In an enthralling world of contemporary music, one name has consistently resonated with a unique voice and soulful melody: Nonso Amadi. With a distinctive sound and dedication to creating musical experiences, Nonso Amadi has distinguished himself as a rare gem.
Nonso Amadi’s voyage through the realm of music is evident of his passion, talent and ability to push boundaries across genres. His ascent to stardom is marked with a tale of relentless perseverance and unyielding commitment to his craft. From his early singles, such as “Tonight” and “Go Outside” to his recent hits, Amadi’s journey is nothing short of extraordinary.
We recently caught up with the artist to discuss his break, latest album and tour with global sensation, Adekunle Gold.
This piece has been edited for length and clarity.
How’s the tour life?
Everything has been good. It’s been up and down. Crazy, we are in Las Vegas right now for a show tonight. Then tomorrow, we are heading to L.A. We’ve been moving a lot.
While on your hiatus, did you envision the success of your album and touring with Adekunle Gold?
Yes! Yes, for some things, but some other things are just happening as we go. And I think that’s just one thing about music that I’m just figuring out. When I first started music, I was all about being in control and knowing exactly what I was doing. Five months ahead, I am still trying to control everything. What I’ve learnt is that you have to put yourself out there for things to happen and you just have to keep following where it takes you.
When I took that break, I knew I had this album with Universal Music and we were going to put out the project. That was one thing I knew was going to happen, but everything else is just coming after it. The other things such as features, collaborations and people I’m meeting on the road are unplanned. This shows that I have to adapt and keep killing everything. I make sure I’m doing my best at every step of the way.
Did you fear that you were going to be left behind by the industry due to the break you took?
There were a number of fears at the back of my mind. First one was that the break was meant to rejuvenate me and make me feel more excited about music again, but then a fear behind my mind was that if you pause too much, you might get worse at music than you are already. Because you’re not constantly practicing and getting better. I was like, by the time I come back, maybe the music I’m going to make is going to be subpar than what I was making before.
That was one.
Another one was obviously what you said. There are so many other acts coming, and I saw someone tweet this at Tems recently. During that period, you’re thinking about coming back with your best foot forward. You’re not really focused on who else is dropping or doing what. You’re more like, ‘by the time I come back, it has to shut down everywhere’. You know that’s what you’re thinking, and you want to make sure that you hone that talent. That was the same reason for me. I wanted to make sure that I got my mind right. By the time I came back, it was A-game.
How did “When It Blooms” come about?
We knew we were making an album, but I could not just think of a name. I didn’t even know what the album was going to feel like. However, I knew I had certain inspirations. For me, one of my major inspirations was WizKid’s Superstar album. It has always been a classic in my books. Others were Kendrick Lamar’s new album and Drake’s Take Care. I just thought to myself that all those albums are almost like biographies to each artist. They are very personal and they tell stories. I knew that I was going to make an album that told my story.
I remember my manager called me one day and was like, “What if you theme your album around a flower or even a plant that grows and becomes a flower. That could be something cool.” That was where the blooming concept really came from. I just started trying to think of a thematic way to phrase it.
How did the collaboration on Foreigner come about?
So crazy, right! I had so many options for the first song. Obviously, you’re recording out of your mind when you’re about to come back after two years. You’re just like, going in and having this mindset of dropping something hard. Foreigner was one of the options I had, but the way the song came about was so simple. It didn’t really have a crazy story. I just know I was listening to a lot of Omah Lay. I was banging Omah Lay for days and his production was insane to me. From the jump, once you listen to Omah Lay’s Get Layd EP, the first few seconds, you’re already like ‘what is this?’
There’s one song which had certain spiritual feeling to it. I knew that from the first second of my song coming back, it had to have that same boom which Foreigner has.
I’m still going to create more records like that because I really like that space. I was talking about liking a girl who was a foreigner. But at the same time, the second verse talks about being away for a while. I’m talking about music but comparing it to a girl. Being away for a while, you’re seeing your girl with other guys. You’re seeing music with other guys doing their thing and you are like ‘I’ve been watching you, no skips, no rewind. Follow me outside, I remember the last time I was here.’ It’s basically trying to do some double entendre here. It was super exciting and it wasn’t an over-thought. I just simply loved what Omah Lay was doing and I thought it would make sense for what I wanted to do.
How long did it take you to work on the whole project?
Oh, my God! It took me two years. The thing is that I produced most of this project, I mixed most of it. Still very hands-on and everything. I’m just grateful that it wasn’t all me. I still had a lot of help on it. Big ups to Universal [Music] for really coming in there. If I was independent, I would have torn my head.
Why did you feel 2023 was the right time to drop your first album?
Everybody was asking me about it. I remember I went to Niniola’s house. Nini and I have like three songs. I went to her house to just say “hi” when I was in Lagos. On one of the songs with her, she’s like ‘this song will be mad for your album’ and I was like. ‘I’m not doing an album’. She was like ‘What do you mean?’ and I let her know that I was scared about albums. Everyone is so critical about albums. And she was like, ‘nah, you need to do an album. Your next project needs to be an album; you have to be an album artist. The type of music you make is more enjoyable in a long form project.’
Since then I’ve just been thinking about it. The music I make is not in one box, you can actually put it in a long form project and tell a story with it.
I just felt like now that I have the resources of a full label, it made sense. It wasn’t just me doing everything myself. From now on, I just want to be dropping projects. Like a lot of projects back to back.
People love the song with your mother speaking. How important was it to share that song with the world?
Thankful was inspired by a Wizkid song. I don’t know if you remember Shout-out. I always knew that I was going to make a version of that for my album. Thankful is a real life story. I spoke about my first manager. I spoke about a lot of things. I just felt like the song wasn’t complete yet.
I sent it to my mum and asked her to send me a voice note. She did and I didn’t listen to it. I just copied the voice note, put it on the song and I went to the listening event with Def Jam in the States. For the first time, I heard the song from start to finish with my mum’s voice note and I cried like a baby.
As a musician, you really lose track of everything. The journey has really been a journey.
You have a remix of Paper coming soon. What’s the story?
This one, world wide exclusive. Yeah, we currently have a remix of Paper in the works. It’s not completely done. Right now, Amaarae is on it, but there’s one more special person that we’re trying to get first. The thing is like, I’ve been trying to get the Paper remix ready for a while. But it’s just now that we’re getting everything. We even got more fire, Amapiano remixes from amazing Amapiano South African producers. We were just getting those before this interview started. I’m just trying to see how we can just do a Paper remix pack and just put out everything. I really think that song was slept on a little bit.
How has the experience been going on tour with AG baby?
AG Baby, bro. It’s been…I don’t even know how to put it. It’s just been amazing. Honestly. I was scared initially, I won’t lie. Because everybody I spoke to about doing a tour were like, ‘ah you’re gonna die, bro, it’s going to be so hard for you’.
I always expected it to be really tough, but his team has just been really good. Like, they’ve been on point, making sure that we’re good. The main thing for me is just that I’ve been learning.
I stay back, I watch AG perform and how he interacts with the crowd. You know, there’s been so many things that I have just been learning.
I’m grateful that all the shows and reviews have been amazing for all the acts. I definitely want to do my own tour soon. But I think that this is just a good prep to know how to go about it.
So what should we expect at your coming headline show?
Honestly, with my own headline show, I want to make sure that the album is just completely and properly translated on show. I’m so grateful because I’ve seen AG live, I’ve seen Kendrick live, I’ve seen Burna live. I’ve seen what makes, for me, their performances really stand out and I want to try and implement that into my show. It’s going to be a live band. It’s going to have visuals, it’s going to have storytelling.
I’m just going to go all out with this show and make sure that people leave that show saying that that’s the best Nonso I’ve ever seen.
How do you strategically maintain your Nigerian audience even while appealing to global RnB lovers.
This is such a hard thing. That question is so hard and important at the same time. If you’ve spent such a long time outside Nigeria, there’s a way people are just going to see you.
I believe collaboration really helps. Next year, I’m going to drop about five to six collabs with Nigerian artists. I’m going to come to Nigeria, do radio promo, do press, possibly do a show as well. I think it’s just important to show face. Nigerians that are reading this will get. You need to show face in the country. You need to make sure they feel you and they see you.
For the longest time, I was struggling with my identity of being a Nigerian based in Canada or even representing Canada? I later realized that I’m Nigerian. I was just kind of figuring it out. But right now, I’m at a point where I’m like, ‘I’m a Nigerian and I just happen to be in Canada’. This means that I have to put on for Nigerians. I have to go to Nigeria, let them know that this is what I’m doing over there. Come and see. If you’re over there, if you have any friends, family members, this is what we’re doing.
That’s the main thing. I have to make sure that the Nigerian in me is not lost in transition. You know, that’s just where I’m at.
What do you feel the foreign music system has that you wish the Nigerian music system had?
Ah, it’s plenty. Where do we start from? Do we even have proper infrastructure? Do acts get paid their radio royalties? If you want to tour, how do you tour in Nigeria? Is there a proper platform? Where do we start from?
It’s really hard. Even though it’s really hard, we still have so many people killing it and doing amazing. Nigeria is a phenomenal place. I don’t know how people just grind and make it work. Everywhere we are, we just try and make it work. There are so many things we’re lacking. We need funding.
In Canada, you get funding as an artist to shoot videos and even more. You get support for whatever you want to do. It shows in Canada, US and UK where you get your royalties paid on time. You get the accounting and how it was paid. We’re going to get there. We just need to hope for better leadership.
Who are some of the African artistes in Canada that you would like other people to listen to?
There’s obviously Tome, there’s Zenesoul. I’m trying to remember all of their names. They’re really killing it. Basi Azul, Osai, Burrelson, Azanti. These are Nigerians that are doing their thing. There are a lot of them, but I am struggling to remember the names. These guys make amazing music and I believe they are each affecting the game and playing their individual parts.
In conversation with Peter Pearse-Elosia.
Editorial assistance from Elysa Akpan.