Femi Leye: Stringing A New Song
Femi Leye is best known for his dexterity on the guitar and his exceptional blend of Ethnic music with contemporary sounds. With influences from Nigeria’s finest and legendary artistes, Leye prides himself as “the happiest person you would ever meet.” He has played for artists such as Youssou N’dour, Angélique Kidjo, Akon, Don Jazzy, Tiwa Savage, Adekunle Gold, Burnaboy…the list is endless. He speaks with The Guardian Life on his love for guitar, satisfactions and sliced bread.
We gather you’re a self-taught guitarist, what inspired you to learn that particular instrument?
I have always been fascinated with the sound of the guitar. It was very unique. It is a six-stringed instrument, and the fact that you can play six strings at a time proved to me that the possibilities of sound were just endless. I think I will attribute that to the fact that my dad played a lot of records from Ebenezer Obey, Sunny Ade, Fela Kuti, around the house while I was growing up.
When I was a teenager, I started learning to play by ear. I would listen to records and try to replicate what I was hearing. I would practice over and over again for hours until I figured it out. My Dad bought me an acoustic guitar back then. It became my constant and favourite pass time. And I haven’t stopped playing ever since.
As a musician, what brings you the highest satisfaction?
That’s a tough question, but I will say performing. The thrill of preparation and stage settings as a whole. The electrifying vibrations that come with an anticipated ambience combined with the beauty of the music. Seeing and listening to the audience singing my songs back to me, putting a smile on their faces. The feel of the strings of my guitar, and hearing my music as it is almost deafening, and at the same time soothing. Everything!
I will also say creating music. Developing an idea from the sound of a metronome to a full-blown record is really amazing. Actually, developing sounds from music only I can hear into what people are in love with today and call music is the most amazing feeling.
As far as the Nigerian music industry is concerned, where do you believe you currently fit in and what heights do you aspire to reach?
I want to believe I am in my own lane, on my journey, in my space and at my pace. I definitely aspire for my music to be global. For it to get to the ends of the earth, changing hearts and changing lives. At the end of the day, that’s the reason why I became a musician.
What has been you’re most memorable live performance in recent memory?
That will be my first performance in America last year, 2019. I opened for Fally Ipupa in Minnesota in front of 2,500 people. The reception was mind-blowing. This was significant for me because it was a transition for me from the unknown to the known. I stepped on the stage as a nobody literally, and before the end of the performance of the first song, the crowd was already ‘vibing’ with me.
I sang and played in my Yoruba dialect and it was welcomed like it was the best thing since sliced bread. Definitely a night for the books.
What inspires you to make music?
I am a Child of God and since my Father created the entire universe; I am also a creator. So you see, creating is second nature to me. I get inspired by everything: Love. Life. Nature. Stories…
Which would you describe as your most remarkable collaboration of all time?
My most remarkable collaboration is still in the future, but I am presently working with different artistes creating different sounds. So, if you ask me this question in 2 years, I will have the perfect answer for you.
A little birdie tells us that you have a unique story about the artwork for your single “Dance with me.” Care to share?
My wife created the art piece for ‘Dance With Me’ April, in 2016, while we were still dating. It was a piece from her first solo exhibition in Lagos, ‘The Eve of Woman’. This piece holds a very special place in my heart because I saw her create this masterpiece. I spent time with her while she created, so I understand what went into it. The art piece is titled ‘OTOBONG’, named in her Ibibio native dialect which means ‘FROM GOD’.
When I was brainstorming with her about the cover art for the song ‘Dance With Me’, this particular piece caught my eye at that moment, and that was it. Also, since I wrote ‘Dance With Me’ for her, it just made it extra special.
How soon should we expect your next project?
Well, right now I am working hard, writing, producing and collaborating with different artists. I cannot give you a definite answer to this. What I can promise is a high volume of quality music in the coming months.