OgaSilachi And The Voice Of a New Generation of Afromusic

From New York to Nigeria and back, approaching the top of DJs’ playlists, is the music of rising International Afro&B artist OgaSilachi. Managed by Noble Empire Media Group, Silachi is acclaimed to possess one of the most, if not the most unique and resonating voice of this generation. He is primed to make headway in terms that few artists who came before him have done.

At the on set of the New Year, ‘The Oga’ gave off steam with the release of his official single, “Sweetie Gone Bad.” Since then he has been bubbling, gaining traction with the passion-building and heart-throbbing “Leona Nwa.”

What differentiates Silachi from the rest of his contemporaries is his songwriting abilities. He is bringing to Popular Afromusic relatable, everyday stories that his audiences can fully connect with. Just this past weekend, Silachi released “Americana,” a remix to Wizkid’s hit song “Ojuelegba.” In it, Silachi conveys the tale of a young woman who experiences the short end of the American dream.

Earlier this season, we got the opportunity to learn about the 23-year old singer-songwriter, and his taking the place as a top Nigerian talent.

O = OgaSilachi

S = Spady

B = Bajulaiye

S: Did you divide your time between the U.S and Nigeria growing up? And where were you born?

O: I was born here.

S: How old were you when you first went back home?

O: 2002, so I was ten.

S: So you were ten years old. And as a ten year old, you probably had an idea of what Nigeria would be like, because your parents talked about it?

O: Yeah.

S: How much different was what was described to you versus what you saw when you got there?

O: To be honest, I was 10 years old, and now I’m 23. So I don’t remember all that much from the first time. I remember some snippets, like getting in a fight with my cousin. I remember we took a trip to my cousin’s house..

B: What part of Nigeria are you from?

O: I’m Igbo. South East.

S: Did you on occasion hear Nigerian music at home?

O: Of course!

S: What did you hear playing in your household?

O: Umm.. ‘My sweety! My sugar!’… also African China {sings the popular Nigerian tunes.}

Silachi’s first single “Sweetie Gone Bad,” which was self-written and self-produced, was inspired by Muss Coupe’s popular record “My Sweety, My Sugar.”

S: You remember a lot of it don’t you man!

O: Yeah, I mean music is just something that is always going to be played.

S: On special occasions?

O: On special occasions, but really at every event. At every Nigerian event you’re going to hear music.

S: So music was played at every event you went to.

O: Eeeevery event. No matter what. Magic System.

B: {Begins to hum Magic System}

O: That one, yeah man. Nigerian parents, straight from the country. They are always going to play their music. I got videos with my uncle, he’ll just come and play something, and everybody will start dancing.

S: When you were growing up right?

O: Yeah.

S: How did.. How did the home you grew up in, the city you grew up in.. You grew up here?

O: I grew up in the Bronx. I came here when I was 7.

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S: Oh okay. How did your memories differ from what home was like in the Bronx, and what home was like here in New Rochelle? In terms of how did Nigeria remain part of your consciousness? Because I have many friends who came here and their parents kind of de-nigerianize them, like they are not taught the language. How did you guys maintain it, or was there a change in that?

O: Well my Dad’s very traditional.

S: What do you mean very traditional?

O: Like he made sure we knew our culture. He’s the chief in his village, so you know a chief in his village is going to make sure his children know their culture.

S: Haha it’s mandatory.

O: Yeah it’s mandatory. So yeah I speak it, my little sister speaks it, we all kind of speak it. I’m like what, 60-70%? My older sister is fluent. And then my immediate junior sister is more fluent than I am because she recently went there for 5 months so she knows it. My baby sister knows enough to get back. So not much changed..

S: mmm..

O: If anything it got stronger. As we got older, I think personally for us, being African got cool. So now it’s like, if you don’t know it, well..

S: Now you mention being African getting cool. Was there a time when Africans and non-Africans you were around didn’t see being African as cool?

O: mmhmm.

S: What turned it around, what changed it around?

O: It happened in college out of nowhere. I remember, being African got cool. I think it was the high volume of Africans in one school.

S: Ohh a high concentration.

O: Yeah a high concentration. Like if one of us would get together, ‘oh you’re Ghanaian? Oh okay my brother, my brother, my brother.’ And we would all have good food in the house, it’d smell really good, and only Africans would be invited. So now you’re making a click. And then the Jamaicans would come, ‘oh wussup.’ Now everybody wanna be African. And then what pushed it over the edge was the African music.

S: Not Afrobeat, but more..

O: It was Afrobeats.

S: Was it?

O: Afrobeats started resurfacing when I was in college. That is a fact. Big time, you know. That’s when everybody started playing it and listening to it. That’s when it was Afrobeats and Jamaican music.

S: Any Reggae?

O: Yeah Reggae and Dancehall. Reggae and Dancehall still had the upper hand, you know what I’m saying, but Afromusic was there. The popular artists at the time were Wande Coal, D’Banj, P-Square, umm all these artists {Oga starts breaking out singing the Nigerian song Yori Yori}. The reason as to why Reggae made it so well in America is because Reggae is associated with love. And you now, it’s like a deeper form of your R&B. It’s so deep, you know, you have this feeling. And so with Afrobeats, in a party, the emotion is not taken away, but it might be more African drums. There’s a kind of rift. But now when u go to a party you’d hear Afrobeats more as opposed to Reggae. Well depending on the party you go to. There’s been a resurgence of Afrobeats music.

S: At Nigerian sponsored parties do you find Nigerian DJ’s playing a wide variety of music? Nigerian DJ’s tend to play a variety of just Nigerian music.

O: Yeah because Nigerian music is popular music. I’m not even just saying that to be like.… it’s Pop Music. The music everybody knows is Nigerian. Yori Yori – Nigerian. African Queen – Nigerian. Everything is from Nigeria or Ghana. Azonto – Ghana. And then there’s small small South Africa, at least to me. Because, how I gauge popular music is just based on what I hear.

S: The emergence of the Azonto, how were you affected by that? Did it change your style?

O: I tried to incorporate it but it didn’t work out. But musically, the Azonto, it kind of just confirmed that Africa’s time is coming. It was Azonto.. because Azonto came before Gangam style right?

B: Yup.

O: Yeah Fuse ODG. And that was when I was up in Morrisville. That’s when I was like, African Artists are getting play. Because coincidently I was one of the biggest artists in my school at that time.

S: Was that the plan?

O: I made friends with the cool kids. Umm, that obviously would help. I feel like every good group needs that guy. I added something, I was the singer. I was the short guy. So you know, it just balanced things out.

S: I suspected that at the Afrodreamfest, that the aesthetics of being cool on stage is important to you.

O: I think so… I think being yourself on stage is important. I don’t know want to go around being somebody I’m not. I don’t go around saying I’m a cool guy, I go around saying I’m a simple man, because I am. Like I didn’t go upstairs to change for you guys, I’m comfortable in what I’m in. I don’t want to go upstairs to change into something because if you see me on a regular day and then I’m not like that… you know?

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S: I am reminded of such rich vocalists as Boyz 2 Men, D’Angelo, Maxwell, Sam Cooke and others. How did these artists impact you?

O: I am glad you mentioned Boyz 2 Men. I got my harmony from Boyz 2 Men.

S: What specific songs were most important to you?

O: “The End of the Road” and “I’ll Make It.” I used to listen to Boyz 2 Men religiously back in high school. Also The Temptations. I was also big on Doo Wop vocalists. Loved harmonies. I grew up in a Nigerian church and I sang on a Nigerian choir. And they sang a lot of intricate and beautiful harmonies.

S: What Church was that?

O: Seventh Day Adventist Church in the Bronx, New York.  So I got a lot of my harmonies from singing in church choirs.

S: Who wrote the compositions?

O: I don’t know. That is a good question.

S: It may have been Fela Sowande, the distinguished Nigerian composer and internationally known Organist who was the son of that remarkable Anglican priest of Egas origin who pioneered in establishing Nigerian church music; I recall many conversations with Professor Sowande, including a visit with him a month before his passing.

S: Who directed your church choir?

O:  My aunt Marguerite directed our church choir. As did Ishmael. That is where I got half of my influence as a singer. And the other half came from Boyz 2 Men.. Ah Man!

S: What Nigerian artist has had the most lasting impact on you as a singer?

O: Sonny Bobo. I won’t lie and say that I listen to Fela as much as I listen to Sonny Bobo.. Most of my songs have that kind of influence.

One will often hear The Oga directly commemorate the great Nigerian Highlife artist Sonny Bobo in his records. His musical influences are far and wide, which account for the distinct vocals that audiences have easily begun to recognize. 

S: When did you first realize that you were a singer?

O: I would have to say when I was in the eleventh grade. I was teaching old school harmonies during a period when everybody was trying to do flourishes. People were saying, ‘Who is this guy?’ And we were young, like 16 or 17. That’s when things really started to happen.  That’s also when I started production.. That just sort of came to me. The Eleventh grade was it.

S: What happened just prior to that that may have led to that kind of breakthrough for you?

O: Life. Fate. That’s how fate is.

S: Explain what you mean?

O: Everything that happens, happens for a reason. There is a reason why it didn’t happen later..

S: You mentioned this year being a great year for you. What are the highlights as an experienced performer that you’ve had this year?

O: I performed for the United Nations.

S: When was that?

O: That was last month

S: Uh huh. How’d that work out?

O: My manager just said, ‘Yo, you’re going to be performing in front of the United Nations.’ He said it in a way that it was like, like..

S: Like it’s a regular thing.

O: Yeah, You had people from Australia there that were straight vibing out.

B: Was it the headquarters in New York?

O: Yeah yeah. So it was funny. That was cool. And another reason it was so cool is because a lot of people came up just to see me perform at the event.

B: Was there something specifically going on there?

O: It was a non-profit organization sponsoring women’s empowerment. So they brought in African artists to perform. A lot of people don’t get that opportunity.

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S: Were you nervous before you got on stage?

O: Ehh, nah not really. To me now, I’m just like, ‘I gotta kill it’ {everybody laughs}. Make everything count. ‘Is the mic gonna be okay?’ That’s the only thing I ask myself. Once the music hits, I make sure I’m on go. Once people see you start dancing yourself, they start getting into it too.

B: In 2015 who are the artists you listen to?

S: Who are the Afrobeat artists? Who are the Hip Hop people? Who are the R&B?

O: Alina Baraz. There’s something about the way she makes music that is so refreshing. Umm, Kendrick Lamar will always keep me on my toes. Drake is another person that always surprises me. I don’t know, literally anybody. I don’t really pay attention to what I listen to. I just listen to it and get inspired and just start writing.

S: What about Afrobeats? Any Afrobeats artists?

O: Wizkid is always going to be my #1.

S: Why?

O: Because he’s just a problem, he’s just a problem. He doesn’t disappoint.

Americana oo,
Believe this story
Born a darker woman,
oo name Joanna Kofi

– OgaSilachi

O: I started getting into hip hop with 50 cent, ‘Go, go shawty..’ But for real for real, when I was more conscious of it, Kanye West {hums Kanye’s music}. That was like senior year. Then when I went to college, Morrisville, it took the cake. Most people were from the Bronx, Brooklyn. People were singing Rick Ross, ‘They it go, it’s John Doe!’ Rick Ross, French Montana. One thing I know is my flow evolved. My flow was melodic in high school. Then I started having some rap attributes in my flow. You’ll hear that in my songs now.

A little bit of everything. From Boyz 2 Men, to Jeezy, to Sonny Bobo. Bridging the gap between Africa and the rest of the world. Testing and furthering the limits of musicianship in the 21st century. Boundary-less. We haven’t heard a voice as unique as Silachi’s since the early 2000’s with the debut of Akon onto the music scene. The world watches as his marks begin to add up.

Be sure to follow OgaSilachi on Twitter and Instagram @OgaSilachi

© James G. Spady and Akinyemi Bajulaiye 2015