‘Dancehall is in my soul’: Yemi Alade digs deeps into culture
The sounds of the Jamaican street dances call to Yemi Alade all the way in Nigeria, she says. As soon as a dancehall rhythm plays the singer-songwriter transforms into a dancer. She has a lot to say about the culture and for her it is about making...
The sounds of the Jamaican street dances call to Yemi Alade all the way in Nigeria, she says. As soon as a dancehall rhythm plays the singer-songwriter transforms into a dancer. She has a lot to say about the culture and for her it is about making a real connection.
“I always say that Afrobeats is the music that gives you the drums and patterns for your feet, but when it comes on to dancehall, it gives you music for your soul, it takes over your soul,” Yemi Alade told The Gleaner.
“And for me, I cannot at any point in time hear one of those instrumentals and not move my body. It might be a beautiful mess. Dancehall is in my soul,” she added.
Being from a continent rich with national and regional music scenes, the key to Alade’s creativity has been her ability to find connections between cultures through music – starting from in her bi-tribal home, she said.
“I have the unique advantage of experiencing two different cultures under the same roof. My dad, James Alade, is from a different tribe from my mom, Helen Alade. He is from the Yoruba tribe and my mom is Igbo and it is hard to find these two tribes together because they don’t normally marry. There are positives to this because of the food, I got to enjoy different delicacies,” Yemi Alade shared.
“Both tribes have significant instruments that distinguish their musical genres. Yoruba people have Jùjú music which is derived from the traditional talking drum made of sheep hide, that has a hollow sound and you can translate its melodies into spoken words. Igbo music is Highlife, consisting of the guitar, the local gong and light sounds, so in essence, I got the best of both worlds and I use two sides to influence my own music,” she continued.
Growing up Lagos, in the southwestern region of Nigeria, Yemi Alade knew of the busy nightlife but was not allowed to party. Her dad was a commissioner of police, a strict man to say the least, but her older brothers exposed her to the various genres around the globe, she said. Yemi Alade cites the music of artistes like Sean Paul as inspiration to put pen to paper, but also mentions DMX and R&B stars such as Usher, Celine Dion, and Boyz II Men.
“I started writing because I wanted to see how well I could put lyrics together like them and rap in the way that DMX did or sing the high notes like Celine Dion. How I actually got into music as a child, though, was by going to church. I loved the way the choir mistress sang and after a while I joined the adult choir, which I believe helped me in my foundation.”
In 2009, Yemi Alade stepped out on top in the Peak Talent Show and three years later signed to Effyzzie Music Group. She marks 2014, when her label released the single, Johnny, as her breakthrough year as it allowed for her to tour the world. She has one edge over many other singers and it is her ability to speak a variety of languages namely, Yoruba, Igbo, Swahili, Pidgin, French, Portuguese and English. With several awards under her belt, including the MTV African Music Award for Best Female Artiste for two consecutive years, and the record for most viewed music video as an African female artiste, and first Nigerian female artiste to hit one million views on YouTube in 24 hours, Yemi Alade is just happy that she is producing music that brings people together. In her travels she sees it as important to engage artistes of different tribes from West Africa, East Africa and South Africa and it eventually earned her the title ‘Mama Africa’, adapted from the name of her sophomore album that featured many artistes.
“Ever since my hit record, Johnny, I have toured the world, met so many people … it took me from zero … and I am yet to come to Jamaica,” she expressed, adding that, “my music has travelled ahead of me and I still have not visited that place where I have a picture so visibly in my head.”
She said that it’s a trip at her fingertips, as she celebrates the release of a recent collaboration with Jamaican dancehall artiste Kranium, called My Man. The two slow it down for the track, delivering an irresistible serenade over the jazzy, Afrobeats rhythm and Alade opens up about the sweeter side of love.
That collaboration happened because she decided to seize the opportunity, she said. And it’s not surprising that Kranium agreed to work with her – after a few minutes of speaking, her personality becomes addictive.
“Kranium is one of the dancehall entertainers whose music gets me moving and he happened to be at the studio I was going to record at in London. He liked what he was hearing and bum bam bim, we made it happen,” she shared.
Yemi Alade envisions making the connection with Shenseea and Vybz Kartel for future collaborations. Beyond the studio, she makes an impact in the entertainment world, donning titles such as composer, actress, producer and in her role as a United Nations Development Programme goodwill ambassador.