In an oversaturated music industry teeming with young and vibrant acts, Muyiwa Akhigbe is among a cadre of acts bent on standing out. He appears to be playing the long game, constantly exploring the road less travelled sonically, rather than hopping on radio-friendly and club-ready formulas.
After years of experimenting with several other genres, Muyiwa now seems to have found an anchor in what he calls the Afro-futurist sound. This is a fresh genre he stumbled upon while working in the studio with friend and frequent collaborator, BankyOnDBeatz. The Afro-futurist sound is a refreshing potpourri of Afrocentric and western futurist sounds spiced with elements of funk, afro-jazz and EDM.
In his words, it “is a blend of Western Futuristic sound and also Afrocentric sound. When I mean Western, we are taking elements from EDM, House, and a little bit of their contemporary Pop and fusing it with the Afrocentric theme music that we have.”
Muyiwa and BankyOnDBeatz have now gone on to release four successive joint records that have been received with open arms. And what started as just an exploration of new musical complexities is now slowly building up into a project expected to drop anytime soon. Muyiwa even promises it could morph into something way bigger.
For their last 2019 release, ‘Better’, they caught many off-guard with their promo run. The pair made customized cover arts for fans, industry go-to-guys as well as music influencers which were used as Twitter avatars and headers. This simple but brilliant promo move sent ripples around Nigeria’s Music-Twitter community. Everyone was trying to make sense of what was going on, thereby spiking anticipation for the coming single.
“For ‘Better’ things were different. That song is already one of my best-performing songs of all time. The whole album art thing reduced the stress for me. It made people want to listen to the song,” Muiywa tells me over the phone.
The 25-year-old singer is also a strong believer in the power of collaborations. Just before the string of releases with BankyOnDBeatz, he released a joint project in the opening months of 2019. This was a thematic rap mixtape titled “Conversations” with rising lyricist, Rhye Ali which found Muyiwa exploring a dose of Afro hip-hop.
We discuss this and more in this interview that has been slightly edited for length and clarity.
PGM: Why are you big on collaborations?
Muyiwa: Art is a form of expression and I like the idea of shared expressions. The whole concept of ‘let’s bring our expressions together and see what comes out of it’. Just because it’s art and it’s supposed to be unique. Art is just a journey that we pass through every day of our lives and we don’t know where it would end. So it is me just wanting to experiment with things and the idea of collaborations is one of them.
PGM: So how do you choose the people that you work with? Is there a process or method to it?
Muyiwa: I trust my instincts a lot. I don’t put too much thought into it. If I wake up tomorrow and tell myself I want to do a joint project with someone, shortly after that time the person would just come to my mind and I’d know that yes, this is the person.
PGM: Over your past few releases, you’ve been working solely on your new Afro-futurist sound with BankyOnDBeatz. Why did you decide to get involved with that?
Muyiwa: I am a non-conformist. I like to travel the road less used. In most cases, I’m just unconventional in my approach. I just thought to myself that the way sounds have evolved over the years, I want to be part of the people who have contributed to the advancement of sound as a whole. So threading a new part, trying to mix different sounds to create a new one is also part of that journey. Afro-Futurist music is something that in a couple of years, people would see why there is a need for it. It’s just good for someone to start so that others can continue.
PGM: How did this sound come together?
Muyiwa: At first it was like a coincidence. And then it happened again and I was like, there is a pattern here and this cannot just be some coincidence. So we went back and started doing stuff. Afro-Futurist is a blend of Western Futuristic sound and also Afrocentric sound. When I mean Western, we are taking elements from EDM, House, and a little bit of their contemporary Pop and fusing it with the Afrocentric theme music that we have. The percussion and everything it represents. The Africanness and the chords, the progressions are not normal. Everything that we have laid down has tried to bring this sound out as very intentional.
PGM: Is this all building up to a project?
Muyiwa: This is building up to so many things if I’m being honest. As I said, art is a journey and you just have to keep going through it, experiencing it. Whatever it throws at you, you just see it as a challenge or as a good thing and just keep going. So in this case also, it is not only going to lead to a project. It’s going to lead to other projects and as long as we keep creating and as long as we keep staying true to what we are here for then the sky is the starting point.
PGM: So given this climate whereby streaming has affected the way we consume music. Albums are slowly losing their relevance and sanctity. Do you believe in the sanctity of albums?
Muyiwa: As an artist, you don’t just wake up, or say you just started singing a year before and say you want to release an album. An album for me is that you’ve fully understood your sound. You’ve also understood your audience and you’ve found a way of making your sound and your audience meet at a middle ground. So that when it’s being released, they catch it the way you want them to catch it. If you’ve been able to figure out these three things then you can now say you are ready to work on an album. So it’s a thing of going through the process. That’s why we have stuff like EPs and mixtapes to see what works for you and what does not work for you.
Like I told you it’s just a journey. And even when you do the album, it might not be efficient in those three areas. But then it’s just part of the journey so that the next one can be greater. So yes, I think albums are very necessary. Even mixtapes and EPs are winning “Album of the Year” at the Grammys. It’s part of your digital resume as an artist. It’s your legacy. You’d be known by those things that you put out.
PGM: On your imminent project do you have any persons you’re working with?
Muyiwa – The project is very dynamic. In terms of artists, we only featured one person and she’s a spoken word artist. But there are other features from artists but not like singing and all of that. We kind of picked off some of the elements on “Conversations” into this one that we are working on.
PGM: What and who are your biggest influences?
Muyiwa: I’d start with what. I’m influenced by life itself. Life experiences, the things we see every day, that’s like my first source of inspiration. Abstract phenomenon also. I could sing about clouds just because I feel good looking at them. I’m also inspired by moods. When it comes to what, it’s daily happenings, abstract happenings and my mood.
But when it comes to who, I try to consume a lot. I could get inspired by anyone and any type of music. It could just be the way the drums go on this and I’d be like this is mad, I need to adopt this. But without any argument, everybody knows that Brymo is the one whose music has been influential to my kind of music. There are two songs in my first project “Dear Music” that sounded like Brymo. Basically, alternative music in Nigeria. It’s from the alternative sound and also the alte sound. I try to listen to many of these people and they influence me even sometimes without knowing. Just because I have been exposed to their content, the influence could just pop up.
PGM: So what is Muyiwa doing when he’s not doing music?
Muyiwa: I’m doing 9 to 5 (laughs). I am an art director at an advertising agency so that’s what I’m on when I’m not doing music.
PGM: Are you independent? How has it been navigating this industry as an independent act?
Muyiwa – Yes, I am independent. I am not signed to any imprint but I have mine which I started two years back – OLMA Records. And for navigating, na as the gbas gbos dey come daily na so we dey fight am. Every day, you’d just experience one new challenge that you didn’t expect. But because we love what we do, we’d find a to colter. And once we are done with that, we move to the next challenge. As we keep meeting them, we continue giving them gbas gbos with God on our side and hard work. It has been an adventurous journey and it will still be.