Aramide: So Far, Fame Has Been Bittersweet
With Aramide, one can be sure to find sound harmony, intentionality (or conscious writing), gentle vocalisation, a little bit of groove, and a whole lot of experimentation. And it is these exact same elements that she brings on in her latest release, an extended playlist (EP) dubbed Bittersweet. The 5-track EP, which features industry stars such as Boybreed and Peruzzi, is a bold testament to Aramide’s musical progression. But that’s not all she brings on the record.
The highlight of the EP is actually its complex lyricism that thrives in its own world of emotional vulnerability. For the entire playlist, it feels like an honest conversation on what it feels like to be a superstar at Aramide’s level, from the drawbacks of fame to the yearnings for success, and an encompassing need for balance with other sectors of life. The EP holds no secrets because it is what it is – the truth, as bittersweet as it can be.
Chatting with Guardian Music, the mother-of-one shares insight into the inspirations behind Bittersweet, her reclusive creative process, finding balance and happiness as an artiste, being affiliated with the Grammy recording academy, uplifting women with Songversations With Aramide, losing her mentor, Sound Sultan, as well as her undying love for Amala.
How has the journey been so far?
THE journey to the bitter-sweet EP has been a long and slightly challenging one as a result of the fact that it was supposed to be released last year, but then, we all know how 2020 went. The pandemic came; everywhere was on lockdown. It was a little bit difficult to start to compile the project and all of that. I also had a baby and I was just settling into motherhood. So, I had to take a little break just to gather myself to make sure that I was in the right frame of mind and ready to go all out for it.
I didn’t just want to do a project and then go back into my shell. I wanted to put out a project and be able to promote it, talk about it, and go around with it. So, yeah it’s been a long journey. If you listen to the songs on the EP, you can tell that I am trying to say something and I think this is like my most vulnerable project, the most vulnerable type of songs that I have put out in a while. I feel like when you listen to this EP, you will feel like you know me a little more; you can see through my emotions and understand me as a person and an artiste. I think I gave a little insight into who I am and I think I was a bit more vulnerable and more open basically. It’s been a long time coming.
What is your child’s name?
Her name is Anjolaoluwa
What inspired the messages behind the songs?
For instance, the title track Bittersweet – I can’t remember the exact year – but I was on a tour when I wrote that particular song. There were challenges that happened during the tour, and apart from that, I have had a lot of highs and lows in my career. Some days are fantastic, sometimes I am so hopeful, and then sometimes I feel really let down by the people giving me hope at the same time. So, it is just I summarizing my entire emotions about fame, love, and life, the things I have seen, experienced in a song.
I decided to touch on every topic, because at the end of the day, you are an entertainer, a ‘celebrity, and people expect you to not feel. So, they throw jabs at you and due to the fact that sometimes that you get carried away by the love that you are getting outside, forgetting that the people that are showing you love can be the same people to bring you down. People that are giving you so much hope, investing in you, or sponsoring you, can actually wake up one morning and say they are not interested anymore. I don’t want to do this anymore. That is the same way love is as well.
I think I was just at the point where I felt like I want people to understand that this is not rocket science. It is actually true emotions and true feelings that people in the entertainment industry actually go through. Today, you are famous, tomorrow you are not famous anymore, next thing you are struggling. There is so much going on and that is what that song is about. Today, life is beautiful, tomorrow life is not, and next thing it is bittersweet.
Personally, when it comes to fame, fame is nice, it is great and can get you through almost any door, but I am not all about that and I think that’s what I was trying to portray in the song, trying to let people know that it’s not all about that; there is so much more. Don’t forget to live while you are chasing your dream. Don’t forget to start a family; do not forget to do the regular things your pairs are doing. Don’t forget to fall in love, because at the end of the day, every other person will do what he or she has to do. You should learn to combine these things. People will do whatever they have to do to move ahead in life, and at the end of the day, you go home and hug your pillow like you are all alone. That is what the song is about. I think that song summarises the entire EP.
Tell us how you entered into the industry, how did it start for you?
It’s been a very long journey, almost like 10 years. I grew up in Jos and I went for Star Quest at some point, a music reality TV show. At that point, I didn’t even think I wanted to be a singer, I just wanted to. School was on strike and I just needed an avenue to express myself. My friends told me about the competition, because it was really popular at the time, so I entered it. I was at that moment while I was in the house and learning to perform (because I used to play the saxophone), that I felt that maybe this could actually be a career because I didn’t even know I could sing as much in the house.
I entered as an instrumentalist, so didn’t even know I had that much talent in singing. Of course, I was already writing songs. So, that was like an eye-opener for me. That was what made me decide to move to Lagos once I was done with school. Then, once I was done with school, I came down to Lagos, recorded and all that. I still kept going, believing that maybe it might actually be a thing, but I wasn’t certain and didn’t want to push it too much.
There were not a lot of females in the industry at the time, so I didn’t even want to push as much. But I remember the first time I heard Asa’s album, that was when I felt there was hope for me. I felt like, ‘okay, this is actually possible,’ because I felt connected to her music. That was when I made up my mind that I was to be a performing artiste, a singer, and a songwriter.
Fast-forward, I had to constantly prove to myself almost every time that I can sing and play the guitar as well. My style/genre of music was not popular, so I was struggling between being creative with that sound and being accepted. You know in the industry, we have to do fashion and I wanted to perform with the band. I didn’t want to do backing tracks. Along the line, I think I was able to manage everything. The first label I got signed to was Tribe Records; Eldee’s record label and that was for about a year and a half or two years. Then the next was Base 9, and that was the label I left in 2019.
So far, has it been worth it for you?
There were times I had great moments, there were times I felt like I was going to blow and scatter, and then my expectations were bashed. And there were times I actually had my moment. I have had beautiful moments in the industry; I have had moments where I felt fulfilled, and then I have had times where I asked myself if it’s really worth it? Should I just walk away from this thing? Should I go and dust my school certificate, at least I am not an illiterate. I have had extremely frustrating moments in the music industry and that is because people make promises that they do not fulfill or people get into stuff that they do not understand.
In the process, it affects you indirectly. You being affected indirectly affects you a great deal on a personal note, your growth level, and then it starts to mess with your mind. It’s just a whole lot. I can say that I have had a wealth of experience that a lot of people can never touch. I am still going because I still believe in myself and I still believe that God wants me to keep going on this journey.
The day God tells me that it’s enough, ‘stop, this is your last album,’ that is the day I am going to stop. Things inspire me a lot, so I still find myself writing music, I still continue and that is why I am still doing it. I don’t think I am bad at it at this point (laughs).
So, I think so far, so good. I have done amazing for myself and whatever I have met along the way, I don not regret any moment. There are times I wish that things turned out better for me, but it is okay; it’s one of those things. Everybody cannot have his or her breakthrough at the same time. That’s why you have to keep going and keep hoping that you hear from God. Just be focused and hopeful.
Who were your musical influences when you started out?
At that time, there was Omawunmi, Tiwa savage, Lami, Asa, Nneka… I was listening to everybody. They all had a certain level of success. So, knowing that I wanted to be a part of the industry and make sure people listen to my music. I was listening to them, studying them, listening to their music. What are they doing that is making people love their music, what are they doing differently? At some point, I started to look at their fashion; you just have to look at them for different reasons.
Eventually when I went down to Lagos and when I got signed to Tribe Records, I got to meet all of them and they are really amazing women. They will encourage you and you can tell that these people have also been through all of these things. All the things I hadn’t been through at the time, they had probably gone through, and still, they kept going. If you look at their careers now, they are still going. And it is the same advice they give me that I tell people. At the end of the day, it is the same experience. These women have been extremely inspiring and motivating.
So, what drew you to Afro-soul music?
I think it was the genre of music I used to listen to while growing up; I used to listen to a lot of jazz and soul music. I think my father was also a contributing factor to that. My dad used to listen to a lot of soul music and Jazz, instrumentals, singing, and also a lot of Fela.
First of all, I fell in love with music by just listening to music from my dad. As I got older, I decided on the genre I really liked; I found out it was soul music. I loved the likes of Alicia Keys, John Legend, Del Ray; I was naturally drawn to artistes like that. So, I would say that I formed my own style of music as a result of what I listen to. If you listen to the Bittersweet EP, you would also notice that I have evolved over time.
Tell us about your gig with the Recording Academy?
I am still a member, but I am no longer on the board; I was on the board for like two years. It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life; it was one of the high points of my career. I have always wanted to do something else other than just singing, being in a position to lend my voice to decisions that affect people positively when it comes to our sound in Africa.
You also impact women with Songversations, what is the fulfillment like?
So, Songversation happens in the month of March; it is the month where we celebrate women. When I was coming up, I didn’t have a lot of platforms to express myself. The industry is male-dominated, so, I wanted to have a platform for others to express themselves. The platform wasn’t even just about music; most times, I partner with brands to support women in business and others.
Apart from the fact that we are celebrating music, we are uplifting women. It really pained me that we couldn’t do it last year, despite the fact that we had spent a lot of money on adverts. But then, the lockdown happened. We are looking forward to doing it next year. At the end of the day, we need to hold each other’s hands to be able to grow to the top.
So, who are you currently interested in collaborating with within the industry?
I think I would really like to do a song with Mayorkun; I like his vibe. I also like to do something with Johnny Drille, Simi, Niniola. I also like Ayra Starr; I think she is very energetic. She is really good. I used to write a lot and when I listen to her music, I know she has a lot of ideas. She is also lucky to be with people that actually understand what it means to be in the industry.
You were very close with the late Sound Sultan, how are you coping with his passing?
I would not lie; it still pains me to my bones. The song we recorded together is one of my biggest songs; he brought so much life to that song. He is a teacher, a mentor and he doesn’t form or segregate; he is super accommodating and humble. I feel like we have actually lost of one the best in this industry.
I am really pained about it. It is hard to believe that he isn’t here with us. I can only imagine what his family is going through. I pray that God is going to continue to console them. There is nothing we can really say. Do you know how many generations he inspired? I am super happy for the opportunity to meet him, work with him and win awards with him.
What’s the plan for the coming years?
Sometime before October, I am going into seclusion to write for my next project; I have already started that journey. Usually, when I am recording a project, I just stay on my own. I drop everything around me to focus. I am going to be working with new producers, songwriters, and people. At the end of the day, we all have to evolve so we don’t die.
Is that your usual creative process?
Usually, I just decide a particular time frame where I go with my songwriters and just be away from a lot of noise. We usually go to Jos or Abuja; Lagos is really noisy.
Jos is very inspiring to me; most of the people I work with are from Jos. I work with Lagos-based musicians, but with these Jos guys, I love working with them. It is just fun being away, trying to create good music. In fact, the process has already started. It’s usually the finalizing phase that makes me go away.
To conclude, tell us four things people don’t really know about you?
A lot of people don’t know that I grew up in Jos. Secondly, a lot of people don’t know that I am married. Thirdly, I am not sure that people know I am very funny. Then, lastly, I cannot be caught alive eating fufu.
Conversely, what food can you not do without?
Before I would have said Plantain, but it has become very expensive. So, now, I would say Amala and Ewedu. And I am from Oyo State. Some people think I am from Jos, but I am from Ibadan.
Could you define Aramide in one word?
Aramide is beautiful, both inside and outside.