Bella Shmurda: Therapy With Street Pop
Back In the summer of 2021, Wizkid tweeted, “One day I am going to sit you all down, and explain just how important Bella Shmurda’s voice is in African music.” And, two years after, Shmurda’s fuji-toned vocals – spiced with a particular rubbery texture – is still a leading lighthouse of street-pop in Africa.
From his pandemic-era breakout, Vision 2020, to his follow-up High Tension 1.0 and 2.0 extended play series, down to his fourth and most recent album, Hypertension, Bella Shmurda keeps pivoting towards his own originality. With rich storytelling and fluent Yoruba-Pidgin-English interpolations, the Ikorodu-bred singer weaves a rich legacy of bringing grassroot gospels to a more diverse public.
Trained as a historian and diplomat, but flourishing as a musician, Bella Shmurda’s artistic brilliance is quite remarkable within Afrobeats. From a bohemian fashion style, to baroque accompanying visuals, down to his genre-fusions and masterful duets, Shmurda’s light keeps on shining at all the right moments. And the young label executive and singer is set to enter the limelight again with his fifth project dubbed, DND. While the halo of the album illuminates Shmurda’s artistic progression, the record also spotlights the front-burning concept of mental health, especially among youths.
Named after Apple’s popular silent mode feature, DND (Do Not Disturb) sees Shmurda tap other iconic collaborators viz: Tiwa Savage, Lil Kesh and Pheelz, to create an inspiring listening experience that rotates among introspection and bare-footed groove, from frenetic Amapiano to Afro-pop percussions. With this record, Bella Shmurda, born Akinbiyi Ahmed, is steadily carving his name on the annals of Afrobeats, as a leading voice of street-pop in his generation.
On today’s Guardian Music, Shmurda sits down with his thoughts, feelings and experiences, sharing his creative process and muses behind DND, as well as offering insight into his complex-but-rewarding life as an independent singer and label executive, his relationship with Olamide, and many more.
Congratulations on your new record, DND! How does it feel like coming back with this record? Can it be described as a personal statement from you?
I feel that’s my mood right now. That’s like my headspace right now. I just want to be on DND- Do not Disturb. I don’t want to be in unnecessary conversions. I don’t want to be in any controversy. I just want to be Bella Shmurda dropping music and doing my thing.
That’s quite interesting. What would have inspired you to go down that line? Were you getting disturbed?
Well, people go through things. So, it’s normal. I feel it’s normal. We all like personal things, do you understand? But regardless, I just want to be in that mood.
Music wise, what were you trying to achieve with DND?
Majorly, I just want people to dance and feel good and be happy. That’s the aim. So, I’m just trying to put things together and just make it nice.
So, which of the songs on the record was the go-to track that you were aiming to be the hit song from the whole project?
Okay, I have like six songs on this project. I have one with me and Pheelz. I have one with Lil Kesh. I have a song titled, Ara which is out already and NSV with Tiwa. But I think I like them all. You guys are going to like them too.
How does Bella Shmurda make music on a normal day?
I call my producer and we just vibe. I want to do music. We just decide to put things together. I just sing along.
Are you the freestyle type or do you like to write your songs before you go into a session?
Definitely, I do write. But when it comes to freestyle too, it’s fine. If it goes, fine. We’ll fix it up.
Speaking of collaborations, you had some interesting collabs on DND. Let’s talk about that.
It’s a numbers game, you understand? So, definitely. People that can make Bella Shmurda better.
Was this your first time making a record with Tiwa Savage?
Yeah yeah. That was my first time. And I liked it. I feel it was different.
Like how did that session even come about?
Okay, shoutout to Tiwa, I think Tiwa buzzed Poco Lee that she’s in town, what of Bella? And Poco buzzed me like, ‘Bella what’s up, Tiwa is holla-ing at you, let’s go and meet her up.’ You know, we got there and I had this track already. So, she just graced it with her voice and everything went good with me, personally. And about our song with Pheelz. Pheelz came to my studio. We make good music. We made like two or three songs. I just picked that one personally, because I like the two. So, that’s it.
Another thing you mentioned on social media was how Olamide has been a source of influence on your career so far.
The relationship has been good, really.
When did you guys first meet and connect?
He called me up to his studio after Pocolee had posted my video when I was in Lagos State University. So he called me to his studio. He was like, okay I like this song, let’s make a remix. We did it and from there it was a good one, you understand. Since then, he has been following. He has been a father figure. He has been supportive and all of those things.
Recently, you did a collaboration with Odumodublvck and Cruel Santino. And people are getting hyped over it. What was that session like?
Odumodu just buzzed me. We used to have each other’s WhatsApp number. So, he just buzzed me like Bella, I need you on this song. And I told him to send it and he sent the song through. I just took my time and did my best. I never knew Cruel Santino was on it, until it was out.
Wow, that’s quite interesting.
Santino did very well. Shout out to Odumodu, it was a good one.
One would even look at your fashion style and conclude that you are part of the alte community in Nigeria. Within that community, do you think there are other artistes that you could possibly make songs with?
Yeah, definitely. Odunsi, Boj. Lately, Smada. Smada is going well. Yeah, I love the alte culture. It’s a good one and I am supporting it.
At this point, what’s your take on street pop, in terms of gaining more acceptance? What else needs to be done?
I don’t think it needs anything extra. You just have to be yourself. Be your thing. Be your music and put it out and let people enjoy it majorly. I think things are growing. People grow too. So I feel it’s good for street pop. So, definitely, it will keep on growing.
Growing up in a community like Ikorodu, how influential was it for you deciding the sound you have and that tone you use?
Yeah, growing up, my mum liked Pasuma and Ayinde and all of these people. So definitely, I always listen to Fuji. Whenever we are in the car, we are going to church, we are coming back from school, she always listens to these songs. So I think that was an influence on me personally. And you know, me, my style is, I feel like it’s blended. It’s straight, you understand. And I feel those songs made an impact in my life. It was an influence. And doing music from those parts like Eko and Okokomaiko and all of those places, I just feel like you have to do music that will connect with your own people. And definitely that kind of sound was connecting and it was something I should do, you understand.
How is life as a label executive?
It’s going well, shout out to my team. Everybody has been supportive. Everybody has been on their toes working. And I feel we are growing. And it’s not easy, you understand. But as long as you keep pushing, you’ll definitely get there.
At this point, being an independent artist and being in charge of your label, can you give us an insight into what sort of expenses you make and really how profitable it is for someone like that?
Okay. I feel you have to fend for everybody. It’s normal. You have to pay off the staff. You have to pay off everyone getting issues. I just feel like you have to look out for everybody as a CEO. And I’ve been doing that. God has been good to me and I feel like being an independent artiste is draining and at the same time, it’s lucrative. That’s because you get to decide on your own money. You get to decide your own craft. You get to decide on whatever you want to do without hindrance or considering what anybody would feel. So yeah, we would definitely conclude on things and at the same time as the CEO, you still have the final say. I think that’s one of the best parts of being an independent artiste and a CEO.
Let’s look at your discography. Can you pick your top three Bella Shmurda songs of all time?
Do I have a top three? I love all my songs. They are my sweats. They are my time. They are my money. They are my finances. So, I love all my songs. I don’t even know which one to pick in particular, but definitely, I love all my songs. I don’t have a top three. Everything is top three.
What’s the most challenging song you’ve ever had to make?
Most challenging? Like my people say. They say it’s inbuilt. So making music for me is not challenging. You understand? Making music for me is basically not challenging because it’s part of me. It’s what I do for a living. It brings me money. So I feel it’s something I enjoy. I don’t feel stressed at all.
What’s the fastest time you’ve used to make a song?
I think thirty minutes.
Is the song released now?
Yeah, it was released. I think Philo. Philo is a good example. I made Philo in under thirty minutes. All I just had to do was just bring Omah Lay on it and everything went well.
So what’s next for Bella Shmurda? What are we seeing from you later this year?
Yeah. I do my shows in Ibadan. I have my concerts in Ibadan. So definitely. Bella Shmurda is everywhere. I’ll just be doing my thing one step at a time.
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