Waye walks into Lumena Café with her face worked up. She pulls a seat and sits. She narrates her ordeal with the Uber driver who dropped her off. She says he almost didn’t turn on the air condition in the car and his lies added to her irritation. But it did not stay like that for long before she changes to what I guess is her usual ebullient and spirited self. She later explains the swift switch in her mood. “I no longer take things to heart, unlike before.”
She wears a long jacket over a brief white tube and a black legging; with a fancy shoe that matched one of the salient colors of her woven bag. Her white tube sits in a way that I could see the colorful bead that sat on her waist. Her full and longhair makes her look more like Lauryn Hill than her face already did. “I can count the number of times people have said that to me”, is her response as I mentioned the semblance. “My inspiration in fashion comes from the likes of Aliyah, TLC and the 90s’ babies”, she says. It is impossible not to notice the stylishly attached cowries on her hair. Her whole outfit can be described as that of an urban African princess with a taste for vibrancy in style.
Her fashion interest is just as high as her interest in music. This interest led her to making music during her days as a fresher at the University of Benin. Before then she used to break dance and mime songs by Fat Joe, Flo Rida and The Young Money crew; but her encounter with M.I’s Talk About It album intensified her interest in Hip-hop music; enough to start penning down lyrics and record verses.
Her first taste of crowd cheering came when she participated in an Airtel-organized rap battle in her school. She recounts how she outdid her competitors which included popular rappers in the school, saying, “I was not sure if I won because I am a lady but I really did well and surprised even my friends who did not know (at that time) that I could rap.”
Entry into the Music Scene
Waye made her industry debut early – she was 19. “Yago” was her debut song and it enjoyed some rave, particularly in her school where her reputation as a rapper was starting to rise – aspiring artistes wanted her on their record and often times she had people telling her how nice her music is. “Stronger”, her follow-up track, had a poetic intro and a mixture of rap and rhythmic singing.
“Wanna Play (Oji Oji)” was the song that woke the interest of a lot of people to her music – people from places far from her usual circle. Part of it was rendered in Hausa; in a tone that is girly and a theme that seems flirty. One of her fans wrote about the song in the comment section of NotjustOk saying, “loved this hit particularly more than Stronger and even Yago. It has this daring death vibe swag to it that makes it easy to drown in and I’m falling in love every damn second.” In 2015, she released “Jowu Mi”, which when translated from its Yoruba form, means “jealous of me.” The choleric energy on that record was striking and she admitted it when she said, “I was starting to have that bad girl character.”
Among other elements, language diversity acted as a point of difference for Waye’s music – she used about four different languages, including English, Pidgin, Hausa and a line or two in Yourba. She attributes this to her experience of living in different parts of the country – She was born in Kano, lived in Abuja afterwards, and schooled in Edo state where pidgin is prominent in the localism. Kano has a special place in her heart because she had most of her formative experiences there. She describes her time in the Northern region as “the basis of my whole life” as it was there she formed her social taste – including her interest in music and dance.
The Hiatus & the Comeback
Waye released a song titled “Your Love” in July, 2018 – it is her first material in about three years. Since her preceding release (Jowu Mi), a lot has changed – she has grown from teen age into her youth, she is more advanced in experience and now she has an appetite for fashion.
“I was really so random with music. Today I was singing, tomorrow I am rapping. I did not really know so much about the industry but I was curious. I realized that people make a lot of mistakes and I did not want to risk too much. I prefer to learn from others. So I focused on finding my sound and rebranding. I focused on fashion. I worked with media brands to up my knowledge of branding. I wrote songs in that time. I made an EP, although unreleased. So basically I used that time to focus and plan.”
Having spent so much time working on her brand as an artist, her return meant that her music was better defined – a signature “alternative pop” sound, deliberate collaborations built on the basis of artistic connection rather than popularity; these are some of the characters of her returning brand. Speaking on collaborations she says, “I am more about the connection than being seen.” She talks about a song she would have loved to have Brymo on but because it is real to her and not the same for him, the collaboration did not happen; although they still “worked on something together.”
Her new approach to music made her shorten the list of featured artistes on her EP to include just Eva Alordiah, Endia and Dr Jazz. With her new creative approach, she says, “every song on the EP is written based on how I feel – my experience.” Her optimism was so intense that it became contagious. She mentions the success of “Your Love” as testament to the potency of her new formula. “This song has gotten me a lot of buzz that even me I am shocked”, she says.
This New Formula
Waye tweeted about Frank Ocean a day before we met. She tweeted about the effect on his “Nostalgia Ultra” album on her. She says whenever she is listening to the album she feels like somebody is opening her door, because of the inclusion of door-opening and phone-ringing sounds in the music. “It makes the music feel real”, she says with a look that she probably wears when she’s trying to convince someone.
I ask her what impression she aims for her music to have on her listeners. “I want people to listen to my music and relate with how I feel. I’m not trying to appeal to a certain audience. I’m like ‘this is the talent God gave me and this is what I can do with it’”, “I don’t mind if I have 100 people listening to my music, so long they feel it for real”, she continues.
The new understanding of the needed bond between an artiste and a fan comes from her experience of making “random” music. Waye speaks of the contrast in character that became a challenge for her in her first coming. “I had the bad girl persona and it was not my true identity. I am an emotional person. And that’s why fans struggle to connect with artists beyond the first impression.” Now she seems to have figured it out, having discovered her strengths and limit; and how to make the best of her strengths. She confesses that she sings better than she raps. She shares her plan to structure her music accordingly. “I’m trying not to lose myself, while hoping people like what I am doing.”
Where Fashion Meets Music
While Waye was away, she was bettering her music craft and growing her fashion appetite. Now that she’s back she is told that she has to pick between the two and not both. “People say pick between fashion and music but I love these two things and I can do them.”
She thinks it is a limited mentality to think that it is impossible. “They say I can’t do music and fashion and that’s why I am doing it”, she says with the kind of conviction that I had not seen her express since we began our long chat of more than one hour. She mentions Beyoncé and Rihanna as examples of how an artist can make great music and still command influence in the world of fashion. Before I mention that it might be difficult in Nigeria, she names Adekunle Gold as a good example.
The new buzz around her coupled with the network she built in the fashion field during her time away from music has helped her towards her deviant course. Although she closed down her fashion brand – “STYLE” – deleting over 2000 pictures on the Instagram page and going off the app for 5 months; she still gets people reaching out to her for her fashion identity. “I still get them brands to reach me as Waye not as Style. It (styling) is a stream of income for me and a way of expression. I style myself and style people. I get paid to style.”
Waye took time off the scene to plan and restrategize; and the move is already paying off. She does not seem to me as someone who has gotten what she wants. She comes off with the energy of someone who is only just starting. She says, “I know what I want. My eye is on the prize. I want to do my fashion. I want to do my music and I want to do it my way.”
This editorial on Waye was written by Ibironke Oluwatobi. He tweets via: @ibironketweets
Culled from Issue 21