Step inside the Simi-ulation and find a world of sultry sonics, meticulous melodies and a delightful dose of brutal honesty. SIMI has been at the forefront of Nigeria’s cultural, entertainment and music industries for over a decade and to say she’s done it all would be an ill-fitting understatement for an artist that’s out here running rings around the rest. She’s been under the thumb of an unfair contract and broke records as an independent artist, she’s gone from gospel singer to pop phenomenon jumping on tracks alongside Mrs Banks & King Promise, she’s even traversed the fearsome terrain of TV as a judge on Nigeria’s Got Talent. SIMI simply put is a sensation.
Now, three years after the release of her lauded LP Omo Charlie Champagne Vol.1, SIMI is embarking on an inward journey of ruthless self-expression and unabashed honesty on her latest album TBH (To Be Honest) as she vents and foments the tests and turmoils of both today’s music industry and society at large. We caught up with SIMI one day before the release of TBH to discuss the details of her discography and the ins and outs of independent artistry.
Growing up, who were your biggest creative influences? What music was playing around the house as a kid?
My beginnings in music were definitely in church. It’s funny because in my actual household there wasn’t a lot of music, I didn’t grow up in an environment that was centered around music, it was more of an innate love that I had. In church, I joined the teenage choir and was in a school where we did a lot of dance and wrote songs together. It was in that space that I honed my love for music and percussion.
I had just finished school and university when I put out my first gospel record around 2008, that’s where I started to express myself musically but it wasn’t until 2013 that my first mainstream record took off. I had just come out of a terrible contract that had seriously limited what I could put out, and while it was a really difficult time in my life it was really in those years that I found my sound. I was just using my MacBook, a $40 USB microphone and downloaded beats from YouTube to experiment with loads of different sounds until I found something that I thought suited my voice. That led me to sign my deal with X3M music.
When for you did you know that Music could turn from a love/passion to a career? Is there a specific moment or was it very gradual?
I was never really driven by potential success as much as I was driven by a love of music. So as much as I hoped I would succeed, everything was being powered purely by how I felt about the music. Fortunately, I think that attitude attracted a very organic fan base and led to me growing very gradually. Looking back I think I knew it would all work out, but had no clue as to what extent.
Let’s talk about your new album, TBH (To Be Honest). When it comes time to craft an album, are you heading out knowing a direction you want to travel in or is it more of a process of constant experimentation?
I think it’s more experimentation rather than knowing for sure. With this album I started with an idea, it wasn’t necessarily about the sound but rather the content. I knew I wanted to vent and speak my mind. Overall I had been cultivating this project for over three years so there were a lot of songs that were cut or changed depending on how they fit into the narrative, but in general, I don’t like to force things too much so if things don’t fit, I rather replace them than force them into position.
I think I tend to always put myself in my music, sometimes it’s not as intense as this album. TBh is more in your face that way, where I have songs that I’m literally addressing haters directly or even people that I know. Usually the side of my personal life I show in my music has been the more lighthearted side or the romantic side. I write so many love songs, that’s where I tend to go. However this time around, I’m much more specific about myself and my opinions.
You worked with several producers on TBH, from P Prime to Blaise, do you prefer to work with a larger network of new producers to keep ideas fresh or do you prefer to grow that artist/producer dynamic by working with the same producer as other get accustomed to your sound and style of working?
I think I’ve gone from the latter to the former throughout my career. Starting out, I worked with just one producer on my first album and I did enjoy having that certain understanding with someone about each other’s creative processes, so I traditionally would stay in that environment. However, because I was trying to experiment with some new and fresh sounds I felt I needed that new & fresh approach. It was more about wanting to see if I could stretch myself and step out of the comfort of the familiar so I decided to get in the studio with producers I had never met let alone worked with before.
What was the hardest track on TBH to make, does that also happen to be your favourite?
I think I would have to say ‘Loyal’ because it started as a totally different track. It was a different beat with a different tempo and a different feature artist when we first finished it. I just didn’t like the energy so changed the beat entirely, but I didn’t want it to sound like I was just slapping features on it that didn’t belong so I had to re-evaluate who was on it, so I transformed the whole song. I thought for a moment that I was going to have to do it as a solo record but I had always seen it as a feature from the beginning. With some back and forth with my team we realised Fave would be perfect. I would say that it is one of my favourites but it’s too hard to pick haha.
I gotta ask about my favourite track on the album, ‘No Joy’. The tempo of that track and how it unfolds and rolls gradually is haunting, what did this track begin as? Was there one piece of instrumentation or one concept that inspired and enabled the track to grow?
‘No Joy’ was written when I was really angry, something was going on on social media and I saw what people were saying about me, which of course I have become used to at this point, but that particular day I was uncharacteristically angry about all the noise. I thought it was an opportunity to put that energy somewhere so I grabbed the mic and took it there haha. It’s funny, because ‘No Joy’ was my favourite song on the album for the longest time because of the sense of truth, it came to me so easy and the emotion is so in-your-face and real.
Back in 2019, you broke away from X3M music, launching your own record label Studio Brat. What went into that decision?
I had been with them for five years when my contract was coming to an end and this isn’t like a regular 9-5 job where you can decide to leave with a month’s notice, when you sign with a label you’re there for years. I knew it was going to be a big decision but I just knew I was ready to take more risks and put myself out there without asking permission. I was ready to bet on myself and “adult” on my terms. X3M was great for me while I was growing and finding my way but it became a comfort zone because I wasn’t responsible for the little things. I knew for me to get ahead I needed to come out of that space and put the pressure on myself to thrive.
You’ve been making music and been in the industry for a long time now, after releasing the more gospel debut album Oga Ju, what do you think has changed the most about the industry in that time and what do you think has changed most about your music?
The two biggest changes are probably how global the sound and music of Nigeria have become and how little power the middle man ( labels and distributors) now has in the system of streaming. I am independent and I no longer have to live on a flat fee determined by the value put on me by a middle man, I can market and sing straight to my fans without any go-between. Now people aren’t curating what you should like, instead, people can just go out and find out for themselves what they like from anywhere in the world. The middleman’s power is slowly being moved to the artist and I think that is so important.
You have such a large international listening base with a lot of your listeners based in London and Amsterdam, is there any chance a SIMI Europe tour is lurking on the horizon?
Ummm, I’m not sure whether I should say but, YES! We are just finalising it now, but we are planning on doing a full tour around the US and Europe. I am so excited, I have so much love for Europe and I’ve only ever played in the UK once before so getting a chance to explore it and connect with my fans more will be amazing.
Lastly, who is one artist or creative that you think deserves more recognition and wanna shout out?
I would say: FAVE, I’m not just saying this because she’s on my album but I think that her voice has this quality that will just pull you in.
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