NATIVE Exclusive: Meet Olakira, the “In My Maserati” singer ascending to Afropop ubiquity
A mega-hit to prove that not even a pandemic can stop Afropop's global potential
A mega-hit to prove that not even a pandemic can stop Afropop's global potential
To say that Nigeria’s music scene is bubbling would be an epic understatement. From the Fela-dominated 60s to our present big three, Wizkid, Davido and Burna Boy, Nigerian musicians have a reputation for being internationally acclaimed; even though they’re constantly getting robbed at the Grammys, their global fan base affords Nigerian artists the luxury of touring around the world. The present ubiquity of Olakira’s latest single, “In My Maserati” has made him one of the new artists emerging from the country with a massive international following – his single now features at #6 on this week’s Top 20 Afrobeat chart UK, only Wizkid’s “Ginger” and “No Stress” and Burna Boy’s “Real Life” managed to secure spots above Olakira from an Africa point of view.
Top 10 African songs on on the top 20 Afrobeat chart UK 🇬🇧
#1 @wizkidayo – Ginger x2
#2 @burnaboy – Real Life
#4 @wizkidayo – No Stress #Re
#6 @IamOlakira -Maserati
#7 @Olamide -Infinity
#8 @davido -Fem
#11 @davido -So Crazy #New
#12 @temsbaby – Damages
#14 @Olamide -Loading #New
— ChartsAfrica📊 (@chartsafrica) November 15, 2020
“In My Maserati” was released in June as the follow up to Olakira’s debut tape, ‘Wakanda Jollof’. Though he already scored his first hit song, “Hey Lover”, before he even dropped the EP last year, his new single has taken him from having regional acclaim to being an international success in a year that has been rough for most.
Last year, the NATIVE were privileged to spend time with Olakira, following the release and relative success of his debut album, ‘Wakanda Jollof‘. A lot has changed since our chat in 2019.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the music industry took a hit due to the uncertain future of live shows and concerts. The social distancing measures put in place for preventing the spread of the COVID-19, kept fans from enjoying music at concerts, club venues or dance floors and artists had to pivot to virtual shows without any clear indication of when touring would pick up again.
“My priority right now is to get my music out there,” Olakira told us when we spoke last year about what determines the direction he goes with his music. “It’s easier when people are already feeling the vibe and I’m very good with live shows cause of my experience performing at church, so really I can’t wait to have my own shows.”
We’re now approaching the last month of the year, December, the month dedicated to partying and music festivities that invites an influx of tourists who annually join in the euphoria. Though there’s still a gloomy cloud of uncertainty hovering over whether concerts will still happen in Nigeria this year, there’s no denying that Olakira’s music is now ‘out there’ and that he’s well-known and liked enough to pull a crowd of his own. If you turn on the radio right now, it won’t take long before you catch his infamous Yoruba tinged accent, singing “Hop (or up) in my Maserati” over the dancehall riddim of the beat he self-produced. His catchy melodies and impressive songwriting that manages to be equal part boastful and romantic make the song an instant earworm. And for that, it has caught on quickly on the radio. “In My Maserati” also ushered in a new dance move that involves wiggling of hips and pretending to shift gears. This makes for viral content that has, naturally, promoted Olakira’s hit single even further, as fans continue to post dance videos to the song. You can even find favourable comments such as “Who else came here from tiktok ?? P.s this song is fire from Romania” on the song’s video on YouTube – a clear example of how social media has helped the song spread to audiences around the world.
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“In My Maserati” is proof of an artist hitting his mark. Olakira is reaping the reward of patience and determination. His path to this moment – recording the breakout mega-hit (which now has a Davido-assisted remix) – has been a winding one; a story of bouncing back and correcting course after several detours and false starts. As a child, he started out earning N2000 for programming live music to cassette at his church then started recording music as Eben Jazz Beats before he quit in 2010 to focus on music production. It wasn’t until 2018 that Olakira finally signed to his label, U&I, as a recording artist under his new name (which means shining star in Swahili, explaining why so many fans post Kenyan flags on his posts).
Though he started from humble beginnings before signing with his label, Olakira was already performing on lineups with Mayorkun in Ibadan and making appearances at the New Afirkan Shrine before he scored his new hit single. With “In My Maserati”, Olakira has now cemented his status as one of contemporary afropop’s defining voices. For his eager and endlessly supportive fans, the song signifies him reaching a once unattainable, perhaps even inconceivable, milestone as an internationally recognised singer.
You can read a summary of our conversation, narrating his growth from budding talent to a megastar below.
Olakira: I grew up in the church. Started playing musical instruments in the church. I was earning 2,000 for programming music from the keyboard to record on cassette. At a point, I decided to make it professional and go record at the studio because people who heard me from church would always encourage me. My first time recording at a studio, the producers were impressed because I already knew my way around their equipment.
Ogun state and Lagos state. I’m a street guy oh. I’ve lived in every area in Lagos. I have a lot of guys. I’ve even had to change my line for privacy sake. They appreciate what I do cause they know me as a producer who has turned into an artist and I’ve been grinding for a while. I was moving around cause I was a music person. I was in Mushin for a while and that’s where I met Dotman. Don’t even know how it happened. I was at FESTAC for a year then I moved to Ikeja.
Majorly beats. I’m inspired by beats. Once I like a beat… I think it’s spiritual. There are some dope beats that you won’t catch any vibe with [though], I learned that from Wizkid. When I was with DJ Spinall, he was around and I played him my beats and the one I was thinking he’d vibe on, he didn’t do anything. Just said ‘play another’. But the one I just randomly played, he kept bringing up different melodies to it. Whenever I hear a beat I really love, I could use one beat to write like 5 songs.
I write for melody. I like to work in sweet and catchy melodies then I’d write my lyrics. But the lyrics have to be in harmony with the melody.
It’s important to know what people are listening to in the club. But it’s not just clubs. What motivated me years ago was really what’s playing on radio stations. They play different kinds of songs. Not just afropop. It could be jazz and you’d be wondering what kind of music is this? Four years ago, I heard Runtown’s “Mad Over You” in a club. The loudspeakers inspired me. As an artist, you need to go to the club so you can get into the vibe of the club because it gives you that energy. And as a producer, you want people to dance and vibe to your songs. Playing the songs in your own sound system doesn’t really give you the same feel. In fact, sometimes I’d even start recording something at the club just off of some interesting melody that occurred to me there.
I performed in Ibadan with Mayorkun last year. I had just started making music professionally so I was really amazed by the big crowd. The multitude of people vibing to my songs made me feel special and I wanted to keep making music that more people would want to listen to and vibe to. Shrine is also a stage everyone aspires to, it’s like a bragging right because of Fela’s legacy. We didn’t think the crowd there would vibe to “Hey Lover” because my listeners are [mostly] international. I was scared because of the street vibe at Shrine and I didn’t know how people would respond. I surprised to see all these hardcore guys holding their chest and singing along to the romantic song. I had goosebumps on my skin. Other memorable performances were Trace In The City, LASPOtech and Unilag. The reception was also massive. Even for my newly released songs.
In 2009 I performed at Unilag and I shut down the stage. I had that energy that I could make it after, but I didn’t have any management or the capital to fund my career. You need that bar to advertise yourself and get your music across to your audience. So I had to leave singing for production so I could earn money.
I stopped releasing music in 2010 and became a producer for the label [U&I]. When Dotman’s deal finished, they were looking for a new artist to sign. I was also looking for someone I could plug but then I was encouraged by my boss that I could just do it. What I learned from that is your time will always come because it’s a privilege to be signed to a label that’s established. Some people even think I’m based in the UK. They encourage me to move like an international artist.
In my experience, people always come for shows. Even when they don’t know the songs, they’d still turn up for you if the music is good. I also think personality matters. Because in Lagos, you’re likely to run into a celebrity either in school, stores and all. But outside Lagos, others go to shows to catch a glimpse of these celebrities. Shoprite at Ibadan was packed and it’s a big venue. And I think it’s the personality, knowing that Davido and Mayorkun would be there.
I haven’t really had time to chill. I spend most of my time at the studio. There’s still be time for that [chilling], but right now I just want to be in that studio. With my experience as a producer, I’m just sort of used to being in the studio.
My name is Ebenezer so that was my name. Then I started making gospel songs and jazz came from playing jazz music at Eko hotel. So I was called Eben Jazz Beats. Olakira means shining star in Swahili, it was given to me by my label.
I’m not free like I was before. I spend more, my standard of living is a lot higher. And the ladies, well the turn up is interesting now. My DM is choked. We never blow but my dm don dey blow. I don’t have too many friends. Just work friends. All my friends are artists. It has always been that way. You can’t be my friend if I’m not benefiting from you.
It’s from this continent. [It will] spice up the market for international audiences. Wakanda is a universal word that represents Africa. And Jollof is our favorite spicy rice dish in Africa. I’m basically serving the world my continent’s dish. The 7 tracks all have something behind it. It’s not just Afropop, it is infused with R&B and Jazz. It’s a unique sound. I’m bringing African sounds from the future to the present. It’s different from the normal songs you hear out there.
It’s just me expressing my feelings. I love women, beautiful ladies out there. It’s more of love songs and how I feel about women. They are the beauty of the world. We can’t exist without them. Love is beautiful. I didn’t feature anyone ’cause I don’t want diluted sounds. Certain people thought it was fluke when I dropped “Hey Lover” and I need to prove to them that I have that talent. I just kept recording songs because e dey head (it’s natural to me). Like I told you, I like to spend time in the studio. In fact, it was too much. We should have just turned it into an album but I don’t want to rush things. Everything was just easy to record. Once you have the talent.
Being an artist isn’t easy. I learned from making this EP that there’s a process. You have to keep giving the best you can. But it’s the things around you that make you. [You] can’t compare me to people that have been signed for four years. There are things they’ve experienced that I haven’t experienced. But I think I’m a fast learner. I’m proud of the music I have out there and I’m sure there are lots of awards waiting for us.
My priority right now is to get my music out there. It’s easier when people are already feeling the vibe. I’m very good with live shows cause of my experience performing at church so really I can’t wait to have my own shows.
Featured Image Credits: Instagram/iamolakira
You are meeting Debola at a strange time in his life. He wandered into a dream and lost his way back. Tweet at him @debola_abimbolu