On her debut EP Magic released December 2020, Efe Oraka meditates on love and loss, making astute observations on her past romantic upheaval and other experiences. In there is a remarkable shift from the doe-eyed teenage prodigy plucking the guitar as an act of counter-cultural defiance, who would later in 2017 seize the internet’s attention by singing a mash up of Jon Bellion songs and going viral, to an artiste now confident in expressing herself.
The Nigerian music industry is pushing a new frontier in anti-pop, where borders around genres are becoming slippery, and 21-year-old Efe is emerging as one of its promising mascots. Born and raised in Lagos and moved to Abuja around the cusp of adolescence, Efe always drifted into the orbit of music. At 10, she knew she was going to be a singer. ”Music feels to me like I’m doing exactly what I’m meant to do.” she says.
Influenced by the pop punk sound of Avril Lavigne and RnB glam rock of P!nk, Efe loved the tone of their voices, their fashion and music videos. Neosoul matriarch Asa was her idol too, and was the reason Efe took to learning how to play the guitar by briefly recruiting the service of a tutor. ”I had a whole indie/rock band phase when I was around 11-14 so I was consuming copious amounts of Blink-182, The Neighborhood, Coldplay and the likes. There was also a lot of musical influence coming from watching Disney cartoons and movies.” Efe reminisces.
She is learning to play the piano and ukulele as well and yet, despite these broad influences, Efe doesn’t feel the need to pigeonhole her music into a genre because it’s a trap. She laughs when she says this. For her, she makes music that captures the in-between moments, music that is exactly what it needs to be, however she feels like making it. Music that makes people feel something.
Perhaps that’s what makes Magic feel expansive, with an omnipresent guitar backdrop that throws the EP’s theme of romantic turmoil into sharp focus. Past the wailing, siren-like opener Magic, follow-up Wonderland is a tender love song that skirts around a country-indie-pop axis, its title an obvious nod to the trippy, fantastical world of 50’s Disney cartoon Alice in Wonderland, borrowing its motifs and tableau. ”I will follow you right down the rabbit hole,” Efe sings, vocals flushed with sincerity and longing.
Where Wonderland pulses with childhood nostalgia and fairytale love, Comfort Food examines the tragedy of a dysfunctional relationship with stripped-back, amorphous RnB, finding bleak humour in the consumption of junk food as a coping mechanism. The songwriting is clever and dynamic. It also happens to be Efe’s favourite song on the EP. But it’s the slow, haunting, guitar-forward pop rock of Dive that brings Magic to a perfect coda.
”The songwriting bit of Magic was the easiest and shortest part of the project. I started writing in 2016 and was done writing by mid 2018,” Efe explains, ”Producing the songs didn’t take too long too although I got a handful of songs re-produced at different times. Recording however is a completely different story because I just kept re-recording tracks. I don’t know if it’s that I’m a perfectionist or I was really anxious about the music but I just kept re-recording.”
Evident on the project, songwriting comes natural to Efe. She would sit to write or arrange a song but most of the time, the song just pops in her head. ”There are times I write to beats or consciously write from my head but most times I find that I prefer the songs that just come to me. They usually feel so much more seamless.” Efe adds.
With the global rise of Afrobeats and streaming platforms rapidly changing music consumption habits, Nigerian artistes have vaulted onto the international stage with increased visibility. Their prospects have broadened, but it has also made Afrobeats a convenient catchall label for Nigerian artistes, unwittingly so, thanks in no small part to a TikTok and Instagram generation driving trends, challenges and subcultures.
Back home, the music industry lacks structure, Efe says. ”The whole machine doesn’t work properly, so many bits and pieces have one issue or the other. And they keep interacting so it gets worse. If you put that into perspective and take a step back to imagine any and all the ways in which structural issues affect artistes, producers, A&Rs, the audience and everyone involved… it’s ridiculous to say the least. The structure also affects the way music is perceived and I think that’s one of the biggest issues.”
But Efe isn’t losing hope. Her viral Twitter moment singing Jon Bellion, who co-signed her performance afterwards, is all but a distant memory but it holds a truth that we are dimensional and capable of liking more than one thing. ”And it’s okay,” Efe says, ”multiple things can be good and good is relative.”
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.