Ineffective people live day after day with unused potential. But when you function above the expected, you discover talents that are deeply rooted yet waiting for the world to see. That is the story of the beautiful Niniola Apata better known by her stage name, Niniola.
She is a Nigerian singer and songwriter who came to limelight in 2013 after finishing third runner-up on the sixth season of Project Fame West Africa. An award-winning maestro, Niniola, upon the release of her breakthrough debut single ‘Ibadi’, was nominated in the Most Promising Act to Watch category at the 2015 Nigeria Entertainment Awards. She just dropped a new album ‘This is it’, and was quite excited to talk to SATURDAY INDEPENDENT about it.
Being her debut album, she explains that her excitement is palpable, not because she doesn’t have other songs in the airwaves (she has about ten by the way), but because this is a proper album. Noting that a lot of people helped with bringing the song to fruition, she is grateful to God and appreciative of all the collaborative efforts.
Talking about why it took her so long to produce an album, Niniola shared that “Yes you may say it took me so long to deliver an album but the real fact is that I wanted people to understand the brand name Niniola, because I am known to have done lots of R&B songs but my root generally is Afro-House and when I saw that lots of people have understood my genre of music and how versatile I can be; I discussed with the management that the time is now.”
On the title, Niniola was no less vocal. “I feel the title ‘c’ sounds as honest as it can be vocal, on the album I don’t just have only my genre of music which is Afro-House, I also have RnB; so this is me telling you that I can jump on any beat as long as my body and soul connect to it.”
She went further to explain that “You will see in the album a song like ‘Moyo’, which is praising God and it’s a folk song as produced by Johnny Drille. There is RnB and I equally did not leave my turn-up people as well. In essence, the album further tells you about Niniola who loves to sing and dance at the same time.”
Her view of the music industry, however, is much better as being a part of it now, Niniola sees aspects of it she never realised existed and is much better for it. With her prize money, she improved herself in preparation to stake her claim to fame.
“It was a total package including my voice; presently I still study songwriting online because I make sure I keep improving on my art; if had been told I could grow and begin to write my songs all alone, I won’t believe it. Until my days in Project Fame when I had to sing other artistes’ cover songs, when I got to a point where I had to perform my own personal composition, I was at a crossroad. I said to myself, ‘Nini, you have to do this’. So I wrote a song titled ‘Itura’ and on the show, the producers were not comfortable as they insisted the song was too deep, but I liked it and needed someone to speak for me and Cobhams Asuquo stood for me and said the writer has the liberty to tell a story the way he/she wants it and deep inside me I applauded myself for job well done.”
According to Nini, you can’t do anything without money. “I remember I dropped a song in March which was my debut single (Ibadi) and I did not have money to shoot the video until December. At the end of the day, money is key because you cannot tell the crew stories.”
When asked what she means by good music, she explained that “There are lots of classification even when it comes to genres of music, I don’t see it as that. It is just like when you say a black man or white man, life is life. So for me, I just feel good. If I hear the beat, I love it; if strikes my cord and soul, then its good music. That is the reason why music has no language and is the reason we listen to South African songs or songs in languages we do not understand and we still love it and vice-versa.”
Was this why Niniola did several songs on her album in her local dialect? She answers “yes.” “For me, I am very comfortable with own skills because I am super comfortable speaking my local dialect and that’s why you see that I can sing in Yoruba, English, Pidgin; and on the album, you hear me sing in Swahili. As a songwriter, I don’t sit down and pick the song title first; after writing the songs, then I come up with a title for it afterward.”
While some people think this limits her reach and audience, Niniola disagrees. “I am proud of my language because this same language that has taken me this far in the industry and that is why in South Africa, my song ‘Maradona’ is being heard globally and it’s in Yoruba. The fact that when other countries’ songs, which are not in English, gain prominence in the Nigerian market, we embrace it; in essence, I am proud of my language as it is also a way to sell myself and my country at the same time by been very original.”
Speaking more on the song ‘Maradona’, Niniola divulged that when she recorded the song, those present in the studio were visibly excited, including the producer because they all believed it is a great song. But no one knew how far it would go. Now that it I out there, and when she performs it on stage, she is thankful to God and feels blessed seeing the way the audience relates with the song, a song she believes won her more fans to the brand, Niniola. Presently, audiences within and outside Nigeria sing the song even without knowing the language.
In respect to partnerships, collaborations and the seemingly scrupulous absence of female artistes in her album, she admitted that it was not deliberate. However, the music always comes first for her. “I don’t just sit and think of who is hot now that I want to work with, I believe when you have a good song and deem it fit to have a collaboration; the music and beat will give you a clear view of who can handle it best. Honestly, on this project, no female came to my mind. I just really wanted to sing. That is why the song I featured Patoranking, you will discover that I started the song myself and then the people I worked with came second. That’s is why the album title says it all.”
For Niniola, it doesn’t mean she is sidelining anyone because it is about the music not feelings. According to her, “even Seyi Shay and I did a song together when she featured me. This is just the beginning and there are other projects coming up.”
For those who have seen Niniola on stage, they can solidly attest to her energy. With many speculations that her energy is artificially boosted, Niniola debunked them all. “First, it is usually with clear eyes; if I drink, my body system will knock out because I have a very light head; so in a nutshell, I don’t drink nor smoke. The energy comes naturally especially when I see that my audience connects so well with the music. A lot of people know I love to dance and shake body; it’s Oyinbo that calls it twerking. In Nigeria, its gbon gbon.”
A big sister to Instagram sensation, Teniola, Niniola stated that she felt good when her baby sister’s song trended. She reminisced about their childhood days which they spent singing happily.