By Rotimi Agbana
Morenike Lasode, fondly called ‘Marenikae’, is a 24 years old Nigerian greenhorn in the music making craft. The Lagos-bred singer who relocated to Boston, USA for her university education and later to Atlanta to pursue music full time because she felt Atlanta was a better place to start her music career is poised to storm the Nigerian music space with a unique genre of music she styles afro-merge. In this no holds bare interview with Star Tracker, she talks her music, the music industry, sex, and more.
It’s the only thing I’m naturally good at. I actually studied criminology but music just called me. I come from a musical family, nobody taught me how to write songs, arrange or harmonize, they just came to me naturally. There were always artistes in and out of my house while growing. Plantashun Boiz shot one of their videos in my childhood home and there were artistes my dad managed, like Daddy Showkey, Alariwo, Julius Agwu and the likes. So, I wanted to do everything besides music but it kept calling me. I started taking it serious in my in teen age. I created my first project around that age and it has been that way ever since. Anytime I try to leave, something just happens that would pull me back to music. So, here I am!
You already had a good musical background here but decided to go abroad, why?
The music scene wasn’t the way it is now back then when I started writing music. Wizkid had just come up with his first single when I started out and I didn’t feel there was a place for what I wanted to sing or what I wanted to do at the time because the industry was male dominated; so I didn’t think it was possible for me here. Also, the language barrier was there because I wasn’t super fluent in Yoruba, the only language I understood and spoke as at then was Efik and there’s no big Efik song I know, so I felt there wasn’t a place for me. I’m happy I didn’t start here because I went abroad and was able to get trained; when a label signs you in America, they put you through artiste development and even though I didn’t end up following through with my initial signing, I enjoyed going through artiste development.
How would you describe the music industry now compared to back then when you started?
The industry is very young and eclectic, one in which everyone can have a sold out show. I tell people that this is an amazing time to be alive in Nigeria because we are witnessing something new; I actually think that the most amazing time was when people like Davido were coming up and the older ones were transitioning out and we got to witness it. Right now, the music industry is like a breath of fresh air; it’s young, people feel like anything is possible and they can say anything and be heard. So I think now is a great time for music.
How would you describe your sound?
I do afro-merge; it’s a combination of new soul, afro-pop and some contemporary influences. Growing up exposed me to a wide variety of music and they have influenced my sound.
Are you not scared of Tiwa Savage, Yemi Alade, Niniola, Simi and other talented female acts?
No! I’m a feminist; I’m all about female empowerment and togetherness but I’m definitely not insecure or worried. There is enough room for everybody; those artistes taking over still have people under them that are getting paid and it goes on and on. I respect both male and female artistes out there and look up to them but then, I still feel there’s enough space for everyone.
Who is your target audience?
I’m targeting young Africans, people who are forward thinking and people who are looking for a break from a sound that has been normalized; the Afropolitan, those are my target audience.
What do you mean by normal sound?
I mean a break from the normal afro-pop sounds we are used to, the Davido and Wizkid thing. I actually consider myself more of a Bez than a Wizkid.
How do you intend to break into the industry?
It’s going to be a combination of hardwork and foresight and I’m at the stage of deal making, a stage people underestimate a lot. I mean exchanging appearances and performances for play, you might not get paid. Before you are put on, you have to do a lot of free shows, put your money on the line and invest in yourself; that is when people will want to invest in you. I’m not going to be blind to these facts and that is why I’m trying to strategize so that anytime I spend money, the return is more than double.
Given the opportunity which Nigerian artiste would you love to work with?
Well, I really want to write for Don Jazzy because I think he is a genius. He is musically diverse, he continues to challenge himself in the African sphere and he is also creditably modernizing the afro-pop sound.
What inspired your new song ‘Gidi’?
When the song was originally written in its demo version, it was called ‘New Time’ and I had this really great beat from my producer and I started writing to it and then I started thinking about being at the airport, coming back to Nigeria and what that feeling was like. The crowd at the terminal, the change in the language, the atmosphere changes and you automatically feel this sense of belonging and that is what Gidi reminds me of in the sense that no matter where you are or how good you have it, no matter how much I go to Atlanta, Lagos is always on my mind and I can say that for everyone. No matter how bad it is in Nigeria, everybody literally wants to come back and why is that? It’s because Lagos encapsulates this feeling of ‘anything is possible’, it’s a hustler’s spirit, the spirit of trying to make things happen and that was what I tried to capture in the song.
Don’t you think you did something that has been over flogged?
There are so many songs about New York and I feel like if I’m doing a song about Lagos, I’m just adding to the landscape of what’s already there in my own way. No one can do it the way I did it and vice-versa
Would you sign on to a Nigerian record label if offered?
That will be a joint venture deal because I own a record label already, The-ZAN, Zuchi Annexis that’s the acronym. I’m currently looking forward to doing such deal where I still have creative control, more of collaboration than of being signed to a record label full time. We’ve been talking to some people about the opportunity of doing something with Chocolate City and possibly Mavins because I love Don Jazzy.
Don’t you think people might say you are looking at labels that have controversies surrounding them?
Well, I heard of the controversies in Chocolate City but I feel capitalists still buy their music regardless of the presence of controversies. If they can do what they’ve set out to do and I get a good contract with them, then I’m good to go, as long as I get a dope advance, we’re gamed. If I’m to choose another label, then it’ll be the one that will give me the most creative freedom and support.
Artistes and record labels feuds have been a recurring decimal, what do you think is the major cause?
I love Nigerians but we are very lax about business dealings and I think the terms are never fully discussed between the label and artiste, and then along the line they begin to find out those things they feel they didn’t sign up for. Things are not fully covered in contracts and that is what causes the problem. I think we have to figure out how to put in the structure during signings. In America, it is written there in the contract that the artiste has an option to have their contract reviewed or renewed based on how well their music does in the future. So if that is included in the contracts here, there won’t be a problem. But of course, as you get bigger, you’re going to require more, not necessarily money but videos, photo shoots and so on.