Flanked by a friend, Nonso Amadi visits Pulse studios, dressed in what looked like a fashionable attire suited for a US military personnel. He is soft-spoken, insightful and unsurprisingly a good interviewee during what felt like an organic conversation.
Nonso Amadi is a singer, songwriter, record producer and sound engineer who was behind the hit, ‘Tonight’ which remains his most successful single till date.During his interview, he tells Pulse that he never expected the song to be that big.
‘Tonight,’ was one of the first Nigerian songs to blow solely off SoundCloud. The afro-fusion sound, already big in the UK and parts of Europe found its way onto the airwaves and the rest has since been history.
Fresh off completing his Masters’ Degree in Canada and the release of singles, ‘No Crime’ and ‘Emergency,‘ Amadi tells Pulse that he’s about the music full time now.
He also speaks about his earlier beginnings, his creative process, why he cried following his much-criticized December 2017 performance, an exclusive scoop on his new album amongst other things.
The December 2017 concert
For a few people, this interview would make it the first time they’d heard from Nonso Amadi since his polarizing December 2017 performance which sent him to the jaws of social media wolves who spared no words. But for Amadi, it was a different experience that shines a light on the sometimes unfair criticism artists get from fans.
He tells Pulse that he cried after the concert, but he accepts the criticism. He says criticism was, “Fully, fully justified.” At the time, he had just completed his Masters’ Degree at McMasters’s University and that experience turned out to be a needed learning curve for his upbeat self that in hindsight, he feels he needed the reality check.
He justifies this by saying, “The reason being, you can’t just leave school and go to the main stage. It doesn’t happen like that, it doesn’t work like that. But the truth is, I learned a lot from that whole experience… When that happened, I got a lot of calls from like celebrities that were just trying to encourage me not to take it to personally and I grew a thicker skin.”
But then, the defiance came in. He says, “It made me realize that I actually want to be the best performer in this country (Laughs). Like I want these guys that are saying these things to come back and say something like, ‘Oh, wow… Okay.’
"The truth is, there’s a lot of things that happens on stage with the artist from the band to this, to like your stage presence. You have to think of so much and me, I was an Engineer at the time. I’d just graduated, so in my head, I’m just like, I don’t really know much about this life.
“But right now, I’ve been doing it for some time, for a few months, there’s a lot of progress – I haven’t said anything about progress, but everyone else that saw that, they’ve said it for themselves. So, I feel like with time, I could definitely be the best performer in the country.”
He confessed that he was overwhelmed by it all. He also tells Pulse about how he found out on Twitter and cried, but recovered in the morning. This also pivots another point in the conversation – emotion, a current theme in his life and music.
The concept of emotion
Although his Dad now embraces the music and had his driver bring Amadi (the son) to Pulse studios on the day, he wasn’t always open to the idea of music. At one point, even Amadi wasn't sure.
In another light, while telling Pulse why Alone EP is his favourite of the two projects he’s dropped so far, he says, “I’d go for alone because Alone EP was created during a special phase of my life where I was undergoing societal pressures. I was in school, but like there was a lot going on with me mentally.
“It came out in the songs, and even reflects in the title of the project is so deep. Whenever I listen, I go back into that space and feel like ‘Wow, I actually felt this things.’ I don’t know if guys feel like that about a babe like that. You feel so passionate that you could go suicidal. I feel due to this, I’d go for Alone EP.”
Nonso did say that during the making of Alone EP, there were no mental health issues, but for him, that phase has emotions associated with natural growth and evolution clash for him at once.
Creative process and artistry
Amadi started out as a rapper. But one recurrent theme is how what he loves – an emotion – always takes precedent. He says, “I started rapping because I was a huge fan of the Jay Zs, the Lil Waynes, all that, but then I realized that whenever a rapper does a song, they always need a catchy chorus. So, I tried to reach out to singers, they were being long.
"So, I was like ‘let me sing my own chorus’ and eventually, it turned out people wanted me to do choruses for them as well and that’s how I switched to that lane.
"But I feel like God led me towards the path of rapping because rappers are the best lyrically in any genre at all. They put more effort than anyone else into the whole pen game. So, the fact that I have that influence in me, I can also translate it to singing, you know.”
But right now, he is an afro-fusion artist that wants to reflect Africa in his sound and lyrics. He says, “I’m Nigerian and all my life, I’ve heard African music – from birth till now. So, whatever I try to do – even if it’s R&B or rock, it will always have that African element in it.
“I produce, sing, mix and do everything myself, so whenever someone sends me a track or whenever I have a foreign beat I want to work on, I always make sure I have an African touch to it. If it’s too foreign, I don’t connect to it; I don’t even like it anymore. No matter what it is, it must have the African element to it.”
Will we ever see him rapping again? He defiantly, yet cheekily says, “Probably. I still have it in me, I believe. Don’t test me o (Laughs).”
Amadi says, “So, I’m planning on dropping a project sometime in June – the date to be announced soon. But a lot has gone into the project – like almost three years. Since around – the release of – ‘Tonight’ I’ve been working on the project. I’m really excited about it and it has some dope features.
“The title of the project is ‘Free’ and it’s to express like being free; like ‘freedom,’ and all that. It’s just to say, you know, regardless of the pressure that most artists face and all that, this project was created out of a liberty of creativity. Like I’m not trying to match or compete with anyone. It’s a very interesting sound to hear, and it’s something I want people to listen to while they’re driving or chilling, not when you’re trying to… It’s not made for you to go to the club necessarily. It’s a chill song, it’s Nonso Amadi.
“It’s five songs at the moment. It’s in post-production, it’s almost ready. There’s a lot of international feel to it. It’s not something only Nigerians can appreciate. Ghanaians can also enjoy it; Americans all that, so yeah.”
Is Nonso alte?
This is not quite straightforward, but the point can be gotten.
He says, “For me, it’s like I’m somewhere in between that alte sound and like some… the commercial stuff. I really don’t know, but I feel like I’m doing my own thing and enjoying it. Creating my own path that someone else can see and follow.
“(Laughs) I think I definitely have… Whatever influences the alte people have, whatever influence that is, I definitely have that influence in me. So, I can’t necessarily remove myself from it because at the end of the day, we’re all in together – you know – in the whole thing. But at the same time, I can still make music that relates to the Wiz’s (Wizkid) and the Davids (Davido) and all that.”
During the chat, it was revealed that despite performing in US shows over the past 18 months, he plans to move back to Nigeria soon because to him, Nigeria is home – despite all the documented challenges that confront artists in monetizing music.
Equally, it’s a strategy and it’s a smart one. He says, “The US market is not gonna accept – and this is like pure facts – any international artist without them having their own following from wherever they’re from. You can’t just come to the US and say ‘Oh I’m a Nigerian this, I do afrobeats dah dah…’ nah, you have to have a following and everything sorted in your country before they take you on and all that.”
For now, Nonso is, however, comfortable with being on his own, not necessarily eager to sign a major-label deal, but admitted that if a good deal comes through, he will consider it.
For now, we wait for ‘Free’ to drop. But before then, the singer will release his record ‘Comfortable’ ft Kwesi Arthur