Daily Discovery is a feature that highlights a new or recently discovered artist who we’re excited about. See the rest of our Daily Discoveries here.
Last month we discovered Obongjayar (pronounced ORE-BONG-JAY-ARE), a 24-year-old Nigerian born singer-songwriter now based in London. His debut single "Creeping" is a hybrid of spoken word, blues, soul and hip-hop with a striking video directed by Frank Lebon, and it was a first glimpse into the varied styles and sounds we could expect from a young artist who seems wise beyond his years.
When we spoke I was immediately struck by his modesty. His debut EP Home is eloquent and powerful, revealing an artist with a commanding presence and resilient sense of self, so I was surprised to learn he always worries about the reaction to his music. Obongjayar lives each day as it comes and doesn’t seem to plan ahead—when we talked he still hadn't decided when to drop the EP, which is being released independently. Right now, he explains, "as long as people hear the music that’s fine by me."
Growing up in Nigeria until the age of 17, Obongjayar moved over to the UK with his family to where they are now based in South West London. A couple of years later he left to go to art school in Norwich, wanting to surround himself with like minded creative people in an environment where he felt comfortable. Interestingly, those creative relationships were established outside of university, and life in Norwich allowed him to fully come into himself as an artist.
Listening to the five-track Home EP, what’s clear is his wide range of influences. His vocals flit between emotive spoken word and a rich and gravelly melodic tone, calling to mind artists as varied as Willis Earl Beal and Kojey Radical. The production combines blues, grime, hip-hop, ambient, downtempo electronica, soul and everything in between—it doesn't sound as if it should work, but Obongjayar's debut EP is remarkably cohesive.
"The name Home, it's me finding myself," he explains. "Leaving and coming all the way back to myself." The EP is an introduction to who Obongjayar is as a person and as an artist, exploring and defining his new sound. Listen to the EP below or on his website here, and read our interview below to get familiar with one of 2016's most exciting new artists.
How did you start making music?
I've always wanted to make music ever since I can remember. We didn't have cable at home, so when I went to school, the kids would say 'Have you heard this song?' and start singing and everyone would know it and I wouldn’t. So I'd make up a song in my head and sing it to them, like 'Yo, have you heard this? You should check it out.’ I've always been musical. It's just all manifesting right now really. It’s very cool.
The title track, "Home," talks about you having been gone too long. Is that an ode to Nigeria where you grew up?
It works in lots of different contexts. When I left for university I just wanted to leave the house and be somewhere else. I didn’t want to be at home. Once there I disappeared, didn’t come home for the full three years. No one heard from me. I grew so much as a person, I was completely different to when I left. So it was a play on that, when I came back would people recognize me.
Throughout Home you give the impression that London can be quite stifling and at the same time quite isolating. Is that something you feel you've had to manage since coming back?
100%. I can be a very reclusive person. London is such a big place, you have to have your own thing going on to feel involved. If you haven't got that you are technically alone. I touched on that on the song "Lullaby," saying regardless of where you are, what you're doing, or who you think you're with, you're still in your own little bubble. London does that to you. Coming from Norwich, it’s different because it’s so much smaller there. In the age of social media we feel like we're a part of something when in reality we’re really not. It’s very superficial.
It feels to me like you're making a comment that society has a tendency to be quite ignorant; we all have our head in the clouds, ignoring things unless they directly affect us.
You’ve really been listening! I don't want to come across as preachy. It’s a problem we all play a part in. The first step in resolving this is acknowledging that there is a problem. Take global warming, it's a hashtag on social media, but very little is actually being done about it. I think that's the problem. We talk about stuff so much like, "Oh man that shouldn't happen," but no one does anything. If we collectively decide to acknowledge the problem and see the effects, then we'll be able to start to create a solution.
I think the spoken word element of your music is really powerful. Can you could talk me through your creative process? Do you write what's essentially poetry and then add melody later?
It's different every time. Sometimes I write the lyrics to a song without any instrumentation, that's where the spoken word element comes from. When I've got an instrumental, that's when the vocals are more musical. Take "Lullaby" for instance, I started writing that without the beat.
The reason it's called "Lullaby" is basically me saying "Go sleep on that." It's like a conflict between my own world and what's going on outside. We all battle with wanting to talk about yourself and what you're going through and also realizing that there are things that are bigger than you. It's the contrast of those two things coming together and then at the end of the song it's like, go away and think about it.
Musically there's different styles, genres and sounds across the EP. Can you talk a bit about the producers you've been working with and how you came to work with them?
Take Lars for instance [producer on "Live" and "Creeping"], I met him in Brixton at a show we were both playing at. I got his contact details and ended up going to his house and the production happened. In terms of "Lullaby" and "Home," I got the beats off Soundcloud. Every morning I go on and look for instrumentals and write to them and whatever works, works. I reached out to Clunk and Earmuffs and they sent me their production.
Who would you say are the artists that you are most influenced by?
I listen to music constantly and I listen to everything. If I get excited about something I rinse it and play it a million times until I hate it. I'm influenced by a lot. Asa, a Nigerian French musician, hers was the first original album that I bought properly with my own money. I'm really influenced by her music. I think the first album I got was a Fela Kuti pirate CD. I'm into West African funk music, artists like Ebo Taylor. West African folk music too. I've also been listening to a lot of Thundercat lately. Ali Farka Toure, Michael Cefu. I listen to a lot of stuff!
Is there anyone you think we should keep an eye out for next year?
DIPS and Scotty XLYO!, everyone from Rhythm and Reason. Also this guy Bijou, he's sick.
Finally, what's in store for you next year and do you think we could look forward to a full length release from you?
Definitely. 2017 it's just me making more music. I love to do it. I don’t think of music as a sport. It's not a competition. I'm not trying to outdo anyone I just want to make music people love and music that has substance. I stopped saying the N-word in my music. Music is something that everyone should be able to listen to and I don't want to degrade myself by using the word on my records. I know my music is going to reach people from all walks of life. I should lead by example really. It’s a conversation that needs to be had. I disagree with trying to reclaim the word, it’s used to degrade people. It's not something to glorify at all. It’s my own little protest.
Anyway... 2017. I'm going to put out another EP and then go and work on an album, however long that takes.
Do you have new music in the pipeline or will it be a case of starting a new project?
I have a new EP I'm working on which is almost done. That should be out early next year. I’m consistently making music, I don't think of it as a job. If more people are drawn to it and enjoy what I'm making then cool. Hopefully people listen to it, but if it doesn't happen that way I'm still going to keep doing what I do.
Obongjayar's 'Home' EP is out now.