NATIVE Exclusive: The Many Faces & Voices of Dwin, The Stoic
a master of ballads is staking his claim in the wider terrain of African music
a master of ballads is staking his claim in the wider terrain of African music
Edwin Madu loved the sharp quality of fiction in his early years. He had grown up reading a wide range of books that could have been available to any middle class kid in Nigeria. Starting to construct narratives of his own, that interest only expanded as he wrote his first song in 2007. “The song was very corny and it was written by a twelve year old, so I mean, that’s to be expected,” he said when The NATIVE caught up with him some weeks ago.
Though he began as a youngster with little to no leanings on technique, his skills improved with time. To capture the approaching shape of his work, Edwin sought a fitting sobriquet just before the release of his first record: inspiration came from a song by British folk rock band Mumford and Sons’, a line on “Reminder” which goes, “So I watch the world tear us apart, a stoic mind and a bleeding heart…” Taking off the first letter of his name, he became Dwin, The Stoic, foreshadowing the epic scales his music would evoke in stripped sonics and honest, heartbreaking lyricism.
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Making an instant impact, ‘Heavy Heart’ was the artist’s first album. It was released in 2018 but Dwin had created its second single “Stay With Me” about two years prior. 3rty, a musician and close friend of Dwin, helped him secure a recording session Both artists had created “The Lonely” while in university, and 3rty continued to support his reclusive friend with studio resources or technical assistance whenever the need arose.
The truth is, Dwin wasn’t quite sure of his music back then. He had a thousand other things going for him. “I was writing short stories, I was getting published and that was my life,” he says. “I was creating content, documentaries, all that stuff. The end of 2016 was when I now—NYSC was done, and the parents were like ‘Hey, you probably need to get a job’. And so I did, I got an office job, working as a tech consultant and this job takes me—I travel a bit. So there’s Ghana, Guinea, but a lot of the writing for ‘Heavy Heart’ happened in Ghana, during one of these work trips”.
Listening to ‘Heavy Heart’ feels like a memory, a peek into the experiences of one who knows the pointed edge of life’s dagger. Dwin’s subject matter ranged from existential queries (“Are You The One?”) to unpacking weighty romantic issues (“Happy Song” “Take Flight”), and his writing, clear as a prism glass and sharp as splintered bottles, did great justice to their sensitivity. “End Of An Era” is an ode to his departed sister while some others took account of old loves. Most of the other songs were fictional. He attributes their intimate sense of realism to his background as a creative writer – a quite obvious influence. “I have seen the worst of life, I have walked so many miles,” he writes in the hook of a personal favourite “The Lonely”, and then brings down the realisation that’s led to the earlier couplet: “Even when you hold my hand, I still feel left alone”.
Possessed with husky vocals that plays near the extremes of tonal range, Dwin, The Stoic is first and foremost a fine singer. His influences include Jim Reeves (“the way he sings and how emotive he was”), The Beatles (“just because they were fucking great and my father played them a lot”), and Paul Simon & Garfunkel and Louis Armstrong (“words were important to them”)—all maestros of the ballad form. Being a DJ, his father’s collection also included the guitar-soaked records of Highlife veterans Oriental Brothers and Oliver De Coque.
This amorphous background influences Dwin’s experimental foray in recent times. “I have a salsa song I’m working on and a lot of that [comes from listening to Spanish-speaking] acts like Natalie Lafourcade,” he tells me. “I’ve looked at music and just kind of seen it as a beautiful thing that can be attempted in very many ways and even now the conversation of genre for me, it’s gotten very hard. Cos the EP is not out yet but when people say shit like ‘genre bending’, this is one of them”.
Last month at the Lagos-held ArtX festival, Dwin faced the difficult situation of revealing his genre of music to a prospective new listener. “What do I say to you?” he muses now, pondering the wealth of fusion in his work. “Pop? Alternative? Nothing seems to be all-encompassing enough”.
With only two singles released in 2021, Dwin had a more productive output this year, his records produced by Rhaffy who’s come to be a frequent collaborator. The 3-pack project ‘Gkw/Winning Bread’ was released in June while “Rise” came out last month. Along with the recently-released “Without Your Love” they all demonstrate Dwin’s continued mastery of intense ballads, but with his forthcoming projects—first a collaborative EP with Rhaffy titled ‘Love Lane’, then his sophomore album—he’s evolving towards sonic unpredictability. “The song ‘Allez’ is a song where we use a primarily Indian drum pattern, but a lot of the chorus is written in French,” he says. “There’s also an amapiano song on this same EP called ‘Don’t Wait Up’”.
The more we talk, the more obvious is Dwin’s sense of renewed purpose in music. He hasn’t always given his time to this love, with other interests—media and tech primarily—moving higher on the interests list. Being an independent musician requires an hands-on approach to one’s finances and Dwin has been anything if not active. His many talents take him across several communities in the Lagos and African art scene, and I wanted to know how. Where did he learn to apply his writing skills to the demands of communication across corporate media?
“I’d say I was quite lucky with that,” he tells me. “If I had left university in 2015 and just not gotten some of the opportunities I did, or certain things didn’t happen afterwards, I wouldn’t know that the world of creating was where you could make money. It was a world I always admired but never quite looked into as a place to exist and make money. What set off a chain of events was Chimamanda’s workshop in 2015. I had wanted to apply and it was on the last day of submission I actually remembered it. I had been working on a short story and I took the first 800 words—cos that’s what they asked for—and just pasted it”.
This was in the middle of his final year and Edwin had forgotten his submission for the prestigious Purple Hibiscus creative workshop. On the announcement day after much anxious waiting he got mail past midnight saying he had got in, one among the twenty writers from hundreds around the continent. Being part of that multi-storytelling community for the next ten days broadened Dwin’s gaze. “With that came exposure to the literary community,” he says, partaking at the Ake Festival soon after and working at the African Artists Foundation (AAF). “My entry into the arts was something easily that could not have happened. After graduating with a Computer Science degree, I could have just gone to get a job in tech or something like that but that made it so I was like, ‘okay, tech would have to wait for a bit’. This is exciting”.
Morphing from the tender intensity of ‘Heavy Heart,’ the many voices of Dwin have found purpose in the world’s vast nature. He’s also a member of The Ignis Brothers, alongside vocalist Ruth Zakari and multi-instrumentalist Lamide Aranmolate. In 2020, the indie-folk band released their debut album, ‘The Cost of Our Lives,’ which furthered the existentialist leanings of Dwin’s own work, although this time with the varied sensibilities of his bandmates.
Writing songs for other artists has also featured in Dwin’s industry exploits—earlier in conversation, he told me his debut album was supposed to be a songwriter’s CV, only it became that and more. He’s earned the praise of stellar writers like Simi and co-wrote a standout record from Adekunle Gold’s ‘Afro Pop Vol. 1’ (“Exclusive”).
“It’s been interesting,” he says when I ask about his journey as a songwriter in the Afropop scene. “I want to do more of that; this is now my avenue to just put it out there. I really want to write for artists or at least, just give some of these songs I have. I think they’re great songs and if you give it to a talented artist, they’re going to be beautiful. Working with Adekunle was great; we worked on a couple other songs that hopefully would come out at some point. The way the industry works, who knows? I’d also written for Jessica Bongos, written for an artist called Emilomo, which was a Christian song funny enough, but that’s another conversation for another day. I’ve written for Ibejii as well, a lot of his earlier projects, so I would say I want to do more of these collaborations”.
There is a lot happening for Dwin and moving his music to the center stage rewards an important motivation for him. “I want to enter a new space,” he affirms. “I think I bring something very new to the Nigerian soundscape but I also know I’ve always just played sort of in the fringes, and not so much in the pop scene. And I think that I make sounds that would work for the general populace; I don’t think a song like “Streets” is not—[the song] does very well on radio, from here to Ghana, with my streams and the data I have, cities like Amsterdam. I know the sound—whether there’s ballads or the faster stuff—will work. Now I’m taking more important business decisions to make sure all that is achieved”.