Somadina…The Rebirth of Africa’s Songbird
When it comes to musicians who can really sing, Somadina Onuoha is one voice that really matters. Professionally known as Somadina, the 22-year-old is one of the most talented songbirds within the Nigerian music community, especially among the alternative music circle. Her creative energies distinguish her among other newcomers, and her confidence, creativity, and free-spiritedness all combine to create the most adorable self-portrait of the young chanteuse.
From when she stepped out in 2018 with her earlier singles, IHY, and Lay Low, Somadina had already started building a cult-following, who loved her Beyonce-esque energy and Rihanna-type melodies. She was that ‘It’ girl, with the looks, the vocals and the deep love-and-life songs that were always peppered with emotion. And, quite frankly, she still is, even though she has since deleted her debut EP dubbed, Five Stages, from all streaming platforms. For her, taking this road less travelled was necessary for a rebirth of her music. And if her recently-released single, Rolling Loud, is a slice of what she is to offer, then it’s now twice the quality.
Born in the Garden city of Port Harcourt, Somadina lived and schooled in Nigeria and in the United Kingdom. The sociology graduate was raised in a music loving family, and was exposed to music lessons from the age 9. It was not until her early teenage years that the idea of a life as a musician came to her, in front of a bustling crowd in Lagos, as she performed a song during her mother’s 40th birthday party. Since then, Somadina has grown into an eccentric and captivating musician, churning out a radical discography baked with influences from Pop, alternative Rock, and RnB.
In this Guardian Music special, we step into the world of the singer, to discuss what’s next for her career, and she lets us in on the reasons behind her musical rebirth, her creative inspirations and processes, her forthcoming album, problems within Nigeria’s music industry, and many more.
I have been trying to find your last EP, 5 Stages. Was it taken down?
Yeah, it was taken down.
Would you like to share why?
I just think I didn’t really identify with that project as much, and I wished I had spent more time with it. So that’s really it. I have evolved since then.
How would you define your sound?
Just like Somadina, really. Being genre fluid.
What point did you decide to do it this way and stick with that?
I feel like I have always been like that. I feel like I have always liked to follow my heart and work constantly in the moment and that has constantly changed and is still changing.
Amidst those changes, have you tried to explore the more popular genres of Afro pop and RnB?
I think that literally depends on the listeners and what they would say. I think my last single was Afro Pop. I don’t know about commercially, but I feel like that’s an Afro pop song. That’s how I would describe it. So yeah, I think it’s really dependent on who is listening. I think my music makes it global and can cut across anything. I see my music like that for everyone, but you may see it in a different way, you know what I mean. It might be niched to you.
Do you have a problem with it looking niched?
I think music has different interpretations. I don’t have any- I know what my music sounds like to me and I know the vision I have for it. So I don’t really think I have a problem with the way anybody sees it or takes it.
Interesting. You’ve always gone with this Moniker and you could have changed it easily. Why did you decide to stick with your name?
I just like the name Somadina. It’s my God-given name. I never even really saw myself as having a stage name because I feel like my name is so unique.
So, with your new music, how involved were you in the creative process?
I was very privileged to work with Adey. He’s like someone I was always looking up to and always wanted to work with. And I think he really wanted to push me out of my comfort zone that day. I was having a lot of emotions and you know, he started playing some things and I was really getting into it. He just kept pushing me like, even rewriting my verses and trying something else. I just kept trying new things and that was how I ended up with that song. So yeah, shout out to him.
Does that mean you write based on your moods?
Yeah. I think I write based on how I feel. But I also think I can write based on a character I watch or create.
So, do you have songs where the story was based on fiction?
Yeah. I probably do have songs like that but not songs that are out.
You grew up outside Nigeria. How exposed were you to African music while growing up?
I think I was not largely exposed to it in my formative years. I listened to Asa growing up. That’s probably like the closest Nigerian that I remember listening to, growing up in the Netherlands. But I also didn’t consume so much music when I was growing up. Like I was not really allowed to have technology, growing up so I didn’t have access to the internet and stuff like that. I actually was very limited. What I listened to was what my dad played at home, you know. And that was like John Legend, Beyoncé, Rihanna. Those were the people I grew up listening to. But when I got back to Nigeria, I found myself within music. I found a lot more like African artists, Nigerian artists and that’s where I feel like my rhythm came from- just finding those things by myself in my preteen years.
Interesting. Do you remember the first song you ever wrote?
What was it about?
It’s between two songs. I’m not sure which one I wrote before the other, but I wrote a song called It’s Okay, It’s Alright. I remember writing a song called Chains Can’t Break Me Okay. It’s one of the two and I don’t know which one came first. So Chains Can’t Break Me was all about – chains can’t hold me back, you know I’m better than that. Chains can’t hold me back, you know I’m better. And I just remember creating a music video in my head. I made karaoke dance with it and I performed it for my dad, but that was when I was like ten.
Given that you have a sociology degree, have you ever considered quitting music for the corporate world?
I never have, honestly. If there’s anything I always felt like I mean, I’ve not always wanted to do music, but I have always liked entertainment. So I have always known that I never wanted to go into that system- the corporate job, just because I’ve never really liked school. I didn’t like school so to me, doing school and going to a job that requires you taking up everything you learned from school was never fitting for me.
So, how did you figure it out?
I didn’t. Even though I didn’t like it, I thank God because he’s made me very blessed and wise. So I’ve been very good at school- I have always been very good at school. Even though I don’t like it, I’ve just been gifted with really good memories and stuff. So navigating school was never hard. My parents have always wanted me to do well at school and I did that. And I think in seeing that I could do well at something I was putting half my mind to, what more when I put my whole mind into something I love.
So let’s talk about your earlier records. I noticed that you do sing with a lot of melancholy when you make music.
I am a very emotional person. Like I’m very in touch with my emotions and I pride myself on that. I’m not afraid to cry, I’m not afraid to laugh. I’m never intimidated by what I feel and I think that has always given me that avenue to write in whatever way I feel. Sometimes, yeah I could cry over a movie and I could probably write like a very deep song about how I cried over a movie. And you would think that I lost someone in my life but it’s just because I’m so in tune with my emotions and honestly, I’m okay with having them.
What do you want people to take out from your music?
The only thing I can say is that you should not expect.
How frequently do you write music?
I can’t even explain how much I write because I write in so many ways. I can be on this call and be writing music in my head. I can be on a street and be creating music in my head. Sometimes I could be playing and get right into it, like yesterday night I was playing the guitar and I got right into it. Sometimes I really sit down and I put pen to paper and I write or just have it in my notes or I just freestyle. But I have definitely spent countless hours writing music because it’s like such a safe room for me. It’s never even always to share. Sometimes I just like enjoying creating it and being in my craft and perfecting it. So I spend a lot of time writing it but it’s not necessary that I always type it out or write it out on paper.
What are some of the most cathartic experiences you’ve had while making your new album?
I think I’d really like, let me say a newer version of myself, and appreciate me coming into my womanhood. I think this project is a reflection of me coming into my womanhood and like growing in self love. In like peace and stability and the whole experience has just been extremely beautiful, honestly. Making the project for two years now, so you can imagine. The first song I created in the project is so different from the last one. Not only being able to see the difference but also being able to bridge the soul between it is very fun.
So, what’s the album really about?
I mean, the whole project I think really is just me entering a space of peace. And like I said, the songs are really functional and they are about me growing and the experiences I’ve had growing up. I just kind of put everything out on the line and it’s just me. Like everything I needed to say, I just said in that project, to get to a point where I know that now I’ve grown and I have self-peace. Like I’m actually peaceful, and that’s how I will just view that project. Like a statement or an avenue that brought me peace and that’s how the songs are.
Generally, you have this very strong connection with the whole feminism movement which is laudable. Do you want to share why you are very big on that space?
I think everybody should be a feminist. I don’t like shouting it in the corner, or whatever. I just like to love women and anywhere I can to my capacity, I want to make women proud and happy and feel empowered.
I remembered you opened for Davido back in, I think Port Harcourt. Would you want to be on stages performing soon?
I definitely want to perform but I think I’m looking for more personal shows. I want to create more intimate things than maybe be on so many line ups. I’m looking towards that.
Yeah. I think I want to create my own spaces to perform and I will still obviously try to do things with the community, but I just feel like that’s what I see myself as.
So, do you constantly develop your music, generally?
The thing with being born with talent is obviously, let me be honest, everybody is with. Every time people tell me stuff, I’m just like, look everybody can sing. Everybody can sing. It’s just that for some people, it might take them longer to realize where they can sing and the best way they can. So in as much as I respect having natural talents, my dad has always hammered it into my head that talent is not really enough. You know, hard work is really important and nurturing that talent is really important too. That’s what they always try to make me see, growing up. So I didn’t have vocal lessons growing up. I was taught how to play the Piano. Honestly, if I count how much I have taken from it, it’s like 10%. You know, but I took something away from all of it. Right now, I’m in a phase where I’m the one that’s kind of trying to improve my craft as a better artist. So that when I do give my fans a show, it’s as close to perfect as possible. I’m learning guitar now. So I just had a guitar lesson two days ago. I just want to make sure that in every form of the way, I see myself as a global artist and that means I have to like to present myself and work hard. I like to nurture my talent. So yeah, it’s God-given but it’s also very mechanical.
Some people feel you are laid back about your career, just because you are gentle about it. Don’t you feel any sort of pressure?
I feel like naturally as human beings we all shudder. I definitely have moments like that. Even today I woke up like my project has been pushed back to another week and it’s just obvious because I’m working with many people and we have to get everything right. But it’s like that can make you feel argh, but then again, I always just feel like God’s time is the best time. And the project and body of work I’m about to release, it took me two years to create it. Like I said, if you told me two years ago that it was going to take me two years to make my project, I would have spat in your face. I would have been like why on earth would it take two years to make a project, but now I am so proud of my body of work. And I am not going to delete it like my old one because I have invested not just time, but also lots of effort and I think yeah, it’s a journey and I am still young. The journey is the enjoyment of it. So, taking time to be patient and make everything the best as possible and I let God do the rest.
If you were going to change one thing in the Nigerian music industry, what would you like to change?
It will be the infrastructure. I just pray God actually gives me the grace to do the things I really want to do. I have had a very special past and I am grateful to God. And I have been able to work with people that have helped me really like to understand the sounds I’m trying to create or how intentional I really need to do the music. I love Nigerian music and I think there are so many artists that are doing nice but I also think there are so many artists that don’t even realize how intentional they can be, just like I didn’t realize how intentional I can be, even though I’m an intentional person. Well, there’s so many things. I think just having the infrastructure like being able to build studios, being able to do programs that actually develop artists in a way that is not controlling or forceful and just free and positive. That’s what I will change. Definitely the infrastructure and the programming because there is too much talent but I feel like the potential is out of the work. Nonetheless, we can really nurture it more. I don’t think we really respect the potential that’s always around us sometimes.
A lot of people argue that there are music discovery platforms everywhere. So, are you arguing that it’s not really inclusive?
I definitely think it can be more inclusive, just like for women as well. But I think it’s even more of an appreciation for how much potential there is actually here. Because when I went to LA, I realized a lot of things. I think that made me really see a lot of things. Honestly, Nigerians are the best in music, in the world. But the infrastructure needs to be more available, affordable and accessible.