Leading up to the release of her 5th studio album Empress, Sam Ilori caught up with ‘Mama Africa’ herself, Yemi Alade, to talk current events, how she has been affected by the pandemic, her musical inspiration and what we can expect from the new record.
'Music is definitely my passion for life. I’m passionate about being able to light someone else’s candle and genuinely help pave the way for African music.'
Sam: We have the illustrious, the one and only Woman of Steel with us today. If you’d be so kind, please introduce yourself.
Yemi: Fantastic, my name is Yemi Alade. I am a musician, I love music. I am Nigerian by birth and I am unapologetically African. It doesn’t get better than that.
Sam: I love that. Thank you again. As a fellow Nigerian, I am familiar with offering the courtesy of calling you 'Aunty' as a gesture of respect. I haven’t yet been back home, but nevertheless how would you like to be addressed?
Yemi: (Laughter) Get over here. I would say that even though you haven’t been to Nigeria, it’s a great thing that you’re still representing in your own way. We definitely count on every one of us in the diaspora to do so. In terms of how you’d address me… just call me Yemi Alade or Yemi for short.
Sam: How would you say this global pandemic has affected you with regards to your creative process, music and life in general?
Yemi: It’s a very different time that we live in right now. Most importantly, I find that health is sincerely wealth. All this while, we’ve been using the term but it resonates differently in 2020. I’d say the biggest impact has come in the form of shows being cancelled. In February, I was supposed to start my tour but the pandemic has turned those plans to dust. It has been postponed hopefully, until 2021.
Sam: What influenced your decision to get into music. Is there a specific individual responsible for helping you begin your musical journey?
Yemi: It all started with my background. My mum has always been a huge lover of music, always listened to it. She consistently encouraged me as a child to participate in shows whilst in primary and secondary school. As I grew older I was in the church choir then at university, I participated in a talent show. Before that, I’d just been singing for fun as a hobby. I literally had no intention of becoming an artist, it wasn’t the plan, but when I won a talent show in 2009 I realised this was my calling.
A few years later, I met Effyzzie Music Group who assisted in moulding my craft, raw talent, and also provided musical direction. They tried to make sure that I was myself, authentic.
I would say my team, personal experiences, reading up on experiences of others and going where the love is, has helped to put my career together.
Sam: If it wasn’t music, what would you have gone into? Were you studying anything specific or did you have any other aspirations?
Yemi: Yes. I love food (Laughter). I probably would have been doing something in the catering industry, but I have my BSc in geography, so I definitely would have been doing something in the sector or meteorology and would have made use of my BSc.
Sam: I had the pleasure of listening to the album and I genuinely enjoyed it. What would you say is different about this album for you?
Yemi: I always feel like every album I’ve ever released has been a reflection of the artist I am and my thoughts at that point in time. It’s like a little piece of me that I’m sharing with the world. For example, the difference between, Woman of Steel and Empress would be the dancehall influence on the Empress album. There are hints of dancehall in almost 70 percent of the songs on the album which I’d say is the first difference.
The second would be the genre selection, the groove and pattern of lyrical delivery, It’s simply mind-blowing. It was so difficult choosing the sounds that are currently on Empress but it’s just another step after Woman of Steel in my life.
Sam: My favourite track is Dancina, what’s yours?
Yemi: Oh, no, that’s not fair. (Laughter). I believe there’s a song for every mood. So, depending on how I feel it can change… right now Ice is my favourite.
'I am honestly just living my life, enjoying my artistry, sharing my creativity with the world and with that comes the nickname ‘Mama Africa’, even though I’m still a young lady.'
Sam: How long did it take you to put the album together?
Yemi: There are two or three songs that were probably recorded a year ago, but the majority were recorded this year. We went to Amsterdam specifically to record the album, get away and see how it could generate some new vibes. It makes the album super fresh. I love that.
My management thought that it was very important for the album to be released this year, despite everything that’s going on. The idea was that it was created this year and should be for the people this year, which is what we felt was needed. One of the songs on the album entitled True Love, is a song of happiness and that is what people need the most right now. Who would have thought that just being alive and the little things in life would literally define happiness? So, putting all of that into music and sharing it with the world was essential for me. I believe more music never hurt anybody.
Sam: That’s a fact! I’ve done my research and I know you speak a plethora of languages. How many do you speak and, on average, how long does it take to learn?
Yemi: Learning languages is like a lifetime job. It’s crazy how you can understand a language and when you aren't in constant conversations with that particular language, you start to forget. I think learning how to speak any language would take a lifetime to truly get it. At current, I speak English, pidgin English, Igbo, Yoruba, French, Swahili and Portuguese.
Sam: Where do you draw your inspiration from as an artist?
Yemi: I draw my inspiration from life itself. It also comes from third-party experiences and some fiction. I’m a creative, I might as well create my world, right? I get a lot of inspiration from my fans too of course.
Sam: What has made you collaborate with so many other artists outside of Nigeria?
Yemi: I’ve always gone where the love is. It might seem like I have quite a number of collaborations but compared to some artists I don’t feel I have as many. It can be difficult with a busy schedule like mine as I receive bookings from all over the world. Being able to produce a record and follow through on a collaboration can be a task in itself, because collaborations aren’t as simple as calling and saying ‘come to the studio.’ The artists must have time in their schedule to show up and perform. It’s a challenging process, especially when you’re dealing with a certain calibre of artist, but yes, my collaborations are based off where the love is, and I’m thankful for the love that I’ve received so far. I can’t wait for more.
Sam: You have also collaborated with one of the biggest artists in the world, Beyoncé. Some would say, ‘I’ve done the song with Beyoncé, I can retire happy.’ Is that the case for you and, if not, who else would you like to collaborate with?
Yemi: I totally get that and it’s okay for anyone to say ‘Hey, this is all I need in life,’ after a collaboration with a globally recognised artist, but that’s not me. My thirst for music exceeds just collaborating with other artists but I definitely have a long list of artists I’d love to collaborate with. I am looking forward to possibly collaborating with Bruno Mars and Rihanna one day.
Sam: We look forward to that, we’ve got the exclusive here at M Magazine that Yemi Alade is going to have a collaboration with Bruno Mars and Rihanna one day.
Yemi: That’s what’s up. (Laughter)
Sam: How do you feel you’ve impacted the African music scene and the wider music industry with your music?
Yemi: Well, impacting the African music scene is definitely not an overnight job. I think if it happens, it happens. I am honestly just living my life, enjoying my artistry, sharing my creativity with the world and with that comes the nickname ‘Mama Africa’, even though I’m still a young lady. I guess that goes to show that Africa appreciates my efforts. The people I am most excited and most elated to inspire are the kids, the little boys and girls who are able to see how my life and career have blossomed. I hope that definitely encourages them to push a little more, to aim for the sky and never think less of themselves. I’m still a girl next door, despite the accolades I’ve been gifted over time. So, I think that is the impact that I have had in Africa, other than sharing my beautiful music. In terms of impacting the world in general, I think Africa is always in need of representation and I’m super excited to be representing Africa in full force.
Sam: Do you have a passion outside of music?
Yemi: Music is definitely my passion for life. I’m passionate about being able to light someone else’s candle and genuinely help pave the way for African music. I think that really warms up my heart, just knowing that being there for someone has made their life a little more comfortable. I am thankful that I am now a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations and little by little, my dreams are beginning to come true in that aspect.
'I’ve been around the world and I’ve seen and experienced a lot of things. I’ve just tried to put it all in my music on this album.'
Sam: What would your message be to your younger self trying to get into the music industry?
Yemi: ‘Yemi, stop doubting yourself. Keep believing, you’re on the right path. You have exactly what you need to get to your desired destination. You’re doing well, pat yourself on the back.’
Sam: And a message to an older you, let’s say five years from now?
Yemi: ‘Wow, you achieved all of this at such a young age. Who knows what else is in store. Keep believing, keep dreaming. Also, look back at the people that you opened the door for.’ Yes, thank God for life.
Sam: What can we expect from the album?
Yemi: In such a short time, I’ve been around the world and I’ve seen and experienced a lot of things. I’ve just tried to put it all in my music on this album. Most especially, with the goal of making sure that you’re dancing while listening to it, so get ready to rhumba.
Sam: Get ready to rhumba indeed. It has been a pleasure Yemi, Aunty, Mama Africa, we thank you.
Yemi: Thank you so much Sam, and to PRS for the support in the past, presently and in the future. We hope for more avenues to do bigger and better things to promote afrobeats and to bless the world with music. God bless.
Empress is out now on Effyzzie Music.