Identify: Tolibian wants to become a master of his craft
"Growth means everything to me."
"Growth means everything to me."
Hailing from the North Central part of Nigeria, Tolibian is a familiar name among young people. Wearing multiple hats as both an artist and a comedian, he’s garnered a sizeable following blending Fuji and Apala into his orbit and charming crowds with his wit. For any multidisciplinary artist, it’s a know conundrum facing multiple skills and weighing up which to master, in fear that they can only maintain one lane. However, the Ilorin-born artist is doing the opposite–a master of both his skills, learning his craft and biding his time for his moment.
The way Tolibian sees it, he’s able to play to both his strengths because they are extensions of his personhood. “It’s like taking the form of a character. If I want to be an artist, I can be an artist. If I want to be a comedian, I’ll be a comedian, he tells the NATIVE. “I don’t find any difficulty in switching between these characters. I can easily go on stage and perform my music without being comical,” he continues.
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This relentless attitude and commitment to his craft swiftly earned Tolibian an outstanding social media following for his hilarious skits, which later laid the foundation for the multi hyphenate to venture into music. In order to be the best in both fields, Tolibian has studied and paid close attention to the reaction his music or comedy skits elicit from a crowd. This careful exercise soon armed him with the confidence he needed to fully explore both creative pursuits, particularly music after seeing how receptive audiences were.
Taking a familiar starting place, Tolibian experimented with Fuji sounds which once soundtracked his childhood and drew inspiration from its great artists to inform his work. “The positive reviews I was receiving from the content online is why I felt like music was what people wanted to see. I make music effortlessly. I decided to put in effort and see where it goes and my music has been evolving in a really exciting way,” he shares. For Tolibian, he’s comfortable with embracing his mistakes and learning curves, and using this to further furnish his world view.
With a knack for melody, and a technical comprehension for cadence, he then released his standout single “Abaya,” which he describes as a pivotal moment in his career. “I think that was when I dropped “Abaya.” My freestyles always trend and I’m grateful to God and my audience for the support. But the one that stunned me the most was definitely “Abaya,” the uNder alum shares.
Tolibian continues to deliver true-to-life lyrics and showcase his refined confidence as he ascends the ranks. Recently, he released new single “Happy,” a Fuji-inflected number with an aspirational message that serves to further reinforce his hitmaking abilities. As he continues to take a step towards the powerhouse he is capable of becoming, we caught up with Tolibian to discuss making music for his audience, growing up in Ilorin and mastering his comedy and music skills.
Our conversation, which follows below, has been lightly edited for clarity.
NATIVE: Thanks for joining me today. Taking it back to where it all started, what role did music play in your life when you were growing up?
Tolibian: Tolibian, that’s me. I hail from Kwara State, Nigeria. Ilorin-west to be precise. Growing up wasn’t too tough but it made me who I am today. It has taught me to be resilient, persistent, hardworking and never giving up on my dreams. I didn’t have any formal music training. I used to play music for fun but then I started to make freestyle videos online and I noticed people started to fall in love with the musical part of me so I decided to take it seriously and pursue it professionally.
What year was that?
I started making music professionally in 2021.
Looking back on when you started, how would you describe your previous sound with the music you’re making at the moment?
I’m still working on different genres. I’m still trying to find my own style. I’ll just let my fans and audience decide but for now, I’ll say I’m doing Afro-fusion and Afro-Fuji even though I try to be versatile with different genres.
When did you realise you wanted to start music professionally?
The positive reviews I was receiving from the content online are why I felt like music was what people wanted to see. I make music effortlessly. I decided to put in effort and see where it goes and my music has been evolving in a really exciting way. I’ve been exploring different sounds and styles to find what really resonates with me. I’ve also been working on some new songs and I hope it connects with people on a deeper level. I’m collaborating with other artists to create something truly unique and powerful and I believe this evolution would help me grow as an artist. It’d help me connect with a new audience in a meaningful way.
You come from the Northern part of Nigeria, Kwara State. How instrumental was your hometown in the music you were listening to and making?
My background doesn’t really inspire my music but I grew up listening to Fuji music like Barista. I also listened to the likes of Bob Marley and Fela but the genre I really grew up listening to was Fuji and the oldies music. My dad played them a lot.
What moment in your career do you consider to be your big break?
I think that was when I dropped “Abaya.” My freestyles always trend and I’m grateful to God and my audience for the support. But the one that stunned me the most was definitely “Abaya.” I’ve dropped a couple of freestyles that trended like my cover of Avicii’s “The Night” and Fireboy’s “Peru” but the virality of “Abaya” really got me in my feelings. The love was massive and the turn-up was unexpected.
How did your artist moniker ‘Tolibian’ come about?
I postulated the theory of my stage name from my actual name. My name is Motolib so I removed the ‘tolib’ and I just added the ‘a’ and ‘n’ after to make it sound nicer. That name has been mine since secondary school. I’ve been exploring different sounds and fuji has definitely played a significant role in my music career. Most of the covers I did for people are me using fuji on their actual song so Fuji has played a good role in my music career so far. I’m still working around other genres and I really believe that evolution is going to help me grow as an artist.
Your music covers a range of genres from Afropop to Hip-Hop, Apala and more. Why is it important, at this stage of your career, to remain experimental?
Creativity is very important for any kind of project. You can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again. If you don’t get tired, your audience can get tired and they’ll always ask for more. Learning never stops. As a person you need to keep learning every day but more so as a creative person. There are new talents emerging every day fighting to reach stardom so I feel it is very important for any creative to always want to explore and go beyond your capabilities. It is good to try out new things.
What do you want people to take away from your music?
I want them to feel like they can change the world for the better through their own actions and the power of my music.
In 2021, you released your first official single. What headspace were you in at the time of making this track and what messages did you hope to tell audiences?
“Abaya” is about me trying to tell people to not live above their means. I made the song for pure entertainment. The message there is literally to cut your coat according to your size. In the song, I tell them, “If you cannot afford abaya, go for Jalamiya.”
How would you describe your creative process?
I believe that when you create something it is important to stay open-minded and let your imagination run wild. I can get inspiration from anything. From personal experiences, other people’s stories, movies, and listening to songs. I can get inspiration from anything. It’s just left to what I’m writing on and my pen game. The inspiration I get is what I use to inspire and entertain others. It’s helped me so far and I’ve been improving over the years.
As well as music, you’re building your path within comedy. Can you tell us more about your earliest memories of making people laugh?
Back then, in my alma mater, I used to be this stubborn boy making people laugh. I’m never boring. I think that’s how it started. When I got to senior secondary school I continued as an MC for different departments. I started posting short skits on my Facebook with makeup on and I’ll even have my head of department officials support me. I’m only the body that passes the message to people and lucky for me, they found it hilarious. So that’s how I started and from there I fell in love with music. I started making freestyle videos. People loved that so I decided to pursue it professionally. That’s how I switched from comedy to music.
Would you say you dabble both now or you’re predominantly focusing on music?
I’m focused on music professionally. I’m still going to use the comical part of me to promote my music but for now, I don’t want to confuse my audience.
How do you find combining your comedic skills with your love for music?
It’s like taking the form of a character. If I want to be an artist, I can be an artist. If I want to be a comedian, I’ll be a comedian. I don’t find any difficulty in switching between these characters. I can easily go on stage and perform my music without being comical. If I was summoned for a role in a movie or skit, I’d obviously have to play the role of the comedian which makes me engage with a different audience. None of these talents interfere with each other and it is all thanks to God that I’ve been able to finesse it. Although, most times, I do have creative blocks and I find it difficult to write. Once I switch into one character and get too deep and fall in love with it, getting back to music can take some time. I’ll be stuck battling with creative blocks but it’s usually not too tough for me to handle.
How do you usually overcome those creative blocks?
I wish I had an answer to this question but honestly, it just comes and goes.
How have you managed to navigate the industry as a newcomer and what are some of the things you’ve learnt so far?
Not giving up on my dream, being resilient and being persistent. That’s the only way. Don’t rely on people to help you. I’m not saying you shouldn’t get help from others but you should help yourself first before your helper will come. I have a good number of fans on my platform and if I’ve been able to get this far without any label’s help, anybody can do it. If I can survive, you can survive.
You recently released “Happy.” What was your inspiration behind this song and what did you want listeners to take away?
“Happy” is like a breakthrough type of song. Anybody listening to “Happy” should feel that breakthrough. The song isn’t really inspired by anything but that’s what I want my listeners to take away.
When you made “Happy,” did it feel like you were making a hit?
Yes. I always believe my songs are going to be a hit. You just have to trust in the process which is why I put in my all in everything I do because I want it to be worth it.
The music scene is packed with amazing talents looking to carve their lane. How do you stay true to yourself at all times amid all the noise around you?
In as much, as I said, I’m trying to explore and try out new sounds to see what really resonates with me, one needs to be very careful with the way you learn and the people you learn from. When I see something that really sits with me or is really creative, I go for it. Over the years I’ve been able to differentiate between noise and actual music. I know what I want.
What does growth look like to you personally?
Growth means everything to me. My numbers are increasing, my pen game is getting better and improving the kind of music I make. I mean if I start counting, we’ll spend all day here. My music has been evolving in a very exciting way and I think that’s growth for me. I’ve been able to take a step from freestyle and delve into music. That’s growth for me.
What’s next for you beyond the recent single release?
I have a body of work that is dropping soon, probably this year. I’m dropping an album or EP. I believe my fans are going to be excited for this one.
Featured Image Credits/The NATIVE