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Funbi, between music and society

Funbi’s music is the expression of his environment, emotions and social backgrounds, it is deeper than just lyrics.

Funbi’s debut EP, Serenade is an unconventional and brilliant coupe to the mainstream sounds in Nigeria. He closed 2018 with the 7 track EP that revolves around love, heartbreaks and relationship. He has been active in the industry since 2016 when he released “Hallelujah”.  

Funbi has worked with the rap duo, Show Dem Camp and he is a member of The Collectiv3. In this interview with PAM, Funbi shares his story, influence and how Serenade fuses different sounds and influences.

I particularly enjoy your fusion of Yoruba, English and pidgin in your songs, is it a conscious decision for you or it just happens naturally?

Music is a universal language, so for me, I felt it was important that my origin and where I am from reflects in the music I am making. I think reflecting your home is also important in music as music is an expression of who you are, your experiences and everything you’ve been through. Sometimes, when I am creating music, it comes to me in those particular languages, in Yoruba and in pidgin, so it’s genuinely how I am feeling in that moment.

You have a new EP, Serenade, why did you decide to go for an EP instead of a full album?

I haven’t put out a body of work before and as suppose to having an album, I wanted to start small first and work on creating a full project. And for me, Serenade is themed, it’s a cycle of relationship and love. There is this thing that happens when you listen to the collection for the first time, it is a cycle that starts from that first track on the project, “Show Up” till the last song. I felt that is important to express that emotion in an EP rather than putting it in an album.

What were you doing before 2016 when you released your breakout single, “Hallelujah”?

I grew up in Kwara State, I was born and raised there and spent the first 16 years of my life in Kwara State and then I moved to Lagos in 2002 where I gained new experiences and see the world in different perspectives, I later went to study in Ibadan and it was there that I got exposed to more music and met people that were also music lovers and then I joined the choir. I was in the choir in Ilorin but when I got to Ibadan, I had people telling me “dude, you can sing, you need to try and do this thing professionally”, so that was when I decided to go into the studio for the first time with a friend of mine and we did a song called “Best of Both”, it was inspired by Jay-Z and R. Kelly’s Best of Both Worlds. I don’t really know where that song is now (laughs) but that was my first effort at recording anything and after that, it became a love affair and I wanted to create more and more.

I happened to be living in the street where someone that used to work for Storm Records was, we got introduced and after that, I met 2Shotz who lived a street away from mine. I use 2Shotz’s studio to record different songs and in 2010 I released a song called “Superstar” that featured Ice Prince. I have been doing music for a while, it is just that there was a point in time that I felt like I was struggling to find my space, to find myself. I had people always telling me that ‘you need to do it this way, you need to do it that way’ but I have my own taste of music so I decided to pause on music for a while, it was basically a leave of absence. I came back when I got introduced to Tec (Show Dem Camp) and we did ‘Remember Me’ together for their project, Clone Wars Vol. 2, that was when I got introduced to Icon, after that, Tec and Icon were like we need to actually work on some stuff for myself. It was during that period that “Hallelujah” came and it wrapped up everything that I was going through. The reception for “Hallelujah” was very great and I felt like we need to bring out something new so I started creating different sounds with Spax who is also a close friend and that was how Serenade came to be.

How important was Lagos to your career then and even now? How did that shift from Ilorin to Lagos affected your music?

Lagos is a very diverse space, we have people from all different sides of Nigeria and people that are not even from Nigeria, it’s a hub of creativity. Lagos is very first paced and that helps the brain to think faster. Coming to Lagos and being exposed to all of these was initially overwhelming for me because Ilorin is calm and slow-paced and the Lagos experience was very new to me. I got exposed to different sounds in Lagos, the city has played a huge part in the person that I have become and the music that I create now and being around creatives here helps to broaden my creativity. I don’t know the kind of sound I would be making if I haven’t met the people I met. I can’t tell you what my next project is going to sound like because I tend to express my current state and experience in music every time I enter the studio. I think if I leave Lagos to somewhere else, that setting will reflect in my music because music is the expression of your environment, emotions and social backgrounds, it is deeper than just lyrics.

There is an evident folky vibe in Serenade, most especially in Voodoo, do you think it’s important for African artists to tap into the past while creating new sounds?

History is important because nothing is new, it is just how you add your influence to what is already on the ground. For me, I think it is very important to dig into the past, if you listen to a lot of music these days, you will hear not just lyrics but melodies that were gotten from old songs and us kind of do that a lot as creatives. You hear something that you are inspired by and you want to create something that kind of reflect that emotion, that feeling that you got from listening to that old song. “Voodoo” represents a sound that I am trying to create, it existed before but I felt like it’s lost in time. It’s Afrofunk, people like Orlando Julius were making music that sounded like Afrofunk that was inspired by James Brown, so I try to create something where I fuse the funk element that’s mainly noticed in the guitar with the Afro element of the drums. I am coming from an R&B background and that means singing on top of that influence, so it is kind of like a connection between different worlds. “Voodoo” is a very important song on the project for me because it’s something new. I am trying to create a different perspective for people to look at African music.

What do you classify your music as?

There is no particular way I can use to classify my sounds. In the EP, each song sounds different ways but what I can definitely say is that my root is in R&B (but by that, I am not thinking of people like Usher, Ginuwine and others because those guys were heavy influence for me) but growing up in Kwara State, coming to Lagos and being in Nigeria and Africa makes my R&B different from theirs because my culture, my environment has influenced the sound that I make so my root is in R&B but I fuse it with different kind of sounds. My songs are in a classification of their own, “Voodoo” is Afrofunk, “Serenade” is more of R&B, although there is a native influence in the drums and verses, and it goes on like that. 

Tell me about The Collectiv3, how did you guys meet?

It was created in Icon’s studio, as I said earlier, me and Icon have been working together for a while and then Chin Okeke who was the Executive Producer for The Collectiv3 came to the studio one day and was like we need to come together and amplify the noise (‘cause we were creating a different kind of sound there) for people to know that there is more than the mainstream music. We have been working together before we decided to create The Collectiv3, we were friends, we’ve worked together on songs so we decided to come together as a force and amplify the noise.

I noticed you didn’t feature any member of the group in Serenade

Yes, Serenade is inspired by my memories and I only worked with two female artists that would supplement the project perfectly. I have a number of songs with members of The Collectiv3 and we will still release more. We have recorded a number of songs that would be out in the next couple of months. I featured Poe in a song, “Turn Me Around” before  I released the EP. So, Serenade got what it needed. 

What do you think is the future of music in Nigeria, especially with the unconventional sounds and artists coming out? Do you think this movement will change Afropop as we know it?

I am glad that there is more acceptance to the different type of sounds Nigerians can create. There are so many tribes in Nigeria, so many languages and from that alone, you will see that there are different sounds that can be created. I think the social media and platforms like Soundcloud has helped to get sounds that are not in the mainstream to every part of the country and around the world, so the acceptance has helped to build more interest. And also, artists creating sounds in their own room and backyard are confident that there is an audience for their music as long as it is good. I feel it’s going to help to have more artists coming to let people know that there is something happening here, that people are creative and people are very good out here. The sound is always going to change, if you listen to the songs that we are producing right here and you go back and listen to the times of Plantashun Boiz and Idris Abdulkareem, you will see that a lot has changed with time. With the vast majority of the audience, I don’t know what it is going to sound like in the next ten years, it’s always going to keep evolving and I am proud that I can contribute to the sounds that we are making right now.

I think that is the most exciting thing about this new movement, you are creating a platform for other creative artists to build their confidence and sounds on.

Yes, the most important thing is leaving a legacy. If I can make music and get people that are also creative to listen to my music and get inspired to create their own just the same way I was inspired by listening to the likes of Usher, 2face and others, I would be proud that I have been able to influence my generation and generations to come from my music, so for me, the most important thing is legacy.

I couldn’t help but reminisce the vibe of Bob Marley while listening to “I want it Back”, are you a huge fan of Reggae?    

I am a fan of Reggae, I listen to different types of music, I like being in Marley a lot. “I want it Back” started when we were just chilling outside the studio, Nsikak, the guitarist that I work with most was giving us reggae vibes from a Ukulele and I was freestyling to the tune, we stood up from there and went back into the studio to built it into what it is now. I don’t think I would have created anything like that without a reggae influence. I think subconsciously when we listen to a song, it sparks something in us and sometimes you don’t even know where it came from. The fact that I listen to a wide variety of music reflects in my music.