The music industry is tough enough for a new individual talent; twice as tough for two talents with the same blood, coming in to have unrelated careers like Niniola and Teniola are currently doing. Peter and Paul Okoye swam through this tide, but even they had the advantageous strength of a teaming two. Niniola and Teniola, however, are in it without directly leaning on each other for support. And this makes their ride more challenging and their successes more interesting.
Niniola’s first leap was her participation in MTN Project Fame, where she contested against some of the nation’s finest singing talents, standing out for the power of her vocal range. She bowed out as the fourth best contestant at the competition but turned out to be the best product of the talent show for that edition; a shiny example that it takes more than just vocal prowess to succeed as an artiste.
Principal to Nini’s success is the commercial appeal of her signature – Afro-house – sound which is perfect for her smooth vocal texture and the feminine energy with which she sings. Listening to her music is close to what is imagined of a singing African princess with a band of instrumentalists from the South – the music is sublime. It is almost as though her words are breathed out, such that even her sexual subjects sound innocent and ponderous.
The case of “Rora” explains how she craftily cloaks her expressions of desire and pleasure using traditional metaphors like “ara mi wa lona, otutu yi po.” Here, she sings about being in the mood and she’s suggestive about needing the comforting warmth of her lover; but the repetitive bounce pattern of the beat is a fine distraction for those who are quick to dance. Nini says so much without making it seem like enough has been said.
On “Dola” she makes “no” sound like a compliment and rejection is made to sound cool. She sings, mockingly, of romance and love, and there is restraint in her demeanour. She voices, “save me in heaven” on the song in the manner that a woman who wants to be independent, would tell her wooer that “I need love and affection but I don’t want yours.” Fisayo Okare aptly describes her style as imbued with “sexual mischievousness and charisma.” And it’s interesting how her artifice of character is channeled into creating ready-made party playlist materials.
Unlike her sister, Teniola is not a talent show product. She is a fine songstress but not the stereotype singing diva like Nini whose aura includes sultry and flirty gestures. Her style of music is playful and sprightly, but it is not without essence. Her breakthrough song – “Farjin” – is expressed in the tone of a young lady who wants to have a romantic relationship without having sex – the type of conversation that secondary school girls and female uni freshers have with their more experienced lover.
“Wait” – another song of hers – is an emotive tribute to her late father who she speaks fondly of. She often speaks of the bond they share and his influence on her music. It is probably the same story for Niniola – that their late father helped build her music interest. Teni talks of their dad as a music enthusiast who often says “my children would be superstars”, as he encouraged them to sing. She also credits Niniola for teaching her how to sing.
The Apata sisters seem to have made a family practice out of music. While Nini’s voice is capable of warming up the coldest of hearts, Teni’s compositions usually have their unique impressions. Her creative process starts as freestyles. She tells me, “I freestyle then I write.” Nini’s formula is similar. Nini told Joey Akan that, “I walk into studio blank until I hear the beat.” To put Teni in the mood to compose, play her sweet chords. And in this mood, the melodies flow almost effortlessly. That was how she came about “Askamaya” and it is almost certain that “Like Dat” (which she wrote for Davido) was composed like that too [pun intended].
Like her sister, Teniola sings and write songs; and it is the reason she is rated so highly. It is the reason describing her as a singer would be injustice to her talent. She is best described as an entertainer who could decide to make a trendy cover of KWAM1’s Fuji classic or switch up an Indian tune and make it sound like happening pop music. Teni’s oozes of an “I Can Do Anything With Music” energy.
Another common element in their music is the stylish introduction of accentuated Yoruba lines that characterises Teni’s graduation celebration Instagram video, which might well be the most popular rendition in the Ondo dialect in modern history, with well over half a million views on the app. This style of using traditional references can also be traced to Nini’s benediction song titled “Bale” and the premonish “Magun.”
The Apata girls have built a reputation for making delightful music. Both have had their fair share of success – one is a BET recognised act, the other is a Headies Award winner with huge prospect. Having Nini and Teniola being awarded on the same stage would be a truly iconic family moment and it could have happened at the Headies if only Nini’s multiple nominations resulted in at least one win.
The singing sisters would have to wait to see that happen, and perhaps responding to the call of their fans for a collaboration, would give them that elusive “sisters” award winning moment. As it is, they are ambassadors of Afrobeats to foreign markets and that is enough to say their late father’s word of encouragement was actually a prophetic statement.
This article was written by Ibironke Oluwatobi. He tweets via: @ibironketweets