In Conversation with Davina Oriakhi
by Rhoda Adeola
London-based Nigerian singer, songwriter, and poet Davina Oriakhi has been well known for her fluidity and ability to jump genres since her acclaimed 2014 debut single Content. She earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting at Covenant University and a master’s in media and communications at City University London.
In 2017, Oriakhi released “Silence (Father, Have Mercy),” “FSLS,” and “Juju,” all geared towards the release of her debut album, Love to a Mortal. She started the year 2018 with her first collaboration and single after her album, featuring Tim Lyre on the song “Lagos.” A second collaboration followed, with Canadian R&B singer Preyé on the song “Vanity.”
Oriakhi is a singer who does not make music about sweet nothings; instead, every song she writes has a profound meaning. In 2016, she received the Choice Female Artist award at the Nigerian Teen Choice Awards.
In this interview with Omenka, she discusses her motivation, style, influences, and future projects.
You earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Covenant University and a master’s in media and communications from City University London. When did you decide to be a singer, and in what ways have your media and communications studies influenced your music?
I’ve always wanted to be an artist, from the time I knew what music was, to be honest, but I’d say I took the first conscious step towards music just before I moved back to London in 2014.
My master’s in media and communications played a very influential role in my music and my journey as an artist. I studied things like feminism and the media, culture representation and reception, race studies—and the list goes on. My dissertation was “The Representation of the Black Female in Popular Culture.” I analysed hip-hop music videos by female American hip-hop artists, and the research compelled me to view music and the art of music videos through various lenses, understanding the dynamics between sound and symbols, culture and art, feminism and patriarchy, religion and the secular world, and how they all exist together within the art and make it what it is. My mindset began to shift, and that became evident in what I was writing about, and what I felt (and still feel) strongly about.
You have been described as the rare Nigerian artiste that can jump genres at the drop of a hat without losing individuality or sacrificing an impressive songwriting ability, as clearly exemplified by your debut album Love to a Mortal. What influenced this style?
I guess, all the music I was fascinated by as a child came to the surface with my choices while writing.
A few examples would be my love for Disney soundtracks, jazz, and swing came out in “These Feelings”; my utter love for reggae came out in “Silence”; my love for 90s R&B/hip-hop came out in “FSLS”; the production and vocal delivery on “Juju” was a manifestation of my love for Sade and her sound. A lot of those songs were written from silence (as most of my songs are), so whatever came out was involuntary, a result of the cocktail of influences in me.
In a recent interview, you asserted that you do not make music about sweet nothings, but every song you write has a profound meaning. Does this imply that your songs draw from personal experiences?
My music definitely does draw from personal experiences, but on a broader scale, my music draws from whatever I feel strongly about, whether it be love, spirituality, history, politics, mental health, etc.
The 2014 single Content, which was surprisingly well received for a debut into the music world, is an upbeat Afro-fusion song that elaborates on the importance of choosing to be happy and the joy of the little things we often overlook. What inspired the song, and what importance did the French language hold for you?
The song was inspired by the little things that make me happy, from food to teddy bears. I would say my choice of words, for the chorus most especially, was inspired by Omawumi. I love how she incorporates Pidgin English into her music with such style and grace, and I wanted to do that in Content. I love French. I used to be an avid student of the language. I just really wanted the language that I love to be in the song somehow.
In 2018, you released a single with the Canadian R&B singer Preyé, titled Vanity. What is the message behind the song?
Vanity is basically throwing shade on numbers. Followers, likes, account balances, percentages, what-have-you. Going after these things is a race that never comes to an end, searching for something that will never bring satisfaction.
“Tears,” a blend of Afro-pop and soul recently released in October 2019, thoughtfully highlights the often ignored struggles creatives endure. Please share some of these, indicating which you identify with and why.
There are a lot of struggles creatives endure, from financial limitations to the struggle to be noticed, supported, and protected in a cut-throat industry, and everything in between, which weighs on one’s mind. Sometimes it feels like you’re going nowhere, especially when you’re independent and self-funded. It can feel like you’re standing still while the world whizzes past you.
Quoting the lyrics, “This is supposed to be away from us, this is supposed to be escape for us”—when music or your craft becomes the thing that stresses you out the most, as opposed to being purely a place of comfort, therapy, and/or escape, it can be a distressing and difficult space to be in.
An independent creative in this age does not have the luxury to focus on just being creative; we wear many hats, and it gives us a headache.
Which musical icons have influenced you the most?
When I was a child, Michael Jackson and Beyoncé were everything to me. And as far as performance, they are still my points of reference. Fun fact: I watch Beyoncé performances the night before I do a gig. Every single time. Sound-wise, I’m influenced by a myriad of incredible artists, like Sade, Bob Marley, Erykah Badu, Alicia Keys, Fela Kuti, Kirk Franklin, 2Face, Nneka, the list goes on. Honourable mention goes to Ms. Lauryn Hill, who has been a major influence on me, from my hair to my music. From afar, she has taught me that being an artist is a priesthood.
Is there any forthcoming project you would like to share with us?
I’m excited about the music I’m working on currently because it reflects my growth, not just as an artist but as a person, as a spirit navigating through this human experience. In my new project, there’ll be something for everyone. I’m exploring a lot more and working on genuine collaborations, which I am very excited about. But I’d love for people to experience the magic as it comes, so I won’t let anything out of the bag just yet.
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May 27, 2020