Azanti… Afrobeats’ Boy Wonder
It’s very rare to find a 19-year-old today, as musically gifted as Nathan Otekelu-Aje, professionally known as Azanti. With three evergreen compilation records in his arsenal, he confronts the status of an emerging act. His poetic songwriting, RnB mastery, as well as consistent releases have positioned him as a wunderkind among his peers, keeping his melodies on rotation among music circles in recent times. Signed to both the Abuja-based Apex Village collective, and the UMG-owned multinational music company, Def Jam Recordings, Azanti is pushing the limits with African music recordings. His heavily US/UK-influenced RnB glides gently with his masterful Afro fusions, spiced with the versatility to balance both, and his relatable songwriting as seen in his earlier releases, Azanti, Hearts, Parts & Nostalgia, as well as the YP and Azanti joint-tape series with Psycho YP. After earning writing credits with Mr Eazi, and also backing vocals on Joeboy’s ‘Police’ record, as well as his repertoire of hit songs such as the YP-assisted ‘Caro’, ‘Late4dinner’, and the Cavemen-assisted ‘Julie’, Azanti isn’t sprinting to secure a spot at the crest of Afrobeats. On today’s Guardian Music, we catch up with the teenage superstar, delving deeper into his muses and creative process, as well as other fascinating experiences he has gleaned from his rise to the top.
Let’s dive into your music. What is the message behind your music?
Yeah. Most times, it’s a story. Most times, I’m very big on storytelling. That’s the best way for me to convey a message to you. You know, like telling a story, or putting certain sets of events down in a song. So, most times most of these songs are pretty true. There might be a few exaggerations there. But most of the time, I realise that this stuff happened to me. So, it’s my story, people’s stories, or the things I see.
For how long have you been approaching your art this way?
Subconsciously, I have been approaching it like this since I started making music. But now for the past one to two years, I have been more conscious about it. I have literally sat down and looked at my life and said I want to convey things very personal to me.
So, who are your influences musically?
Musically, Greg. Greg is a very good story teller; I look up to him. It is Chris Brown when it comes to melodies. I’m also into a lot of rap artistes. Like a lot of storytellers, Jcole, Kanye West. Now, I’m listening to more rap. I have been listening to melodies all my life; from Tope Alabi to Wizkid, to Wande Coal. So, all my life I have been listening to melodies. But in the past year or two, I have been more into rap, old rap. Kanye, Drake, Jcole, people that tell intricate stories, I just find it very interesting. And I try to figure out how I can put that and make my own.
When did your journey into music start?
When I was age two or three, my mum used to play a lot of gospel stuff, like Tope Alabi, Yinka Ayefele and all. And I just remember being into Tope Alabi’s melodies and Yinka Ayefele’s beats. When I was a kid, these were the first two artistes I knew. My mum would be singing and I found myself doing chorus singing. Then, when I grew up and by the time I was six, I was introduced to Wande Coal, Dbanj, Duncan Mighty, African China, you know all these contemporary secular sounds. From there, it’s been a goal and then by the time I was 10, Wizkid and Burna Boy were my favorite artistes. When I was 11 to 12, I was into Jazz. I’m a student of the game. I’ve had my rock phases. All the phases of music, I’ve literally had them. So, there is a lot of it.
When did you get into recording?
I started recording when I was 13. By that time, I started making beats in an actual studio. Some things led to the other and I had the lead single.
How did you get into Apex Village?
When I graduated from secondary school at 15, I took a gap and went to Angola, because my dad was working in Angola. I lived in Angola for about a year. During this time, I was solely on my music. I was recording, doing records.
Meanwhile, my friends in high school knew that I was a musician. I knew YP. And they kept telling him about me and sending him stuff that was in the mix. After a lot of back and forth, and serious work, he suggested that we should do a song together. And we did a song together. Suddenly, we just hit it up and started recording, doing music together. That led us to decide it was time to drop an EP. That was my first draft with YP. And when I came back to Nigeria, we shot the video, then I joined Apex and it’s been love since then.
What’s your creative process?
I’m a freestyle. I just hop on the mic and it’s like a burst of spirit. It’s like a burst of energy. I barely write. The only times I do it is when I feel like I want to try something different. The thing with me is novelty brings the best ideas. So, when I try new things, I always feel my best. I always feel the highest form of my creative power when I’m trying new things.
What’s your favorite moment recording and what was the song?
There is a song from my project called Pressure. The way the song came, I was in Toronto with a producer called Kofo. He is a Grammy nominated producer and guitarist. Kofo has done everything from John Legend to Wizkid, and Beyoncé. He is one of the people that are on billboards, you know, charting songs. They respected me at the age I was then, at 18 and they were like in my DM, showing me respect and love. So, they called me to the studio and we made the song. The way the song just came about is one of the best; the song keeps getting better every time you just hear it. The people that worked on it are some quality people. What I love about how I made the record was the energy in the room.
Moving forward, what do you intend to do with your music?
I’m never going to keep giving you the same thing. I like new, fresh things. I want to innovate and if you listen to my music, you can tell that this is very different.
I’ve heard so many different types of sounds, I’ve infused so many different types of sounds and now I’m just different. My songs are always different from the last ones. I’m always ready to innovate. I’m always willing to push myself and creativity forward.
If you could define Azanti in a word or phrase, what would it be?
I’d say deep, insightful and creative.
Tell us some interesting facts about Azanti…
I’m a very spiritual, deep thinker. I’m into philosophy and history. I think that’s why I can be very interested in the different eras of music as well. I’m into history, philosophy, and theology. I’ve read a lot of the Quran. I’m a Christian. I’ve read a lot of the Bible. I do my research like astrology. I just like to be knowledgeable.
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