Maka is a singer/songwriter known for her seamless fusion of Soul, Hip Hop and Jazz. She’s a full time musician with a background in Law, having shared stages with the likes of Bez, Simi and Mi Casa to name a few. Maka has performed at events such as Felabration, the Lagos Jazz Series, the Badagry Festival, Gidi Fest and many more. Ever since she started taking her art seriously in University, Maka has continued to grow and hone her skills as a performer and a recording artist.
Ever since Maka released her 7-track debut EP called ‘The Truth’ in 2016, songs like ‘Forever’ and ‘Lagos’ have become cult favorites amongst her fans. Another track off the EP ‘Good Time’ went on to feature as the official soundtrack to Jay Franklyn Jituboh’s celebrated movie‘Dinner’. Maka also wrote the soundtracks to all the episodes for season 1 of Ebony Life TV’s web series ‘Indigo’.
We at CONTENT: NG paid Maka visit at her studio in Park View Estate to find out more about her and her music. We were supposed to meet up at a nearby hotel, which I soon found out (after many hours of voyage) was closed for renovations. I ended up meeting Maka at her studio which was also owned by one of the members of her band and wasn’t far from our previously intended location.
After a few moments of waiting, I was guided through a series of gates, then a flight of stairs, which was overshadowed by a wall of green shrubbery; it looked rather inviting if you ask me. Getting into the studio we initially decided to have our interview in the living room, but later opted for the recording area, which was decorated with several guitars and a set of other instruments, this would eventually provide a much better scene...
Let’s start off with who gave you the 10 Million Naira cheque in your ‘I just got a cheque’ video?
That check was a futuristic check. The check was a prayer but you know you have to put out positive vibes to the earth and that was what the check was for. I know it’s small but you have to start from somewhere.
Who is Maka?
I’m a singer and a songwriter. I was practicing as a lawyer before I started singing. I started the music hustle and I realized I couldn’t cope with both cause they were both time consuming so I left my job in2016, released my first song and it’s just been movements since then.
You seem to have a very good ear when it comesto production. Who are the producers you enjoy working with?
Mainly I work with Teck-Zilla of Str8buttah productions. I have a production deal with them. They handle my videos and the production of my music. Recently I’ve diversified, so I’ve been meeting new producers and I’ve been working on a new compilation. I don’t want to call it an album but for now it’s a couple of songs I’ve complied and the producers vary. I have producers in France and the States working on this project.
Whenever I listen to your songs I feel like your lyrics are rather easy to grasp but yet deep in meaning. Is this intentional?
It’s intentional even though it comes out naturally.It’s intentional not to make it that serious because the genre is already scary to the average Nigerian listener. So tensioning them with too much grammar is like double wahala. I try to follow the KIS (keep it simple) principle so the instrumentals can go crazy, the verse as well but I always make sure the chorus is something people can sing along to. So by the second time they get to the chorus they’re already singing along because they’ve memorized it by then.
What’s your creative process like?
There’s no formula for me. I play a little bit of the piano...
(Brief power outage allowed us to have a break)
Sometimes I wake up 4/5 am and I’m inspired to write so I go to my piano. I come up with a progression andI write to it. Sometimes it’s just the hook I come up with and I save that as a voice note. If I show you my phone you’ll see voice notes from as far back as2015. I’ve been compiling songs cause I’m a song writer as well. I make demos and sell them. Most of my clientele aren’t even Nigerian. Because in this industry we don’t really involve professional song writers. It’s like everyone believes they’re the “baddest”. Song writing is an art, you don’t just sing the way you speak. There are some words you don’t use, there some phrases that don’t match a particular melody. People like myself understand the dynamics of song writing. Oh yeah, creative process. I digress. I don’t have any particular process but I prefer to be a quiet and creatively inspiring place.
What’s a creatively inspiring place for you?
I like being in my studio, I like being at home when it’s just my piano and me. Sometimes I go to Freedom Park in the morning and there are some hotels and places with nice aesthetics I like to go to.
Soul is me, I am soul. I started singing inUniversity. I tried the whole pop music thing but I realized these were songs I would be embarrassed to play for just anybody, I would prefer to play them for people who I knew liked the genre. It took me going to law school in Kano for a year to realize pop wasn’t for me. Not saying it’s not a good genre, it just felt like I was forcing it. I came back and just decided to do me.
What’s your musical background?
I know you started in the church choir but your fans might not know that.
My mum put all her kids in the choir. I had my first solo when I was six years old, probably children’s day at church. It’s been all music for me since then. I’m classically trained. In University I entered the studio for the first time and then I actually became a recording artist. Before then it was just classical music for me. I’ve also done live performances withJesse Jagz and Black Magic. I was a backup singer in their band. That also brought me closer to a lot of the people in the music industry I know now.Since I was in University I had been going out and I had been around musicians.After I released my first soul record after finishing law school, it’s just been this vibe. I’m not saying it’s going to be like this forever but right nowI’m exploring everything soul. It could be hip-hop soul, Afro soul, and house soul. Like I said I’m in the studio working on new stuff.
Is your new compilation a mixture of different styles of soul?
Yes, when I started with soul I wasn’t as flexible and comfortable as I am now. The industry and life have taught me that it’s never that serious. So now I’m learning to explore who I am musically. Because it’s not about the genre but me the singer. Whatever I sing, no matter what beat it is, as long as I put myself in it and I’m not trying to be like someone else, it’s always going to be me on that instrumental.
How do you feel about Soul Music being in the background of Afro beats in Nigeria?
It’s more of Afro pop. This country is an Afro pop mainstream country. I guess everywhere; soul music has been a niche genre. It’s never really been mainstream. I think it will always have its followers. Right now inNigeria, contrary to what people think, soul music actually has a huge following. It might not be as much as it is for the mainstream artists but those are the people I’m singing for really.
On Roll Call (Outro) off your EP (TheTruth), you were shouting out people who had supported your music. Have you thought about rapping?
(She laughs) I wasn’t rapping jo, but yeah I guess.Yes, I’ve thought of rapping. I used to write when I was younger. I guess everyone has that book of rhymes. I still have mine till today. On this new compilation,I infused a little bit of spoken word. I explored the whole rap/singing delivery on 2 of the tracks.
Earlier on you said Soul Music is niche genre. What’s it like being a female indie artist in Nigeria?
It’s not easy for anyone. For me personally, I just focus on my work. I have been getting a lot of love, if I dare say so. I think it’s because of the music and not my gender. I think the alternative music canopy is gender-blind and more focused on the art itself.
What’s the favourite song you’ve worked on released/unreleased?
Right now my favourite song is on the compilation I’m working on. It’s called ‘Take Off’. I went really personal on that. But for my released songs I would say Circle. I like performing Circle live, it’s so hypnotic. As we say in our generation it’s very wavy and trippy. I like circle because of the vibe it gives me on stage. When I perform, I don’t just entertain, I have fun and that song always touches me when I perform it.
Your brother, Ikenna produces as well. Do you guys collaborate together? If not, why?
It’s like a sidebar thing. He’s very busy with work, he’s a pharmacist so at times he works night shifts and we don’t get to see as much. But he’s more like my creative director. There’s nothing I put out that he doesn’t listen to and give his input on. Even the production. Sometimes he’s in the studio with me and might guide the producer that’s there at the time.Cause he’s very musically vast and also plays the piano so sometimes he might even drop one or two keys. So basically he’s involved but in the background but in this compilation he’s producing a song on it.
Your music focuses on love and uplifting people’s moods. Is that what you aim to do with your music? And do you use your music asa means to uplift yourself as well?
I want to sing about everything. I’m not intentionally picking my message. I see myself as an open book when it comes to being an artist. I’m always going to be open about my struggles. On this new project I was more intimate. I talked about my struggles as an indie artist, I talked about love. A lot of my songs are very true. I’m just singing my story.
Where’s your favourite place to perform? Who have you enjoyed performing with the most and why? Cause you’ve shared the stage with the likes of Bez, Simi and Mi Casa.
My favourite place would probably be where I really started performing and that’s Bogobiri. When I started performing live in 2016I was always going there and the audience was so supportive. They were a bunch of cheerleaders and I loved the vibe they gave. I kept on going there and I gradually built a consistent fan base there because people started looking forward to coming weekly in the hopes of seeing me perform. Since then it’s been bigger and bigger stages. I performed in Italy 2 years ago and it was amazing. I also performed in South Africa last year. So every new place I go is my favourite place because it’s a different experience every time. In terms of sharing the stage I would say my band. I love performing with those guys. I perform with other bands but when I perform with my band it’s a whole different experience, it’s just amazing working with them. Our synergy is crazy because we were all friends before they started playing for me and we have the same vision and goals and it shows on stage. It’s not about being the best; it’s about having fun and being real. That’s what we do on stage and that’s what we bring. Even if a person misses a beat, it’s all part of the beauty of performing live.
What’s your favourite song that’s not yours and why?
Ah. That’s crazy o. I don’t have a favourite song.Music is too vast to have a favourite song. It depends. What genre are we talking about? What time? What era? I can’t. Honestly nothing comes to mind. I listen to songs on Spotify. Sometimes I just listen to random playlists and I’m like oh save this, save that. I probably don’t remember their names but I just save what I like. Music is too vast to have a favourite song.
Who were your musical inspirations growing up and has that list changed as of today?
As a kid I never thought I was going to be a musician so I guess I never really had that musician that inspired me to become one. Asa kid I listened to a lot of hip hop. I guess that shows with my style of music right now with hip hop and soul. A lot of Eminem and 90s rap. When I started signing, people would compare me to Erykah Badu and Jill Scott. So I started listening to them. I never listened to RnB; it was just hip-hop, classical music and A cappella for me. Right now I listen to almost every jazz singer there is. As long as there music is out there. Sometimes I randomly search for new jazz and soul singers on SoundCloud and Spotify. I love listening to FrankSinatra, Billy Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald. She inspires me the most because I do a lot of scatting. Jazz is a lot of improvisation and I do a lot of that. Ifyou listen to her she could have a song that’s 5 minutes long and scat for 3minutes. I channel her sometimes on stage.
Any advice for budding songwriters?
Write every day. Write every time. If you’re tired use the tiredness and write a song about being tired. Read because you need to know words as a songwriter. You have to expand your horizons and your vocabulary has to be on point. Even if you’re writing in your native language you’ll need to know it very well to be able to write. It’s something I’m trying to explore more now. Writing more in Igbo.
Congratulations on being named one of the 5 Artists to Watch in 2018, expectations concerning your artistry are getting higher, how are you dealing with the pressure?
Yes, definitely. If you’re asking if I let it bother me? Yes. I keep telling myself every day that no one knows my hustle. I’m the only one that knows where the shoe hurts. I tell myself to keep doing my thing and just be myself. No one’s paying my bills and they can’t tell me how to be creative. So I tell myself to take it easy and take things one-step at a time.
Earlier this year, you were featured on TheGuardian 'Life' cover with Odunsi the Engine, Santi and Lady Donli. To be recognised on such a platform must have been exciting...
It was really cool. I got an email from them saying they’ve been following my music and they see the influence I have on the new age music. That other artists and I had been selected to be on the cover. I was like ok, nice. It’s definitely something that I knew would happen. It’s just about putting in the work and forgetting about the extra things cause they’ll all come as long as you’re working. That’s how I live my life. So when I saw the email I was like “ok, cool. It’s about time”. The shoot was fun. When the edition came out, it brought a lot of attention to me, I gained a lot of followers on social media and my family was definitely proud.
You performed at the just concluded Gidi Fest 2.Can you describe your experience at the festival?
Gidi Fest was awesome but it dragged though. Before I came up on stage it was crazy. They called me up the first time and were like I should just be on standby but they had already announced my name and the crowd was like “woooo” but then no Maka. The crowd wouldn’t have known what was happening backstage. They probably thought I disappeared and they brought out someone else to perform. I even got messages saying, “It took so long for you to come on stage”. But once I got on stage with my band it was just vibes. When they brought me out, the crowd was already tired and agitated. Their intermissions were too long cause they had sound issues. If you check the reviews they kept on saying, “the breaks were too long”. So I could see it on their faces when I came out. The few people who knew me were excited; others were like give us someone that we know. But as soon as I started singing everyone was like “woooooo”
How do you mentally prepare yourself for when you go onstage and there’s a chance that the crowd might be hostile?
You just have to put in your best. Like I did at Gidi Fest. I just gave it my best performance. It wasn’t the best performance in the history of my stage performances but I gave the best I had that night. I guess the crowd could see and feel the energy. I saw an Instagram post of someone who had never heard of me before that day. His post was about his top 3performances and my name was there. He was like he had never heard of me but that my energy was contagious and that he’s a fan now. I was like cool and I followed him back.
You’ve mentioned your band a number of times now. What’s their name and how did you guys come together?
They’re actually called One Band Like That (OBLT).It’s Maka and One Band Like That. We’ve all been friends. I’ve known them sinceI started with music, like 3 years ago. I’ve known my pianist for 7 years. It’s only my Guitarist that’s a full time instrumentalist. My pianist is a FinancialAnalyst. My Bassist is a Lawyer and a Sound Engineer and my drummer is a Businessman.I brought them together for Felabration last year when I found out I was goingt o be performing. I was kind of broke at the time and I couldn’t pay a band because bands charge between 70-100k. I just called them one after the other and I was like “Yo. Do you wanna do Felabration with me?” After Felabration we just kept it going. It’s been amazing vibes since.
Is there anything you would like people to know about Maka that we haven't touched on in this conversation?
Some people tell me “Oh Maka you need to try different types of music, it’s just not soul”. But my point is I have over 70 voice notes that I haven’t even worked on in the studio yet. I just want everyone to stick with me on this vibe and enjoy the music. It’s about the music. I don’t need anyone critiquing the music anyhow. If you don’t like it, don’t like it. If you love it, love it and support but either way fans should be patient with me and just enjoy the journey.
Thank You Maka, it’s been wonderful talking to you...