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Bella Shmurda: The Buildup To High Tension

Bella Shmurda | Image: Idris Dawudo/Guardian Life

Despite being well versed in culture, education, spirituality and the workings of society, it is easy to fall into the trap of judging a book by its cover based on one’s body of language, dressing, tattoos, or dreadlocks. However, Akinbiyi Abiola Ahmed, whose stage name is Bella Shmurda, is as enlightened as they come, a difference from what many might think of him.

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The Dangbana Republik record label owner is fast rising in rank in the music industry. Speaking about the meaning of Dangbana, he says it refers to someone who is stubborn about their goals and ready to give all it takes to be successful. “Dangbana is someone who is strong-willed,” he says.

With millions of views on his songs on media platforms and hit tracks that have dominated the airwaves, this spirit of ‘Dangbana’ is what has pushed him from his early years till now. Taking the Guardian Life team through the journey of his childhood, he says that he transferred schools from Ikorodu, Badagry back to Okokomaiko after having repeated classes several times. With determination, he scaled through school to become who he is today.

Bella Shmurda | Image: Idris Dawudo/Guardian Life

“I was born in Ikorodu and had to move to Badagry for schooling. At one point, it wasn’t working in Badagry and had to move back to Ikorodu… If you grow up in that type of place, you will have the zeal to be good…Growing up in a polygamous family was not easy, you had to work and fend for yourself. Growing up was not a walk in the park, you had to support yourself.”

While music remains his first love, the lessons learned over the years have caused him to focus on making an enormous difference with his record label by giving to the needy through the funds generated from his music.

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Since his first single, ‘Vision 2020’, the fast-growing artiste has dropped 2 EPs and graduated with his first degree. And thanks to his effort to grow beyond the cuffs of poverty, some communities in Lagos State can boast of a better way of life.

“Growing up, we were much and had to fend for ourselves. So I had to work my way up, getting admission into LASU,… the music kicked up well, I had to do a lot of things by myself because I had to support myself through school. Vision 2020 was the beginning, and I had to express what I was feeling then.”

Since his success with “Vision 2020”, his label, Dangbana Republik has successfully provided some communities in Okokomaiko with access to clean water, food, school fees, and most recently, a plan to dig boreholes.

“When people think of my name, I want them to think of the good life, of a conscious sound, I want people to think about someone who is concerned about the less privileged, I want to be known as the voice of the voiceless. I am doing music for my people to survive, it is a way of putting my reputation out there, and a means of survival,” he added.

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While different factors serve as motivation, for Bella, his thirst for success and willingness to go back “as somebody” is strong enough to keep him pushing despite all odds.

Not only is he focused on making good music and connecting with people through his label’s NGO activities, but he also wishes to connect to those audiences that look up to him through his music.

“The only way I can connect with other people is through my music and by showing examples with it,” he adds.

Bella Shmurda | Image: Idris Dawudo/Guardian Life

In the spirit of Conscious sound
Speaking about conscious sound, Bella Shmurda notes that the happenings in society continue to inspire him. As a result, he makes a deliberate effort daily to speak against peculiar issues in society in a way that everyone benefits positively, especially through his music.

His new EP, High Tension 2.0, serves as an evidence of this growth and wealth of experience.

If you thought he was stopping anytime soon, then you are in for a belief adjustment as his effort and the energy he is putting into making himself better daily is reflected through his new E.P.

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High Tension 2.0 is a continuation of his first EP High Tension 1.0. And with the new EP, he notes that people should look forward to a “better Bella”.

He tells us that off the album, the tracks ‘Out There’, ‘Rush’ and ‘World’ speak most to him. But in ‘World’ specifically, he spoke his mind and his truth, which he believes has to be said.

Bella Shmurda | Image: Idris Dawudo/Guardian Life

For the love of family
In every story, the role of parents can never be overemphasised. For Bella Shmurda, his mother, Mrs Akinbiyi, played a huge role in his life. Mrs Akinbiyi who is an educationist, pushed for him to finish his education while pursuing his lifelong dream.

It was not an easy feat getting his mother to support his music pursuit while in school, however; she keyed into his potential early enough and has since supported him through the journey. “The most defining moment for me was when my mum and family started vibing to my jam,” he tells Guardian Life.

As one with a mother well vested in academics, when asked if he would further his education, laughing, he says someday he would, but for now, he is “chasing the bag” in order to fulfil his desire to help others who are in the place he was when he started.

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There are things we wished we could have done differently, and for Bella Shmurda, he wishes he had finished school earlier. He says:

“If I would have done anything differently, I would have done things the same way I am doing them because you don’t know what is different until you do them. (For instance) Out of experience, I know High Tension 2.0 differs from High Tension 1.0 because it is out here and I know the EP has better sounds than the first one.”

Yet, Bella recognises that education does not just stop within the confines of a classroom. He opines that as an artiste, there is a need to organise seminars for upcoming artistes.

Bella Shmurda | Image: Idris Dawudo/Guardian Life

“I would like for us to have seminars for upcoming artistes, (even) though I am an upcoming artiste myself. We need to educate ourselves that not all that glitters is gold. There are lots of things behind music creation. Many artistes go astray out of the desire to ‘blow’. Those artistes up there should try to educate those who are coming up.”

On another part, Bella is also taking lessons from his mentors in the industry. And for him, his choice of a mentor is not limited to one person, as he says each of these people has influenced his music significantly and in the best way they can.

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“Any time, any day, it is Olamide Badoo. Shout out to Davido, Wizkid, and Runtown. They are good representatives of Afrobeats, our sound and culture. Shout out to the legendary fuji artistes, Pasuma, Wasiu Ayinde and the likes, they really influence my music,” he adds.

Given his continuous desire for growth, he hopes to explore other genres of music. “You have to experience these things to be better and to be different,” he argues.

Bella Shmurda | Image: Idris Dawudo/Guardian Life

With his goals of diversifying comes a cost he has to sacrifice because of stardom. He is aware that there are things he does not have the freedom to do anymore.

“There are places I wish I could go, but I cannot go anymore. There are some things I wish I could do or say but can’t anymore because I’m an artiste. These are the parts of the discipline I have to get used to even when it is not easy.”

The road to success is not an easy one, and for Bella Shmurda, his journey has taken years. Discipline, a consciousness of who he is and a determination to get better have helped him in defining and redefining his craft. He has not only created a music label, but he is indeed living up to its meaning.

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