NATIVE Exclusive: ITUA Wants To Heal The World

Mental and social preoccupations play a huge role in the Dutch-Nigerian artist's music

ITUA embraces multiplicity. The Dutch-Nigerian musician would stop you in your tracks with his tender and realistic narratives, emerging from years of hard-wrought artistry. When NATIVE Mag spoke with him in August, the drummer and singer was set to release his sophomore project, ‘Transition’. Since last year when he began putting out solo music, ITUA’s sound has incorporated elements as diverse as bedroom pop, alternative rock, blues, and of course, the percussive patterns from home. 

“It was very broad,” he says about the music he listened to in his early life. “We used to listen to a lot of Fela, there was also music from Congo, in that time, a lot of Makossa music. Later on I loved 2Face, Tony Tetuila, but also all these Western music”. His elder brother Elvin pushed him to hear sounds far from their geographical location and that influenced his omnivorous taste. ITUA began playing the drums at church and school when he was around twelve years old. Later during our call, he’d turn on his camera and behind him is his home studio, his drum set in radiant formation.


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“Rhythm is the key of everything,” he says in response to why he chose to play the drums. “It’s the base. The bass guitar comes close; I also play that. It’s what keeps people moving; you can play music and somebody doesn’t like it but oh, if the rhythm is there, he will start moving. That’s what I really like about drums; it’s a universal thing, you know.” 

Getting around the Netherlands music scene, ITUA found a regular job playing drums for musicians which included Bea1991, Klyne and Thomas Azier. “Doing those shows,” he says, “I realised I wanted to do these shows on my own, and have my own stories to tell. I think that happened around seven years ago”. It took six years later for ITUA to release his debut record. That time was spent in the chambers of learning, as he took on production and learnt to bend his perspective into sound. “I wanted to understand the vision behind the music not just wanting to be an artist but having something to contribute in the bigger sense”

The appeal of “Sort It Out” springs from its honesty. The depicted character is a quintessential rover, in search of love but at conflicting odds with the soft matter of his heart. Because he knows he must reconcile those issues, his conversation with the love interest makes up the song’s crushing lyrics. “I don’t wanna think the way they taught me over there,” sings ITUA in a melancholic tone reminiscent of Sampha, or even Frank Ocean, given the weightless admission of his own shortcomings. “You don’t even know how much it took me to see clear/ I don’t want your sorry, I just want you over here”.

Contemporary music has much use for open-ended lyricism, the sort of writing that embraces the iceberg theory of the great American writer Ernest Hemmingway. According to him, a short story—in this case, a song—should leave much of its narrative underneath its telling, an iceberg basically, so there is richness for the reader to discover. It’s a recognisable advantage that ITUA produces his own music; each part of the mosaic sound is well actualised, from the mellow drums to the interjecting note. “Heartstop” was similarly masterful. The reverberating bass is made to mirror a heart’s beating, as the artist and producer’s oneness reveals itself in the sweet, purposeful singing of ITUA. “My heart go stop, you make my heart go stop today,” he offers in cheesy Pidgin-English, exuding a pleasant boyish aura. 

ITUA deals in the human condition. His music listens to the colourful, crazy conversations of life, and his gaze thins the size of them into character-driven pieces. In August 2022 he released his debut project ‘nice to meet,’ which included the aforementioned songs but also the sparkling “one kind” and the grand hipness of “Be There,” all of them creating the project’s deep sensorial, almost dreamy, feeling. Then his voice arrives like waves on the beach shore. 

ITUA was born in Eindhoven, the Dutch town where his father, a young engineer, met his mother. A Nigerian from Edo state, Mr. Usidame worked for Shell, a job which parlayed into opportunities that took him around Europe. It is his face on the cover of ‘Transition,’ an ID card which, given its displayed details, was a swimming passport from the Shell company. In conversation with ITUA, there’s a hint that their relationship had its grey areas, and the project evokes variant shades born of a complexity of feeling.

“I really try to keep the base on my own experiences, and experiences I see from other people’s lives,” he says in account of his music. “Just be free to express what you want. It all started at home, like the two cultures at home, it was not very easy so there were a lot of fights. A lot of anger and sadness, so that was also a reason for me and my brother to play music.” 

The artist feels “a responsibility to share what [he] knows,” by virtue of the narratives he’s imbibed. ITUA began creating the songs for ‘Transition’ about a year ago, tussling with his identity as a person of colour in the Netherlands, which can be tough “especially if your roots are not communicated at home,” he affirms. Right after his father died, the artist would overcome a depressive episode. “I didn’t have the same understanding about Nigeria as I have about the Netherlands. At some point it gets confusing”. 

The six songs on ‘Transition’ provide a peek into the character formation of a man. In that sense, the EP progresses towards a longing for fullness, as palpable from the first song “Something To Prove,” where psychedelic drums relay the urgency of wanting to bloom in the face of doubters; “Trophy” begins with the telling lyric, “I want better, can’t ease my soul”. On “What’s Wrong” he coaxes good energies from the people around him, sympathetic to the greyness he sees, familiar to the one within him. Here he most assumes the afropop sensibility, at least in production, where the knocking drums and upbeat chords would seamlessly feature in a Obongjayar or Tay Iwar album. 

ITUA would emerge on the other side of the tunnel, some six months after the depressive period. He was better reconciled with who he was. The process of ‘Transition’ was more enjoyable. “These songs are the first time that I really could let go and just enjoy the process,” he affirms, “and create what just felt right and before then, I really wanted to do the same thing but I was still influenced by my environment, how people wanted me to be. What you see on Instagram—oof. Like, maybe I should take this route. Am I not too old, you know, all these questions. But now that doesn’t matter; it’s your own route, it will make sense in the end”.

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