Guchi… Colourful Rise Of Afrobeats Songbird
Whenever you see her, she’s always clad in purple. And that’s even the least most colourful thing about her career. For the past three years, Ugochi Onuoha, professionally known as Guchi, has basked in the Afrobeats spotlight with a hit-laden delivery that makes one wonder what her secret is.
Since she stepped out with her viral hits, “Jennifer”, “Benzema”, and the Zlatan-assisted “Scatter My Head”, the Kaduna-born songbird has been on a defiant rise courting massive followers within the Afrobeats community. With her sophomore EP, Purple Diaries, as well as her recent releases dubbed, “All Over You” and “Mon Bebe”, respectively, carting over a quarter billion song plays across Africa, Europe and the US, she’s taken a stealthy stance on her career progression.
With her gingerly vocals and buffet of love-and-life rhythms, she is quelling a rising hunger for heartfelt-but-danceable love records. And it’s taken her from the streets of social media, where she first gained traction to the hearts of millions of listeners across West and East Africa, especially, who have caught the haze of this ‘purple’ pop star.
In today’s Guardian Music, she unpacks her experiences spotlighting milestones in building her brand, making evergreen music, touring in Sierra Leone, as well as her plans for the future.
At this point, one would ask, what is your secret behind the hits?
I’LL say consistency and passion. Great passion. I really have a passion for music. So I guess that is what has been keeping me.
Have you hacked some sort of style to make sure that it’s always viral-worthy material?
No! I don’t create my music to suit one particular app or something or for it to go viral on TikTok. No, I just create as a musician, I just create based on inspiration. So, it’s not me planning at all. Either I’m inspired by the beat or I’m inspired by what is happening around me. I just sing the way I’m supposed to sing.
Walk me through, “Mon Bebe” and “All Over You”. What was your headspace like when you made those songs recently?
That was like three months ago. We made those two songs almost the same week when you’re just happy and then you have the right people with you in the studio, good energy, good vibe. The producer played the instrumental and it was good. I was literally inspired by the beat. And then when I heard the instrumental, it was just melodies coming on its own. And then I had to just put lyrics into it. So “All Over You” was 70 percent inspired by the instrumental. Mon Bebe was, I would say, 70 percent also inspired by the instrumental. Everything all together. I had my melodies, the lyrics, everything was just coming at the same time. “All over you” is a love song, “Mon Bebe” is also a love song. I think the difference between both of them is, “All over you” is me telling the guy how much I love him and how much I want to be all over him. But “Mon Bebe” is me liking a bad boy. I just like his vibe and stuff. That’s the difference.
Are these real life stories?
No, they’re not real life stories. They’re just imaginations.
So, do you freestyle these songs or do you write them?
I do not freestyle. If I ever freestyle, it’s just me having fun with my team and just trying to play around. But I do not freestyle. I like to write.
What’s your biggest strength as an artist?
I would say my voice. My voice is my biggest strength. With my voice, I can do anything I want to do. I can work on any instrumental, any kind of song, any kind of beat. I think I’m a versatile artist. I can work on any beat. I’ve seen myself do that. before I was like, oh, I can’t work on a drill song. I can’t do a drill song. But then I tried it and I still killed it, even though we didn’t drop it officially. But my voice is my biggest strength.
Speaking of not dropping, you dragged your management recently for not trying to drop a song you wanted. Was it the drill song?
No, no, no. I posted a clip of the drill song on my Instagram. That’s not it. The issue between me and my management, I guess I was just in my feelings. As an artist, when you write the song and you record a song, you know why, you know how you feel while you recorded that song and how you feel after recording that song. So I guess I was just in my feelings. And then the label was saying, ‘No, we don’t have to drop this song. Let’s drop this other song. Looking at the business angle of the industry, especially for marketing.’ And I’m like, ‘No, let’s drop this other one. This is the one I want.’ But then, thank God we came to terms and everybody’s happy and we ended up dropping two songs. I guess I was just in my feelings.
Speaking of what you want, why specifically did you tilt towards this style of pop that you do? And what were the kind of influences you had while trying to develop the song?
My dad loves music a lot. I grew up listening to music as early as 6 a.m. or 5 a.m. in the morning. My dad likes cleaning the house himself. So when he’s cleaning the house, he’ll be playing music and then he plays all sorts of music. Growing up, we had this store close to us that was also playing, that was selling CDs. That year, they were selling CDs. So they play music from morning down to midnight. So I was influenced by different music. I grew up listening to Michael Jackson. I love Michael Jackson, Osadebe, Fela, Brandy, Beyoncé, Rihanna. So I would just say everything combined together is what has influenced my songs.
In terms of your discography, what kind of collaborations are we supposed to expect from you?
Seriously, right now, there are lots of really good people in the industry, sound-wise, lyrical-wise. A lot of good artists and I would love to work with so many of them. I wouldn’t want to start calling names now. But as it is, I have a song for everybody. I can say I have a song for Davido, I have a song for Wizkid, I have a song for anybody. So I’m just ready for any collaboration at all. But I expect lots of collaborations this year by God’s grace.
Are you working on any project to drop later on in the year?
I dropped an EP last year. I’m still promoting some of them, even though I’ve dropped new singles. For now, I don’t know if there’ll be any EP or project or album.
So, I’ve noticed that most artistes like you tend to have great songwriting abilities. Do you consider it something you would do for other artistes?
Well, yes, I think so. It doesn’t matter. For me, I don’t mind. Even though I’m also open to writers on my own side, I’m also open to having writers on my songs and stuff. But as the spirit leads and as the vibe goes, if I have a song for anybody, I’ll say, “Hey, I have a song for you.” And if the person wants it, it’s fine.
How did you develop this purple brand. And are there any exciting experiences you’ve had in public with just this whole purple vibe?
When I started music officially, I dropped my first single, No Big Jazz and I was expecting that I was just going to blow up. And even though there was growth, it was not as much as I thought. I dropped my second song, an EP, and I started getting some more recognition. But then people started saying, “I look like this person. I look like that person. I sound like this person” . And I was like, oh, no, I have to make myself different. People have to know me for something. And then I chose this color because it’s just beautiful and it’s calm. It’s not too shouty. It’s not too boring. And then it represents a lot of things that I love. It represents royalty and stuff. That was why I had to choose a signature color.
And then looking at what this color has done to me in public, well, right now I can’t go out if I really want to have fun, leaving my hair.
Because once people see my purple hair, they’ll be like, oh, that’s Guchi. Now I have to wear a hoodie to cover my purple hair If I do not want people to know that I’m the one.
Did you have any crazy fan experiences? Have you ever had any? What’s it like for you as an artist?
I think that was when I went to Sierra Leone. I had a show in Sierra Leone and then someone was really trying to touch me. And then she had to really drag my hair. My hair almost pulled out when she was trying to touch me. That was me feeling like, “oh, she loves me. And that was me still feeling like, oh my God, didn’t she know that this thing really hurts so much?” I was confused about how I felt.
Are we going to see more of you on stage this year?
By God’s grace, definitely. I would love to.
Talk to us about a day in the life of Guchi. What do you typically do when you’re not making music?
What do I do? Most of the time, I’m making music. I have a studio in my room. I have a studio in my manager’s place. I have a studio in the little bell house. There’s a studio almost everywhere I go. So it’s mostly me going out and meeting in the studio and then ending up recording, even if I don’t want to record. So most of my time I use it to record. So what do I do when I do not record? I love going to the beach, especially at night, just to calm my nerves. If I feel like going out sometimes, just going to a restaurant to try new food and stuff. I like Googling a lot of stuff. So most times I’m on my phone and I’m asking Google for so many things. So if I’m not recording, I’m asking Google for something or I’m just on my Instagram page trying to see some videos or trying to just get my eyes busy and stuff including reading.
So is there any moment you can ever look back on? Which has been the most significant moment of your career, so far?
I’ll still say Sierra Leone. The experience in Sierra Leone was very significant to me because it was me saying, “Hey, God, this is what I prayed for,” and this is what is happening. When I went to Sierra Leone, I didn’t know I was so big in Sierra Leone that people wanted me to just touch their child. So they called me “Jennifer” in Sierra Leone because that was one of my songs that really went, that was so big in Sierra Leone. So like when I got to Sierra Leone, it was people shouting Jennifer. I couldn’t even step out. I couldn’t go out at all. Once they noticed I’m the one, they had like a large crowd following me, crying and begging, some of them crying, “Please just touch my child!” And it was that, should I say good or bad? I almost didn’t have any time coming out at all or having fun because of how people were always following me. So it was really significant in my life because I’m like, “Ok, God, this is what I prayed for. And then this is happening”.
Flipside, did you ever have any moment where you nearly quit everything? How did you move through that moment?
Seriously, I don’t think I’ve had that moment where I said, no, I’m tired of this music. No, most times I just tell myself, “this is what you prayed for. This is it. And you’re going to have it. You’re going to have it well. And life is a process and life definitely comes with challenges”.
So if I ever face any challenge, I’m going to pass through it. God has been there all through. So I’m going to pass it. And then I’ll climb out. I’ll get to a bigger stage in my life. So I’ve not really felt like I should quit. Every challenge, to me, is like something new that I will just say “OK, this is a new challenge and I’m going to pass it. And once I pass it, I’m bigger”
What are your current three favorite Guchi songs of all time?
Of all time, I’ll say “Jennifer,” “Benzema,” and “All over you.”
Do you have any other songs that are different from your love song material?
Yes, I do. I have a lot of songs. I have a lot of songs that are not love songs. As I mentioned earlier, the label always wants to pick your song.
And what if they end up picking another love song? You’ll drop it. So it’s not like all my songs. I have a lot of songs that are not me talking about love. It’s me. You know, maybe I just like playing a lot. I’m a very jovial person. I’m a people’s person. So you know that from my songs, it’s either I’m singing about heartbreak because I know that a lot of people can relate to heartbreak or me singing about how I feel. I have a song title, “Relate.” That was me just singing about how I felt at the moment. And if it’s not that, it’s me singing like really happy songs or love songs. Like anything can happen! I can actually sing about anything.
What’s next for Guchi?
Collaboration. I need a lot of collaboration. I will be working on collaborations and dropping songs.
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