Between Ara Ile and Tiff (released in 2008 and 2014 respectively), are 6 gaping years that many present day followers of Simi’s music are totally oblivious of. The few who religiously kept watch, were met with a rude shock when she began to do creative and “Nigerianised” covers of popular tunes. Even more shocking was the fact that the themes sung about were the exact opposite of her previously released faith-based Ogaju album which had splintered across the gospel sphere.
Fast forward to a restlessness inspired EP and a Marvin’s Room cover later; a track which would eventually land her in her current X3M music nest, Simi helps to connect the dots that lead to the concrete, controversial and highly coveted act that she has metamorphosed into.
The first traits perceived a few minutes after she walks in are those of meticulousness and trust issues; a pair that she later indirectly states are prevalent in her music style and process. Seated in a makeup sesh and in her suuuuuper comfortable yet short “slay” African print dress, the petite miss was armed with her own facial cleanser and an eye for the label of every product that she was not sure would be in mutual agreement with her face. As part of initial introductory ramblings, I nudge her not to hold back on any touchy or juicy revelation but she sweetly retorts “I cannot promise anything”. A phrase which seemed to camouflage for “If you ask me nonsense, I will pull an Omawunmi or an R.Kelly on you”.
Right after displaying some random goofiness on candid camera by doing a medley of some of Daddy Showkey’s classics in a subtly hilarious way, she explains to me that she would either be an On Air Personality or a Novelist in a world void of music. Adding that she occasionally writes, her alter-life ambitions did not need probing as she holds a Bachelor’s in Mass Communication from the controversial Covenant University; a strict faith based school that some believe inspired her initial gospel genre outing. In a bid to negate the notion, she shares that the “gospel side of her” was laid on the foundation of a church group called “Outstanding” to which a much younger Simi belonged to, where they sang, danced and rapped.
She thanks me for my reference to her voice as extraordinary and distinct, saying that she had always been fully aware of its tiny feature as it had cost her her identity a couple of times. ” I think say na pickin dey talk sef”; she mimicks in broken English, what her friends would say when they were not sure she was the one speaking. Further stamping the natural power house that Simi’s vocal texture is, she later tells me that she does not own any stipulated vocal care routine. She drinks ice cold water at any given time except when down with a cold and seems to have never heard that some people ingest blended okra to increase vocal fluidity. Despite trying to warm her up to the idea she jocularly but firmly resolves that she would never try it out.
We begin to dig somewhat deeper. In an industry where the trend right from Chris Okotie (yes the pastor) to Lynxxx has been from “worldly” music to Gospel, I ask in curiosity; why was the reverse her case? What informed the unusual switch?
Suffocating my attempt to get her uncomfortable, she answers with unperturbed honesty. “I switched genres because I started to see music more as a job…” She summarizes that she definitely did not do gospel out of pressure as her mom once suggested to her to make more love themed songs. The need to branch out was borne out of the desire to explore different music styles and expression outside the confined space of religion especially when she realized that music could as well be her “Life’s work”. We share a hearty but brief laugh at the speed with which she confesses that she is definitely of the opinion that her current songs are secular as there are really no in-betweens.
Simi was wealthy with one privilege that many youngsters with the same musical ambition lacked. The support of family. Although her mum and dad in the usual African parent fashion had suggested that she got a job or a Master’s degree, it was never under compulsion.
Judging by how she passionately narrates the enormous contribution of her mum (with whom she mostly grew up with,) it is clear to see that she does not in the least way take her parental and sibling support for granted.
“…Because I know how hard it is to follow your dreams in this country and because usually our parents like to dream on our behalf…”
According to her, the gospel-secular transition for her mum was more fun than anything else as she recalled when her mum hilariously sized her up; one night when she was rehearsing “Jamb question”, her third single under her current label. Speaking on external criticism, she admits that she did receive some except that it didn’t match what she had expected for her church-gossip-worthy action, moreso for someone who was widely perceived as a “church girl”. With her friends cheering her on, Simi believed that the people who were concerned were just looking out for her. Nevertheless, she was unfazed by whatever questions there were about her decision because she believed it was from a good place.
In the course of filling me in on the silent years between ’08 and 2014, she reopens war wounds sustained from her former record label. With the words “ridiculously intensely crazy”, she describes her 4 year stay as her lowest moment but doesn’t hesitate to acknowledge that it was in this legal bondage that she found her niche.
The moment her impressive rendition of Drake’s smash single “Marvin’s room” reached the ears of Steve Baba Eko, her current boss who she later enumerates as one of her mentors, plans built up to the point of being offered a deal. Under the guidance of her producer Oscar Heman-Ackah and out of the numerous options she had at the time, Simi joined the X3M music family with Praiz, Sammy and now D-truce as label mates.
Simi referred to Oscar as “one of the most amazing people she has ever met”. She ardently belongs to the “artiste + producer chemistry=impeccable music output” school of thought and bares further that despite her overprotective streak for her music, she trusts him enough to have the final say. He has so far produced most of the songs on her forthcoming album; one which she says she has gotten a name for but refused to share despite a healthy amount of cajoling. Also keeping mum about collaborations and a release date, the only thing close to a hint about the project is that we will witness her in her best elements and in full manifestation.
She blurts out in modesty:“I don’t think I am the best singer o, not by a long shot…” a reply borne out of my teasing her for not remembering any Nigerian song she wished belonged to her. As for the international scene, Adele’s “Set Fire to the Rain” it instantly was; stating that she thought about it all the time.
In her current Afropopsoul quest, she gesticulates with a slight gyration that the one thing she may never sing about is the explicit description of sex but she is open to doing whatever it is worth to express her art as led.
She recounted how excited and flattered she felt when Davido reached out to her for a collaboration on his Son Of Mercy EP; a move which would make her the only Nigerian guest artiste on the project. Addressing Davido’s claim to sign her and back the deal up with a billion dollars were she not already signed, she let out a laugh and said the decision was solely her label’s to make and that she would flourish as long as she retained her freedom of expression; a perk which she deeply enjoyed at X3M.
On the 25th of June 2016, Simi was fast asleep when someone woke her up to the tweet of soul music veteran, India Arie. The multiple Grammy award winner wrote that she loved all of Simi’s songs, with the “all” highlighted in all caps.
“When you see people that are your heroes, you know, not even just like in your country, like worldwide,um…acknowledge you without you having to chase for that acknowledgement… that’s success…those are the kinds of things I regard as success”
Believe it or not, Simi self taught her way to becoming a well-above-average sound engineer; a skill which she started to hone in the course of her Industrial training at Cool Fm after Manny had taught her to use a recording software. After a series of Youtube tutorials that must have been intensive, Simi employed her new found handiwork to record and mix her own tracks. Her MixBySimi outfit is independent of her singing brand with some very notable albums and tracks to its credit.
After disagreeing with Mr Eazi on his Ghana-Naija sound assertion with a valid point of how Nigerian music is too diverse to be totally influenced, we breeze through her love for Adele, Rihanna and Asa. She also slightly disagrees with Yemi Alade’s claim that the girls were more picked on than their male counterpart in the music industry, saying no gender gets left out of the vulture party. Generalizing it to all sectors and not just the entertainment industry, she however extensively elaborates on how girls have to fight twice as hard for what the men receive on a platter, especially in a society where the most expected of the girl child is to become a wife and a mother.
When asked what the most hurtful comment she had received on social media was, she rolled her eyes upwards; as if to access a mental cache. She eventually remembers one that really stung and she quoted.
“Simi is the kind of person that would make expensive stuff look cheap.”
She quickly waves the comment off; displaying what felt like a “hurtful comment repellent mechanism” fully dressed in a quotable nugget.
“The fact that someone says something does not make it true.”
Still on the matter of public perception, I mention her sense of style which had received quite a bashing on social media and she carefully explains her stance of indifference.
“I didn’t come into this industry as a fashionista or a fashion icon. I’m not a model, I’m not a fashion designer so if you come and attack that,.. I can learn and become better but I can’t feel bad because that’s not my talent. Do you understand? That’s not where I am selling.” she adds, chuckling lightly.”
She accepts that she will be bothered if people take jabs at her music especially because of the effort she puts in to be better but she repeats that losing sleep over shots taken at areas that aren’t necessarily her strong point would never happen.
Finally, we tumble into her Ycee-Falz-Adekunle Gold media fueled foursome.
Starting with Ycee, I probe why she pulled the stunt of announcing on Twitter that herself and Omo Alhaji were an item. She went on to blame the mischief on the numerous questions about who she was dating which spurred her to give everyone something to talk about.
Hoping that the next question would meet her unprepared, I swiftly request that she encapsulates her relationship with Adekunle Gold in 3 sentences.
She first answers “nicely vibely”with a giggle; a hilarious phrase made popular by the Ghanaian version of Vico.
“Adekunle Gold and I are…(pause) we’re music buddies” – I lift one finger; indicating one down and 2 to go.
“Adekunle Gold and I are…(her eyes dim and her lips give this sassy twitch and her tone, a few decibels lower) friends…” *insert devil smiley*
“I mixed Adekunle Gold’s album… Boom”
Making sure that she understands the air quotes with which I repeat “friends”, and wondering aloud if this “friendship” got in the way of work while she was mixing his album, she confirms that her superbly perfectionist antics did sometimes cause rifts. Using the recording session of Nurse Alabeere as a classic example, these rifts would persist and would only be resolved after Adekunle came back to do exactly what she needed for smooth work flow. She liked that he believed in the vision and that regardless of how frustrated he may have felt at any point in time, he would still compromise as long as it was for the better good.
Right in the winding phase of what was already a successful engagement, she tells me that Falz would stand a better chance over Ycee at being her “friend” if Adekunle Gold were not in the picture with the only reason being that she was closer to Falz. The public opinion that she is Falz the Bahd Guy’s bae does not necessarily affect her relationship with Adekunle.
“The media is the media….People are gonna say what they want to say…People are going to believe what they’re gonna believe…As long as you know how to separate the real truth from the media’s truth… Make sure in your head the line is defined.”
“People will define what is important to you if you keep listening to stuff like that.”
Simi has no intentions of stopping music even when she starts a family as she has plans of writing a full album in the course of her pregnancy which would be unveiled as soon as she “gets her sexy back”. She hopes to own a stringent of businesses as part of her retirement plan while she buttresses the importance of living one’s dream to the fullest without letting anything; not even children, get in the way.
Some of the best advice that keep Simi level headed come from her mentors; her mum, her pastor Sam Adeyemi, Toyin Adebola, her boss Steve Baba-Eko, and of course Oscar; her producer in whom she is very well pleased.
Longevity is the summary of her strengths. An intangible yet priceless asset which she laid up in patience and self development at a point of recline where many fall but fail to rise.
Simi has risked a lot for this. She may have gone unnoticed trying to build up her brand block by block BUT, now you see her. Now you hear her. Now you know her and for those who are yet to be believers, Simi will stop at nothing in her approach to gain every last ounce of respect due to her through her art.
Story by Cynthia Atagbuzia
Photography by Image Faculty
Wardrobe by Jhune Patryx Forest
Makeup by Ama Ebiere
Hair by Ceezys Styling