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Raising The Tempoe of Afrobeats’ Global Takeover

By Chinonso Ihekire
29 October 2021   |   2:15 pm
When it comes to having ears for great sound, Michael Alagwu is unrivalled for miles. The 24-year-old music producer, professionally known as Tempoe, is a core part of the recent milestones in Afrobeats’ global takeover. From having produced multiple number one songs on Apple Music’s chart, to having Billboard record-breaking songs, Tempoe has had a…

Michael Alagwu, professionally as, Tempoe

When it comes to having ears for great sound, Michael Alagwu is unrivalled for miles. The 24-year-old music producer, professionally known as Tempoe, is a core part of the recent milestones in Afrobeats’ global takeover. From having produced multiple number one songs on Apple Music’s chart, to having Billboard record-breaking songs, Tempoe has had a towering impact on Afrobeats’ global explosion. And it is mostly thanks to his deep-rooted perfectionism.

“B*tch don’t wear no shoes in my house,” it felt as if the Roddy Rich-attributed inscription was yelling at me from Tempoe’s front-door mat. After being drenched by the rain, my damp shoes had sentenced me to severe guilt which circled around my thoughts. And as I took the shoes off, I had started enjoying a preview into the unique personality that defines Tempoe.

As we sit in his neatly arranged and minimalistic artsy apartment, the scented candles douse the tensions brewing in my head from the customary Lagos gridlock. This ambience also snoozed every stereotype one might have about a fast-rising music producer living in the highbrow Lekki suburbs of Lagos. With Tempoe, his calmness, enthusiasm, and monk-esque serenity shines as his brightest gems.

Up until a few years ago, the young singer was a trained statistician and proficient web developer hustling through Lagos streets for an opportunity to express himself musically. “I didn’t really know many people at the time. I had friends who used to go out and they knew people. So, I used to just follow them,” he smiles.

With Tempoe, it had always been a case of chasing the music wherever he could find it. From the Catholic Church where he was born into, he switched to the Anglican community, when he stayed briefly with his relatives, because he “loved the music.” His relentless yearning for self-expression which battery-powered such movements nudged him onwards and ushered in the encounter with Ckay that ultimately soundtracked his induction into the limelight.

Michael Alagwu, professionally as, Tempoe

“At first, I was looking for another producer to show my beats too. And I saw Ckay’s number somehow and I just didn’t want to stress further. I remembered that Ckay was also really popping, with his good productions in Chocolate City So, I reached out to him. I sent him a bunch of beats to hear, because he was a producer at the time. He heard them and told me to come over. We started working on his first proper single. One of my first major beats in the industry, which nudged me towards creating more, was his song dubbed, Nkechi Turnup,” he said.

From 2016 when he created Ckay’s summer jam, Nkechi Turnup, to 2019 which heralded the Billboard-charting record, Love Nwantiti, Tempoe has kept one rule that has guided his sonic mastery: if he doesn’t feel it, he doesn’t spill it.

“I go for feelings when I am making music. If I want to make a song emotional, I really go into it. There is a reason I add every element into the beat. If it makes me feel good, it definitely makes the listener feel good. I have learned to work with my feelings,” he tells Guardian Music. And this trait, which is submarined by his personal affinity for perfection, is also the recipe behind other hits such as Joeboy’s Alcohol, Omah Lay’s Understand, and, most recently, BabyboyAV’s Confession.

“For Love Nwantiti, Ckay started the idea. At the time, we sent ideas back and forth to one another. It sounded amazing and I just did my thing on it. He always seeks my opinions on music. If you feel that you can’t take my blunt truth then just don’t ask me. I won’t just tell you that it is trash; I would critique it properly. If you try it and it works out for you then fine. If you don’t, you can move on. It was really nice making a song like that two years ago and seeing the world go crazy for it right now. It is really amazing to know that all of that paid off. So for this one,ideally I’d give you my opinion & have you do another version with my own ideas then you can compare,nobody knows it all but I’d always tell the truth or just be mute.

“For Alcohol, I had done 60 percent of the beat and sent it to Joeboy. A couple of days later he sent it to me with vocals. The verse that is the first verse now was initially the second verse. I told him we had to make it start the song. I told him to scrap the initial first verse. And yeah we have a smash today. After he recorded it, I had to hold on to the song for four more days to finish it properly. I had to ensure that I filled it with things. I like to make sure everything is sounding right. I had to ensure that I filled it with things. I like to make sure everything is sounding right. I had to bring in some other elements to make the song way more interesting than it was because it already sounded like a jam but I had to do ‘Tempoe’ things to it, so I needed some days more and while I was having fun experimenting, they kept calling, but I didn’t send it back until I was satisfied.”

Before the accolades, Tempoe had started pedalling the sonic evolution that Afrobeats currently rides on within the global music marketplace, using only faith, wits and radical optimism. Now, he sees the fruits of his labour and that of other Naija musical vanguards, and it is one he is proud of.

“I am very proud of where we are now. I always saw it coming. And I feel like I am very lucky to be here at this time making music. I feel like social media is making it very easy for us now to export this sound. It is really crazy. The bar has shifted, and everyone in the industry right now is on fire,” he says. And as he speaks, I see the same spark in his eyes and I paused to watch it engulf him as he spoke about the one art that stirs his heart.

Despite the initial friction that arose with his dad with respect to his career choice, Tempoe believes that the open sesame for almost every Nigerian parent with an artiste-wannabe child is becoming successful at your craft, especially by being famous and affluent.

“My father didn’t really see the idea. He didn’t get it, but I was able to do it regardless. I wasn’t home that much. I was either in school, at my tech gig or at my relatives. I always found my ways to music. I had to sneak. I had to use my auntie’s laptop. I remember one time when I just stabbed (skipped) school for like two days so I could make beats on my auntie’s laptop. When he came back from work and didn’t find me at home, he felt that I was doing something weird somewhere. I was just making my beats. So, as a typical Nigerian dad, he didn’t really care about that. Anyway, the thing with Nigerian fathers is that you are able to win them over when you show that your passion could keep you off the streets and from anything illegal or weird.”

Currently, the only thing weird about Tempoe’s situation is the fact that, despite his litany of achievements, the young musician is not driven by a thirst for fame. Instead, he prefers to live reclusively, prioritizing his self-expression as greater reward over profit.

“I prefer to make music alone, all by myself. Making music with others is cool, but when I am trying to perfect a song, I have to be by myself. I prefer to hang out around nature sometimes, to draw ideas. I would just go to the beach at night and just stay there and soak in everything. I finish songs in my head before touching the laptop; so I might not be in the studio or with my laptop but I could definitely be working on the song and recording the ideas on my phone before I get to my laptop,” he says.

At the moment, his music productions might just be one of the biggest in the digital streaming platforms, but with time Tempoe is poised to surpass that, becoming one of the biggest front-wheels of Afrobeats’ global explosion. Mirroring the legacies of other frontliners, he hopes to constantly propel Afrobeats forward. And while those roses might come with thorns, it is the only compensation he seeks.

“My vision changes after every accomplishment. The things I wanted to do earlier in the year are not the things I want to do now. I am always looking for new things. I am always looking. Even when I am not actively making beats, I am always listening for sounds. I am always educating myself on my craft. My vision changes from time to time. I have been bumping Quincy Jones a lot. He has a massive catalogue. He produced most of those songs. He didn’t play every instrument, but he directed an entire orchestra. That’s a level of influence I would love to have in the game.

“I am not selling Trap or any of those things, I am selling Afrobeats. I want people to experience it the way I am dishing it out. Right now, I am working on building my project. I can’t really say much about the project right now as God always directs me on what to do and I do it. My vision changes from time to time.”