Singer wants to be the queen of Salsa in Africa

Seyi Shay plans to merge Salsa and Afrobeat, and by doing that, carve a new niche for her music.

“With ‘Yolo Yolo’, I evolved. It won two really major awards, and both were international,” she says.

Seyi Shay is seated at the Pulse studio with a smile on her face. She’s wearing a green jumpsuit and a camo hat. The type that could earn you a beating from soldiers of the Nigeria Army. But she isn’t bothered. When she is told to adjust the hat for a great camera angle, she complains lightheartedly. “You guys are ruining the swag.”

The "Yolo Yolo" Magic

2017 was a good year for Seyi Shay. She scored the record ‘Yolo Yolo’, which carried her all through the year. Produced by DJ Coublon, the sound of ‘Yolo Yolo’ didn’t have its inspiration from the African continent. Instead, it travelled down from North America, from the musical Holy Land of Cuba, where some of the greatest performers have sought inspiration.

What made ‘Yolo Yolo’ tick was the emotion that it conveyed. Seyi Shay tapped into the millennial justification for all things happy.  ‘YOLO’ – which stands for ‘You Only Live Once’ is a reminder of how much of our existence is singular and fleeting, thereby calling on us to make the best of it. Embracing happiness and purpose.

“A lot of people really had some great reviews about it. It made people genuinely happy, and it’s just a happy, fun sound. So that’s me, happy and fun. I feel like it represents me personally.”

Taking Over Salsa in Africa

While ‘Yolo Yolo’ is a single, for Seyi Shay it marked a new strategy for her music. The singer is changing the nature of her art to lean heavily on Cuban Salsa. Her latest record ‘Bia’ takes from the hallowed genre of Salsa, mixing it with the Igbo word for ‘come’ to create a hybrid. The general message of the single is an invite from a lover “to come and have fun.” She sees this as the latest iteration of her art, exploring the connection between Nigeria and Cuba.

“When I made Yolo Yolo, what was on my mind was the Fela Kuti sound,” She says. “I read somewhere that it was a part of his inspiration. Certain parts of Africa have adopted this sound as their own. Nigeria is one of the inventors of the Salsa sound.”

Salsa and Yoruba Are Linked

Shay is right. During the slave trade, the presence in Cuba of African slaves, who were brought by force by the Spanish conquistadors, a phenomenon that was justified at the time by the need for the cheap labour force, also marked the beginning of many traditions brought to the Caribbean Island by members of the Yoruba tribe.

Uprooted from their motherland, the Yoruba slaves made major contributions to the formation of Cuban society. Their contributions can be found today in the music and religious syncretism present in Cuban and Caribbean cultures. In February 2016, during a visit to the Ooni of Ife, the Cuban Ambassador to Nigeria, Carlos Sosa, said the Ooni is the spiritual father of most Cubans around the world.

“‎Ooni is the Spiritual father of most of us Cubans all over the world because 90 percent of Cubans are black Africans and a very large portion of us originated from Yorubaland which is spiritually headed by Ooni of Ife,” said Mr Sosa.

Seyi Shay plans to merge Salsa and Afrobeat, and by doing that, carve a new niche for her music. She says it’s a part of Nigeria’s DNA to blend sounds from numerous cultures. “I think most Nigerians experiment a lot, we have taken the different element, which is the rhythm, and pretty much just injected all types of flavours into it.”

“With help from my team, we realised that it would be a good idea to be consistent with one sound, and own it, but still remain Seyi Shay. I really want ‘Bia’ to open the doors for more new sounds to come through.”

A video for ‘Bia’ has already been shot, although Shay decides to withhold more details about the director and location. But she believes that the record with its international appeal, would cross over, bring more audience to her music, and ultimately grow her brand.

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