Out since the beginning of February, Kirukaah’s debut EP Sanguine whips out a jazz-funk-soul sound in the midst of other disparate influences. There’s whimsical glee on the tropical Ricochet, the EP’s opener that mocks empty promises around the inception of romantic relationships while the closer Jeopardize goes darkly vindictive, processed through hurt feelings and maintaining boundaries.
”Sanguine (positive, optimistic) is a metaphor for my outlook on love. This hasn’t always been the case but now that it is, it makes all the difference in my life. So it’s symbolic to me.” Kirukaah explains the title for her EP in spoken word-y flair, more visually in a teaser film where she skirts along the shores of a beach wearing an enveloping tulle dress.
The songs on the 5-track project were written at varying times, as far back as 2013 for tracks like Harmattan and Sunday Noon Blues. For Jeopardize and Dynamite, her producer Wondamagik sent her a rough version of the instrumentation in 2019 and she wrote them with artiste Kyrian Asher while Ricochet was written during the early lockdown of the coronavirus pandemic last year. ”However the actual recording took 5 days in late November, 2020. Magik came down to Lagos and we just holed up in my home for 5 days straight vibing and recording.”
Born Ifeoma Nkiruka Chukwuogo, Kirukaah is a stylised derivation from her middle name and was adopted in a last-minute scramble for a stage name after she discovered that her original choice ‘Fizzy K’ had been taken on Spotify just two days before pre-release. But for Kirukaah now, there’s a sense of content with the choosing of the name as Nkiruka means the future is greater from Igbo. ”Which is my philosophy now for every aspect of my life: the belief that what’s ahead of me always is greater than what’s behind me,” Kirukaah adds.
If the name Ifeoma Nkiruka Chukwuogo rings a bell, it’s because it has a pre-existing attachment to another artistic facet: filmmaking. Her popular work, the evocative 2017 short film Bariga Sugar, drew praises from critics home and abroad. As such, this 2020 YNaija piece launched a campaign to have her partner with Netflix to churn original series due to her ability to tell compelling stories.
Ifeoma may love making films, but Kirukaah’s gravitation to music came first. As a child, she grew up listening all kinds of genres and artistes, developing an omnivorous appetite in the process. ”A lot of Aretha, Beyonce of course, Brenda Fassie, Asa, Paul Simon’s iconic “Graceland” with Ladysmith Black Mambazo was on a lot in my home,” Kirukaah reminisces, ”Sade, Lighthouse Family, Fela, Britney Spears, Marvin Gaye, Lil Kim, Brandy, Jill Scott, Onyeka Onwenu, a lot of 70s West African funk like The Funkees (mainly thanks to my dad), Nigerian highlife.”
Kirukaah was born in Warri, moved to Port Harcourt when she was three and resided there for thirteen years then moved to Austin, Texas at sixteen for university. Kirukaah was there for four years then moved back to Abuja for two years where she did the mandatory Youth Service program, dabbling into music and film and made the decision to do film properly. She would later move to Los Angeles to school at the New York Film Academy in 2014, and jet back to Lagos a year later. She lived in Lagos solely for five years until January this year, now shuffling between there and Accra.
In YNaija’s weekly beat to showcase new artistes, the 28-year-old singer-songwriter reveals more on making her debut EP Sanguine and juggling her artistic identities.
What does it mean to you doing music that shifts from the mainstream, at least in Nigeria?
Yes, it’s Jazz, Soul, a bit of funk, some highlife and Afropop too. Doing music that shifts from the mainstream in Nigeria is not a conscious decision I’m making per se. I just create what I like and how I feel. I’m open to more genres, because I listen to lots of different kinds of music and get inspired to create in line with that, from time to time. However, Soul, Funk and Jazz would always be “home” for me as that’s what I gravitate more towards and find to be at the center of my style and musical influences.
Why did you decide to go into music given that you carved an identity as a filmmaker?
I love it. It’s my first passion. Even before film. I’ve been singing since I was a child. Always in choirs, always on stage. My mum was kind of a “stage mom” and she really encouraged music and performance with me. She loves music. (I’ve had 2 gospel albums complete with videos, produced by her, all before I was 15. Some of those songs and videos are somewhere on the internet now but I hope they are never found because the embarrazzzzment oh God [Laughs]. Let’s just thank God for the glow up, my dear)
Anyway, I ran away from music for the longest time because with late adolescence and early adulthood came a kind of sudden crippling anxiety and self doubt around music that I couldn’t figure out. But as I’ve grown older and come into my own person more I’ve learned that life is too short to not do a thing you love because you have another identity or because you are afraid or anxious. It’s a lie your ego tells you that keeps you hiding from the very things that feed your soul.
I believe the collective of our gifts and resources are like a garden. Each talent/gift/resource is a plant in the garden. You can water each plant, maybe not all at the same time, but if you choose (and you’re privileged to) , why not water all the plants instead of watering just one. Film and music aren’t even the end of this road for me. I have a number of interests and talents (if I do say so myself) and I plan to at least try each and every one of them. I want to die empty. To leave it all on life’s stage when I’m old and grey and take my exit bow to another plane. My father always tells me life is not a rehearsal, to give it my all. I’m trying to do it. Also it’s super fun getting to explore all the flowers in my garden.
How do you intend to maintain or juggle filmmaking and singing?
By leveraging my support system and leaning on them when I need to. Also trusting the divine and my chi to grant me the strength and will to do. It’s not the easiest thing adulting and juggling stuff because burn out is a real thing and I try to avoid the mental fatigue that comes from that because it ain’t cute at all when it happens to me, it’s a mess lol. I also work a whole 9-5 (thankfully mostly remotely and also in a field I also love and feel very at home in, Advertising) so I have to be careful about managing my time. Thankfully, I thoroughly enjoy both music and film as my two great life passions so it almost never feels like work. I feel like a lot of my work is play (even my “day” job) and that’s something I’m really grateful for.
What are the challenges of being an independent artiste?
Having to figure a lot of things out yourself and basically managing your own brand and carrying your entire matter on your own head. Launching by yourself, troubleshooting by yourself, strategizing by yourself, financing yourself.. However I honestly wouldn’t say this is the case. I have been gifted with amazing friends, family and collaborators that are ever ready to support and do things within their expertise to help. Even outside of their expertise sometimes. it’s just like “Fizzy, we’ll figure this thing out don’t worry. How can I help? What can I do?” and just having that assurance alone is everything to me. It makes me feel “carried”.
So while there are still the hurdles and woes of independent artistry, it doesn’t feel terrible to me right now. Maybe I’ll change my mind in the future but for now, it’s alright I guess.
But also I’ve only just started doing music professionally so I don’t have enough skin in the game to talk at length about the challenges of it. For now I’m taking it all one day at a time and trying to enjoy the ride.
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.