DOTTi The Deity… The Wonderful World Of Folk
His thick locs dangled across his shoulder as he swayed on stage. Clutching and rocking with the mic stand, his sonorous vocals held the few hundreds gathered in the arena spellbound. It was yet another glaring win for DOTTi the Deity, as he shut down his headline show in Beeriga, Lagos, two months ago.
Born Okeowo Alani, DOTTi’s musical prowess joins an iconic legacy of Nigerian folk-fusion musicians such as Bez Idakula, Johnny Drille, Chike, Nneka Egbuna, J’Dess, and Asa, among several others. After a pandemic-inspired debut EP, winning the MTN Y’ello Star competition, in 2021, the 28-year-old maestro embarked on a year-long live performance streak, last year, before returning this year with his sophomore EP dubbed, For You Knew Me. His sonic footprints are carved around a harmonic blend of folk, RnB, soul and Jazz. And his penchant for love songs, including his just-released single, Forever Sweet, amplifies his identity as an avant-garde storyteller with music of substance.
With his music being the current rave of weddings, the trained music technologist continues to plug more mainstream music lovers into the poetic and romantic realm of folk. The Ibadan-bred musician sits down with Guardian Music, opening the doors into his wonderful world of folk music, sharing his creative processes, as well as muses behind some of his recent hits including ‘Forever Sweet,’ as well as his primary mission to spread the gospel of folk music and African culture beyond the shores of Africa.
You have been making marks within the Nigerian music scene ever since your kind of music broke out. What is the Dotti the deity sound?
Dotti’s deity is normal language and some of the things that influenced it is a line in a beautiful novel song and it says “I’m an African child.” And it’s just me understanding that in the fullness of what it means and I try to replicate that in my song. So, as an African child, I have to represent, and you know, I like to be as deep as I can be and that reflects in my music – elements that make it truly African. They are not necessarily borrowed, but they are real African elements like drums, percussion and rhythms. That’s what I am about and it shows in my music and the language. I’m a proper Yoruba boy and how else can I show my Africanness. How cultural am I if I cannot make music in my language, and of course, make it acceptable all over the world. It’s not necessarily about the genre; it’s more about the essence of the Africanness that I have.
Why did you decide to do that line – the whole pan-Africanism?
Well, this is because in every part of your journey as a child growing up, you sometimes explore. You just want to absorb as much as you can, and learn on the road. But then, as you grow older, the information that you gather begins to influence and inform how you behave such that you later begin to see a pattern you are endeared to.
I remember saying at a time that I was going to do things like the most influential Nigerian legend, if it makes sense. You know, I loved so much what John Legend was doing and I wanted to replicate a genre, a Nigerian one. But it was always very unauthentic for me. It felt I was being a copycat. And I am glad that I quickly got out of that bubble and started working on my sound. So, it’s a desire to be original, not wanting to be a copycat of anyone, not wanting to be unauthentic. It’s originality and authenticity that drive me; wanting to tell my stories in my own voice rather than in somebody else’s voice.
Do you think folk music can stand out in a space like the Afrobeats community?
There is another angle to how I see it. I don’t think it has to be a competition.
I feel there is room for everybody to thrive. This has been the issue in the Nigerian music space – the unhealthy competition of one type of music or one style wanting to silence the other. Why can’t there be co-existence, why can’t there be an ecosystem of different genres of music, and everybody is thriving. Folk music is probably one of the purest forms of any culture; it can be mixed with a lot of things. But the essence, the originality, the purity of it shines through.
So, I think that it is something we should embrace rather than try to compare and compete. And that’s what I am about. It’s not like I don’t have the drive but I don’t see the point in competing, rather than co-existong. A very good example of this happening right now is the Cavemen. You see how the Cavemen have a very unique sound, but in recent time, they have been featured by most of the pop artists you can think of in Nigeria. That’s what happens. And every time they have been featured on any of those records, they bring in their own uniqueness and they always uplift every track and every record. And I think that’s what we should do, not the other way, competing and all of that.
Why did you choose the name Dotti the deity?
It was also to represent our culture and the spirituality that is at its core. I am very connected to my roots and it’s just me alluding to the fact that we are very spiritual people as Africans, as Nigerians. Also, as a Christian, there is the part that talks about that fact that God has made us in His image. And there’s also a part in the Bible that says you are God.
Walk us through your creative process.
I always want my soul, because naturally. I like to connect to deep emotions and rhythm. I love the sound of African drums, the Talking drum, the Djembe, Sakara and all types of African rhythm. Rhythm is actually what gives Africanism in every sound. Think about Fela, he is very high on rhythm. See all what the shekere and the drums are doing. I mean, one of the foundations of Fela’s music was Tony Allen. And that’s why my producer is a drummer. He is a drummer before anything else. So, we sort of focused on rhythm, the message and the soul in the delivery.
You know, you have to be able to connect with what you are doing regardless of whether you understand the language or not. Of course, I can write in English but I do more soulful stuff in Yoruba language and I am very excited to teach people who do not understand what I sing about and connect to it. So, we start by always laying the foundation, the rhythm. And sometimes, the melody, but it is usually the rhythms, the drums, the percussions that influence what we do. It is always a very beautiful process because it takes some level of detailing. You just do not carry your laptop and just drag in some samples that have been played by some people or some ready-made computer sound, you have to play the instrument live. Even when the guitar is displayed, it has to be very reasonable. So, most of the instruments live to retain that raw rhythmic energy and tribe and soul. Beyond just the vocals, every instrument has to bring their own soul to it, and yes, that’s the beautiful part.
What do you look out for before you collaborate with other musicians?
Collaboration is something that is very good. I hope to do a lot of it in the coming months and weeks. I’ve been talking to some people and I actually recorded some songs with some people but I think I’d like to keep that.
However, there is something that I have on the discography because I already work in the space as a songwriter. I can write beyond just folk music. I even write Afrobeats. I have written for Omawunmi and some other people. I also have a song in which I featured Omawunmi. It’s called Jolly Christmas. I put that out in December 2021. In the near future, I plan to work with as many people as I can. What I am looking out for is the connection; it must be something you’re bringing that complements what the other person is doing. So, it’s not because you are trying to get numbers. I am very much open to collaborations with as many people as I can. There is no point in trying to be all in your own space. It doesn’t make sense.
You have a thrilling stage presence. How did you develop it?
Well, I’d say that I started early. I think that I’ve been the lead for at least 12 years, but for the most part of it, I did it in church. Anyone that is a lead performer or lead worship singer in church, you know the drill. It’s always a lot of energy. The energy there, you have to get the whole congregation, the whole church to be on the same level as you are. You are leading them to a workshop and it takes a lot. Sometimes, you are teaching them to dance, you have to get them to dance, you have to get them to sing, and so there is a lot of work. And if you fail at all of those things, your failure is always very obvious because the church is close-knit, there is no gap.
That was the training that I have had to do. That’s been my training ground for years. Of course, I have had to study and watch the great, the people that have done it, that have been doing it. For example, I watch performances of King Sunny Ade. In a particular performance that he had in Japan in the early nineties, I saw the energy and how he was able to perform in the presence of people that don’t even understand a single thing in what he is singing about. But the energy and the vibe spurred the people. People could connect to that. I have also had to do that.
Finally, what is your vision?
This is beyond me because I just realised that a lot of artists have not been able to figure out what to do with their talents. I want to be an example of someone that has done it, you know, for a lot of people that feel they don’t fit into the box and then they just have to necessarily join the bandwagon because they don’t see any other way out of it. And most times, they don’t eventually do well because that’s not what they are supposed to do. I’m that guy that is doing it so they can see that it’s still possible. So, take your time, study and figure out what you really want to do and go ahead to do it, and make it work. It will take a lot more work from you. It will take a lot more commitment and work on your part, but if you put it in your mind to do it, it’s possible.
I have a platform. Last year, I started talking and I called it From a Struggling Artiste to a Struggling Artiste. And it’s just pretty much me talking about some of my personal struggles as an artiste that is trying to do what I am doing, without necessarily having any backing, any label or any financial support from anybody. You know, it’s always very difficult. That’s just some of the things that I am about. Beyond my sound, beyond the music, I also want that too. I want a lot of upcoming or fast rising artistes to see and learn from what I am doing or I have done.
Besides that, I want my music to connect to the people. I want them to feel a vibration that they’ve never felt before or it’s been a while since they heard it. They probably heard something like that when they were children. And of course, as the essence of African music, I want to be that guy that makes them feel the vibration once again. It’s a lot.
And of course to the world, beyond just the shores of Nigeria, I want the world to feel that there is a lot more sound coming from this part beyond what they’ve heard or are used to. It’s going to be difficult. It has not been an easy journey, but we are doing it.