I had just put up Teni’s song titled Askamaya on the web, some days before I met her. The title of the song left me with an unanswered question: “what’s the meaning of Askamaya?” At that time, it (the song title) made no sense to me but I had heard a lot of vain song titles around – Soco, Shepeteri – and Askamaya seemed like another one, or so I thought.
I met with Teni on Tuesday, June 12th, 2018. The night of this day was already starting to form when we met. I was first on a table of men, drinking a cold bottle of Orijin, discussing with my colleagues. Edobor – a staff of Dr. Dolor Entertainment – was one of the persons on the table. Myself and him were awaiting Teni’s call. She was in the studio working on a song (which turned out to be Fake Jersey) and she was to call us when she’s done, for the interview. One of the guys on the table was receiving a call and in the middle of the conversation he said, “Na Askamaya I dey,”
“Askamaya?” In my head I thought “oh so that’s the name of this hotel and it must have inspired Teni’s song”, but I was almost wrong. Teni would later tell me that the song verses were already recorded before the catchy “olomoge Askamaya” melody was added to it on the recommendation of Ceeza Milli who was in the studio with her and the producer, Shizzi. She had heard the word around and it fit well into her freestyle – “olomoge Askamaya” – Ceeza Milli liked it and suggested that she add it to the song.
Partly the same process created Fake Jersey and her biggest song yet, Farjin, which earned her the 2017 Headies Rookie of the Year Award. All were made from freestyles. She said, “I freestyle then I write.” Like Dat – the song she wrote for Davido – has a similar story as her other songs. – artiste vibing in the studio, sees something like a bottle of Henessey, conjures one or two melodies about it, the rest of the song follows and a hit record is made. Her music is neither Afro-pop nor alternative music; she calls it “good music” and songwriting is one of her strengths.
The concept of song writing is still unwelcome in our industry. In recent years, Davido has been stirring up the conversation with his admittance to hiring the services of songwriters on songs like Gobe, IF, Aye (going by the lore). The songwriting credit of Like Dat was given to Teni, or let’s say she took it for herself. Upon the release of the song, she took to Twitter to announce that she wrote the song but if she was expecting a hero’s treatment then she would have been disappointed. Teni was trending on social media but not because the fans were saying “thank you” to her. People were actually criticising her, condemning her decision to own the songwriting credit for Davido’s Like Dat. Even though it is the truth, they just didn’t want to hear it. She spoke about the backlash and said, “I wasn’t hurt. I get where it (the criticism) was coming from. They just didn’t understand how the music business works, that there are songwriters, performers and other professionals. I won’t fight anyone for not having the knowledge.”
Teni took a pause and the expression on her face sent a signal that she was reflecting – reflecting on her influences and experiences that has prepared her for the rough edges of the music industry. She mentioned her parents, her sister, Niniola, and Davido. Her first meeting with David happened in the studio, in his LA home, where she was working with Shizzi. The memory of the meeting still lingers in her mind. “I would never forget what David said to me on that day. He said ‘Teni, if music is the one thing you can do, do it and never stop.” It means Davido isn’t just a motivational speaker when he climbs the Headies stage or when he is on the BET podium standing before a galaxy of International stars. He seems like a guy who practices what he preaches – rising by lifting others.
Niniola, Teni’s sister and popular singer, is one of her biggest music influences. Teni said, “she taught me how to sing.” She shared how Nini would ask her to sing as a punishment, but in retrospect, now feels like a training. Their home was their playing field. They weren’t allowed out much because they are ladies; so while inside, they made singing a sport. Their late dad was a music enthusiast who often funded music projects and according to Teni he was fond of saying, “my children would be superstars.” Although his time was cut short by assassins but his prophecy lived to manifest – Nini is a continental music star today, Teni is a fast-rising star. Teni believes their rise is a compensation for their dad. She said, “God just compensated my father.”
Today, Teni is signed, she is a Headies award recipient with song writing credit to one of the continent’s biggest songs and it seems her stars are only starting to align. Her goals are bigger, she’s building a cloud to be lit with stars. She said, “if there is anything higher than the Grammy, that’s what I’m gunning for. I believe that one day I would sell out stadiums around the world someday, (from) making music. So if there’s anything bigger than the Grammy, that’s my aim.” Jokingly, I suggested singing in heaven as a bigger stage and Teni took the challenge. Teni had this fearlessness about her. Her responses didn’t even need long thoughts or super cautionary measures. She appears to be clear about her purpose and desires.
Looking at Teni reminds me of Wizkid in his early EME days, when he was only talent and self-belief; before the prophetic Super Star album, before the Drake collaboration, before the Royal Albert Hall success. I would not doubt Teni’s high aspirations also, knowing the level of passion that drives her and her persistent character which earned her the nickname “Makanaki.” Two doors to the music upper echelon are open to Teniola – the door of songwriting and singing. Either or both ways, she looks destined to make her presence felt at the top.
This article was written by Ibironke Oluwatobi. He tweets via: @ibironketweets