There’s a lot of music currently springing from Nigeria, Africa but still, not enough room from the female individuals making their mark on this new boom, to add to this minimal figure which needs an equal boost is Bella Alubo. A signee under the label Tinny Entertainment, she’s a figure of her own creating music she hopes won’t be trapped in a box but given room to be explored like the ideas and sounds she surrounds herself with. Getting a big push after releasing two projects and a load of singles to keep her audience curious about what else she has in store, her answer with each track is simple ‘so much more’.
A career which started with hip-hop influenced sounds is expanding into a large variety of other sonics as she finds her voice and grows her art defining herself along the way, with a very philosophical mind her direction is one filled with love, strength and will to explore one’s gift. You can’t easily see the layers within as one might be quick to judge her as a simple hip individual riding the wave but there’s a lot more within as she reveals in our conversation. This year she aims to make it a defining one and we’re glad to have her words documented as one of the women in music doing this to break the mould.
How would define your music journey so far?
Bella Alubo: Scary and exciting. Going from the girl who grew up in a small town & put out 2 EPs on SoundCloud to a signed performing artiste who’s making music on such a big platform has been a huge change.
Take us down that trip being a young girl in JOS with a dream to do music?
Bella Alubo: I never really thought I’d become a full-time artist. Music was just something I liked because I happened to like writing and have producer/artist friends. I’ve always been on the antisocial side so being hooked on social media kinda compensated. The feedback I received on social media is mostly what made me keep putting out stuff. I barely have any friends in Jos anymore but it’ll always be home & very significant to my art.
What’s special about hip-hop and making music in Jos?
Bella Alubo: Jos is a small lonely town so I think the young people get bored easily. OGs like the chocboiz showed the town a fun thing to do and the put the city on the map so I think that’s mostly what triggered the hip-hop culture in Jos. Plus the foreign community there is pretty significant. For some reason, I’ve mostly only dated artistes & I think they rubbed off on me musically. I used to be in a group called TIC with other guys, helped build my writing especially because they were rappers. Also gave me a place to record, before everybody fell out. Hip Hop for me was a good place to start because it helped me focus on writing and pay attention to saying things that made sense, without being distracted and distracting people with melodies, I think hip-hop is one of the most expressive genres because it strips down many things and shows you the artiste in a very pure form.
But you don’t like being trapped under the ‘rapper’ banner.
Bella Alubo: I’ve never liked labels because they come with expectations that don’t allow room for many things I might not want to do. I don’t want to explore one part of what I like musically. People like Westlife, Pussycat Dolls, Brandy, and Pink – played a huge roll in developing my taste generally so I can’t just ignore that part of me.
What would you say your music sonically?
Bella Alubo: It’s a mix of many things, to be honest. I had an old T-shirt that said something like “parts of everyone I love”. I think my music is that way, mixture of all the genres I consider cool. Rap, R&B, Afro, trap, pop mostly. But it usually falls under Pop since there’s no actual definition for that.
Your new joint project with Labelmate, Ycee, came out of nowhere. I love ‘Empathy’ and ‘Tonight’, you also have the smash single ‘Tropicana Fruit Juice’… What’s your feeling about it all?
Bella Alubo: I’m so so glad we got to work on that project. Tinny literally told us “the rules are no rules”, he let us come up with a theme and everything. The first couple songs we worked on were leaning towards rap and trap but when we worked on songs we eventually ended up choosing, the ease and chemistry was so dope because Ycee and I were in similar phases in our personal lives, the love songs just happened easily. There are some unreleased ones that I really like which would hopefully come out in the future. I love that we got to work with our favourite producers and the closest to the label – Syn X, Karma, and Q. Ycee is a really talented artiste and I’m a huge fan, it was an honour that he agreed to do a project with me and Took it as seriously as he did, even though we’re on the same label. I learned a lot about myself too, I allowed myself just express however it came out. ‘Tropicana Fruit Juice’ kinda happened by accident and most of the flow was freestyled. I love the reception. I’m also still in awe of how much emotion Ycee can express vocally, especially in ‘Empathy‘. The whole project shows the world ourselves and is so naked. I love it.
Music is floating art. It’s expression that isn’t bound by time and space. Poetry you can dance to and books you don’t have to hold.
How has navigating the music scene being a female voice in a largely male populated field?
Bella Alubo: Gender inequality and discrimination have always been a passionate topic for me because my father’s NGO did a lot of sensitization on it when I was younger and seeing all those stickers around probably influenced my views. Most industries are obviously male-dominated. John Lennon and Yoko Ono have a song titled “Woman is the Nigger of the world”. And I believe that just as black people overcame oppression, so would women and all minorities experiencing discrimination in any form. In my song ‘Radio’, I said “one time for my girls what it do? Stay winning for all of you”, being a woman in the music industry, I just plan to win and outdo myself over and over for myself, and for women.
What have you picked up navigating the industry you can share as tips for fellow females leaning towards being music creatives?
Bella Alubo: Female what? I feel like it’s only okay to call women “females” if we call men “males” but moving on. One thing I like to do is show love and support to other women in the industry & not fall for the trap of allowing people make me feel spiteful or like I’m in competition with another woman. My advice is always showing support & never bank on your sex for anything.
Bella Alubo: No need. I personally don’t find it offensive, I just think it’s important to be sensitive to such things because of what they might enable in society. Just like that H&M shirt. It’s about being sensitive to issues, regardless of who finds it offensive.
Music is a strong tool for socio-political issues, do you feel your music plays a strong narrative in this?
Bella Alubo: It definitely doesn’t as much as I’d like yet but I like to strategize and I’m not one for instant gratification. I believe that the message is as important as the platform & sometimes people won’t listen to you simply because your platform isn’t right yet and when it is, you get to reach more people. We have to be logical and realistic about our goals instead of being idealistic dreamers. To me, it makes more sense to preach to a church than on the street while people walk up and down. Let’s say I’m “building my church”.
What would your ‘church’ feel like in its full form?
Bella Alubo: Not to sound like a hippie but it’ll be centered on love and empowerment. It’ll help people feel brave enough to express themselves & chase their dreams. It’ll prove to the world that anyone can be and do anything as long as they don’t stop trying. I’ll probably make merch with things like “zero fear, endless love”. Right now let’s say I’m still focused on gathering followers, not just on Instagram (she laughs).
How did you get signed onto the Tinny Label and how did that affect the growth of your music?
Bella Alubo: I sent my music to Osagie Okunkpolor, the founder of The Zone Agency she sent it to Tinny because she felt it was dope. He liked it, invited me over to Lagos December 2016 for a sort of screening session where I made about 4 songs in 2 or 3 days. I got signed 22nd January 2017 after negotiations and all that. I honestly love my label and I believe it happened at the right time career-wise and personally. I finished NYSC December 2016 and got signed a month after at a time where I was facing that depressive crossroads of “what do I really want to do with my life”. I took the record deal as an answer from the universe and I actually believe I’m doing what I was born to. My musical growth has been incredible. I’m doing genres I thought I never could, writing in shorter periods, working better under pressure, all that. Brand development and stage performances have also personally helped me become more comfortable with myself. I’ve generally changed so much since I got signed. I’m growing more fearless and determined every day. Everyone on my team is my friend too, I love that.
There’s a new generation of young minds redefining different sectors across the continent, being one of those minds using music as your tool, how important is the narrative of giving young souls a stage of their own?
Bella Alubo: So many young people are making moves and it’s truly inspiring. In Nigeria, some of my favorites are Dapo Tuburna doing his best to preserve the PURE afrobeat culture, Damilare with his amazing vocals. BOJ who has such a unique voice I can’t wait to have on a song, AT who’s holding it down for female rappers in Nigeria, D-O who has one of the coolest brands right now in Nigeria, Ajebutter 22 who’s a super witty writer. Unfortunately, it’s a dog eat dog world and everyone has to fight to get the recognition they want. We have to take the stage because no one is going to give it.
What’s next for you?
Bella Alubo: Right now, my focus is to push the EP so it does as well as it should & to keep developing my uniqueness as an artiste. Would keep doing singles, videos and all that this year!
What do you like about African music? What’s the flavor you feel our sound has to offer the world as it grows global?
Bella Alubo: The major thing I think people like about African music is how happy it is, even sad songs. The choice of instruments is very interesting & unpredictable. It’s very carefree as well & anyone around the world who appreciates black culture can move to it & learn from it. It’s given artistes room to express without following any taught rules. Seeing people like Drake work with people like Tekno & Wizkid, Burna taking Africa further to the world, it’s just the beginning of us getting the recognition we deserve.
What’s next for our growing industry?
Bella Alubo: I like that the industry has more structure lately, we’re definitely on the right path. More African artistes paying attention to digital business is also helping a lot with royalties. Next, it’s for the world to stop excluding us I think. Like Our rappers need to be categorized with other rappers around the world, our vocalists too.
Images shot at the Baroque Age Studio.
Pictures Taken by Kene Nwatu
Garbs by Clearly Invincible.
One Strap by Pith Africa.