Afrobeats has travelled quite a journey before it got to where it is today. There have been down times and up times, and at the moment, Afrobeats is at the highest peak it has ever attained. Only last weekend, one of its acts, Burna Boy held a sold-out show at Madison Square Garden in New York and that is only one out of the hundred of feats that the culture has been attaining in the past few years.
For many of its creators, the legendary Fela Kuti is regarded as an inspiration and role model, both for budding musicians in Africa and outside it. One of these artists is Bolu Ajibade, the “old soldier”.
“Back in Ibadan on Saturdays, we would have Environmental Sanitation and everyone in the estate I used to live would do chores and clean our surroundings,” he narrates. “We would have the TV playing music while we did the chores and Beautiful Nubia would play, Fela would play, Bob Marley would play. And that was how the love for music was born in me.”
Bolu is an uber-talented Nigerian singer who has spent eight years living in Canada. His latest project is an EP titled “Stranger” and features Bnxn fka Buju in “Old Soldier”, one of the songs off the EP. But even before Canada happened, Bolu had always wanted to do music.
“It has always been a part of me. It is my reason for being here. I wasn’t born from a music background at all, but I used to sing in church back then, and the offset of Wizkid and Davido and Burna inspired me as a young person to try this music thing out.”
In this piece, Bolu has frankly shared his opinion about the challenges he faces as an Afrobeats artist in the diaspora, his art and how much he misses home.
This article has been edited for length and clarity.
Doing Afrobeats in Canada; what is it like?
For me, it’s really fun because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Because of my circumstances and me being here, my being still able to do it gives me a sense of peace and being. I’m still doing what I love even though I’m not in the space that’s connected to it. There’s also the part of me being able to introduce new ears to a new sound that they can gravitate towards. The last part would be the challenging part. Plugging into the industry back home is a little challenging because I’m not on ground but generally, it’s been fun and very worth it.
Tell us about growing up.
I was born in Ibadan. I grew up in Lagos and Ibadan, however. I did secondary school in Lagos, but my earlier years were in Ibadan. I won’t trade that experience for anything. It was the best time of my life. It was just real and free, awesome! Nature, trees, people, love, music, dancing and happiness. You know how Africans always stay happy and live in the moment regardless of whatever they are going through.
“I've been blessed with so many things and I can't wait to bless other people with them.”
Why use your real names?
Honestly, I would say one of my greatest inspirations has been Olamide. Also, wherever I am, I always want to connect to my core. I tried some names, but I didn’t like them. So in that case, I decided to stick with Boluwatife. I’m Bolu Ajibade and that’s what I’ve been maintaining. I have had people call me other names, like ‘Star boy’ and ‘Golden boy’ back here in Canada, but I always remain Bolu Ajibade officially.
Describe your sound in a sentence.
I’d say African-infused music of our century. For me, something that I always need is a touch of guitars and kongas and that touch of Africa to plug into myself.
Tell us about Stranger EP.
It was basically just trying to introduce people to who Bolu Ajibade is. I had dropped some singles, people knew me in school and in my city, but the EP was to introduce me to the whole. As at the time I wanted to release it, people said things like I should have dropped a single, but I was hellbent on a project. I wanted to have something that I could call my own.
What was it like working with Bnxn on Old Soldier?
People that don’t know don’t know. There’s this saying in Africa that goes ‘old soldier never dies’ and that’s where “Old Soldier” came from. The beat gave me this military, nostalgic feeling. Big ups to my producer. I’m sure he didn’t even feel that way, but I just felt like that immediately I heard the beat in the studio. And Bnxn killed it!
Who and who have been your strongest influences?
If you had asked me this question five years ago, it would have been a different answer. But right now, there’s a lot of beautiful music in Nigeria. My playlist is so diverse. I listen to every kind of music and I learn from most of them. But if I were to give you some names, I would say Beautiful Nubia, Fela Kuti, Burna Boy, Wizkid and Davido. There’s more, but let’s leave it at that for now.
Are there any African artists in Canada whose music you have on repeat and would love to have on a song?
There’s a lot of beautiful, hardworking artists here. There’s Dammy. D, there’s KvY, and I have worked with them. But as regards those I’ve not worked with, there’s Nonso Amadi and Dice Alies.
What are the challenges African music is facing in Canada and what do you think can be done about them?
I can only speak for myself, to be honest. And I would say connecting to industry heads over here. Afrobeats is new to the world, but in Canada, it’s newer so not so many people come here for tours and all. The industry heads that we need to listen to the music are far away, and we have to go and find them. And this is exactly what I’m going to do – go find them!
What’s that one character trait you have that makes people think you are weird/cool?
It’s funny how you ask this question because I’m a weird guy. What might gravitate people to me is my work which is my music. But what makes people want to stay and which is one thing I appreciate about myself is how I can’t rest until I get what I seek. People may think that’s crazy, but I really don’t care. Whatever I see for myself, I take steps at working to get it.
Your biggest motivation?
Gratitude. Knowing where I came from, where I am and where I can be just keeps me going. I’ve been blessed with so many things and I can’t wait to bless other people with them.
Your best part of being a Nigerian?
Being a Nigerian! That’s my answer! It’s the music, it’s the drama, it’s the food, it’s the beautiful women; it’s everything!
What’s next for Bolu Ajibade? What should we expect?
Expect a lot of great things. I love surprising people, but God has a lot of plans for me and He’s bringing them into fruition. By God’s grace, I’ll be dropping my album this year or early next year. Also expect tours outside Canada and in Nigeria. I can’t wait!
Itty can be caught studying African pop culture, writing about it or hosting a relationship podcast. When he's not doing any of these, then he's definitely at a bar, getting mocktail.