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‘Wondaland Is A Journey Through Emotional Vulnerability’

“I wan talk my mind o, for anyone wey fit relate o,” Teniola Apata’s sombre vocals opens up the song Hustle, off her recently released debut album, Wondaland. Despite not being the lead single, this introspective Pidgin-Yoruba ballad sets the tone for the 17-track masterpiece. With this bold debut, Teni Makanaki, as she’s fondly called, radiates her storytelling prowess, which has been a main staple of all her musical projects since her breakout single, Case, creating a string of relatable melodies that touch on love, self-esteem, and life’s struggles. Apart from the few ‘feel-good’ party bangers, Wondaland is a journey through life and love experiences, with emotional vulnerability as the driver. Teni’s life has always been a playground of stories. Currently reigning as one of the most vibrant emerging voices in the Naija music scene, the 28-year-old Ekiti State native started her career professionally after completing her studies at the American InterContinental University, in London. Like her superstar sister, Niniola, Teni has always nursed a desire to pursue her music career. And just like Wondaland portrays, it has been a journey stewed in experiences of pain, struggle and perseverance. “It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions and that’s why Wondaland just says it all. I wanted to do an album that anyone, from my mother’s hometown in Ondo or my dad’s in Ekiti to Osaka, in Japan, can pick up and be entertained, inspired and educated,” she reveals, as the album’s inspiration. From the soulful intro Maja, to its lead single, For You (with Davido), to songs such as Toxic, Were, Wonda Why, Dad’s Song and XXXL, Teni tours through the streets of her life, exploring the nooks and crannies that has shaped her personality and music. The album has almost no misses, save for its track-listing, which feels like it climaxed multiple times, prior to its end. Significantly, Teni, who frequently collaborates with others, features only one singer, Davido. Quite a daring move within Nigeria’s pop music scene, she has affirmed her ‘Alpha’ nature as a singer and a songwriter, with her solo streak on the project. Musically, Teni crafted her melodies from several genres, such as Trap, Soul, High-life and Pop, to create the intimate and intelligent sound-direction that the album pans, with the sound-whiz of the industry P. Priime, Ozedikus, Damayo, Tempoe, and Krizbeatz, as her backbone. Up close, Teni is a jovial and interesting individual, always flaunting her free-spiritedness in her actions and motives. The Dr. Dolor Entertainment’s first lady catches up with CHINONSO IHEKIRE in this chat with Guardian Music where she talks about her lockdown romance with Wondaland, eulogising her late father, making music with Niniola, and ‘stanning’ Indian movies.

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Tell us about the journey from your EP, Billionaire to your debut album, Wondaland?
It has been a rollercoaster of emotions and that’s why Wondaland just says it all. In general, it’s been a great experience so far.

From selling out Eko Hotel, in December 2018, to selling out the 02 in London, Billionaire really took things to another level and then Coronavirus hit.

The lockdown period was almost a blessing in disguise for me, because it gave me ample time to work on this album. So, when the lockdown was issued, I wasn’t going to allow the opportunity to pass away, so I reached out to Pheelz who worked on Billionaire and told him we have to consciously start work for the album.

Of course, I had always been recording before then, but not necessarily for the album. I also reached out to a couple of music producers I had been wanting to work with and throughout the lockdown period all we did was eat, drink and make music. I am so happy I was able to make a body of work that the fans truly deserve. I know it took time, but greatness delayed is not greatness denied and I hope the fans are feeling the same way.

What were your inspirations for the songs contained in Wondaland?
I just wanted to make something original, fresh, and relatable. So, my friends, family, place, everyday people and situations just inspired me. I wanted to do an album that anyone from my mother’s hometown in Ondo or my dad’s in Ekiti to Osaka, Japan can pick up and be entertained, inspired and educated. You can’t record your debut album again, so I ensured Wondaland will be that album I would listen to in 20 years and it’ll still sound just as fresh.

I wanted to make an evergreen record that represented my roots, showed my growth and where I am heading to because I believe this is just the beginning of great things to come. It’s an album that doesn’t sound like anything you have ever heard, not just because it’s coming from an African artiste, but also because it’s just pure and unadulterated music from the bottom of my heart.

If you were to describe the message(s) the album is passing, what would you say they were?
It’s just about being comfortable and happy with yourself; live, learn and love. So, the album is divided into 3 parts; you have the songs that are simply saying just have meaningless fun, songs like Moslado, Injure Me, and Okocha. Then, you listen to songs like Hustle and Were that tell you about the challenges we are all facing in life in trying to get our daily bread and how you should be persistent and patient with whatever your dreams and aspirations are.

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I wrote songs like XXXL and Black to educate people on loving who they are and being themselves. If self-love and self-worth exists in the world, I feel the world will be a better place. If you love yourself, you wouldn’t hate your neighbour.

Let’s take it back to the beginning a bit. You left Nigeria to study and returned to start music, what informed that decision?
I have always loved music and I could feel the power of the talent God has blessed me with. I just felt like I couldn’t waste it. However, my mum told me I had to finish school to equip myself with the necessary knowledge.

What was your growing up like, how did you pick up an interest in music?
Firstly, I was surrounded by people who listened to different types of music and generally as kids, we were encouraged to discover ourselves talent wise. So, I chose music because of how it made me feel. I joined the school band as a drummer and I remember how I played for Governors and Presidents. It was indeed a great experience living in a large extended family and I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything.

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What was your family’s reaction as at then?
They were always open to anything concerning our dreams and aspirations, as long as we took our education as serious as what we wanted.
Did you and your sister Niniola ever talk about having musical careers while growing up?
Yes, but it was nothing as serious as where we are at now in our respective careers. Niniola is a disciplinarian; I thought she would have ended up being a principal. Me, a business woman or basketball player or even a comedian.

What about now? Have you both ever discussed the options of making music together?
Yes and we believe we’ll put out something when it’s the right time.
You sing about your father a lot, how do you think he would have felt seeing you do music like this today?
I’m sure he’ll be a proud father, because I love what I am doing.

Looking at Wondaland again, most of the songs there are very intimate and personal. Why did you feel you wanted to show these emotions in the album?
Firstly, this is my debut album and it was very important for me to open myself up to the world in a way I hadn’t. Also, I felt people would be able to connect to the messages in the songs.

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How was it like working with Davido?
We’ve always had mutual friends and we are both from Atlanta; it’s always nice working with David.

Who are your favourite artistes at the moment, people you genuinely listen to every week?
My favourite artistes right now are Victony, Joeboy, and Gyakie to mention a few. I grew up listening to a lot of Christian music because of my background. Ebenezer Obey, Funmi Aragbaiye, Tope Alabi played huge roles in my developmental years. My major music influences include Wasiu Ayinde Marshal (Kwam 1), Shina Peters, and Wande Coal.

Who are the top five Nigerian singers you’d like to collaborate with today?
I’ll love to work with Niniola, Tiwa Savage, Wizkid, Adekunle Gold and Fave.

To conclude, tell us three things we don’t already know about you?
I love Indian movies and their music; I don’t drink or smoke and I am a home buddy.

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