Identify: Yinka Wants The World To Love Again

"I just love seeing women do dope things."

Earlier in the month, Yinka (previously known as Olayinka Ehi) released her new EP ‘Let’s Get Romantic.’ As its title suggests, the seven-track project is a compendium of matters of love, touching on both the good and not-so-great moments. It is a subject matter Yinka has perused throughout her career, which began in the late 2010s, from 2018’s ‘Story’ to 2019’s “Thinking” to 2020’s “Terms and Conditions” to 2021’s Mannywellz-featuring “Someone Else.”  

On ‘Let’s Get Romantic’ though, Yinka’s ruminations about love carry more gravitas. “I feel like this was a debut to me,” she tells the NATIVE, “this was an introduction and I kind of just wanted it to be my voice and I wanted it to be literally the closest to intimate as possible.” On songs such as “Two Weeks,” “Die Loving You” and the title track, Yinka serenades her loved one with care and affection; elsewhere, she struggles with the pain that sometimes comes with loving.

In this exclusive with the NATIVE, Yinka shares her passion for music, the processes involved in the making of ‘Let’s Get Romantic’ and her thoughts on love and society. 


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NATIVE: How did music start for you?

YINKA: My mom says I was three. I have always liked singing, and I’ve always liked music, so it’s just something I was doing. I was learning I was just copying the singers I would listen to.  And then it wasn’t until I started school that I was like, “Okay, I want to really start singing.” There was a show in school and I’d asked to sing. So I was singing, and my principal at that time had come to my house to tell my parents, “Wow, did you guys know that she had a voice like this? Did you know she could sing? So from then, [at] any opportunity I could get, I would ask to sing. I just wanted to always sing. So that’s really how I started singing. I just knew that I had something.

And then I tried to mimic stuff. I’d try to write my own songs. My late uncle was the first person that showed me how to write a song because he also wanted to be a rapper. So I learned from him, as far as writing music, trying to be a musician, a verse, a hook. All that kind of stuff. So that’s where I really learned and I was like, “You know what? I’m determined. I want to be a singer. Ever since then, it’s been something that I’ve been doing.

During this period, you were in Nigeria, right?

Yeah. I was born in Benue State but I started school in Abia State. I was all over Nigeria, to be honest.

Who were your musical influences while growing up?

It’s crazy and it’s so random but I used to be a big fan of Lagbaja. I was really young, but I was just so taken by the music because he always used to talk about just real shit in his stuff, you know. He used music to say stuff and that was when I was like, “Oh, you can use music to say things.” That was my first understanding of [the fact] that music could be a message, music could be a way to express yourself. And then after that, it was Destiny Child and Beyoncé. Also, P-Square [and] Styl-Plus as far as Nigeria [is concerned]. And then growing up, it was Rihanna, Rosalía – she’s one of my new favourite artists. I feel like now I don’t even really listen to other people’s music that much because I’m always in my head, but yeah, those are just a few influences. [Also] James Blake is really, really dope. That’s a dream producer I’d love to work with but other than that his music is also amazing. SZA, Rosalía, James Blake, Rihanna. Those are just really dope influences that I think about. 

You were born and raised in Nigeria and then moved from New York to Los Angeles. Was the acclimatisation to a new environment seamless for you?

It was difficult because it’s a new thing, new life, new culture, new food, new people. It wasn’t as seamless because you are moving from one country to another; you have to relearn things and you have to make new friends. I think I can honestly say music is really what held things together because I saw like, “Oh, I could still make music.” So as much as I didn’t like certain things, I always found a way to be like, “Okay, I want to do music. Maybe an art program. So I think music really helped that transition for me, as corny as that sounds, because it was just the peace in the midst of madness, really. When you are coming from one country to another, it could be crazy and then you miss home.  

You quit your job after getting bachelor’s and master’s degrees and faced music full time, did you get any pushback from friends and family?

Of course. So, basically, I rushed to finish school, so I finished my master’s at 22. That’s a pretty young age to finish and then make that decision because, you know, Nigerian parents, as long as you’re in that house, it doesn’t matter. So I was pretty young to just say, “Hey, listen, I’m gonna pick up and do this and do it full time.” The degree didn’t really mean much to me because I knew what I wanted to do. I was just trying to finish and tell my parents, “Okay, listen, this is what you wanted me to do. I’ve done it. It’s time for me to choose myself,” and I guess it was rebellious because that wasn’t the plan. I just did it because I think at the end of the day, as much as we love our parents, they got to live their lives. They got to do whatever they wanted to do, the choices they made, whether good or bad, they’ve done it. So I just saw it as, “Listen, it’s my life.” I [didn’t] think I’d be disowned but nothing mattered to me at that moment but just chasing my dream fully because I will have myself to blame.

So yeah, there was definitely pushback. And then also to just pick up my stuff and move here by myself. I moved to Los Angeles without a plan. I didn’t even have an apartment. I just knew that I needed to be here in order to push to chase my dream and I just did it. I packed my suitcase. I got here and I’ve just been figuring things out since then. And I think my parents have seen that and they’re like, “Okay, This is something serious to you.” They even supported me fully because they were like, “You are pushing for something. You must love it so much that you’re ready to risk a lot of things.”  Risking just being comfortable and things like that, and when they saw that, I think it helped them be more supportive of it and just kind of respect my decision, even though they’re scared. But life goes on.

You released your first project ‘Story’ in 2018. In your interview with VovageLA, you said the aim was to raise funds for the construction of an all-girls school in Tanzania. Tell me more about that project.

I’ve always been into women’s rights and equality for women. So that’s always been something that has been important to me as far as being an advocate for that and things like that. So, prior to doing that, I had gone to Tanzania with a church to volunteer. We had volunteered at a school and the principal of the school wanted to open up his own school, and I knew that I had some music coming out, and I was just like, “How can I help basically?” because this is somewhere that I lived in for like a month in the village. I know how hard it is to kind of come up with funds and things like that.

I’m also a photographer; so I had taken some pictures while I was there and I decided to have a big fundraiser event. And then I partnered with a friend of mine who’s also Idoma; they have their own foundation called WACRIA Foundation. So I reached out to them and then we worked together in order to help raise funds. So, I performed my songs. I also auctioned off some of the pictures that I took and we were able to raise—I don’t know the exact amount—but we were able to raise money for the school. So it was really close to my heart because women in Africa go through a lot, especially in places where they don’t really have as much rights. So, I think it was really important to me to kind of bring awareness and then use my music to help jumpstart it [the project]. It was really a good experience and I’m blessed to be able to even do that.

With the benefit of hindsight, what are you grateful for about putting out ‘Story’ at the time you did?

I think it taught me a lot because I feel like music is a journey. I feel like I’ve evolved as an artist from that time and I needed that as a stepping stone, you know? So I think that really helped me understand how I wanted to sing and if I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t have been able to do ‘Let’s Get Romantic.’ I feel like ‘Let’s Get Romantic’ is my debut project because it was the first time that I felt like, “This is how I want to be heard,” compared to that first project where I was trying to figure out how to be an artist. So I think I needed that as a stepping stone to where I am today and I feel like the next project would be the same thing. I’m gonna evolve more, I’m gonna learn more, and in order to learn, you have to do. So I feel like it was a step in my journey going forward.

What made you change your stage name to Yinka?

It wasn’t really a deep thing. My name is still Olayinka Ehi [and] that’s gonna be there. But I felt like because I was entering into a more intimate part of my music, Yinka is the name that everyone calls me. Yinka is me. I wanted to just step into that intimacy as an artist and yes, I just decided to switch the name, but my socials are still Olayinka Ehi because I feel like that shows both worlds like I’m Idoma [and] I’m Yoruba – put it together [and] I think it’s the perfect way to kind of define me. I’m still both but I think Yinka is just more intimate. It’s a step into my music. It’s almost like having two separate personalities or something, you know; one is [a] more intimate, closer part of me and I think ‘Let’s Get Romantic’ is a very intimate project, so it just kind of made sense to dive deeper in there.

‘Let’s Get Romantic’ feels very intentional about love. What made you choose to create this project that hinges on romantic thoughts and commitments?

I think post-pandemic, I just kind of noticed that everybody—around me at least—I felt like we were just losing the idea of being intentional with each other, including me. I was just like, “Ah, fuck it. Who cares?” I think something stirred my feelings to question, “Do we actually hate love?” I think that was around the time it was like, “Oh, you’re a simp if you do this, if you do that,” and I was just like, “That sounds crazy because how are we deciding not to be intentional and not to really be intimate each other,” so it just kind of triggered my thought process. I don’t think we hate love and intimacy. I think we’ve had bad experiences, right? Like, I mean I don’t know about you, but people I talk to, my friends, me included. I think, “I want to be loved by someone. I want to love someone.” I just feel like we’ve had such experiences that it makes you almost not want to try. 

So I think that’s what really inspired me to give love a chance again and just to be like fuck it, if I go in fully, I go in fully, instead of just putting one foot in so that in case anything happens, you don’t care anymore. But I think it’s just time [give love a chance]—not even just as lovers but as friends, you know, being more intimate with your friends, telling them you love them because I just feel like life is too short to not be intentional about the people that you love. So ‘Let’s Get Romantic’ is not just about lovers. It felt like a movement to me; I wanted it to be a movement where we’re all just trying to be intentional with the people that we love; and even with strangers, we just shouldn’t be so cold anymore. 

I don’t know if you’ve seen but we’ve been delivering flowers to people; people have been sending requests like, “Oh, I want to send this person flowers,” which is just a physical symbol of care and love for someone. I want people to see that it’s more than just music; this is something I feel we should all collectively do: receive love, give love and just really be intentional because we all have hearts so there’s no point being cold and I doubt that we all want nonsense. I know that we want good, genuine [and] intentional stuff. That was really the whole thought process and then as I continued to add more songs, it became more and more intimate. It became more of a message that I wanted to put out there and I think the EP ends with the song “Flowers” because it talks about not receiving flowers, not receiving all these things but it’s like, “You know what, I still want to try. I still want to give love and I still want to receive it even though I might have not received it in the past. I think from start to finish, it’s a conversation, you know. It’s like, “Can anybody find me someone to love?” in the beginning, and then it ends with “Well even if I don’t find it right now, I’m still gonna give it. I’m still gonna be that person.”


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What was the creative process for the project? 

[The process] was chill. It was like me using my full-on creativity, even with “Interlude,” I wanted it to be a poem because we don’t see poems anymore, we don’t see love letters anymore. I was like, “You know, let’s bring back these things that some people might see right now as corny” but I didn’t give a fuck because, in the end, I do what I want. I do what I think feels good. So to me, it was [about] bringing these little things that were romantic and I try to intertwine that into my project. You see a lot of strings, you see a lot of grand gestures because I wanted it to feel like a grand gesture. I wanted it to feel like my kind of love letter to everyone and I hope people are receiving it that way.

You spoke about expressing love publicly and literally sending flowers, do you think people are apprehensive of intimate expressions now because these expressions might have been linked to chivalry?

That’s a good question. I think it’s kind of tough because I’ve been seeing these podcasts that have been going viral [about] couples. What is supposed to be done? Expecting too much, expecting too little blah blah, like judging people based on what they’re doing. and I feel like it depends on where that person is at the moment. Not everybody cares for flowers, right? Not everybody cares about different aspects of material things. It could be whatever you want to receive. The EP’s intro is like a question, so I think if someone wants to go and deep dive into the project, they can actually ask themselves and have a conversation with themselves, and I think by the end of the EP, they should be thinking, “Do I actually not like these things? Do I actually not like love or certain expressions of it?” Or “What is my love language?” versus “Oh, I don’t care for it.” So it really depends on the person but I wanted it to be an open letter so it’s not just specific. It’s for the people who are inside of love, it’s for people who are apprehensive as well. It’s just like whatever you feel, I want you to feel it fully. Hopefully, it changes things and changes the mindset.

How did you decide on the songs that made the project?

I think from the start of it down to the end, we might have recorded 15 songs during that time because it was just like, you know, trying different things. And then we had to pick [the] ones [on the project] based on the message. It was pretty easy because since it was happening in such a fluid way, it was already a story from the beginning and then after we were done, we were just like, “Let’s see if there are other things that we can talk about or any way to make it better,” then it took a while. I think “Flowers” was the last song. There are literally three versions of that song because I wanted to end the EP with something solid and strong and intimate enough. It was like, “Well, you don’t get it, you don’t give it.” Um, and

At first, “Flowers” was personal and then I changed it to something more about others. So there were a couple of songs but I think these seven were pretty solid after all the other records that we did. Hopefully, you guys will be able to hear the other records when the next project comes. But yeah, it wasn’t too hard because it was a conversation from the start.

Our Best New Music column on “Flowers” was about how the track deviated from the rose-tinted POV of the other songs and depicted something a lot darker. What does “Flowers” mean to you and why did you choose to have it on the project?

I appreciate you really listening to that detail. I’m glad that you caught it. I realised that love is not always blissful. Love is not perfect in any way. You can have love and be with someone that’s not giving it to you, right? I don’t want people to just think that we’re living in delusion, even though that’s good sometimes. I think for me it was like, “Okay, let’s also come back to reality. Let’s say you don’t get it. Let’s say you’re saying, ‘Let’s get romantic, let’s get romantic,’ and the person is like, ‘No, fuck that.’ What do you do now?” I don’t want it to just be, “Aww, I’m just in my head,” and I’m not talking about reality. I wanted to dive a little deeper into the fact that the reason that we’re here now as a generation where it’s like, “Oh, fuck love. I only care about money and I only care about this, this and that” is not because we don’t like it; it’s because of the experiences. So now it’s like, “Okay, let me prep you. If you do go out there. If you put yourself out there, if you are intentional and someone doesn’t give that back or someone doesn’t appreciate it and hurts you, you need to be ready to still keep on going.”

So I wanted to end with that because it was important that you don’t just go out there and think, “Oh, once something bad happens again, I’m done.” Go out there with the intention that if it doesn’t work out with this person, you’re gonna keep going. Literally, in the verses, I talk about just how love could feel sometimes like “Head above water” and “I’m hopeless in love.” “The dust didn’t even settle” literally means I didn’t let that relationship kill me, it just happened and I’m still like, “It’s okay. I’m gonna still go and love someone else.” So a breakup or someone hurting you doesn’t have to equate to saying fuck love. You just have to keep on going because you don’t want to become what broke you. So I think for me, it was good to end with a “Hey, just in case it doesn’t work out, be ready to keep going, because there’s really no point of going backwards when you could just go for it and be intentional with other things and with other people and actually find someone that gives you the same energy that you’re giving them.” So yeah, I appreciate that question because I think “Flowers” is a little bit dark but because the project is called ‘Let’s Get Romantic,’ not everyone sees that. But it was definitely a different view on [love] for me.

Listening to “Flowers” gave the impression of someone in a relationship who isn’t getting what she wants but refuses to leave [the relationship] and move on to someone else who would give her the kind of love she wants. The song seemed like someone desperate for love and sticking with a bad situation.

Okay, I see what you mean. I can actually see how you see it from that angle, but it’s more [about] moving on but I could see how it could seem that way. I love it. I actually like that you saw a different take on it. Don’t stay anywhere that they don’t love you, please. But the real meaning when I was writing was more just like, “I keep on going, even if you don’t give me stuff. I’m still gonna find love. I’m still gonna be loved regardless of my experiences. Sometimes I feel like I write in riddles, so sometimes I can see why different people can have different takes on it. But yeah, no please, just go somewhere else.

What was the inspiration behind the cover of ‘Let’s Get Romantic’?

I wanted this EP to kind of be open[ended]. So, if you wanted to talk about self-love, if you want to give yourself flowers, if you wanted to talk about loving your partner, cool, if you wanted to talk about loving your man, your woman, whoever, you know, that’s great, but I think flowers have historically been a representation of love, even flowers of different colours. They mean different things. I didn’t want to put a guy there because that was expected. I don’t like to do what is expected of me all the time. 

When someone sees the cover, I want them to just look at it and think to themselves, “Oh, what does that mean?” I just didn’t want it to be so obvious and I feel like ‘Let’s Get Romantic’ is a message of let’s love again. It doesn’t necessarily have to be with the partner. It could just be self-love, whatever it is. But I think I wanted the flowers to just be a representation of love and not actually of a person, so whatever you wanted to use love to do, you can just be open to doing that. So yeah, I thought that was a good way to express myself and do something interesting. I wanted something that’s like, “Oh, what does that mean?” So I’m glad you even asked because that’s the goal.

What was it like working with the producers to bring your ideas for the project to fruition?

I feel like what I did here was combine classical and contemporary music with [an] edge. It’s a unique project. So, I think what I appreciated the most and enjoyed the most was being able to be free with my creativity. When I met Chris, he was like, “Oh, come let’s just write.” So [the music] was about all these different things I like. I like Frank Sinatra. I like classical music. I like this and that and then we were able to put it together and form a sound and that sound now became an experience. I really enjoyed that part of things; to actually bring out the ideas I had in my head and them [the producers] being open enough to receive it and we were able to do this project without them saying, “Well, why don’t you just do the classic R&B stuff that everyone’s doing?” I was able to be creative and I plan to be even more creative. I want the artistic freedom to continue, so it was great working with them because they allowed that to happen. And then Shae was able to put that together. I enjoyed the whole creative experience because I was able to express myself and begin a sound that I feel like it’s more me as an artist.

You have mentioned loving classical music but how did you get to the discovery of your voice, your genre because it’s a bit different from what everybody’s putting out now. It looks like you’re not really focused on trying to become trendy, but you are focused on trying to create an atmosphere around your genre. So could walk us through how you were able to get there?

I think it’s because I just stopped putting myself in a box. Right. It’s so easy to be put in a box like, “Okay, you are African, you should be doing Afrobeats.” For me, I live in my head so much, sometimes a little too much. I like different things. I like Bollywood music. I like classical music. I’m the friend that you don’t want to give the AUX because my playlist is just crazy. 

Did you say Bollywood?

Yeah, I’m a big Bollywood fan. I grew up on Bollywood because, you know, they don’t kiss [in their films]. My parents were really strict so we were allowed to watch Bollywood because they knew that no one was doing anything crazy. So I’d listen to a lot of Bollywood music going up and I still do. So, I love all these things and I have experienced all these things and I’ve always been the odd person so I didn’t really care to be trendy. I’m okay being in my own lane because I feel like the right people would come to you. So when I was thinking about this project, I was just like, “Yeah, these are things that I genuinely love. This is something that’s a part of me. How can I instil that in my music?” So you hear a lot of strings. The interlude is so dramatic, it’s like this grand thing. It was really just me thinking about how I don’t want to be in a box. I want to do what I want to do. I want my sound to be multi-dimensional and I want it to be an experience, kind of like how we’re talking about James Blake. 

James Blake has worked with so many different people because it’s whatever he feels like doing at the time and I just saw myself in that way. It’s like, “I feel like doing this, it’s close to me, and as an artist, I want people to get as close to me in that way as possible,” and that was the thought process here and it wasn’t any trend. It was just me being myself and really truly expressing myself. I dropped ‘Let’s Get Romantic’ at a time when people might not have been feeling that but to me, it was important to get that message out. I’ve always felt like music is the way to speak to people and maybe change their minds on topics. That was the goal and I know it’s different and it’s unique, but I love that about myself and I love that about my work. 

Obviously ‘Let’s Get Romantic’ is a personal project. Was that the reason why there are no features on the project?

Definitely. It wasn’t so intentional but the thing is, I’ve been chasing my full sound and I’m still gonna always be chasing it, but I feel like this was a debut to me, this was an introduction and I kind of just wanted it to be my voice and I wanted it to be literally the closest to intimate as possible. I wanted to introduce myself in this new sound and this new understanding of who I am. I’m always gonna evolve as an artist but I think just having it be me was the closest I can get to an intimate conversation with my listeners. I was just like, “Yeah, let’s just leave it as Yinka having a conversation” and I’m glad we did. I always want to collaborate. That’s the goal going forward. I want to work with more female artists as well as female producers, but I think this was necessary for me to introduce myself as “This is me. This is my sound and this is the Yinka experience.” 

In the spirit of International Women’s Month, what are you most excited about as a woman working in the music industry?

Basically seeing more women in the rooms that I get into. I see more female engineers. I see more female producers. That’s what’s exciting to me because you feel more comfortable; you feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable, and honestly, it just feels like a big support system sometimes. I just love seeing women do dope things so it’s like the industry’s growing and more women are being respected and regarded in it, and that’s really exciting to see. I love when a woman does anything really but yeah it’s been great seeing women in these places.

Stream ‘Let’s Get Romantic’ below.

Featured Image Credits/NATIVE