A few weeks ago, we broke the news of Zirra’s new found home in Sony Music, accompanied with a ceremonial release of his Agbada single featuring Koker. To further unravel the personality behind the act, Zirra has now bared some of the factors that sum up his sound and art in a phoner with Vibe.ng.
It is 2018 and just about anybody can make a song (thanks or no thanks to technology in all its disruptive glory) but the ability to own any sound terrain is one of the qualities needed to standout and survive in music business. Needless to say, this is one quality that Zirra greatly possesses. One minute he’s on a track like Agbada, playing by all the rules of Afropop and the very next, he’s on a songcry like Spiritual; using dark addictive melodies to drive home his deep message of inter-religious marriage discrimination.
“…when you have your own space to create, it’s magical because things are coming from your soul and your brain and your heart.”
Zirra identifies with a certain clique of creatives who are slowly shifting the narrative of Nigerian music as we know it. This clique which Zirra refers to as family, have over a long period of time, built an impregnable niche community for their peculiar style of music which bear these 2 striking characteristics.
Non-conformity: This group treat their music as actual art on digital canvas and their brushstrokes do not mostly follow what mainstream music is perceived to be. They won’t trade their lyrical quality for commercial appeal and they’d rather dictate the market instead of letting the market dictate their craft. Thankfully, it is beginning to pay off as they are now steadily rising up the industry chain, to the point of being highly coveted by global music authorities.
Worldliness: A host of them have experienced at least one culture outside of Nigeria and they boldly use their music as a melting pot to experiment these global musical flavours. Zirra for instance, has inhaled different cultures from residing in The US, Nigeria, The UK and The UAE. It might be easy to think of Zirra as a foreign act when you first hear him in his Save Me From The Fire element, until he reminds you of his Nigerian heritage with some pidgin infused lyrics or a reference that only a Nigerian has any business understanding. As case in point, Zirra would later tell me of “Payphone”– his newly released single produced by Letha which features an Iranian-Filipino singer called Izzy and an Egyptian grime artiste who goes by the name Malik.
When I say Zirra has reached a dangerous height of creative freedom, here’s how I mean it.
He is currently armed with-
- Genuine talent,
- A bottomless cultural depth to draw from,
- Musical fluidity,
- Unwavering support of his family, friends and cult following,
- The backing of a major label,
- Strong work ethics.
‘I just feel like if you treat music like a day job, like an actual 9-5, if you work on your craft every day, I do not think you can go wrong.’
Born Timothy Zirindza Tsakma, it only made sense to start out with the moniker ‘TimmyT’ but with the evolution that has happened to him within and without, he has now adopted “Zirra”; a name which the people closest to him call him anyway. Having started recording music at the age of 14, Zirra owns a loosely large catalogue of different vibes but his dark and raunchy Save Me From The Fire EP switched the game up by many levels.
One afternoon over a phone chat, he fed my curiosity about how a single off the EP landed him a deal with Sony, how he handles criticism, the dedication to his craft, his industry family and other cool stuff.
Vibe: What are you usually up to? Are you currently schooling or you’re done?
Zirra: I’m currently in Middlesex University in Dubai. I do Uni 3 days a week -part time and then I do music full-time and perform and play a lot of video games and play football…and I listen to a lot of music…I listen to everything.
Sony is a really really huge one. How did that happen?
Well basically I think they heard one single from “Save Me From The Fire” and one of their associates hit me up and was like he really liked the song and he was going to send it to the general manager. They emailed me and we went back and forth for like 3 months. I was working on my (forthcoming) album simultaneously with “Save me from the fire” and I was already rounding up the album by the time they hit me up. I was just working hard and it kinda just paid off because I didn’t even know how I was going to push the album. It just came up at the right time I guess.
What do you enjoy doing the most? Do you enjoy when you’re conceptualizing the music or when you’re writing it, recording? performing? What’s your most favourite part?
Um, I’d say performing. I’m a singer. I actually sing. I don’t use backing tracks or anything so it’s kinda stressful on my voice. Last summer, I had like 2 shows every weekend throughout August. It was crazy but actually making music is whole ‘nother element because when you have your own space to create, it’s magical because things are coming from your soul and your brain and your heart. And I don’t write. I stopped writing a long time ago.
Yeah what I do is I mumble out the melody then I fill in the words. That’s pretty much it.
You don’t exactly live in Nigeria…do you?
I live around the world. I used to live in America. I lived 10 years in America, moved back to Lagos for 6 years for secondary school, then I went to England and now I’m in Dubai so it’s like I move around a lot. Nigeria is base. My family is there, most of my friends are there. We just move and then come back just to get a different experience to add to the story. When I was in England people saw me at Manchester as an upcoming artiste, I have a Lagos fanbase and now I am signed to Sony and the Sony connect came from Dubai… It’s a blessing more or less. I just have the opportunity most people don’t so I’m kinda using it to my best advantage.
Do you have industry friends in Nigeria?
I have quite a few actually. You know Santi? I’m in his house right now. We do studio together. Santi is like my closest right now, Odunsi is like my day one because we’ve been making music together for over 5 years. Ycee and I recently got close, Koker obviously, Boj, Wavy the creator, all the upcoming new artistes that people consider alternative guys like Fashina, those are my Gees. Jinmi Abduls as well…We just have a strong community. I always say that if you actually know any of us, like if you hang out with us, the chances of you seeing everybody is really strong. It’s like a family.
I know Santi is on the new album yeah?
Yeah Santi is. it’s weird because me and Santi don’t really work on music a lot together but we’re always together and he really helped me grow as an artiste. I will have to say that because when we started living together like 3 years ago, he taught me how to record myself. I’ve been going to the studio since I was 14 but he taught me how to do it myself. Ever since then, I’ve just been a whole ‘nother beast, I’ve just been recording myself whenever I want to. I have my own studio in my house in school.
Let’s talk criticism. Have you faced any form of criticism with regards to your art and how did you handle it?
Save Me From The Fire was a really big project for me because there was a lot going on around that time. I ran away from the house. It was a whole different ball game for me because I felt like I wasn’t getting the respect I deserved. First of all, I feel like I’m a really good singer. A lot of people don’t really sing. They just use autotune to cover everything so I was like, let me just make a whole project and push all the dark things I was thinking about into it. There are a lot of people that liked it, and there were a lot of people that thought it was different from what I was doing so they didn’t really vibe to it like that. But it’s all cool. I kinda look for people’s reactions but then I don’t really focus on what people have to say about my craft because I’m always working on a different vibe so if you don’t like one song, you’re going to like the next one. I just feel like if you treat music like a day job, like an actual 9-5, if you work on your craft every day, I do not think you can go wrong.
Whose music are you listening to like right now? What was the last thing that came up on your playlist?
I’ve been listening to a a lot of upcoming trap from America. I don’t even know their names but I’ve just been jamming their vibes. Mostly my friends too. Odunsi’s unreleased stuff and Santi’s unreleased stuff.
What’s the music climate like in Dubai?
Right now, it’s very mixed because Dubai is like the most cultural city in the world. There are white people, black people, Indian people, Chinese people so all of us come together and appreciate each other’s craft. Dubai doesn’t have one actual sound. It’s like everyone comes together and makes music. There’s a song on my album called Payphone that has a Half Filipino,half Iranian singer and rapper called Izzy and then there’s an Egyptian guy that’s based in London that also comes here once in a while called Malik. He does grime so that song has the Afrobeat element from me, the world kind of vibe from Izzy and the Grime element from Malik. It makes you appreciate what everyone else brings to the table. You’re not in Lagos listening to Afrobeat 24/7. You’re not in America where you’re just listening to Trap. You’re not in England where you’re just listening to grime. You’re listening to every single thing that the world has to offer because everyone here is from everywhere.
When is the album and Save me from the fire 2 dropping?
Agbada dropped February 18th- which is my mum and sister’s birthday. I planned on dropping the album on the 18th too but the label made me go back and change some stuff. Adey, the guy that produced Juice, produced 2 songs off my album and one of the videos will be dropping soon. Then there’s a video for Bando which is from Save Me From The Fire that’s dropping a month after that. Before or after Save Me From The Fire 2, there’s also another project I’m dropping. I just feel like it’s important to keep producing music while you have people’s eyes on you because a lot of people’s eyes are on me because of the Sony thing. I’m just trying to outwork everybody right now. I’m just trying to put out a lot of music.
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