”Abuja is budding with talents of different forms. The music scene has a
lot of potential to produce tons of top names on the Nigerian stage and
even worldwide eventually,” says 22-year-old Jess ETA who is based in Abuja, an indie singer-songwriter and producer whose music is characterised by warm, squishy synthesizers, inhabiting the sonic tics and registers of chillwave and bedroom indie-ness but not in its totality.
It’s also a continuum that finds Jess ETA situating Afrocentric sensibilities, like Pull Me Close on his 2020 EP Balance that serves a decent helping of pidgin in its hook. The project makes a small detour from the dewy, fuzzy, ambient production of Aphrodite, a mixtape of songs he produced and released in 2018. On Balance, more congealed and sharp is the instrumentation as Jess ETA explores motifs of love and desire, with skittering drums and infectious basslines in the style of Afropop.
The video of Pull Me Close, with its shrinking aspect ratio and frames cutting between neon and vintage sepia, give it an ageless quality. ”I started working on Balance around February 2020, at that time, I had a vague idea of what the tape would be but it wasn’t set in stone. By the time I knew it would be what it is, that was somewhere in maybe June/ July (songs were still not fully recorded) but the project was finally complete in August.” Jess ETA reveals.
Producing Aphrodite and Balance himself, Jess ETA initially started his music journey making beats but it was in 2017 that he got the chance to invest in recording equipment and start putting his own voice on ideas he had penned down. Being a producer and recording artist gave him the freedom to play with both sides of a record and explore the possibilities with creativity on both fronts.
Also, gleaned from Balance is the reference to Star Wars‘ Luke Skywalker in the closing titular track, integrating Jess ETA’s interest in the popular movie franchise.
”I think George Lucas will always be considered as an absolute genius for
his ability to tell a story as feature-filled as the Star Wars saga and
maintain relevance in such a long period of time. I used to admire the
bits and pieces of the story from afar until 2016 when I decided to
dedicate a whole week to watching the first 2 trilogies. Since then, I had
been a Star Wars fanatic. My favourite at that time was definitely Empire
Strikes Back (which is the one I ended up sampling from for the EP) but
that position was occupied by The Force Awakens. That one was
definitely my favourite because of John Boyega’s character.”
Jess ETA’s real name is Jesse Ekagbo, the second of three children and raised in a Christain home to loving parents. He has always been curious and inquisitive since childhood. His mother always tells a story of how he cut up and ruined one of her favourite duvets because he wanted to see what was inside. He would spend time making designs of machines he wanted to build, albeit unrealistic. ”It’s always a shock to teachers that knew me when I was younger that I make music now,” Jess ETA says.
Jess ETA decided to do music from the moment he realised that he could create his own melodies and put lyrics together. He knew music would always be something he would enjoy doing and he’s constantly surprised with the different possibilities of his craft. ”Even if not professionally, I knew I’d love to create songs for my personal use. Thank God things are working out the way that they are and I get to make a living off of it.”
On releasing Body On Fire, his first single of 2021 featuring Buju and Inci, Jess ETA received a beat from S’bling which the producer had initially posted on Instagram. The beat made it easy to construct melodies on which was what he did.
”For a topic, I was still fascinated by the intoxicating feeling surrounding
infatuation and decided to pen that down on the song. I sent the end
result to my manager as a demo, a couple of conversations and
countless work hours later and we have the final result: a banger.” Jess ETA says.
Jess ETA isn’t trying to set unrealistic goals when it comes to what he wants to accomplish with his music, because he knows it can be demoralising when those aren’t met. ”I think the thing I really want to accomplish is a life where I can sit down in my 70s or 80s and know that I really touched a lot of lives with my music and I really gave people a reason to experience life and ponder over the years. Yeah, I wanna retire in my old age and know that I gave it my all.”
The increasing commercialization and corporatization of the music industry has caused a shift in how music is made and appreciated. Huge record companies are always in for next big song from their signed artistes fro profit and turnover. There’s the anxiety and stress that comes from serving corporate sharks, but it can often spell a route to achieving sucess. For indie, small-tier artistes, the reality is different.
”I don’t think anyone needs me to point out how unpredictable this music
is,” says Jess ETA, ”Obviously, a bigger label means more resources and more time to just create rather than worry about the business side of things.
However, things are different when external influences place deadlines
on your work and it becomes more about pleasing execs than creating
what you love. In the end, fate has different plans for different artists. A
bigger label means a higher chance of being at the optimal level but
doesn’t guarantee it. For myself, I don’t just want to get signed for the
sake of it. There are terms I’d want to adhere to in my contract and I
don’t know how many labels would want to offer me the things I want. If
a label comes with an offer that fits what I want and I have what they
want, we can come into a symbiotic relationship. Otherwise, I’ll keep
grinding with the team I have and we’ll keep doing the best we can.”
When Bernard Dayo isn’t writing about pop culture, he’s watching horror movies and reading comics and trying to pretend his addiction to Netflix isn’t a serious condition.