In Talks With CKay: Storytelling Is Very Key For Me, I See My Music As A Diary
4 Dec 2021
If there is one artist you ought to remember as 2021 comes to a close, let it be CKay.
Despite being in the industry for more than five years, CKay’s recent global takeover has been extraordinary to witness. Boasting over 30 million monthly Spotify listeners, the Nigerian artist dominated this year’s charts with previous single “Love Nwantiti”. Proclaimed the “Most Shazamed Song In The World”, the anthem went stratospheric across Tik Tok and has amassed a whopping 7.4 billion views in the last 7 days. If that’s not impressive enough, the young star has just nabbed himself a MOBO Nomination for Best African Music Act! The UK’s most prestigious celebration of Black Music and Culture, it’s an incredible feat for an artist who is merely at the start of his music journey.
Nicknamed Africa’s Boyfriend, his music drips with a vulnerability that had yet to be explored within the Afrobeats genre. Recent singles “By Your Side” and “Emiliana” are fine displays of CKay’s unique “Emo-Afrobeat” sound. Light airy vocals blended with his romance-leaning lyricism, CKay pulls his listeners into an ultra-dimension forced to confront their own hidden love affairs.
Recently I got the chance to chop it up with CKay over Zoom about his MOBO nomination, the art of storytelling, African parents and what exactly is Emo-Afrobeats?
There was a quote from you that I came across. You said in a previous interview, ” I am Africa’s boyfriend, because of the music that I made. The predominant thing in my life is love” What do you mean by that?
People make music or people make art about what’s important to them, the predominant theme of their life. So for me, I feel like the one thing I have a passion to talk about is my relationships. That’s what I feel like I have to give to the world. I’m African and make Afrobeat music, I make “Emo-Afrobeats” music and at that moment, that’s the role I played to the listener as Africa’s boyfriend. I’m a boyfriend telling a story from the perspective of a boyfriend and basically, that’s it.
Touching on Emo-Afrobeats, I have often seen your sound described as Afro fusion. Would you say that’s an accurate term to use in describing your sound?
I feel Afro-fusion is a very broad word, Afro-fusion is not the genre. Afro-fusion is like a phrase that was coined to describe music that had Afrobeat derivatives basically but fused with other elements from other genres, you know, so Emo Afrobeats is technically Afro-fusion, but it’s more specific. With my music, I put a lot of my emotional energy into it, I’m a Cancer so emotions are a huge part of who I am. So I basically put all that energy into the music. Afrobeats is predominantly rhythm-based but for me, I’m heavy on melodies and emotion so I like to put all that into the music hence Emo-Afrobeats.
Your lyricism is often very intimate. Have you ever felt unsure about revealing that side to your fans? Because I know for some artists that’s quite a sensitive issue as in revealing so much of oneself to pratical strangers.
Well, um, yeah sometimes, I feel like, basically my music is me showing people sides of myself to be fair. It involves vulnerability and being willing to open up everything but yeah, that’s basically what it is. I express myself with my music, I talk about my relationships, my love life and my experiences as they happen. People basically connect with that. So that’s basically the model, it’s me telling my story and people connecting.
Is it true you first started off as a producer and then gradually transitioned to becoming an artist?
I actually didn’t start as a producer, I was always an artist. Before I moved to Lagos, I was in a group of three and we were really popular back then. We’re independent, we didn’t have a radio, we didn’t have tv or any of that. We still did a show and sold out the show because we had like underground buzz and everything. Then I moved to Lagos and basically, a huge part of my master plan was producing to keep the lights on for a while till I got my deal. So that’s basically what happened. I wasn’t a producer with transition, I was always an artist.
I remember you saying in regards to your parents how they weren’t too sure about your musical ambitions. How did they feel about the move?
They weren’t having it! My parents were not happy that I ran away. After a month of running, I came back and had a face-to-face with them and explained things again. You know, because before I left, I did explain things, but they just didn’t seem to hear me. So after the move, I came back and we had the conversation. When I had that conversation, there was lots of mutual respect and understanding from both sides and I would say from that moment, they kind of supported me at least mentally and Yeah, the rest is history.
What advice would you have for Nigerians who are in a similar boat? Because for my parents, I know it was always either lawyer or medicine.
I think first of all you have to be sure yourself on what you’re doing. You have to be good at what you’re doing because if you’re not, how do you even make a case for yourself? Like, you know, you have to have an argument. Are you good at this? Is there evidence that you’re good at this? Are you passionate about this? Have you seen the career model for this? Before I became an artist, I already understood the career model. I understood the ways artists make money, I understood everything about the industry before I got into it. So I wasn’t just a young kid, making a blind choice, I knew what I was walking into. So basically in whatever field you are in, as far as convincing your parents or convincing any other person for that matter. In your journey, you will convince more than your parents, you have to convince a lot. A lot of other people along the way that will help you in the journey. I feel all that just comes from you knowing what you’re doing and understanding what you’re doing and being passionate about. Be brave!
Yeah, you even have to convince yourself sometimes because as a creative you have them moments of doubt that plague you.
Yeah, I definitely had moments of doubt like I mean, things got crazy. At some point, things get difficult and all that but I’ll say keeping my eyes on the prize is what kept me going.
Things are even crazier now after seeing the global success that Love – I never pronounce this right even though I’m Igbo myself you know.
Yes Nwantiti ahh I’m disrespecting my parents right now.. But yeah a song that was written in your living room just two years ago and now we have literally just seen it explode. How did that feel?
Man, I felt good. People ask me this question all the time and when I tell them I felt good they look disappointed. They probably expected something else..
We’re supposed to see you screaming and shouting: Yes finally recognise what I’ve done!
[Laughs] Yeah but that’s not how I be though. I mean, I probably screamed inside but I actually always thought of the record doing this to be fair. It’s not a surprise to me it’s just, I didn’t know it would happen in the manner it happened. That it was going to be a bootleg remix from a DJ in Mauritius and then we would have to reach out to reclaim the remix then it would go number one on Shazam and then go on Tik Tok. I didn’t know that was the route it would follow but I always knew Love Nwantiti was a global record from the day I made it.
This reminds me of that saying – ” When it’s yours, It will be yours”.
But I want to pivot into like your recent works, new single out called Shakara with Ice Prince.
That’s his single but I feature on it.
How did that come about?
Um, basically shakara means um [pause] I don’t know how to translate it in English. It’s like playing hard to get basically so yeah, that was a song by Ice Prince. He was my former label mate and yeah we linked up to make that song. I’ve got new music of my own coming soon, my single “Emiliana” and “By Your Side” featuring Blxckie. Two new songs dropping this week actually. Crazy, I can’t wait for people to hear them and I’ll be dropping my album. My first album next year, early next year.
Do we have a title for it yet?
I do but I can’t say the title yet [laughs]. Don’t worry, me I personally like surprises so I feel like you will like surprises too. So when I announce it, when the name comes, when everything comes is going to be at the right time. I feel like I’ve released a couple of EPs and it’s time to give you guys the first album, I’m excited for that. I also will be going on tour next year as well.
Will you be coming back to the UK?
I’ll be coming back to the UK, yeah. I just did my first headline show in the UK about two weeks ago it was crazy. So much love so much energy, I can’t wait to come back to do a second one, a bigger one.
With your project next year, I have two questions. First one is in regards to your previous short film Alien. That was a great introduction to you as an artist, not only in terms of your vision but also in terms of actually your fashion as well. Will short films become part of your of your catalogue as a lot of artists right now ain’t going into the short film route. It would be interesting to see an artist like you do that.
Yeah um, well, let’s just say for this project. Storytelling is very key for me, I see my music as a diary. I’m talking about my life but the difference is it’s on an mp3 for people to listen to. So I’m going to tell my stories with visuals as well as the music in very interesting ways. Could be a film, a music video, it could be all kinds of stuff, but just know that it’s gonna be very interesting and you will love it.
Now, I know you said can’t reveal much about the project but I’m still gonna ask this question. In your previous EP, Boyfriend, you’ve got a couple collaborations that I really liked, especially with my girl Amaarae. Can you even give me a snippet of who I could see on the project next year?
I can’t actually cause I’m just very big on surprises [laughs]. You know, I want people to get the music and be like “omg”, you know. If I tell you everything about the album right now, I mean, what fun is that?
You know what, you’re right, I’m just getting ahead of myself.
[Laughs] Don’t worry, it’s gonna come at the right time.
How did you feel about your MOBO Nomination for Best African Music Act?
Yo, that felt crazy. Like I literally just woke up one morning and saw it. It felt really good Because the MOBO’s is a prestigious award. A lot of great people have been nominated for the MOBO’S and have won the award. So yeah it felt good to be nominated and acknowledged by them. Fingers crossed!
How do you feel about the relationship between Britain and the Nigerian music scene right now?
I feel like it’s meant to be you know, because Nigeria was colonized by the British anyways [laughs] but I feel like there’s always going to be that link. Music that we love here, the UK also loves it. Music that the UK loves, we also love it here, you know lots of people are saying Adeola here [laughs]. There is a very interesting relationship between the UK and Nigeria. Yeah, it’s something I love.
Would there be one British artist that you would be like yeah I’ll like to work with them.
Um, in general, I would like to work with Adele and Stormzy.
My final question is a question that I love to ask anyone I speak to. If I could only introduce you to anyone with just three words? What would I use?
Um, wow. It’s so crazy because this is a very obvious question but every time I’m asked I still have to think. I would say intuitive…hmm what other words… eccentric and self-aware is the compound word so I count that.
MOBO Awards 2021 returns this Sunday 5 December – live stream on YouTube at 8pm. Don’t miss the special “MOBO Awards 2021: Access All Areas”, hosted by 1Xtra’s DJ Target, on 8 December, 10.35pm on BBC One.