, conducted via voice notes and texts on Whatsapp from his base in Abuja—a long way from Lagos which remains Nigeria's music hub.

The choice of the nation's quieter capital over the bustle of its music metropolis is a deliberate one for Iwar and one which fevers his reputation as a recluse and cult figure in Nigerian music circles. This especially happens among the subculture referred to as "alté"—an abbreviation of the word alternative which is used to denote the independent movement that is free from the flash and perceived vacuity of afropop. Precise definitions of the word vary but common denominators include introspection and melancholia, as well as trap and R&B.

Iwar's debut project titled The Passport (2013) was followed by Renascentia (2016) after which he released the impressive singles "Don't Do It Issa" and "Video Star," and a number of collaborations that include "LITT!" with AYLO and "Candy" with Lady Donli. Released in August, 1997 is his latest effort—an EP of three songs that are meant to whet appetites for his forthcoming debut album.

At just over three minutes, "Space" sounds bigger and more expansive than its length would suggest, on account of the slow jangle of trap snares and a hollow bounce often filled with rapping drums. The song's chorus—"leave me alone, space is all I need / to get away, away with all my dreams"—is a simple request for solitude from a spouse, friends, ideas or any restrictions, for that matter, as each featured artist interprets it in different ways.

Asked if the expressed sentiment is from a specific reference or a general desire to be left alone, Iwar says, "the most recurring desire I had at the time [of writing the song] was just to be left alone. Every artist has a phase or those several phases where they just feel like 'fuck everything, fuck all of you.' I just want to be on my own to chase some dreams. I felt like being on my own will somehow help me understand myself better."

The plea becomes existential and one that most people have felt and sought and cherished in life. It is quite a delicate feeling and a breath away from pity or insecurity or weepiness. Iwar starts out singing the hook in his delicate falsetto after which Santi comes in with his inimitable combination of patois, in a trap cadence, embellished with falsetto ad-libs that convey lyrics that are by turns cryptic and imagistic: "I got demons and the running to the attic /I got bitches and they feeding me they habits Its a madness / Man I do it one time for the bandits /50 more, we got the keys to Atlantis /But you know I had to pull up with my Gladys."

Preye, the second guest on the song, is a newcomer who spent a year interning at Iwar's Bantu Studio in Abuja and for whom he's produced a handful of songs. While Santi ladens one image over the next, one line in Preye's verse—"only getting to know me and what makes me happy / I am a complex entity made from gasoline and spice"—is strong and memorable for what would seem like an incongruent mix, but one which Iwar says is the perfect description for Preye's singing and personality and for the "tone she sets in a room. She's explosive, her voice too is strong, a voice from church."

Tay Iwar. Photo: Terna Iwar.

If "Space" is self-centered, "Sugardaddy" is altruistic. It is about a girl who is "looking for a sugar daddy, late night in the garden." The theme of a seemingly rudderless woman in search for materialistic satisfaction is an old one that rarely veers from being patronising, however empathetic. The part where the woman in question chooses to pursue her plans in dim lights and on verdant grounds is what gives new fizz to a subject that has been exhaustively portrayed in song.

Iwar says the garden in his song is about "impure wants and impure desires born out of brokenness and just being used. Born out of suffering in silence."

The trap bounce and staccato snares that define the beat on "Sugardaddy" is broken by Odunsi who emphasises, in Yoruba, the song's theme in his feather-soft voice. Iwar produced the song and recorded his parts leaving out parts for Odunsi who he says "caught the vibe immediately." Iwar says he chose Odunsi to guest on "Sugardaddy" specifically because they are both aware of the "angels we have in our community" as well as the "hustle that goes on in Lagos."

Whether to refute or anticipate any accusations of being paternalistic, Iwar quickly adds that "'Sugardaddy' is not a song of judgment. It's more of a report. It's journalism. It's me observing my environment and telling the truth of the environment".

The strength in Iwar's singing voice is most apparent in the third song on 1997, "Miracle Girl," and it's only two components—lyrics and guitar—are from two separate, real life origins. He'd overheard a guitarist-friend playing the chords and immediately recognised its potential. The lyrics, says Iwar, is an edited piece of dialogue between him and an ex-lover who had given to him "terms of conditions for love" that says she would not try to love again if she loses him, a testament of affection that bounds one as much as it reassures. "Songs are like memories" says Iwar and "Miracle Girl" is one such captured moment.

The three songs that make up the 1997 EP are meant to foreground, Gemini, Iwar's debut album planned for release before the year runs out. The EP itself came out the week after "A Study of Self Worth: Yung Dxzl", MI's career retrospective album titled for which Iwar produced and mixed four songs, and featured on two, recorded at his Bantu Studios in Abuja. Iwar recalls the experience as a singular one: "I don't even know if he wrote it (his verses), to be honest, I just know I was recording his words at some point. The verses just came like it was more conversation. It was so enlightening, the whole process."

As for the continuing debate about the term "alté," Iwar's response is terse but definite: "over time it is going to be a vague description of something dope and unique".

News Brief
Photo: Getty

Here's What You Need To Know About The Political Unrest In Sudan

Thousands have been protesting the Sudanese government over the weekend, supporting the military's plans for a coup.

Sudan's transitional government is in turmoil as thousands of citizens conducted a sit-in protest against them, over the weekend. A group of Sudanese citizens have called on the military to disestablish the nation's current government, as the country struggles with the greatest crisis they've seen since the end of former dictator Omar al-Bashir's controversial ruling, two years ago. The weekend's pro-military protests come as anti-military protestors took to the streets earlier this month to fight for civilian-ruled laws.

Military-aligned demonstrators assembled outside of the famously off-limits entrance of the Presidential Palace located in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum on Monday. Gatherers set up tents, blocking off access to two main intersections, cutting off access to the capital for those inside. Police attempted to wave off crowds with teargas, with Khartoum state officials saying they had, "repelled an attempted assault on the seat of government," in a statement issued Monday.

The assembly was called for by a coalition of rebel groups and political parties that support Sudan's military, accusing the civilian political parties of mismanagement and monopolizing power under their ruling. Demonstrations began on Saturday, but Sunday's gathering saw a lower attendance. According to Reuters, by Monday afternoon, thousands, between 2,000 - 3,000, had returned to voice their concerns. 52-year-old tribal elder Tahar Fadl al-Mawla spoke at the helm of the sit-in outside of the Presidential palace saying, "The civilian government has failed. We want a government of soldiers to protect the transition." Alongside a 65-year-old Ahman Jumaa who claimed to have traveled more than 900 kilometers (570 miles) from Southern region Nyala to show his support.

Protesters are demanding the appointment of a new cabinet that is "more representative of the people who participated in the December 2019 revolution that eventually led to the ousting of former president Omar al-Bashir", Al Jazeera reported from Sudan. Protesters headed towards the Presidential Palace, where an emergency cabinet meeting was being held when they were met by police forces.

Pro-civilian political parties have plans for their own demonstration on Thursday, the anniversary of the 1964 revolution that overthrew Sudan's first military regime under Ibrahim Abboud and brought in a period of democracy that the country still struggles to uphold.

Sudanese Twitter users shared their thoughts online, with many drawing similarities between the current unrest and other political crises the nation has faced.

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