While the music landscape is mushrooming with new and emerging artistes, not many have their sound so distinctly fine-tuned and infectious. Indie singer Naya Akanji is one to notice and acknowledge, self-assured in her lyrical delivery and individuality. That much is evident in her debut EP Vivid Emotions released last year, a joint project with producer Lemar Abdul. With pristine, masterful production, Naya vaults into the realms of pop and RnB wherein she excavates emotions through honest, relatable songwriting.
Opener Eyes on You programs sexual desire into demure, lyrical codes but other times it is knowingly lusty, erasing patriarchal sensibilities around sex in a way that centers feminine intention. Company heralds with the sound of crashing waves then a warm, skittering tropical beat, finding Naya singing vulnerably about believing in love.
”Vivid Emotions is a very, very special project to me and Lemar. It’s our joint debut project and I love it like it’s a real baby,” Naya says, in between laughter, ”We wanted it to reflect our individual sounds and to have an indigenous feel with the percussions and I think we were able to achieve that. We spent several months in 2019 writing, recording and engineering the project until we got the sound we wanted. It came out April 2020 and I’m glad people love it.”
Naya’s sonic leanings arise from 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s pop and RnB music playing in her childhood home: Boys II Men, Toni Braxton, Celine Dion and Whitney Houston. Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Bad are her all time favourites growing up. Naya recalls fondly, ”I remember my dad singing a Whitney Houston song when I was like 6 years old and getting really excited when I tried to sing along, even though I was butchering the lyrics lmaoo. There’s a video of me singing a song from the animated movie Anastasia when I was around 8 somewhere in my house.”
Growing in an environment that fostered an atmosphere of music, Naya knew she was going to be a singer. Her parents’ support made it easier for this decision to be made. She would later release her debut single No Words in 2019, a cute, RnB-pop confection wherein Naya delivers airy, ethereal vocals. The song has since been uploaded on SoundCloud. The streaming platform has been particularly instrumental for emerging artistes, introducing their music to the public wherein they can gauge reception and build a following.
”SoundCloud is awesome because uploading music on it is so stress free. It’s one of the best platforms to discover new, exciting sounds and I love it. It definitely helped people find me and connect with my sound and I’m beyond grateful for that.” Naya says.
As it stands, Naya has been releasing music independently, something many new artistes in Nigeria can identify with. For herself, Naya is involved with every step of the music process, from writing the songs and giving her input on production to coming up with art concepts with photographers and visual artists and even thinking up music promo strategies. ”It’s all very time intensive I’m not running on a huge budget so I try to come up with cute, creative ways to get people to listen to the music,” she adds.
On the question of if there are luxuries that comes with being an indie artiste, Naya sees it from the point of having creative control. In a world where music has been encroached by corporate interests, she loves having control of how she sounds and look to people. Also, she has to be in love with a piece of art to put it out.
Naya’s catalogue is also marked by collaborations, a theme adopted by new acts to build on each other’s nascent platforms. ”I’m honoured to have collaborated with really talented artists who make amazing music. The ones that are out right now are with SirBastien, Tiwadara and Mide Michael. The song with Mide is called Ojoro and it came out in March and I’m pretty hooked on it, not going to lie.”
Ojoro is enlivened with polyrhythmic beats and afro-centric sensibilities, and a hook inspired from the Who is in the Garden nursery rhymes. The song is also offering a glimpse of Naya touching radio-tailored, commercialised beats. ”I have got an untitled body of work that I’m tinkering with right now and I love the sonic space that it’s in,” Naya on future productions, ”Before it comes out though, I’ve got a whole lotta exciting singles and some collabs of my very own to share. I really can’t wait to start blowing minds with them.”
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.