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Somadina and the sweet danger of the heavenly undeniable

Nigerian artist Somadina builds on her panoply of experience for a debut that includes Nollywood punk, afro-psychedelic future nostalgia, indie rock and an alternative spirit that’s both wild and weird, sweet and dangerous. 

That title is just constant reassurance to myself. You are heavenly, undeniable… Remain in your purpose and know where you’re heading,” Somadina recounts from her Lagos residence, “and now the vision is just so clear.” Looking into the neon haze of Somadina’s cover, half of the emergent pop star’s face evaporating into an electric-mist, the clarity of vision in non-obvious. Pressing play, you’ll find yourself at one moment in an ambient bop, the next at a hyper-pop pitstop, before closing in on indie-rock or minimalist r&b. But, as we’ll come to learn, Somadina is genre-fluid, a geographical juxta-person, a cool-kid outsider… Initially intrigued by the single, “Y I Want U”, that felt somewhere close to maryyx2’s Silent Noise, it was the barrage of blue checkmarks and alté insiders that populated the comment section of her Instagram posts that was totally unignorable. Either the radar machine was broken or there was a story still untold. Ockham’s razor quickly cut the mystery in half, but not before an album drop, an interview and a little research into the person and muses that shaped the young Nigerian artist’s debut, Heart Of the Heavenly Undeniable (HOTHU). 

I grew up a lot with r&b, listening to the legends like John Legend, Brandy, Beyonce… and gospel as well. That’s what my dad played in the house growing up in the Netherlands,” Somadina explains of her early childhood. “I always say that’s where my music roots come from.” Musical roots often finding topsoil in the discography of our parents, Somadina’s beginnins are a reflection of this domestic soundscape. Listening to her early work, like 2018’s “Ihy”, it’s full of throwback r&b influences. The single, which stands for, “I Hate You” nonetheless captures some of the thematic foundation that Somadina will carry throughout her music. A little touch of sugar. A shameless pinch of spice. “There’s definitely that sweetness with the danger. I always liked the juxtaposition of two very opposite things like being sweet or being dangerous cause that really is me,” Somadina confirms. Continue on to “Lay Low” in 2019 there’s as much love as there is disdain. And though these tracks are dated by release, the songwriting can sometimes be anachronistic. For example, Somadina mentions the 2022 album closer “Citrus Tears” was written when she was still 19. Dripping with the same seductive nectar of a Kehlani’s “Honey”, the wide-open productions reveal a musical comfort zone that leans heavily on Somadina’s vocal chops. 

Chukwuka Nwobi

Somadina didn’t choose to make an r&b album. In fact, Somadina didn’t set out to make any “kind” of album at all. “When it comes to the basic pre-production, like writing and creating the music, I do what comes to my heart almost all the time.” Intuition can be like a hammer; useful in one hand, a liability in the other. But it’s safe to say Soma “nailed” it. The indie rock on “Everybody Bleeds” or the pop-rock Avril Lavigne(y) “WDYWFM (feat. L0la)” don’t fall flat. “I had never experimented with rock music. I just did that last year,” Somadina admits. And maybe that’s why it has an adolescent innocence that lets us forgive the appropriative qualities. Or maybe it’s the thoughtful compositions with surprising detours that leave us smiling. “Imagine Giving A Fvck (feat. Virgo)” and “WDYWFM (feat. L0la)” both have sinking refrains, while “Everybody Bleeds” stands out with the lyrics alone. The newfound rock input can be chalked up to Somadina’s recent trip to L.A. where serendipity plays its frequent hand; like when she stumbled into a writing camp with Amaarea as she was putting together HOTHU. “That wasn’t even planned. We were there at the same time, and that just happened,” Soma brushes off with nonchalance. This wasn’t the first time Somadina linked up with her tribe while abroad. In rockstar style, Somadina also snuck on tour with Odunsi while studying in the UK, frustrated with school and feeling isolated. “He had a UK tour and I remember that was my first year in uni,” she laughs, “I would just skip school. They were sending me emails like, ‘You need to come back’ and ‘you’ve been away from school for so long,’ but I didn’t care.” No fvcks given. Finally, between the Southern Cal sunshine and the punk rock truancy there’s plenty in Somadina’s bio to explain the electric guitar attitude.

So what of this alté inner circle that pops up around the world? Apparently Somadina wasn’t “in” overnight. “I came in as an outsider because I didn’t grow up in Nigeria.” she says of her first run-ins with Nigeria’s unofficial cool-kids. “But I was always alternative. I was a tomboy when I grew up. I used to skate and shit. Then when I came in and there were just these people with colorful hair, always doing their thing and always doing it independently. That was massive.” Nonetheless it’s hard to imagine it taking too long before the young artist was on the inside. It’s a scene that isn’t as exclusive as it is exceptional. “People are their own creative directors, their own videographers, their own producers. Everyone kind of plays their own instruments. Everyone can do almost everything, right? So, I don’t wanna say it makes it competitive, but it makes you really wanna put your work in,” Somadina explains. A meritocratic mecca for those praying in the direction of their own passions. Despite the high standards, there’s a social fiber that keeps the scene together. “It’s very supportive because we’re like, I don’t wanna say the outcasts in Nigeria, but obviously there are certain principles that average Nigerians have. So when you are so outspoken and you’re so alternative and different and embracing different variations of yourself and sexualities, it can be hard. But then at the same time, you find pockets within yourselves. So everyone who understands each other really understands each other.” Somadina says, throwing in, “and as much as afrobeats is gonna be here to stay, alternative culture is one of those breeding cultures that have taken so long to grow, you set a foundation so rock solid, it doesn’t shake. It might take a long time to get where it needs to get to, but it’s not gonna shake.” A small paradise? Sounds like it. As much in description as on the ethereal song produced by Odunsi (The Engine) and featuring The Cavemen. drummer Benjamin James. 

Chukwuka Nwobi

But there’s also parallels to Nigeria’s not so distant past, and Somadina has drawn the lines. A major inspiration for Somadina creatively was discovering the treasure chest of psychedelic Nigerian rock. “I found it at a point in my life when I needed new music, when I needed fresh ideas,” she explains. “I found the Ladju Sisters, William Onyeabor… William Onyeabor is a genius in his own right. I’ve never seen anyone make art like that, make sounds like that! So someone making that in the seventies is so crazy to me. Especially because people don’t know about that outside and even inside Nigeria. It was just a thing I’d never heard. Ebenezer Obey… There’s so many! And when I found it, I really liked the sound. I liked the fact that the sound felt nostalgic and it felt futuristic. It felt like the collision of two worlds when you listen to it. You can hear the past, but it also feels like the future. And that’s what I really, really wanted to bring into my music. Not in the exact same way cause I just can’t do it the way they do it. But in my way.” Dusting the album for nostalgic future gems, “Dreams” is a clear stand out. The choice of synths that spit with electric lips and the saturated echoes place the track in its own time and space. The same goes for “Small Paradise”, the closest the project comes to a masterpiece. Put that one on repeat and sit in a dark room and it’ll take you somewhere special. The club oriented “Dirty Line” featuring Zamir also has an experimental touch with a retro-future soundspace. Onyeabor would (or may) be proud. 

And so despite the blue mist, there’s clarity in the haze. A project born from globetrotting and grinding. A modern fire lit with the flint of experimental classics. A feat not easily packaged or punched. It would, however, be a lie to say it was all some deliberate gathering of the many elements from the get-go. “The project sounded very different before I mixed it. A lot of the intentionality was actually in post-production. That’s when I was really like, okay, I wanna push this and break the boundaries of this,” Somadina admits. Still the wax has been pressed on what is one of the more surprising albums of 2022. A feeling and purpose better left said by Somadina herself. “Honestly, it just came from me really finding my faith and finding my purpose. As much as I’ve always made music for myself and I always try to make music authentic to myself, I also realize I’m not making music only for myself. I have a role too. I have a responsibility as an artist, as a creator that God has instilled in me, which I believe not everybody might understand or even relate or think that’s true, but that’s what I feel my purpose is. And I wanna make sure that my art is meaningful and it’s impactful to not just Nigerians, but everyone across the world, across the globe.

Listen to Heart Of the Heavenly Undeniable (HOTHU) out now