Töme Preaches Love Over Vanity
When Michelle Akanbi stepped into the music scene back in 2019, she was only another bright-eyed singer, with a golden voice and a head full of ideas. But barely two years later, she has become one of the most promising singers in her generation, with an award-winning discography.
Even as an independent artiste, the Nigerian-Canadian Afro-fusion singer, professionally known as Töme, continues to power through her career with cutting-edge gusto, bravery and rarity that spotlights her across her peers.
Töme’s impeccable stagecraft is also another highlight of her artistry. During the last Detty December – an extravaganza of concerts and parties across Lagos- she held several concerts spellbound across the country’s entertainment capital. With her catalogue of amazing hits, including the JUNO-winning duet with Jamaican superstar Sean Kingston dubbed I Pray, Töme continues to dazzle as a gifted singer with grit, groove and a golden voice. And with her just-released album dubbed, LÖV (Love Over Vanity), the singer continues to prove why she is worth every rose she is getting at the time.
In LÖV, Töme reels out a 10-track sound piece heavily themed on romantic and self-love. From the opening song, Nobody Else, the album sets the mood with a slow-burn groove that sees Töme profess her unflinching love for her lover. While the album continues its rollercoaster of love adulations, it takes a quick turn, melodically, in the second track where Töme taps the Mozambique sensation, Yaba Buluku Boys, on an Amapiano bop dubbed Hold You. The song radiates Töme’s vocal prowess, as she balances her falsettos and vibratos over the signature log drums of the record, giving her that extra edge, like in all her records, to be heard, felt and appreciated musically.
With LÖV, Töme delves deeper into her Afro-fusion inspirations, blending Alternative RnB/Pop with Amapiano and Afro-pop, to create her own finessed variations of the sounds. She sticks to her comfort zone frequently, with her various vocal ranges, allowing her to dominate the vibe of the records, sometimes stealing the shine from the music itself. Nonetheless, the album glimmers for its infectious groove, relatability, replay value, and stellar track listing.
Catching up with Guardian Music, the 24-year-old singer talks about her journey so far in the industry, working with her father as a manager, her creative process, as well as her love for all things African.
How do you feel about this project?
Given the fact that it’s the third album now, it definitely really excites me to know that we are really moving forward. You know, this has been the best feedback I’ve received on the album too. So, yeah.
Was it different from when you dropped Bigger than four walls?
Definitely! When I dropped Bigger Than Four Walls, the sounds were so A-Z, in terms of like different sounds. I think it was something really different for people to understand. Although it’s great music, people didn’t understand where I was trying to penetrate musically.
However, with this album, it was a lot more; it very much penetrated the Afrobeat sound, but still stayed diverse. I think this project was probably the most cohesive, and I think that was what helped me and a lot of people understand the sound a lot more.
How would you now describe your own sounds?
You know, I make music for the world. I make music for everyone. I think that generally speaking, Afro Fusion is an easier way to digest the sound you are hearing.
What is your typical creative process like?
It always depends on who is in the room, or on what I hear and what’s going on with me as well. So, for me, generally speaking, I’d say that like on a daily or regular basis, it always starts with the beat. I always felt like it was my job as an artiste to basically translate what the beat was already saying, and that is how you make good songs.
Sometimes, it could always be about feelings – if I feel sad or feel happy, I’m gonna talk about that. Not necessarily any sort of message, but sometimes when I am in some sort of feeling, I just wanna let that feeling out. The process is always different. Sometimes it could be the people in the room that always influence me. When there are goofy or funny people I can be with, I usually wanna make more songs that we can just vibe to.
What were your most memorable moments with creating this project?
You know, it’s very interesting that you brought that up. A big shout out to Bankulli! When I was in Atlanta, you know, five songs on the project, he executively produced and A&R’d with me. So, he was really able to help in moulding myself, especially for this project. Songs like Please, Wait, Good life, To Me, and even the Sound-sultan tribute Journey Back Home, were all done in Atlanta with him.
It is never too challenging – the execution and you know, making sure that I get the pronunciation of the pidgin right, coming from Canada and everything. And you know, he is a serious guy; when it comes to music, he does not play. So, he was very stern on that.
The thing is my dad is like that too, you know my dad is my manager. I’m not accustomed to that tough love, anyways. I appreciate it, but however, it was challenging in some moments. It was my first time meeting him, also working so closely with him, also kind of understanding each other’s process in the studio, and it was different. So, there were challenges in terms of being able to not let the feedback he was giving me at the moment distract what I was trying to execute. Sometimes, when you are making music as an artiste, you need to be sensitive; how you’re going about it, how you want it to be heard, how you want it to sound to you. Whereas, they are thinking differently, they are on the consumer end, like on the bigger scale. It was getting to me at some point.
For instance, with the song Dangerous, I wanted to sing very soft and sultry, but Bankulli was opposed to that vibe. There was a moment where I literally had this moment of anxiety or panic, because I didn’t want it to seem like I was doing something that I wouldn’t naturally do. I don’t want to come off like, ‘oh, I don’t know if this is really me.’ It was almost like I was feeling like this Imposter Syndrome sort of energy. You know, because for those five songs specifically, there were a lot more writers involved than me writing; that in itself was ticking at my pride, because usually, I’ll have a writer around and I am a writer and this time around, I’ve got writers involved who are writing it for me. You know, it’s so many things that were new to me to understand. Like, you don’t always have to do everything as an artiste. I think that was what I learned.
How did your dad start to manage you?
He was already in the industry for 30 years as a music promoter in the diaspora; in Toronto and in Dubai, just generally with the international market. He was able to introduce a lot of Afrobeats artistes to the world. He was one of those pioneer music promoters that was able to push Olamide, D’banj, Wizkid, Davido in the international market.
Also, generally speaking he was heavily connected to multiple people in the industry, especially the Afrobeats industry way before I dived into it. So, like he already had so much access within the market and he was doing his. I started all by myself, diving into RnB. I started working with African producers in Toronto that were trying to fuse their sounds. They were trying to bring the culture of Toronto and mix it with what they already know, coming from Nigeria. And I was like, ‘Okay, I want to be able to do this too, because I was yearning for that.’
I always wanted something different from just Pop or RnB and what other producers were doing. So, when I met with a lot of these producers, I was like there’s something here. This was just by myself, before my dad. And I was showing my dad my music and he’ll say it was nice, but not marketable enough.
At first, he dismissed me, like he didn’t see my vision. I had to earn my dad’s respect as an artiste before he ever took me on. Like he knows what he has, he knows he can manage an artiste if he really wants to, but he wasn’t just going to take me on, because I’m his daughter. And I think that in itself was more motivating for me, because it made me know that if my dad was my manager, things could happen for me.
So, I started diving into my first project, and my dad had no involvement in that. I just invested in myself and I just invested in quality. I wanted to make sure I was singing quality; I wanted to record quality. So now, when L’amour dropped, which is the first single I ever released, I showed it to him. He was like this is really nice, and I was like ‘yes, thank you, I know.’ He was like, ‘You have more like this?’ and I said ‘Yeah, I do.’ It was 2018, and nothing really happened. He just knew the song.
Then in 2019, Wizkid was coming to town and he was producing the show. He brought me on stage, although I wasn’t really an artiste professionally. Then, we talked about how I would release music before the show, in March 2019; this was January 2019. The following month, we released the single. From there, he just asked me ‘Are you ready for this?’ And I said ‘Yeah.’ He told me I needed to be ready to work.
My dad is a Nigerian man and a core businessman; he’s not going to give you this very sweet vibe, and you’re going to work. From there, he became my manager. From the Wizkid show, we started receiving a lot more opportunities to perform. Thank God, I am an actor and a performer as well. If he puts me on the stage to perform, he won’t be disappointed. So, we started to get more and more opportunities, which led to the music tour in Europe.
When Mr. Eazi came to Toronto, he was was really impressed with me. So, when we kind of got that opportunity, I had to quit my 9-5, unless they would have fired me for not being around. That’s where we had more time to work, and three years later, we had achieved so much and I am so happy.
As a woman in this industry, it was my dad with me first before anybody, because I have learned, I’ve been mentored, I’ve been disciplined to understand what’s to come and I don’t think anybody else would have been able to teach me that. Also, it’s God’s plan – it’s not a coincidence, you know.
Why music for you?
You know, music is not all I might end up doing, like that’s not all I want to do. I think that independently, as an artiste, it has opened so many different opportunities. Even since I was a kid, I just knew I wanted to be a star. What I said whenever anybody asked me what I wanted to do was that I wanted to be a superstar. They always asked for my Plan B, but I never had one.
I went to acting school. I’ve professionally been acting longer than I was doing music – it’s been almost five years, while music has been three years professionally. However, music has been the strongest vessel to gain access to the creative industry. Acting has done that, but music has helped in building more credibility for me as an artiste. So, there’s just more eyes on me now, within that industry and being an actor, it also benefits me. Once I’ve achieved everything I want to be and received all the awards I want to receive, I’ve been able to establish myself as a global artiste, with both Hollywood and Nollywood within, I want be able to give back the opportunities I received to others.
I’ve always said I wanted to create a YMCA for artistes. A YMCA is a Canadian thing, but it’s basically a recreation and sports centre for youths. A place you could go swimming; do recreational sports, and so on. I want to create those same opportunities for artistes and creatives. I want them to be able to have a place they can come to, without having to worry about the funding, a place to just learn the craft. I want to be able to service the entertainment industry, to be part of the conversation about how we are moving forward in the industry.
Who are you feeling in the industry right now?
I love Ayra Starr. I think if Arya and myself are in the studio; it’s going to be really amazing. I also feel like with Tems, I will be able to really showcase the solemn side, like we would be able to play that tune you just have to play in the morning, night or midday, when you are just trying to mellow out. If Rema and myself make a song, I just feel like it will be the best song to perform. Fireboy! I also love Oxlade. I feel like that song will be really vocally powerful.
Before we wrap up, if you needed to convince yourself not to quit music what would you say?
I would say to myself to think about the people you’ve impacted. Think about how far you’ve come, to think about if I would be happy when I stop.
Finally, tell us three things people don’t really know about you.
Okay. So, I really never expected this. I haven’t done it in a while, but one thing is I like to drink juice from pickles (made from Cucumber, commonly in the US and Canada). It actually feels pretty good. I’m obsessed with peanut butter; from my sandwiches to smoothies, I really love peanut butter. Lastly, I’m extremely terrified by sharks, but I’m also fascinated. Like I know everything there is to know about sharks.
Have you seen anyone before?
I’ve seen the small ones, but like you can’t catch me in the middle of the ocean, because I literally feel like sharks are gonna come eat me. I used to think that there were sharks in the deep end of a pool.
It was one specific movie and it was my first time seeing a shark movie and it horrified me or I guessed it traumatised me. I think the movie is Deep End; I can’t remember what it’s called right now, but it looked so real to me.