October 17, 2010

There is too much hassle in Nigeria – Asmaa Idrisu, aka AiRiS


By  Yetunde Taiwo
There is a new breed of Entertainers/Artists in Nigeria that have a unique style that appeals not just to other Africans or Nigeria’s, but to the world. One of such artist is Asmaa Idrisu a.k.a AiRis. Born in Cairo Egypt and raised in Nigeria, AiRis grew up in a large family with 16 siblings. She holds the title of singer, adorable daughter number 14.

She spent her young adult years between Nigeria, United Kingdom, and Egypt. Although shy and somewhat reserved, AiRis grew up with a secret desire to sing and perform. She discovered her passion for singing at age 5 when she first heard “Faith” by George Michael. She got into song writing well into her teens and started singing professionally at age 16 and has since perfected her passion as a multidimensional artist. Her father being a politician and businessman traveled a lot so she barely saw or spent time with him. In 2007 however, she lost her father. It was a difficult time.

AiRis attended Corona primary school Ikoyi, ADRAO high school Lagos, Nigeria and then University of Lagos for 3 years before coming to the United States in 2002 to attend George Mason University in Virginia where she received a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial engineering. Armed with a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial engineering an odd field for an Artist, AiRis wanted to re-connect to her passion as a singer songwriter and so, she decided to move back to Nigeria in the fall of 2009 to pursue her career. She decided she wanted to create her own kind of music and ventured out on her own in the spring of 2010 and created AiRis Music, her own record label.

This plantain chips loving, singer who was nicknamed ‘shorty’ has an intense passion for her craft. In creating her music, AiRis tries to convey her feelings, experiences, and those of others in the words and rhythm of her style. Her style of music is alternative pop and soul music with various cultural influences, specifically African.

Her hit single Without you is on rotation on MVT Base, HI TV, Vox Africa Sky Channel 218 and many more networks. She is an Artist with a quiet power that tugs at your hearts string when you listen. I present to you AiRis

Why did you decide to launch your own Music Label? I wanted to be able to run my own business as well as take my music in the direction I wanted. Also being an independent artist is the best alternative to me because that way, I have total control of my music affairs.

What would you do differently that most record labels are not doing in Nigeria? Create a structure in the Nigerian music industry that others can use as a stepping stone. It’s hard to successfully do that here in Nigeria as we don’t really have a platform or industry business model like the rest of the world but I feel in order to be recognized as an African label, a lot of work has to be done and battles fought for certain rights to be given. I am working on making AiRis Music a business model.

What made you get into Engineering and why did you leave that for music?Initially I wanted to be a doctor but the length of study discouraged me. I settled for engineering because it was a challenging discipline and also very promising. I left it for music because I love music and see myself doing that for life, I believe in doing what you love and trying to make a living out of it.

How challenging was it to decide to move to Nigeria and what was the process like? It wasn’t really challenging, I’ve always wanted to settle back home but my decision was accelerated after I lost my dad in 2007, he always wanted me to come back home and I felt that would make him happy.

The process was pretty simple, I still have a life in the states and here in Nigeria, I like to keep it that way.

What do you appreciate most about being back in Nigeria and how has it affected your life as it is now? I think the most rewarding is being around my family and friends. There’s something about being with your friends and family in Nigeria, the culture is so rich and embracing, it’s priceless.

What do you miss the most about your life in America and how do you handle those emotions? There is a system in America, you can plan your day and it goes exactly as you planned, on the contrary, you can plan your day in Lagos and the traffic alone can ruin all your plans. There’s too much hassle in Nigeria, hassle for the basic amenities we as civilians should have: constant electricity, clean water, good roads, good hospitals. That’s the most frustrating part of living here for me I just handle my frustration through hope, hope that the situation would get better. But as always, there is no place like home.

As a part of the music industry what do you notice has changed in the quality of production even in the past 5 years? I think it has progressed dramatically. Many producers have mastered the latest technology in music production and are using it to make waves. It’s super impressive and I am honored to be in this industry.

Your debut video was shot in Miami. Was there any reason you did not shoot in Nigeria?I wanted the video to have a magical feel to it, I did explore some locations in Nigeria but had issues with logistics, scheduling and putting the right production team together so I opted for a one day shoot in Miami.

What was the experience like shooting your video and what should we look forward to in the next video? It was a great experience, I learned new things about myself as an artist that day, I felt extremely comfortable with the acting while shooting and got very good direction from the production team. My next video will definitely be more virtual with much more motion.

How do you find inspiration to write your songs and what is the process of getting it produced? It just comes to me; I just dig through my heart and mind. I usually work off beats or just start from scratch with the producer, we develop the music together based on the sounds I’m hearing or the concept I’m looking for.

.The album is set to launch in the spring of 2011. Is there any major industry name we should be looking out for that you will be or have collaborated with? There will be major artists on the album but I prefer to keep that as a surprise.

What kind of artist would you want to be known as? What one world would you use to describe your music? I would like to be known as an artist whose music is versatile and loved by many people. Like a Sade kind of artist.

My music should be: ADDICTIVE

What should we look forward to with AiRis in the next year? Many tours, exclusive shows and appearances. I’m beyond excited. I truly get to do what I love and share it with others. It is a blessing. This is going to be so much fun.

What would you say is your vision for your image, your brand? I see my image as becoming an artist who is timeless in her work, appreciated internationally and at home. My brand will eventually span into almost every category of the entertainment industry, create new opportunities for people in the creative arts and maintain international standards, but I wish to begin at home, in Nigeria.

What do you think are the challenges Nigeria Artists face in going international? The international industry is very competitive. I feel we have to face a lot of competition and also lack the the tools needed to break in. Its a very strategic and well planned market, you need to be well versed and have the ability to penetrate into a niche of the market to breakthrough.

Is there a market for Nigerian Music in the West? Yes, I believe there is

Why do you think they are not receptive to it? I think they are receptive to it, if American artists can make a Broadway show based on Fela’s life, then they are definitely open to our music, people like change, and the industry is evolving and becoming more accommodating to different cultures.

Who would be your ideal collaboration and what kind of music would you like to create with that artist? I would like to collaborate with Youssou N’dour, I have a lot of respect for him as an African artist, his consistency and ability to evolve in his music with time is remarkable. A West African inspired song with a bit of Mediterranean influence would be nice.

How do you balance your personal life and your career between two worlds. Nigeria and Virginia? I try to spend enough time in both countries, usually I’m in the US for work and spend time with my family in Nigeria. Its tough shuffling both lives but the work has to be done. I just try to stay focused.

If you could endorse a brand in Nigeria? Which would it be and why? I would probably go for an amateur brand spanning from youths in a university. I believe in fresh minds that are willing to work hard, and like giving young people the opportunity to become the best at what they do.

Where do you draw your inspiration to create your music? everywhere: my life and experiences, those around me, friends, the news, reality…..everywhere

What do you want people to always take away feeling with your music? hope, peace of mind, relief, life lessons, love. Just enjoy the music

What influences your dressing? My mood influences my dress sense daily. If I’m in a good mood, I go all out and trendy with colors, accessories, scarves e.t.c, but when I am having a weird day, I am a bit more somber in my styling, I look for simple and comfortable pieces like jeans and a top with some comfortable shoes or a nice simple dress and some heels.

How would you describe your style? I would say my style is Chic, trendy, unique. Just like fashion changes, I am flexible with it and I look for things that fit.

How do you put your clothes together daily? I just walk into my closet and scan through until I find a piece that grabs my attention. It’s simple process. I don’t take too long.

Do you have a special designer that makes your clothes? Yes, I do. It’s always a pleasure having clothes custom made. It’s one of those things we took for granted as kids when our parents had tailors make our clothes. Now it’s the trend.

When I need outfits for an event, I usually have Bukky Are of HVS or Soraya of Younass Collection make them for me. They seem to always know what works.

What would you splurge on? Gucci anything. I love Gucci and Burberry. I know it’s so cliché but their pieces are so classy and comfy.

Are you one for designers? Yes, I am. For shoes, bags, watches and Sunglasses. I mix classic accessories with trendy styling.

What is your passion? I have numerous passions but I do have a passion for cooking, fashion and of course, music. Music is my passion.