Depending on Independence: Tawati’s Claim to Viral Fame

2020 has been a rollercoaster of a year, so many unexpected curve balls were thrown and the biggest being the COVID-19 pandemic that basically changed the course of humanity by keeping everyone indoors and apart. This changed a lot of things, and for creatives, musicians especially, who are heavy on interacting with their fans personally and make most of their income from shows it was a pretty big hit on them and the entire music industry.

For independent artists, it seemed like a blessing. Navigating the music scene without a label can be really tough, especially without the financial backing needed to make things happen. Being independent means, you would typically have to be innovative and rely heavily on the internet to connect and reach your fans. So, when the pandemic hit, it was particularly good for them. They already built a network online, and were used to using social media as a way to do shows, release music and also market it through curated campaigns.

Artists like Tawati used this new world to his advantage, he caused some stirrings of social media awareness with the video for his freestyle “DCMU” that blew up with over 100kviews. For an artist with no body of work or a recent or upcoming single that was an amazing feat.

It took a year for him to release that freestyle as a single. In speaking with Tawati, he was able to explain and tell his story which is the same in broad strokes for many upcoming artists.

Tell me a bit about yourself?

My names are Michael Tawati Ojeikere. I’m a young Nigerian creative. I have 4 siblings and I’m a Christian. I went to primary and secondary school in Gbagada, Ochad schools. I spent a year at the American University of Nigeria studying Communications and Multimedia design and quickly realized that conventional schooling was not for me. I left school and decided to pursue a career in Television. I was working in Lagos for about 5 years. I worked with One music which used to be an independent music channel which was based in the UK but was operating out of Nigeria. After that I moved to Red Tv which is UBA’s online platform for about a year and I had some shows on there as well.

Then I went to Uni and came back. I worked again with One music for a while and then I freelanced a bit. Then I worked with Fame Tv, which was another platform out of the UK but was operating in Nigeria. Then I came back to completely focus on music. Music had always been in the background because I started out doing Talent shows, then I was a performing artist. I also did radio for a bit as a teenager with Cool Fm. It was a syndicated show with BBC. I did a show on Silverbird for Previews for cartoons and animations for kids and families. Right now, I’m a freelance artist, producer, creative and I’m still trying to do a lot of other things, but I’m focused on the music.

How is it like being an independent artist?

Being an independent artist is one of the most difficult things anyone can do right now in Nigeria and Africa at large. I’ve been independent for the past 5 years. Even when I took a break to do Tv I was still making music as an independent artist. So, it’s definitely very challenging but it’s also very rewarding in the end provided you can stick to the cause and be as dedicated as possible to get to the finish line. Being an independent artist is really just doing everything on your own, so for me it’s being my own A&R, Co-producing, writing, recording, promotion, distribution and all of that. It’s a blend of all beautiful things that you learn as an artist and are also important skills in life and in your career path as an artist

What inspired you to be a rapper?

Man, ever since I was a kid I was listening to hip-hop records and listening to R&B records growing up. Listening to Wyclef Jean, listening to 2 Pac, Biggie, Nas, I didn’t really understand what they were saying but I definitely felt inspired, and then I used to just mime, then I started freestyling.

There was a gradual growth and process to everything and all of the influences have also translated into shaping me up as a rapper. My inspiration to being a rapper is just that it’s an avenue for me to express my art and my mind. While also doing it in such a way that whoever is listening can relate to what I’m saying or can feel like they could be in that position before. My inspiration is being able to express myself in such a way that I would be able to connect with the people who are listening to me.

You started out in music much earlier on, how would you say the space for putting out music has evolved?

Wow! The space for putting out music has definitely evolved a lot. When I started my career, it was about 10 years ago. So back then, social media was on the cusp of just being popular and so distribution was majorly physical. But back then, I had a proper management team and that was how come I was able to learn about the behind-the-scenes work that ultimately comes together to form the artist so that definitely gave me the experience that I’m still using till today.

It has definitely evolved because right now we have streaming and digital services that provide worldwide distribution. Right now, you don’t really need a distribution company to share your music all around the globe like how it used to be back in the day. It evolving has definitely also made a lot of things easier and more convenient and it has made independent artists and African artists more accessible to millions of people all around the globe.

Did that have a major impact on your current sound?

Yes, it definitely had a major impact on my current sound, Things evolving and me evolving from just being a little freestyle artist that was on Jimmy’s Jump-off, and I was performing at events and award shows, to really learning how to make music. How to construct lyrics, how to write 16 bars, 32 bars, how to construct and rhyme, how to be on topic, how to stay in context. It definitely affected all these aspects of making music and helped me enhance my abilities as a rapper.

 How will you define your sound?

I will describe my sound as Hip-hop / trap fusion. At the base of my sound, its trap, I’m a trap artist, I identify with trap. I’m conscious when it comes in terms of how I make my music. My influences range from Wayne, who is like a major influence on my sound. I’m also heavily influenced by J Cole and Kendrick Lamar. I would consider myself the lovechild of if J Cole and Kendrick decided to have a baby. My core values of music will be Hip-hop, rap with a fusion of everything else like high life and so on.

What Inspired your project?

My project is called the Tale of a Thousand journeys. Basically, I’m trying to interpret what I’ve seen and experienced so far as my first offering because it’s my debut project, no features, so I’m really trying to explain in-depth how I’ve been dealt with in life and what I’ve seen and how I’m very sure most people can relate to that as well. I provided 5 different genres of music with 5 different stories with 5 different contexts.

I also felt like the timing was important because this project was slated to drop earlier in the year but I kept on pushing it back and it’s really 3 years overdue and that’s why on the tracklist I put the year I recorded certain songs. And track 2 which is Parents & Drugs was recorded at a point in time where music became very definitive for me so I brought all of that together and was waiting for the perfect time, which I felt like it was earlier in the year but due to different circumstances, it kept on being pushed back.

How did the lockdown and the current protests influence your music curation process?

The lockdown and protests didn’t really have an impact on my creation and curation process. The album art took at least about 20 prototypes and six months of work and the images we finally decided on were taken at the Gbagada protests by my friend. I always wanted my car to be the artwork I didn’t even want to be in the artwork but we were able to put something together that worked and we went with it.

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Internet Company Reaching Young & Smart Africans from Lagos, Nigeria.

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