Whenever a piece of music invites me into a world I’ve barely experienced, I’m grateful. For a lot of things, but most of all, I’m grateful for the artist; a little ritual is mentioning the artist’s name until its syllables stick at the edge of my tongue. Then, I might just mention “this wicked musician” amongst a group of friends–putting them on, as we say. It’s always the little things, and they all begin with the thing of all things: a name.
One of my latest fascinations–and I suspect she’ll be for a long time–is Asikey (pronounced Ah-see-key). I’d come by her EP Yellow on Twitter, highly recommended by many who’d listened. I go hear am, I told myself. When I finally pressed play, I emerged at the end of my listening experience a firm believer.
Asikey (born Asikiya Albright George) didn’t just bless me, she confused me because, how could pain be so beautiful? I must have shed a tear when she sang “I don’t know how to stay alive” on Paranoia the third track on Yellow. Minutes later, when the title track played, the sinking feeling in my gut had become something stronger. I think it was belief.
Asikey is no newbie, her debut single Let Us Be was released in 2015. In 2016, she released Human, her debut EP, from which the song Earth Attack would win her ‘Best Female Artist in African Inspirational Music’ at the AU-backed All Africa Music Awards.
“Yellow is positivity in one word,” Asikey says to me over the phone. I’d contacted her some hours prior, and now, on a quiet Sunday evening, we were talking about the world from which it sprung.
It isn’t a joyful ride as Asikey tells it. Yellow took a lot. She remembers banging her head into walls. She remembers the paranoia, the depression that comes with it. And as she freely talks to a journalist on the phone about this personal project, that’s only a little of the 100% one gets from actually listening to the tape.
Asikey’s writing is conversational, and the brief running time of the project adds to its stunning effect. Her voice is an experience on its own, bending at will. The thrill of these techniques makes Yellow an enjoyable listen, a worthy channel for the prevalent theme of mental health across its six songs.
Asikey’s vocal output is beautifully complemented by the overlapping music. Producer and engineer Mikkyme Joses created a high-quality sonic world serving as a fitting base to hold Yellow’s delicate themes. I was in my power-starved hot Lagos room as I listened to Yellow for the first time. Then, the heat was tolerable. I could breathe. If I kept the beat of my heart in sync with Joses’ lifting percussions, the glorious keys, I could breathe.
You put out “Dark” in 2017. Was that your first song?
I had an EP in 2016, Human. It’s a 7-track EP, even before Dark.
I couldn’t find that.
You wouldn’t. The copyright doesn’t belong to me so I took it down. I used to be signed to a record label called Pendulum Records and they owned the content. Having left the label in 2017, I had to relinquish the content to them.
What’s your family set-up like?
I am the fourth of six children, and we’re ethnically Kalabari in Port Harcourt. We moved a lot around, ’cause of my dad’s job.
What music did you listen to early in life?
I grew up listening to a lot of music. Diana Ross, ABBA, Lionel Ritchie. Basically white people music. (Laughs)
How would you describe your genre of music?
I call it alternative. ‘Cause it’s an alternative to what’s mainstream in Nigeria. But then the subgenres are like alternative rock, alternative pop, alternative soul.
So, Yellow. When did work begin on it?
We started production in March, precisely on the 1st of March, 2019. And the entire engineering was concluded around April, just last month.
Mikkyme Joses was in on it.
Yeah, [he] is the producer and mix engineer; produced and engineered all the songs.
Is that in any way connected to the Brymo album of the same title?
No, that was a complete coincidence. It happens that I was already friends with Brymo (even though I got to know Brymo through Mikky ‘cause we record at the same studio) but then I decided to title my EP Yellow in 2019, and Brymo told me his album was going to be titled Yellow in 2020 and I was like “Woah, mine is Yellow, too”, and he was like “oh, really cool, let’s leave it that way.”
Yellow begins with the line “everything will fade away, but the music stays.” I loved that.
It’s quite factual, right? I was at the point where everything had disappeared, and there was just music. And frequently at that point, I would–it happens a lot to me. You know how being an artist in Nigeria, it’s crazy, it’s hard to sell your music, especially as an independent artist. So, I was writing that song (I wrote that song sometime in 2017). I don’t even know where the line came from, it was just how I felt. I had nothing but the music.
I observed how “Don’t Brood It” in my favorite language [Pidgin English] is ‘no think am.’
Honestly! Thank you for saying that. That was my way of saying “no think am, no reason am” ‘cause I really suck at Pidgin-
[Cuts in] I could teach you sha.
No wahala, I go learn. (Laughs)
So that particular record [Don’t Brood It] is very personal to me; I wrote it during my recovery process from a mental episode. Don’t Brood It was telling myself not to worry, to get over it. “It takes a beautiful mind to lose it, and lose it completely,” there’s a line [on the song] that says that, so don’t be afraid, just let it go.
Before we recorded [the song] Mikkyme was like “Are you sure you want to talk about this?” and I was, like, “Yeah, if I don’t say it in my music, where else will I say it?”
“Don’t Brood It” and “Paranoia” are like super personal experiences. They were written at the same period about the same incident. Paranoia is the depressive part of the episode, and there’s a other part of the episode, which is like, manic. Which is… full blown crazy.
Yellow related to me on a near-personal level. And I think it’s important you’re reflecting the reality of mental health in your music.
Yeah! We have to come to terms with… think of it like this, sadness is a bad place, right? But now, you find the song beautiful, and I find it beautiful, too. So, something beautiful could come from something extremely painful and terrible like depression.
Having Brymo on Yellow must have felt good. How did that come about?
I wrote Jupiter sends her wishes in 2016. I didn’t know I was gonna have Brymo on it. So I had to pick one song to have him on, and I said “I think this is the song” so I sent it to him like “this is the song, and this is the writing” and for the first time ever, Brymo sang a verse which he did not write. He wanted to edit it earlier, but he just left it that way eventually. I guess he liked the way it was originally. It’s really honorable experience for me.
He’s a very easy person, it wasn’t hard at all. I told him earlier “hey, whenever you’re ready I’ll like to do something with you, and I want to prepare you. I want it to be really special.”
What does the EP Yellow mean to you?
Yellow is positivity in one word. Yellow is the gift of positivity. I told you where Paranoia came from, right? Even at the time we were recording the EP it was a crazy period for me. I would be in emotional moments when I would be really sad, I would be really angry and hit my face on the wall. Yellow is a metaphor for something good coming out of something dark. So Yellow is hope. Yellow is positivity, Yellow is a gift to me, from my darkness and my own pain.
Around Nigeria, there’s the sentiment that financially, alternative music isn’t all that. What do you think of the commercial prospect of your music?
I don’t know, ‘cause I can’t speak for anybody. I don’t know what anybody else makes from their music. Even guys in the mainstream might appear as though they’re making a lot of money, but nobody really knows where the money is coming from. So, the idea isn’t just alternative music, the idea is music.
I don’t feel like I’m in a disadvantaged position ‘cause I’m growing, and I’m watching myself grow. For now, I’m earning according to my capacity now. So, I expect those (figures and all) to grow as I grow. And that’s an eventuality. So, alternative music might seem to be at a disadvantageous spot but I don’t think it is. Every sector has the capacity to grow and I am growing, there’s no doubt about that.
Earlier, you said you’ve been signed to a record label. It didn’t end well?
Hmm… Well, it’s not like it didn’t go well, you know? It’s what kick-started my career. It’s not in my bad books. The record launched me in 2015, and I parted amicably.
Going off that, if a label comes knocking today, will you sign?
I’ve had a couple of offers, and it’s honestly not in plans. I don’t include a label coming in my plans for even the next decade, or even more. ‘Cause I already have a plan that will sustain me as an independent artist, and that’s how I want to roll because it has its advantages, as well as it has its fears. I have a plan.
So, lockdown trivia. What are you listening to?
I’m listening to Brymo’s Yellow (of course), my Yellow, 21 Pilots – I listen to a lot of rock music.
What are your next moves. That is, following the release of Yellow?
I’m definitely going to putting out a beautiful single before the year’s over. It’s titled “The Rhythm” and it was supposed to be on Yellow but we dropped it, ‘cos the production is more complicated than the rest. And because we wanted to add more live instrumentation to it, Mikky and I just decided to take it out. I could put out another EP, depending on how the fans react and keep loving Yellow; or I’ll start working on an album.
Are you playing at any shows later in the year?
I’ll put together a concert towards the end of the year. I usually hold a concert in November. I did the first one in 2018, at the Press Jazz Club in Lekki, and I will do so this year. It’s called “94 Sessions.”