When you think of female Nigerian pop-stars you can call only a handful of names, each with a specific sound, style, and fanbase but a common factor is they all have great sex appeal which gives their music a sensual element. The Nigerian music system is a very patriarchal environment. The idea that women have to sell themselves (sexually), as well as their music to get mainstream, is outdated and new female artists on the scene are freshening things up, creating without the borders of looks. It’s now all about being dynamic and expressive.
In 2016, a star yet to be known released her first single ‘Amen‘, Teni Teniola Apata, popularly known as Teni The Entertainer was then signed to Shizzi‘s Magic Fingers Records a relationship that didn’t last long, the song also didn’t do too well. Her next single ‘Fargin’ released in 2017 under a new label Dr. Dolor Entertainment became her first hit single and the beginning of the 25-year-old’s journey as one of the new acts in Nigeria’s reenergized music scene, defying narratives, the same year she showcased her songwriting skills on one of Davido’s hit song ‘Like Dat’.
Teni’s history with music begins with her singing at age two, in high school, she played drums for former governors of Lagos State including Mohammed Buba Marwa, Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Babatunde Fashola, when they were in office and her sister Niniola is one of Nigeria’s biggest Afropop stars.
Last year all her passion paid off, Teni made it clear she was taking over with the release of several hit songs, Fake Jersey, Case, Askamaya, Uyo Meyo, catapulting her into the mainstream sound of Nigeria. The two awards (Rookie Of The Year Award in The Headies, 2018 & Best New Artist Award at Soundcity MVP Awards Festival, 2019) she’s won is proof of how big she’s becoming.
The scene needed a new breakout star and found one in Teni’s musical style and nostalgic/bubbly vibe. Her approach to creating unforgettable melodies fused with Fuji and Highlife attributes form the tracks that have dominated our playlists and the stage of major shows last year. Teni’s beauty lies in her ability to be completely comfortable in her own skin and originality, an element that allows her art, voice, and soul shine brighter than her peers.
There’s a world of possibilities awaiting Teni The Entertainer, an artist with no album, EP or mixtape ever released, just an arsenal of tested hits and a contemporary style to die for. We caught up with the fast-rising star as she shared a few thoughts and a lot of smiles.
It’s been a few years since your first mainstream single Fargin, now you’re the breakout star of 2018 and arguably one of the biggest female artist in Nigeria through last year. How does this growth feel and did you ever think it’ll happen this way?
Teni The Entertainer: It’s absolutely surreal. I just thank God for the growth and the milestones so far. Well, I didn’t know when it was going to happen or in what manner it was going to happen and I still feel there is more work to be done.
There’s a real musical flare in your sound tapping into sonics with an eccentricity of legends like King Wasiu Ayinde, Ebenezer Obey, King Sunny Ade. In a modern time with trap; Afrofusion, why have you decided to tap into this nostalgic vibe in your music? How did you make it yours?
Teni The Entertainer: Growing up I listened to all these legends and their versatility and art of making music out of anything was a major inspiration. I simply found myself drawing inspiration from everything and making a song out of it no matter how silly it might have sounded.
What do you think about the evolution of Lagos music scene, how it’s opening up to the Alté narrative and becoming a global phenomenon?
Teni The Entertainer: It’s finally getting the attention it has longed deserved and it’s great to see.
My style is African and it exhibits the free-spirited young girl that I am.
You’re yet to release a body of work, can we expect one soon? What are your plans this year?
Teni The Entertainer: Let me just say a true entertainer is spontaneous and of course there are plans in the works but I’ll still like to keep that element of spontaneity and surprise. So just don’t blink on me.
As you grow as an artist, what do you want your music to say about you and mean to the people listening?
Teni The Entertainer: I have always been about spreading joy and bringing smiles to the faces of those who interact with the TENI brand. This is exactly what I want the music to say about me.
You have a very unique style we love, a fashion Arsenal equipped with durgas, baggy Tees, sneakers. How did your love for streetwear begin? What streetwear brands do you fuck with from Nigeria?
Teni The Entertainer: Fashion for me is anything comfortable and unique. I have never looked like the person next door. My love for sports and that retro vibe has also played a major role in my fashion sense.
As a pop star, there’s a narrative having to be sexy to make it but you’re defying that. Being in the limelight as a female performer, have you ever had to deal with body shaming and negativity? What’s your advice for other women going through it?
Teni The Entertainer: Whoever wants to talk should do so. I am only doing me. I learnt to define my path and focus on the journey at hand. Comments are simply opinions defined by a certain individual or group of people. Eventually, you are the person who determines the effect of that comment. You can either let it affect you negatively or shake it off.
You performed at basically 70% of the shows in Lagos, how was that transition from making songs in your bedroom to performing back to back shows for thousands of people?
Teni The Entertainer: At first, it was unbelievable seeing people singing my songs lyric for lyric. Gradually I got used to it and I just wanted to give my all to the fans. I feed off their energy and I have to give them that energy back. So I ensure I put all on that stage when I get out there.
What’s an unknown fact no one knows?
Teni The Entertainer: Well, I don’t think everyone knows but I love basketball and I was once offered a basketball scholarship.
Never stop believing in yourself, be yourself and stand your ground when you have to.
Photographer: Anny Robert
Creative direction: Doble Seis Entertainment
Styled by Sneaker Boy
Outfits: Sanusi Lagos
Makeup: Beaute By Toby