TOSINGER: The ‘Organically Singing’ AfroSoul and AfroFolk Queen of Dreams

My music is inspirational. Genre wise, my style is African, roots, ethnic, folksy and soulful with a contemporary edge. I incorporate my native Yoruba language in my songs. I am from Ogun State Nigeria, West Africa, currently based in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

… Tosinger

Oluwatosin [in her native Yoruba language Tosin means God is worthy to be worshiped]. Those who have heard her new CD, are obliged to say that her careful attention to lyrics and musical groundations signal her out as a rising star among Naija performers and vocalists within the global community.

Nigerian born, Atlanta domiciled, Tosinger ushers in a brand new heavy generation of 21st century Diasporic Africans destined for greatness and poised to take their rightful place among musicians, dancers, dramatists, cinematographers and entrepreneurs in the USA and Canada. In setting forth her goals as a twenty first century singer, Tosinger succinctly states: “The main purpose behind my music is to inspire, to encourage, to uplift. I want people to hear the chords, the lyrics, the music and be moved to action in their spirit and soul.”

In the wide ranging Afrocipha conversation that follows, Tosinger discusses her rich individual and familial background with comfort and ease. She discusses Miriam Makeba {‘Mama Africa’}, coming to consciousness in Nigeria where Hip Hop, Gospel, Folk Songs, Afrobeat and other musical genres were ready to hand, and her diverse experiences in England and the United States where she has not only carved out her own artistic space but taken on new challenges. Three years ago, Tosinger launched an ambitious artistic project known as Afrodreamfest, a showcase for talented first generation born Nigerians as well as recent arrivants. Moreover, she grounds Afrodreamfest in a rich tradition, an interesting kind of hommage to African Liberation Day which began in Black communities throughout the USA and spread to the Caribbean and other parts of Africa’s Diaspora. Afrodreamfest combines the historical with the contemporary and Afro-future  –  (https://www.youtube.com/user/AfroDreamFest)

On Site at Afrodreamfest 2015 in Harlem, NYC:

S = Spady

B = Bajulaiye

T = Tosinger

S: What part of Nigeria are you from?

T: I am from Ogun State, I’m Yoruba. I’m from a town called Abeokuta, where all the names you know are from – Fela, Ebenezer Obey, Wole Soyinka, all the big names you know

S: What is it about Abeokuta that has produced so many of the greats?

T: They call it the gateway state, because when the missionaries came they came through Ogun State, my state. So, they are so much for education, for knowledge. They like to read. They are always doing big things.

S: What was it like growing up in Abeokuta?

T: Well, It was not so much city-like, like Lagos, which is comparable to New York. I’d say kind of like Atlanta, It’s a good balance of city and country life. I’m more country natured, so it was you know, regular, next-door neighbors.

B: Did you feel at home in Oklahoma?

T: Oklahoma I did not feel at home, I did not feel at home at all. In fact that’s one of the reasons I had to leave. Because I’m in the arts and entertainment circle, and it wasn’t favoring me. It was too dry. It was boring. I was into theater back in London, so I wanted to get back into that stuff. I faced some discrimination, where I walked into a theater company, and they looked at me like ‘what is she doing walking in here?’ Because I had just come from London, you know, and I didn’t think anything of it. I walked into a theater to ask if I can do some plays. Audition for roles. One manager walked up to me and said, ‘sorry we don’t have colored specific roles.’ I didn’t even ask for colored specific roles. That’s when the light bulb went off for me.

So I went away and got admission into Savannah College of Arts and Design in Atlanta. I came to the U.S by virtue of marriage. My husband went to bible school in Oklahoma. A lot of immigrants go there for school, or bible school. He liked Oklahoma but I didn’t.

B: How would you describe your experience in Atlanta?

T: Atlanta has been wonderful. Music, arts, you know very receptive, very warm. In fact people were so surprised saying, ‘oh you have just come to Atlanta and are already doing your thing, and people are already knowing you.’ Yes, the energy is different.

B: Can you take us through your process of planning a concert?

T: The process of planning an event is usually 6 months ahead. The event you’re here for today is called the Afrodreamfest. It’s an annual concert. As an African artist in the diaspora with my kind of music it’s not very mainstream, it’s not commercial. So people don’t really know about it, and it needs to be pushed. It’s underground music, indie music. So I wanted a platform where I can connect, because I work well in the creative space and I know how to bring people together. So I said, you know what, instead of us each trying to do our thing and being so self-centered, how about we just share a stage and collaborate. And it’s also centered around the holidays that a lot of people don’t even know about, the African Liberation Day. It’s every May 25th. It celebrates Africans freedom from the colonial regime. So I did the event to kind of link it to that and to just celebrate new afrofusion artists that are incorporating African culture and at the same time maintaining a genre. So they do RnB, but they’re putting African elements to it, like in the music, in the language, they’re adding it. So there’s a fusion of sorts. There are so many artists doing that these days, doing African music on a contemporary platform. And I’m one of them.

So we plan that 6 months ahead. There’s a lot that goes into it. You have to look for a venue. Because I have a passion I’ve been able to do this by myself, all by myself, independently. No sponsors, but I want sponsors, I’ve been asking. There have been smaller sponsors like when I did the Atlanta one, I collaborated with the county arts and culture. They gave me the venue.

B: So the first one was in Atlanta?

T: The first one was in Atlanta three years ago. The vision behind it was to tour. So I looked for the talent that spoke to the vision of the event. So the artists of that city took the stage. I used social media. Most of the artists I met using social media. We connected, we talked, I said I love your music, I love what you’re doing and I need you to be on this stage. Next year I’m thinking of going to D.C.

B: Going back to your music, how did you first get into the arts?

T: I’ve been singing since I was a little girl. I’ve always been surrounded by music and arts. My mother was a broadcaster on the Nigerian National Television Authority. So I’ve been surrounded by media and music. My grandma, I lived with my grandmother for a while, she was also a big influence. She keeps the radio on 24 hrs. So I’m waking up and hearing traditional music. These things affect children. Music has always been in me. I started singing in the church, like everybody. I sang in the catholic church. My grandma was catholic. Today, I incorporate gospel elements in my music.

S: Who were the American gospel singers that were known in Nigeria?

T: We listen to a lot of Western Gospel music. So we know Fred Hammond and others. They do concerts in Nigeria, and they pay a lot of money for it. The artists know there’s money in Nigeria so they always want to be invited to go perform in Nigeria. So yes we embrace a lot of the outside music. Our role as new Afrofusion artists of the diaspora is also to let the Americans embrace our own culture. We want to show them this is what we can do.

S: Do you see that in the next 5 year that will be more of a reality, not just with the more standard ones like Hip Hop and Afrobeat, but in terms of African church music?

T: I hope so, because I know Europe as a continent has been embracing that kind of music already. Americans have been so slow I don’t know why. But I think it’s happening a little bit, for them to put something like Fela on Broadway. If I had auditioned, I would have loved to get the role of the mom. I love her role, I love her character. So I think America is warming up a little bit. They’re still slow. But they’re warming up. You know, Beyonce incorporating African elements to her fashion.

S: Why is Beyonce such a big impact in Nigeria?

T: Like Michael Jackson was, like celebrities in the past have been. They’ve maintained a certain status. She actually even got some African dancers for her choreography. And did you know she sampled Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie?

S: How has Adichie, how has her presence as a novelist and a literary prize winner, impacted the African Americans in Atlanta?

T: Yes she has been very good in doing that. Because she has experienced American culture herself. She schooled here, so she’s a good balance. She’s a good representation of the dichotomy of African and African-American. Her book when I read it put a lot in the air about the relationship between the cultures and how they can exchange.

S: Do you think also gender played a role in you being able to pursue a career in the arts? Maybe being a Nigerian woman might have given you more mobility?

T: Maybe coming from the perspective that you expect males to be bread-winners, so if you go into that, how is your family going to eat. There’s this notion that artists are starving artists. It doesn’t mean they’re not smart, nor intelligent, but they assume if you’re into music you don’t really have a career.

S: Is it changing now?

T: It’s starting to change with celebrities and brands. Most of the parents who did not support their kids when they were going into the music or the arts, if the kids become successful later in life, they’ll go ‘that’s my son! that’s my daughter!’

S: What about storytelling? Is your discourse influenced by what you learned as a child, and how an aunt or parent used to tell stories?

T: Very good question, because my mom I told you she was a broadcaster right? And one of her shows on TV was a children’s storytelling program. So I’d usually sit around, weekly, for it. Recently there was a show in Atlanta, though they’ve closed down now, that approached me without knowing my background and history and asked if I’d present their children storytelling component. It was so nostalgic because it was something my mom did years ago. So I did that. I sang folk songs and did storytelling.

S: Part of being the daughter of a broadcaster, and really being a pioneer because there weren’t many women broadcasters, how did it impact your own notion of what you could do as a woman?

T: I didn’t even think of it as a male/female thing. My mom was strong in her area of influence. So I felt that if my mom could do this, then I could do this. After she left the media, she became a commissioner. Like a senator. She became a three-time commissioner in the state.

S: Who taught you music?

T: I wouldn’t say I was really taught, but I listened to a lot of music. And I like to model myself after someone like Miriam Makeba. That’s the brand I’m trying to go for. Mama Africa. I like Angelique Kidjo too. I’m not an energetic performer. I’m mellow, jazzy, soulful.

S: How about Nina Simone?

T: I was just going to say that! You took the words right out of my mouth. I love her strength, I love her confidence.

S: How did you first hear about Nina Simone, not in Africa?

T: People who were into the Jazz thing heard about her, but when I first came to the U.S is when I learned about her.

S: How is the music scene different in London vs. the United States. In your experience how is the literacy for people of African descent different in the UK than in the US?

T: It’s more embraced in London. You see a lot of Black British doing big things. In fact a lot of the black Hollywood actors are Black British actors. Chiwetel Ejiofor, David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo. So blacks are doing really well in London.

S: Why America, why did you decide to come to the United States?

T: Well America is big. So maybe we should break it down by state. So Atlanta. You know Atlanta is a Black city. You know that African African-American thing we talked about, it’s in Atlanta too. There’s this band that I sang with, an Afrobeat band, called Mausiki Skales and the Common Ground Collective. It’s a very prominent Afrobeat band in Atlanta.

S: What was your perception of Afro Americans as a Nigerian in Nigeria, before you moved here?

T: Hip Hop culture. That is America for us. The Hip Hop Culture. All the movies and shows that we watched. The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. That was the picture of what America was like. So you see all these young boys trying to be Hip Hop; that’s America to them.

S: This is a very historic event. You’re 3 years in now. Why is it called Afrodream?

T: I have a dream about Africa being the future, you know. Taking its place in the scheme of things globally. So Afro-Dream. Festival – a pot-pourri of different models of African music.

Tosinger has a dream. And indeed it is a dream being fulfilled. In May 2015 Tosinger took the stage in Atlanta with famed and revered Afrobeat musician Lagbaja. Now, she is promoting her recently debuted feature length album, ‘Organically Singing,’ which boasts her hit song ‘Ile.’ She is giving the best that modern Afromusic has to offer.

 

Follow @Tosinger on Twitter, to learn more about this spectacular Afromusician, and be sure to check out her new album ‘Organically Singing,’ by visiting Tosinger.com

Copyright James G. Spady and Akinyemi Bajulaiye 2015