Getting to know Bemyoda: the Nigerian Folk Artist
Bemyoda was not expecting a formal interview when he came to meet with me at Omenka Gallery but that was what he got, and he recovered remarkably well. As he looked around the paintings and discussed the technicalities of the interview, it was easy to tell he was used to carrying himself with class and was already becoming used to fame, but who, it is safe to say, would remain humble.
Bemyoda is a singer-musician with an eclectic mix of styles and sounds, of which folk, soul and pop are easily the most distinct.
Tell us a little bit about you…
It seems like such a simple question, but it’s one of the most difficult ones to answer, because I don’t know where to start from. Maybe I should go this way…I studied Civil Engineering and worked in a bank for a couple of years, but I’ve been singing for a long time; from when I was a kid up to when I was a teenager. All the while, I was working and in school, I was singing on the side.
Besides music, I write as well. I also have a consulting outfit in digital marketing.
So when did you start to sing?
I can’t say what age exactly. My dad was in the choir.
So you come from a musical background?
Well, if that qualifies as musical…fine. He used to sing in the choir and teach us kids the choir songs at home. I don’t remember exactly what age I was when I started to learn them, but I remember the first time I sang in church with my sister. We were so timid, nobody could hear us! (laughing). The first very clear memory I have of singing in front of people is when I was 14.
When did you decide you wanted to be a singer?
At some point, when I was at university, I had a friend I used to sing with. His name was Daniel. Was because he is late. We formed a group, when I was in my fourth year and we were going to start recording together. At that point though, it hadn’t become completely clear that it was what I wanted to do, I enjoyed it and I wanted to do more of it. When Daniel died in 2010, I decided to focus on it. Before then I hadn’t seen myself doing music alone. I was more comfortable in a group, because for me it was part of hiding myself. I didn’t see myself alone on stage with people paying attention to me. Singing alone was like pushing myself to new levels that I hadn’t ever been on.
Always is a song I wrote for him. And Shima Yam was the first song I decided to do by myself. I wrote it after him.
The quality of the production of Shima Yam is so good. Did you have a lot of help with that?
I wrote Shima Yam in the studio with two friends, Amos and Sammy. We were just playing around when Sammy started a progression on the guitar, then I started to write Shima Yam while Amos did the initial production. But I felt it could have been better and so I started to work with Jeremiah Gyang.
When Jeremiah Gyang heard it, he was like, “Oh let’s do something.” But it took such a long time to come out and before I got the files back from him, someone introduced me to Laitan, who did the version you know. He built on what we had done and his production quality was quite good. By the time it came out, the response was, “Oh wow, where did you do this? Who did you work with?”
Let’s talk a bit about Shima Yam, because that’s one of my favourite of yours…and it is in your language, which is…Tiv?
And I think you said it meant my heart?
Shima is heart and Shima Yam is like my heart.
What’s your writing process?
It’s different, it depends on how it comes to me. Sometimes I get everything at once. Everything meaning, I get the melody and the lyrics at the same time. Some other times, I get the melody but it takes a while before the lyrics come. Sometimes I’m sleeping and it’s like I hear a song in my dream and I wake up, and it’s already complete. Sometimes it takes five minutes, other times it takes two months. There’s no one process. It happens differently at different times.
Do you censor yourself; for example, is there something you want to write about, but you’re not sure how it will be received by the Nigerian audience?
Definitely. I didn’t used to do that, until I started getting some kind of feedback… You might mean one thing but when you write it, people might misconstrue it. So you just write as clearly as possible. It doesn’t mean people won’t still think of it however they want to.
If you could make a dream band with other Nigerian artists, who would be in the band?
There’s Myro, who sometimes plays for Banky W. He works with Tim Godfrey as well. That’s where I should stop, you won’t know the other people. But if I were to be in a group of people, I would be proud to be on stage with 2Face, Asa, and Praiz.
How would you define success?
Not money. Even though, money is sometimes a bi-product of success. But success for me is getting as much appreciation for my music as possible, and sharing it with as wide an audience as possible; travelling, getting acceptance, talking about it, talking about my life though my music on as big a scale as possible.
It’s a weird question, because if you ask anyone, what success is, he would say, oh I want to win a Grammy. But there are many good artists, or good singers and song writers who never win anything.
So where is your music available?
Right now, on my website – bemyoda.com and then on Sound cloud.
You are a musician in the Nigerian market with your own style. Do you sometimes feel disillusioned because your music is different from what is currently offered as mainstream?
Disillusioned is not the word I would use. Sometimes it gets hard. Sometimes you wish that things were easier. Sometimes you wish that it was stuff that a larger audience wanted to listen to in Nigeria. And I’ve had to decide that, this is what I want to do; and if it’s going to take me a while, if it’s going to take time to build the kind of audience that I want, then so be it. I can’t do anything else. I can’t become commercial, according to our definition of commercial. So yea, sometimes it’s hard because you’re focusing on a niche audience and it takes a lot more work, as against just doing stuff and getting it to radio stations, and people either like it or they don’t; and if they like it, you blow.
What would be your advice to other musicians trying to do alternative music?
First of all, you have to know why you’re doing it. You have to be doing it for a strong enough reason to keep you going, whether you get the kind of acceptance you want in six months, or whether it takes five years.
In trying to help you, in trying to advise you, people will try to derail you. They probably don’t think that that’s what they are doing, they feel like they are trying to help you get there faster. But they are not the ones who see what you see and so you have to constantly remind yourself that look this is why I’m doing this thing and this is what I’m doing it for. All of this looks good, and sounds good but this is what I want to achieve.
This will help you stay on track. It will not be easy, but you must focus and ignore everything else.
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