By BENJAMIN NJOKU
Former South African President, Nelson Mandela of blessed memory once described Miriam Makeba’s music as one that “inspired a powerful sense of hope and resilience in all of us.” The same can be said of the music of Teni the Entertainer.
The ‘Uyo Meyo’ crooner is a soul healer. She’s redefining the different genres with her music and one would not be surprised if she emerges the Best female singer in Africa some day. While some call her ‘a breakout superstar’ whose performing and song writing talents make her one of the continent’s hippest and deep-rooted artistes, others likened her to Miriam Makeba of this generation, who’s on a second mission to idolize African music.
Teni may not be as big and influential as the likes of Tiwa Savage, Yemi Alade or Omawunmi but the 26-year-old plus-size singer is definitely dictating the pace for other female singers in Nigeria. She’s in her own unique class if you like, and since dropping her early freestyle, “ Fargin” in late 2017’s, Teni has continued to improve on her craft with the passage of time.
“Fargin,” was her first song to catch fire, letting her shine as an artiste in her own right, and later as a songwriter , penning her own tracks and others’- a notable one being Davido’s “Like Dat.” With her short sojourn on the industry, Teni has become a formidable force to be reckoned with as far as the country’ music scene is concerned. One thing the singer has, and which is going for her is her kind of music that is rooted in local hip hop flavour. The big-sized lady is also a playful singer with some bit of ‘razzness’ as you may note in most of her songs.
Teni effortlessly mesmerises her fans with her melodies, and her carriage and stagecraft are second to none. When she released her most inspirational song, “ Uyo Meyo”(an acoustic work of art telling the singer’s story), late December last year, it looked as if it was going to be Teni’s best song ever. The lyrics of the song and arrangement of musical notes made “ Uyo Meyo” the chubby singer’s soul-lifting and most liked track by her fans. The song, which video was directed by DK amassed over 3.3million views on social media during the first two weeks of its release. It later became the anthem as it encourages fans that they can be what they want to be.
Till date, the song which saw the singer, a younger sister of Nigerian pop star Niniola, create her own catchy pop songs designed to lift one up, her honeyed voice skimming and swimming through sunny production from the likes of Spellz and her regular collaborator Jaysynths. The song took the centre stage, while pushing all the dance floor and radio hits of 2018 to the rear.
“Uyo Meyo” first appeared in a viral Twitter video back in July. It was on Teni’s University graduation day and in the mood of that moment, she switched into her traditional Ondo dialect and sang the unfinished but infectious record that led to a heart-warming Twitter moment.
The inspirational and prayerful song shades on the happy ending of drab days. It is a story that resonates with every Nigerian struggle and motivates listeners to keep sight of their goals. Sang in Yoruba, Ondo dialect and English, ‘Uyo Meyo’s engaging melody is its strength, ‘Uyo Meyo leun o san o kan mi o e (I rejoiced with you and now it’s my time to rejoice) Teni sang.
Teni’s charisma and her knack for making clever videos on social media came to play in “Uyo Meyo.”Indeed, between last year and this year, Teni has not only maintained a steady rise to fame, but also, she has gained global recognition as the feminist superstar Nigeria had been waiting for so long. Today, almost the whole country is singing the lyrics to her hit songs “Case” or “Uyo Meyo.” Just as every musician in Nigeria wants to do collaboration with her.
Finding her voice in a male dominated Nigerian music industry and such in a short time couldn’t have been by accident. She has surely weathered the storm, having proved her willingness to conquer the world with her kind of music. Her growth in the country’s music scene is astronomical. Obviously, from the buzz she’s been enjoying of late, Teni is a bundle of talents. Like her sister, Niniola, she’s one singer with distinct style and vocals. Her most popular songs, ‘Case’ tells a relatable story of longing while borrowing heavily from pop culture trends past and present, like lifting lines from hip hop classics and namedropping moneybags Dangote and Adeleke. ‘Case’ remains her biggest single and the video has amassed over 5 million views on YouTube. In between, she earned writing credit for Davido’s late 2017 hit Like dat.
It’s believed that Teni’s success can be attributed to her effective deployment of social media to aggressively promote herself. On Instagram, where she routinely posts updates on her career, sprinkled with news on life milestones and gimmicky videos, she has hit over one million followers, and on Twitter, her followers number nearly 90,000, and the number is still growing per day.
Recall that her début freestyle, ‘Fargin’ video reportedly had over 153,000 views, on Instagram alone.
“I would say with social media, it’s a matter of consistency and putting yourself out there. Something is bound to take off. I believe that once you open your mouth to ask God for something, it’s a matter time before He gives it to you,” Teni said in one of her interviews.
She reportedly took to music quite early and as a pupil, she sang alongside her sister, Niniola and played instruments to entertain politicians and government officials. After her education in the family-owned school, she moved to the United States to study pharmacy. Music was pulling her but not surprisingly, there was some friction with the family over this flirtation. Describing this pull and push in an interview, Teni said “Music is the easiest thing for me to do. I don’t want to live a sad life because I want to please my parents. I don’t depend on my parents financially anymore.’’ She eventually abandoned pharmacy and graduated from the American Intercontinental University, Atlanta with a degree in Business administration, after her music career had taken off in earnest.
However, since she debuted on the nation’s music scene, Teni’s Instagram account has exceeded 1.5 million subscribers and its videos on Youtube reportedly are close to 10 million views. Today, her tomboy side has no negative influence whatsoever on her personality. She’s currently enjoying global acceptance as a feminist superstar.
Signed to Nigerian producer, Shizzi’s record label, and later released music through the Atlanta and Nigeria-based Dr Dolor Entertainment, Teni’s other songs were not a write off. Her extremely danceable song “Askamaya” was as good as “ Uyo Meyo.” just as the Nigerian World Cup kit craze-inspired track, “Fake Jersey,” “Dreams do come true” and slow-rocking, Joni Mitchell-sampling “Rambo,” were instant hits. Teni did not compromise her originality with the songs she released this year such as “Party Next Door”, “Sugar Mummy” and “Power Rangers.”
Speaking on “Sugar Mummy”, the singer said “I want to make ‘Sugar Mummy’ a positive item.” Indeed, Teni is a woman with swag, always looking boyish, and she has never allowed herself to be intimidated, one who is proud to be different.” Her plus-size posture has not been a discouragement to the singer. Just as a feminist tomboy and sassy superstar has helped her to rise to fame despite the odds. Teni is the future of freestyle music in Africa. She may be dropping hits after hits, but her appeal is said to lie in her originality, cheerful nature and the confidence with which she carries herself both on and off the stage. Quite remarkable, while she’s busy defining her own territory, thousands of fans find it easier identifying with her than they would identify with an established singer with an unmatchable record.