Nonso Amadi On “When It Blooms,” The Future Of Afrobeats & Burna Boy & Fela Kuti Influence

Afrobeats has dominated the globe and it’s only getting bigger, thanks to artists like Nonso Amadi. The Nigerian-born artist first emerged in 2016 with the success of his single, “Tonight.” It was a record that blew up by chance but his subsequent releases proved Nonso Amadi had staying power. However, maintaining that sort of success independently can be taxing. For Nonso Amadi, it led to a three-year hiatus that came to an end in 2022 as he began to roll out the campaign for his debut album When It Blooms.

His latest album, which boasts the Majid Jordan-assisted “Different,” is a full portrayal of Nonso Amadi, shedding insight into his upbringing, aspirations, and influences. He cites Bob Marley, Fela Kuti, and Bob Marley as inspiration to use his platform to speak out. It’s important, especially when he sees the struggles that many face across the globe, including in Nigeria. Beyond crafting hit records, he strived to create a complete body of work that tells his story.

“As a young Nigerian, I’ve experienced how tough it could be, you know?” Nonso Amadi told HotNewHipHop, citing different political and social struggles that young Nigerians face daily. “So I just thought, like, it’d be right to highlight some things on this album, just to make it completely holistic, because I wanted to speak about my story, my experience, and that is a part of my story and is a part of every a lot of young Nigerians stories as well.”

These experiences undoubtedly shaped how When It Blooms turned out. This Friday, November 3rd, he’ll be bringing his latest album to Toronto for his first headlining show at El Mocombo. We recently caught up with Nonso Amadi in October ahead of his performance in Montreal on Adekunle Gold’s Tequila Ever After tour. Amadi dishes on the making of When It Blooms, tour life, and the future of Afrobeats. 

It’s been a big year for you. You dropped the album and now, you’re back on the road. I know you took a bit of a hiatus. I assume this is one of the first times you’re performing again. How’s that been?

Nonso Amadi: Well, it’s been good. So far, we’ve done like four or five cities but it’s been really good. Like, just seeing people come out for Adekunle Gold. I’m also like, using this as an opportunity to learn how touring works. It’s my first tour ever. So it’s been really, really good.

What’s the biggest takeaway from this tour so far? 

So initially, I was trying to do a setlist that was more theatrical, where I had a lot of spoken word and made it more performance-based. But then I realized – I’m adjusting my set with time to make it more of like a turn-up party-type vibe. Because, with the crowd, a lot of the crowd members are just new to the music. So if it’s too slow-paced, I might lose some people. I might want to save that for the headline instead. So right now I’m just going to turn up like throughout. And like, obviously have key moments in there where I tell my story.

What’s been your favorite song to perform so far? 

Wow, I think “Paper” and “Tonight.” Between those two – they’re just two different energies but whenever those songs are coming on, it’s proper lit. 

Paper by Nonso Amadi via YouTube

As we discussed, you took a three-year hiatus prior to the release of When It Blooms. What was happening during that time? 

Honestly, I was just burnt out. Like, I was doing a lot of heavy lifting myself, you know, mixing, producing, writing and everything was on me. So I had to like take a step back, get a proper team behind me. I obviously started working with Universal Music Canada and Def Jam during the hiatus, and that like really just gave me enough of the resources I needed to create this album. Like, it wouldn’t have been possible without the label and everyone – the management. So yeah, I had to I had to like do that to make sure I came back.

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Besides having to regroup, why was it important to take a step back from the limelight?

I guess the main thing for me with the hiatus was just to focus on personal growth. Prior to making this album, most of my songs were about love, purely about love. But like with this album, because of the growth and how much I’ve learned, I was able to write songs that actually told stories. Stories about my life and what’s going on around me and stuff like that. And that’s why that was such a big deal to me because it isn’t just like a bunch of songs that I just randomly put together. It tells a story.

Having released the album in May, I was wondering how season changes impact your creative process. This album definitely felt like one for the summer, especially songs like “Cali Was The Mission” and “NASA.” 

I’m less about seasons and more about moods. I was in a space where, like I said, I just wanted to express certain things. Like, California has been like a huge thing for me since I was a kid. Growing up seeing all the major acts based out there in LA. I always knew on my first album I was gonna have a song called “Cali Was The Mission” because it was the mission for me. And then like, yeah, “Ease Up” tells the story of my struggles in Nigeria, the huge struggles. That’s just how we were trying to put together to like, make sure we were being true to whatever my story was. 

What was your first time in California like? 

My first time in Cali, I was actually brought up by Emotional Oranges and they took real good care of me. I had tacos for the first time. You know, it was just really, really good. Yeah, I enjoyed that experience.

The album covers a lot of ground, even diving into political issues in Nigeria. Why is it important for you to use your platform to speak up? 

I’m just learning that, as an artist, we have certain responsibilities to use our voice, our platform to shed light on certain key social issues. It’s an uncomfortable area for a lot of artists because some artists just want to like enjoy the music and make music they vibe with. But like, when you have a platform where there’s like thousands of people keeping paying attention to you, if you can speak about certain things, it will be helpful. 

With this album, it’s the first time I’ve ever done it. I’m definitely going to try doing more of it and just learn more about how it’s done. I think the greats – Bob Marley, Fela Kuti – they were really good and not just thinking about, you know, whatever. They sang about things that matter to not just them but their country. 

Nonso Amadi. Photo by TSE.

On “Lock Up,” you say, “I never see Port Harcourt for twelve years/ Based on some complications/ Pray say I go do show for New Years.” A lot of the issues out there have made international headlines but could you talk to me about taking these risks as an artist to speak out against these problems? How do you think that impacts your ability to create freely? 

Oh, that’s a really tough one. Yeah, it’s like the country itself is like – Nigeria is going through a state where the young people are pushing to like be excellent in their fields but like, the government isn’t up to par with us. And that’s affected a lot of creatives in terms of having to leave the country to go get certain opportunities which is not really good. Like, even being having a Nigerian passport limits me to traveling and doing shows in certain parts of the world. So yeah, man, we can only just pray and hope for the best but also like, we have to use our platform to like speak on these issues and let people know what’s going on, you know?

I have been inspired by the artists who have done the same thing before me. The likes of Bob Marley, Fela Kuti, Burna Boy. These are artists who haven’t been scared to use their voices to highlight certain things. Myself, as a young Nigerian, I’ve experienced how tough it could be, you know? As a young Nigerian trying to just like live your daily life and have all these hustles and have all these, like things that pop out of nowhere, and make things a little bit more difficult than the average North American or you know, just to compare.

So I just thought, like, it’d be right to highlight some things on this album, just to make it completely holistic, because I wanted to speak about my story, my experience, and that is a part of my story and is a part of every a lot of young Nigerians stories as well. So I just felt it was only right to speak about that, you know?

You were born in Nigeria and moved to the UK, and then you came out to Hamilton. How would you describe the sound and wave of Afrobeats, especially in the way they’ve evolved in these three places where you’ve lived?

When I first came to Canada, I think the Toronto scene was what I was first exposed to. The Toronto African music scene. And it was still very underground, still growing, and it is still growing right now. I find that the young people out here who are making Afrobeats in Toronto have a lot of cohesiveness about them. So they work with each other, and they’re open to collaboration, and that was really nice to see.

Right now, because of how much African music has taken off, a lot of things have changed, for sure. We can see that in the shows, we had Cultureland recently. We have so many more events popping up. WizKid’s been here doing a couple of shows. I personally have a dream to take it further with my own events that I’m going to put together that highlight African music and Afrobeats artists within the city. It’s going to be a festival that I’m going to be throwing every year. But yeah, it’s been a lot of growth, man, like hard work. Just people really pushing the scene. There are a lot of key figures who have been advocating for African music being played on radio and African music being, you know, supported. And they really deserve a lot of credit for that.

Do you think there’s a difference in the sound between Nigeria vs. UK vs. Canada? 

At the end of the day, I think they’re mostly very similar. So then an Afrobeats song made in the UK or made in Canada or made in – Nigeria is always going to be a sauce and is going to always have a bit more rawness to it. But they’re mostly similar, especially with the younger artists making the music.

The difference will be mostly in the production because Afrobeats in the UK, I find that the instruments they use have a “drill” type vibe to it, where it’s more hi-hats and hard knocking kicks and all that. Meanwhile, the rest of the world making Afrobeats, it’s a little bit different. I think Toronto-type Afrobeats will have a bit more like trap, darker vibe, you know? Maybe they’ll use pads instead to give it this cold feeling inspired by Drake and The Weeknd and all that. But overall, Afrobeat still sounds amazing.

Nonso Amadi. Photo by Wade Hudson. Provided by Universal Music Canada

There was a recent report that major labels are beginning to prioritize Latin and Afrobeats artists over hip-hop acts. You just discussed it but how would you describe the growth of Afrobeats in the Western world? Do you think the prioritization and general commercialization of the genre will help or hurt in the long run?

I just think that the artists need to be wise with the attention because it’s good. Generally, it’s a good thing. That’s my own feeling. Like, whoever’s jumping on Afrobeats, whoever’s trying to hop on the wave, it’s good. But for the artists and for the culture, and for Africans, we need to be really smart about how we are working with people in developing the business side of it.

I’ve always said this and I’ve been a huge advocate for this – I think we need togetherness. I think a big example will be Latin music. If you take a look at J Balvin, Bad Bunny and Rosália. They do tours together, they discuss business and ideas together. Like if anything’s happened, I’m sure they discuss like, “Oh, this is what I’ve seen. What are you seeing on your end?” You know, I think we need that type of unity in this space for us to be on the same wavelength and learn from each other’s mistakes. That will be the only way that we can like truly progress without being cheated or something wrong happening along the way.

Final question: after discussing the festival and the impact you hope to have, where do you see things going in how you impact the world?

For me personally, I’m trying to approach things from more of a charity perspective, which is a little different. But I find that’s what gives me the most sense of accomplishment and purpose in the music game. Because it is a kind of a rough game, and everyone’s just trying to hit the charts and make the most money in the streams.

Just for me, personally, I feel like if we’re able to pool our resources, and just help like people who are really in need, that really just gives me a sense of like, “Yeah, we’re doing something really beneficial to not just ourselves.” So I do want to do the annual festival. I want to make it really, really fun. Like, I want young people to come out, you know, Montreal, Toronto but the show’s going to be in Toronto. I want the whole country, Canada, to be aware of it.

This is an Afrobeats-themed event and an African event that pulls people from Africa and from within Canada to come together and perform and have a good time. But then, like, I want a date to be set aside for just like community work and charity, where we come together after the show, and we do something really cool, make some money, and then send that over to a not-for-profit. So that’s just how I am trying to do it. And I feel like that we like it’s fun. We’re having a good time but like, at the same time we’re doing we’re doing some really cool stuff that helps other people.

The post Nonso Amadi On “When It Blooms,” The Future Of Afrobeats & Burna Boy & Fela Kuti Influence appeared first on HotNewHipHop.

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