Marenikae: Criminologist finds love in music
And for someone, who is used to an organised transport system in Atlanta, it was indeed a tough ride.
“I’m so sorry for keeping you guys waiting; we’ve been in traffic for hours. Actually, we left home quite early, but it happened that everywhere was blocked; I actually thought of jumping on Okada.
I know there’s traffic in Lagos, but this one was entirely different,” Marenikae, who arrived in company of her mother, narrated, as she apologised to showbiz reporters, who had waited for hour to engage her.
A burgeoning businesswoman, fashion designer and artiste, Marenikae was born into a music family. With a father, who was deep into activities in the music industry and a Theatre Arts graduate mother, taking to music was just natural for the young lady.
“My dad plays a lot of musical instruments; he’s a songwriter and really involved in music.
My mum too, she’s a Theatre Arts major, so, I grew up with all sorts of musical influences at home,” she said.
Marenikae’s father actually had a music label, Africa N Vogue, and worked with several Nigerian artistes, including Daddy Showkey and the Plantashun Boiz back in the day.
In fact, young Marenikae featured in one of Plantashun Boiz’s videos, which exposed her to the industry.
But when it was time to choose a course of study in the United States, she opted for Criminology, as against music, which is her natural love.
“I actually wanted to be a singer; every little girl wanted to be a singer. But as I got older, it kind of translated into different interests.
I have a really analytical mind; I mentally pick at things and am constantly trying to figure out the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of everything.
I enjoy trying to figure out how other minds work, so, criminology was just a way for me to express my other interests aside from music,” she enthused.
However, by the time she got to 16 years, music came calling again.
“That’s when I kind of recognised I wanted to be an artiste, so, I started writing and recording my demos here.
They were recorded here and I took them to Atlanta and I took them to record labels,” she said.
Unfortunately, by the time she got in touch with record labels in Atlanta, the format of music had changed a bit, forcing the singer to re-strategize on how best to penetrate the US market.
“Record labels weren’t signing artistes with just a song; they wanted artistes to be like brand before they put money behind you.
So, I graduate from College first and spent a couple of years trying to build my brand, solidify my sound and record my album. I really wanted to get all my stuffs together before going back to present them with what I have,” she said.
Professionally, Marenikae started her music career four years ago with the release of her debut album, Ajebutter, where she delivered a unique and empowering body of work for music lovers.
The 11-track project, which touches on issues around millennial womanist, identity, finding oneself, monologues and life, is rooted in a blend of Neo-soul and Afro Pop.
Right now, the singer is promoting the album’s lead single, Smooth Operator and Remember, a collaboration with Southern Hip-Hop producer, Cory Mo and Ezenwa ‘Bigfoot’ Ogbona, who was respobsile for works by Illbliss, Nosa and Aramide.
Marenikae boldly and passionately shares her story to both empower women and encourage them demonstrate their collective strength.
“It’s been really great; this is my first time coming since the album came out.
Of course, the entire purpose was to make Afro Pop music that was easier for foreigners to understand; kind of easier for them to get into our culture a little bit more.
So, it achieved that definitely. Even the Nigerian words that I have in my music are still the simple pidgin words that even people that are here can easily pick up.”
She continued: “Right now, we are doing promo and TV appearances.
We are kind of doing an array of press for now; book some shows and then come back in November and December to play. I’m going back to perform at a couple of festivals in Atlanta and around North Carolina.
So, I’m not really going back just to be there; I’m going back to work,” she said.
On how she arrived at her genre of music, which she described as Afro Merger, the Criminologist explained, “The entire point of the genre is to make Afro music a little bit easier for foreigners to understand.
African music is big all over the world today, but one thing that people would say is, ‘what are they saying? I don’t really understand…’ so, I decided to make the kind of Afro music that Nigerians would love and people out there will also understand.
The genre is called Afro Merge, which is a combination of Neo-soul, Afro Pop, Electronica and some contemporary influences.
So, it’s like a huge melting pot of all different sounds.
I was exposed to different kind of music; I guess all of them informed my current sound,” she said.
Though her initial demos were mostly Pop and R&B songs, she eventually saw reasons to define her sound and carve a niche.
“Even when I would even record my Pop and R&B music, people would tell me, ‘you know, it doesn’t really sound like Pop, it kind of sounds like…’ everybody was confused by the sound.
And then when I took it one step further by merging Afro Pop to it, they were even more confused. So, everybody would ask me, ‘what do we call it?
Now you have something weird and strange, what do we call it?’ because people kept on asking me, I just decided to name it something to make it easier.”
She continued: “It’s funny enough that it took me going away and falling in love with Nigerian music all over again and building my brand to be like, ‘okay, now that I have something solid, I have an album, I can come back and show my people that I’ve worked hard.
I felt it’s also important to me that before I present Americans with what I have, let me present Nigeria with what I have first, I mean, that’s my home,” she quipped.
Though her music started here in Nigeria, Marenikae’s decision to pursue her career abroad was deliberate.
“I feel like I had to go somewhere else to develop my sound and build my brand; do all the things that I needed to do there for them to take me seriously.
I’ve registered a BMI right now; it should have been very difficult for me to do from here.
I’ve applied for my music being on Pandora, Spotify…that would have been very difficult to do from here; even getting my USCIS Codes and all the things that are attached to music would have been difficult for me to do here,” she noted
From her body language, it seems the singer is determined to play big in the industry, though competition is not an option.
“I’m very prepared; I’ve been for training for this for four years.
I’ve been in active development; I’ve been running on high heels, doing vocal lessons, performance coaching.
They make me rehearse in a hot room so that I will understand how it feels to be in festivals; they make me rehearse in the freezing cold so that I know how to handle my vocal chord.
So, I definitely feel that I’m just as prepared, as I can be to be the best that I can be. There are so many amazing artistes in Nigeria and it’s not my goal to compete with anybody; I’m just trying to create my own lane,” she said.
As for the debate on who is best female singer in Nigeria, she explained, “I feel like everybody brings something different; I feel like all the female artistes in Nigeria, they have a lot of versatility.
Even how they look, how they present themselves, their image and music; Waje and Tiwa are not the same, Omawunmi and Simi are not the same.
So, I feel like everybody is one of the best at what they are doing; you can’t just be comparing,” the noted.
Unlike some artistes, who get carried away by the ‘show’ with little or not attention to the business side of music, Marenikae has got her plans intact. To her, music must pay.
“I actually received my first royalty cheque like a month after my album came out because, I had gone ahead and done everything; it was like a $100.
It’s not a lot, but that was just a month after my album was released.
Even if it was $50, there’s a feeling you get when people pay for your music.
Being in America helped me figure out ways of monetizing my art.
People don’t really pay attention to the financial side of it, but once you have a good management, somebody to set you on the right path, it’s very easy to monetize your art,” she said.
On how she arrived at her stage name, Marenikae, she explained, “When I went to America, people would always struggle with pronouncing my name; people would call me ‘More Nike’.
Like, I went to a store and a lady goes, ‘your parents really named you after sneakers, like your name is Nike?’ and I said, ‘no, it actually means something else.’
When I was trying to get people to pronounce my name, I had to figure out a universal spelling that will be easy for both people to understand.
You guys already know I’m Morenike and that’s fine.
So, I came up with ‘Marenikae’ and when they see it, they get it right.
But when they see the original spelling, it’s like… ‘oh my God’.
In fact, they think that my parents wanted more speakers, like ‘More Nike,” she said, as she busted into laughter.
When it comes to marriage, Marenikae has an open mind to it, though she would prefer a Nigerian man.
“I mean, for sure, Nigerian men are very interesting. You know Nigerian guys are very ‘take charge’; they are the real definition of men.
Marrying a Nigerian man is anybody’s dream, but I’m open to anything; I don’t discriminate.”
On the belief in some quarters that Nigerian men are not romantic, she said, ‘it depends on what your definition of romance is; like, I’m not a flower person.
For me, romance is about going to horror movies, playing sports or going to gym together.
So, everybody’s definition of romance is different.
I know for a fact that Nigerian men aren’t buying women roses, but I also know that we are supper hard on our guys; Nigeria is tough, everybody is going through different things,” she noted.