Dogged, confident, versatile and immensely talented – are just some of the words which best describe singer-songwriter per excellence – Simi.
Christened Simisola Ogunleye at birth, the petite – yet beautiful – Mass Communication graduate got everyone singing along to her Afro-pop classic, Tiff, after it dropped earlier this year (June 2014).
In an exclusive chat with ENCOMIUM Weekly’s Michael Nwokike, she let us into her world, her music, her dreams, her journey and told us things she has told none other…
I love music, I guess. I’ve always had this passion for music – right from when I was a kid. I think when you love something that much, you just have to do it.
What’s the journey been like since you started?
There have been a lot of ups and downs – but I guess on the road to where you are going, there are bound to be challenges. I started with gospel music and I released an album in 2008 titled Ogaju. I got signed to a label after I finished serving, but it didn’t work out. But this year, I got signed to X3M Music.
So, that’s what my journey’s been like.
How long have you been doing music for, professionally?
I will say six years, professionally.
What do you call the kind of music you do?
I do Afro-pop music. It’s a blend of Afro, pop and a bit of soul. A lot people think I’m an R’n’B singer, maybe because I sound like one, but I don’t really do R’n’B.
What are those things that help you make music?
I write about experiences – maybe mine or someone else’s. For instance, if you gist me about something, I could go ‘oh, that’s a song!’ I like to write about experiences – things that really happened. I like writing about things that are really interesting, things that people can identify with. Apart from that, I’m dabbling into a bit of production, though I’m not half as good as I want to be. Some people ask if the melody comes before the lyrics, but I don’t think there’s a particular way it comes. Most times, after I’ve recorded a song, I’d have to come back and work on it. But when I have my first verse and chorus, I usually consider the song completed.
Are you more of the artiste who takes time to compose lyrics or are you more of an artiste who just goes into the studio and freestyles?
I do both of them. It’s kind of funny, but sometimes when I’m on the road and I have an idea for a song, I take out my phone, sing and record the melody as I don’t want it to go away. But other times, I actually sit down to write the song. So, it comes both ways.
If you weren’t doing music, what would you have been doing?
I’d probably be on radio, like an OAP (On Air Personality) or a writer – like a novelist or a columnist.
What do you think will stand you out from the very many female artistes in the industry?
For me, I think my style of music and my delivery. I do Afro-pop, quite a number of artistes do Afro-pop as well, but I think also the way I write my songs, my voice and my personality.
What are you working on currently?
I’m working on my next single, but in the long run my album – it should be out this year. I already have a bunch of songs, some recorded and some not recorded.
Who are the people you’d be working with on your album in terms of collaborations and producers?
Right now, I’m working with only one producer and that’s Oscar Heman-Ackah. As for collaborations, I cannot say. One of the things I’m favoured to have is an amazing team – so it is not something I’ll decide by myself. It’s a team decision…
We all have our preferences. On a personal note, who are those artistes you’d like to work with?
Oh yeah, right now I’m feeling Patoranking. Who knows maybe tomorrow I’ll be feeling someone else, but at the moment I’m feeling Patoranking.
And the females?
I like a lot of them, but right now I’m not really thinking about doing collaborations with a female artiste – because of the stories I usually tell. Maybe when there’s a song that I think would be good to collaborate with a female, I will. But I really like a lot of them, there’s Yemi Alade, Tiwa Savage, Omawumi – a lot of them. It’s not like I’m close-minded about it.
What should we be expected from your album?
You should expect to laugh a lot. My style is something people haven’t heard before. You’ll enjoy yourself with the blend of what I’d have inside.
I wanted to write something that everybody could relate with, like telling everyone’s story. Like when you fall really in love, like when someone just comes and sweeps you off your feet, especially when you are not planning for it – that’s what the song is about.
Do you think your next couple of songs will do better than Tiff?
What makes you think so?
You know what’s funny? One of my friends asked me sometime, she said: ‘Simi, are you not scared that you’d not be able to meet the standard of Tiff?’ Personally, I don’t think Tiff is my best song; but it’s one of the really good ones. I’m not worried about meeting expectations; I’m actually very excited, because of what I know we have in store. I’m really going to surprise the heck out of everybody with what I’m going to put out. I know it’s difficult meeting up to standards in the industry, but I’m very excited. I’m very open to criticism. If I release a song and people say this or that, I’ll go back and try again, but I do not expect everybody to like my music.
Who is Simi – the person, not Simi – the artiste?
I’m actually very simple. I’m a very private person. I can talk a lot, but that’s when I’m around people. I’m usually busy writing something or singing. I like to swim and read. I can be very goofy, I have this weird sense of humour. I like to think I’m a little bit funny.
As your music becomes more popular, so would you. How would you keep your private life private – that is, away from the prying eyes of the public?
I told you initially that I’m a very private person and I don’t have a lot of close friends. The thing is that people can ask you questions but you don’t have to answer them. All the questions you’ve been asking, if I didn’t answer them, there’s nothing you’d do, you’ll just move on to the next question. You have to be practical. If you’re expecting everybody to say nice things about you and hate it when they say mean things – you’d go crazy. No matter what happens, you just have to rise above it all.
Since you are a private person, it then means that my next question…
Yes, I have a boyfriend (laughs).
Oh, then should we be expecting wedding bells?
I don’t know. If you hear the bells, then you come.
Is still part of the plans anytime soon?
You mean to get married? It depends on how long is ‘soon’.
So, we should be on the lookout?
I don’t know if you want to be on the lookout, fine (laughs). The funny thing is that probably when I get married nobody is going to know, maybe just my friends and family.
That means you want something close-knit?
Yes, because sometimes when you put the good stuffs in the media, the media puts the bad stuffs in the media.
Away from that now; five years from now, where do you see Simi?
Beyond the shores of Nigeria and Africa. And not just being famous, but actually having substance. You know people can be famous for something bad or something mediocre. I want people to know me for my music, like the way Adele is. You hardly know what’s happening in her personal life, but her music is everywhere – one of the biggest selling albums. That kind of impact is what I want to make. Also, I want to have at least two albums out by then. Just being able to share what I have with the world. I want to be happy – that’s what I want.
What are those things you’d do consistently to get there?
I believe that a great work ethic; you can never replace a great work ethic. Like my boss – Steve Babaeko – always says ‘Simi, no matter what you do, don’t ever stop being hungry’. The reason the likes of Bill Gates and Dangote are where they are today is because they weren’t satisfied when they had a million dollars. So, you have to act like you haven’t done anything yet that the mindset I want to have. And also to keep improving; no matter what you know there’s always more to learn, more to do. I want to have that culture of always learning something, always adding more to myself.
When you think about Nigerian music industry in general, what comes across your mind?
I think we’re better than we used to. The only thing I kind of miss is that the music industry wasn’t as crowded, now there are so many people. Back then, you’d hardly find someone who could really sing, you know all this ad-libs, but now we have many of them. We are becoming a force to be reckoned with. There’s nowhere else to go but up. It has become more competitive now, so you have to keep your game up. It’s harder, but it’s better.
If I want to be like Simi – the musician, what would you say to me?
Just never give up; it’s not going to be easy. Even when you’re up there, it becomes harder because now there’s more pressure. And if you don’t genuinely love this, you should probably not do it. Bottom line – be happy.