Get familiar: @Yelamusic88 is making naija music for a global audience

Singer/songwriter Yela has been making music for quite some time but his sophomore album Existence Resistance is a sort of a reintroduction into the superior songwriting and composition that has set him apart as one of the more interesting music talents out of Nigeria. Clout Africa got an exclusive session of ‘Cake’ off the new album and sat to chat with him about ‘Cake’, the protest album that became part of the soundtrack for the 2020 End SARS protests in Nigeria and his take on the industry.

Watch the session here:

You have been releasing music for the last few years but releasing a sophomore album during a pandemic must have been quite a challenge. Walk us through your process for this album?

Going into 2020, I didn’t really know what project I’d be putting out or if I’d be releasing a full body of work at all. I really just wanted a canvas to show my emotional and sonic growth since my first album “Folabi” (released in 2018). I was blessed to have previously connected with this phenomenal creative (Singer/Songwriter/producer) Raldie Young off of Instagram and we became fans of each other’s previous releases. We eventually realized that we lived close to each other so we started experimenting on sounds to see if we could work well together

We did so once the lockdown was lifted in Lagos, I would go to his house everyday and make bits and pieces of what would eventually become my sophomore effort, birth in, and greatly inspired by, the pandemic. It was also a conscious effort to release it in October because I felt like it really didn’t matter, how far the pandemic had limited movement and the ability to connect face to face, people still needed good music to get through the day and escape. I was glad to, in my little way, provide that.

There are very few artists putting out the kind of music you are putting out. Tell us how you are working to make your sound unique?

To be honest, I don’t try to stand out and do unconventional music, it’s just what I emanate. I grew up loving different genres of music cause I was exposed to different types of music. I have always gravitated towards artists that are innovators in their own rights and their individuality can be seen and heard is records they put out. My first E.P. “Gidi + the Undertow” (released in 2016) was so far left because those were the sonic frequencies I was exiting on at the time and I just wanted to express my authentic self.

Overtime however, I work to blend my unconventionality with “sounds of the moment” if you will because it’s one thing to make music but it’s another thing to make conscious music that is relatable. My aim is to be myself but also mirror prevailing sonic elements so there is an effective fusion cause I am fully aware that what I do is art but also conscious that it’s a product to be sold.

‘Cake’ seems especially important given that around the time you released it the Nigerian Youth organized the largest protest in nearly 20 years. What inspired cake?

Funny thing is I wrote “Cake” years ago about the political climate at the time. I remember it was around a certain presidential electoral season. I always wanted to write a political song but I didn’t want it to sound political. I was reminded of the song I had written (and forgot about), when the BLM protests broke out over the killings of black people in America. I watched CNN everyday and was reminded of Nina Simone’s famous words “An artist’s duty is to reflect the times” and so I picked up the song again, reworked a few things and planned an October 2020 release.

Little did I know that I’d be putting it out on the verge of what would eventually be known as the End Sars movement in Nigeria. It made me feel proud to be able to use my art to truly reflect the state of the world around me and how oppression must not be allowed to continue.

What are your thoughts on the Lagos music scene, especially as an indie artist creating experimental music?

First off, I’m reminded constantly that art is subjective and that making music is only 10% of the process. The music scene in Nigeria can be described as “developing” in that global successful music business structures are just beginning to find footing here in Nigeria. It’s even worse for independent artists who dont have the push of say, a major record label but have to compete to be heard and received in the same musical landscape as signed artists.

I think that “The Establishment” should look into developing independent acts for very successful and gainful careers because independent acts have to deal with limitations, (financial being the major one) and Labels and industry juggernauts stay looking for the acts that are on the verge of being the “next big thing” to quickly scramble behind and “sign”. Makes no sense to me cause there is such a deep well of untapped talent that can’t get a fare chance but the systems in place does not support them.

What is your relationship like with the fans?

The fact that anyone gets the music I put out and on top of that, loves and relates with my songs is mind blowing to me. There is so much power in that so I’m honestly in awe of my fans. When my album “Existence Resistance” came out on the 20th of November last year, they went all out and kept on spreading the word actively on social media for what would become weeks after.

I try to engage with them and treat them with kindness because they constantly make my dreams, goals and aspirations come through every day. We talk on social media, some of them have even become real life friends of mine and I genuinely care about them. I respect their passion for my art. It’s a beautiful thing.

What’s next for Existence Resistance, are you going to tour, release more singles off the album?

I would love to perform this record a lot because I had that at the back of my mind, co producing and writing it, last year. A tour would be such a huge blessing but we have to be very conscious of the pandemic and social distancing because we need to be safe to have a good time, always.

I’m gonna be promoting the album with some upcoming twists and turns cause my aim for 2021 is to get many ears, eyes and hearts into what I feel is my best body of work so far. I’m so proud of my album “Existence Resistance” and I want to make sure everyone gets to listen to it and digest what I’ve worked hard on to put out.

What plans for world domination does Yéla have for 2021

I’ve always gotten the “your music is not just made for Nigeria but for the world” feedback on all the records I put out. It’s fair cause I’ve been inspired by different part of the world.

Its also a blessing that anyone, anywhere can literally go to a streaming service and press play on any one of my records so this year, I want to really hone in on that. There is no limitation when you see yourself not just as a Nigerian Singer/Songwriter but a “world” artist literally accessible anywhere on the globe. I plan to use available resources to get my music across borders. I’m blessed that the music is already creeping up in different countries around the world so far, so for 2021, we continue to move.

Check out Existence Resistance and the rest of Yela’s discography here.

Existence Resistance

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