With her feet itching for the unite worlds on the world stage, Teni takes centre stage to chat about her critically acclaimed debut album “Aphrodisiac” and a whole lot of mojo!
Her sound weaves through other dimensions, and plants itself in another paradigm. One that’s filled with soul, sensuality, and hypnotically haunting vocals. With distinctive African influence, an alternative soul makeover, and a splash of contemporary culture, it’s perfectly positioned to hit the main stream …despite the old school vibrations.
Industry insiders can’t help to wonder how this happened…
Did Sade and Fela Kuti have a love child???
“I love the classic, timeless and sophisticated. I am greatly inspired by icons like Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin and Sarah Vaughan.” Teni says.
She was born in London, spent her early years in Lagos , returned to study History at the University College London and African Studies at SOAS for a while too, she drifted back home to Lagos, home of Fela Kuti and the birthplace of afrobeat to start a band and compose her own feminine afrobeat or afrosoul sound.
Being split between two worlds might be a challenge for some, but Teni finds it to be a blessing. “I have always shuttled between Africa and the UK and for me if feels like I have the best of both worlds.” She says. Guess Teni has globetrotter in her DNA. Not a bad quality to have for this Soul Sista.
Teni seized the opportunity to make a splash of it and launch herself at two places at once. A feat most muso’s crumble over. While most conventional artists focus on launching in their home towns, some strategically pick another location, but rarely do people try to infiltrate two markets at the get go.
“It’s been very difficult actually” admits Teni. “… like being caught between two very different worlds. I lived in Nigeria for ten years and created my sound there so it was the obvious starting point for me, even though the music I make does not fall into the popular genre of afro-pop. Now I am venturing out into the world through the UK, where I was born and though my sound is more accepted there, in many ways it’s harder to gain access to radio, TV and other media.”
I guess the stage and the competition just got a lot bigger. All of a sudden there you are competing with the next Idol and mirage of wannabees. However that doesn’t seem to discourage Teni at all. Putting her foot down on her passion, must have given her a thick skin. “Coming from Nigeria where the music industry is traditionally a male dominated industry, it is harder for a woman to make it, especially if she’s standing on her own, without male backing.” She adds.
That’s not the only thing she attributes her sparks too “You need to have a lot of self-belief and determination. Also a lot of research and self-education. Having the right contacts in the industry also helps greatly.”
And contacts seem to be her forte. Do you know who her lawyer is? Alexis Grower. He also represents people like Calvin Harris and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin. Guess that puts Teni in excellent hands. Alexis works in the entertainment world and deals with recording contracts, music publishing contracts, book publishing contracts, merchandising, branding and sponsorship contracts, management contracts, agency contracts and copyright related matters. He deals with TV and Film contracts and represents TV and Radio presenters and models both catwalk and photographic.
“I found his contact in an industry directory and sent him my music and he contacted me a few weeks later saying he wanted to represent me, which was amazing. He found my manager recently.” She beams. Having someone like Alexis on her team sets her up to be a tour de force. Now she’s able to focus more on the creative matters of the heart and up her mojo.
“I tried very much to drop all pre-conceived notions at the door. When I first started composing and producing music, for a year I stopped listening to the R&B, soul and hip-hop that had defined my teen years and started listening to just afrobeat instrumentals and fusing it with my jazz vocals, that’s how I came about the sound. It was important for me to create something new and unique, yet somewhat familiar. As an indie artist also it’s important to be creative in promotions, finding new ways to get the music out there.” Teni says.
And in that very cove, Teni tucked herself in for 10 years, wedged between other passions and a career as a Fashion designer; she took to the meticulous task of breaking her sound down, inside-out, and weaving it together into an auditory delight. This is where the real work lived.
“I make big-band music so that was pretty challenging, producing and arranging an album with intricate instrumentation took a while. However for me, the greatest challenge was not having my parents support and being in a situation where I was running a fashion business and not able to give the music my full attention.” She secretly admits. “I would do a few songs and then leave it for years, that’s why the album took ten years to make.”
My favourite part was creating the music organically, everything coming together successfully in the end and receiving a great review from the Washington Post.” She gushes excitably. That was an easy question to answer.
So what’s the aphrodisiac I asked? Teni replies “Something from Africa that’s going to turn the whole world on!” with a twinkle in her eye. She even spilled the magical mix to her elixir “It’s universal, an eclectic fusion of jazz, soul, afrobeat, funk, reggae and the blues, rock even and people from different cultures, races, ages and walks of life can relate to it and enjoy it.” In other words, Razzle Dazzle Allure with a slice of double bass mojo”
It’s refined in the “weather, the spirituality, the people, food, culture” and couture.
“Before I got into music professionally a couple of years ago, I was a fashion designer in Lagos and have a business called the House of Makeda. I had a stage in my boutique where I started doing my first performances. Music was not seen as a viable profession by my parents, that’s why I went into fashion first. I am still very much a fashion designer.” She states. “In fact my fashion business is somewhat on hold for now while the music starts to take off. Fashion is a true passion for me so it’s something I will always do. Right now I am still making clothes for private clients, even though I’ve closed my boutique in Lagos and I intend to build a global fashion brand, once I’ve established myself a bit more as a musician. Look out for the House of Makeda!
Clever Girl! She’s in it to live it. Teni’s on purpose.
“Music is definitely a platform that will enable me to connect with people all over the world in a positive way, sharing my unique experience in ways that might inspire. It also gives me the platform empower my community in a myriad of ways. Soon I might become an ambassador for ONE, Bono’s NGO that fights poverty throughout the world. This weekend in Lagos I am performing at the Lagos AIDS Walk benefit concert. I very much want to help people in any way I can and my voice has given me the avenue to achieve that.” she shares.
Between her vocals and her intentions Teni definitely wears her heart on her sleeve. In the meantime she mind is filled with memoirs of special performances in Ghana, Nigeria, Johannesburg, London. While we moves forward boldly (like a sankofa bird) planning her next move. “I’m looking forward to more touring next year. And maybe sharing the stage with a rapper like Nas, or an icon like Sade.” She winks.
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