In an ever evolving music industry, daily thronged by talented emerging acts, Nigerian French-Canadian singer-songwriter, Töme delves into the Afro-Fusion music genre with the aim to stand out in the pack.
Born Michelle Oluwatomi Akanbi, in Montreal, Canada, the 23-year-old native of Osun State boasts a sonic palette that is as diversified as her multicultural background. She recently released an Afro intense EP titled “Bigger Than Four Walls” (BT4W).
Having performed across Africa, Europe and Asia and sharing stages with African International music heavyweights such as Wizkid and Burna Boy, Töme shares the story of her musical journey in this interview with Vanguard.
How did music begin for you?
I started writing music when I was just eight years old and by the time I turned 10, I got my first guitar and that’s when I started composing and writing songs full-time. My musical journey professionally started in 2019.
Why did you go into music?
Although I have experience in business management I was not a graduate nor did I go to school for it. I actually went to college for acting for Camera Andrews Voice. My second passion aside from music is acting, so I feel that entertainment is something that I’ve always been drawn to and it’s the main reason why I’m a musician.
How has the journey been so far?
This is my second year as a professional artist and it’s been incredible thus far. I think I’ve been able to receive many opportunities that I did not take for granted, propelled to the best of my ability, and been able to build my brand. The journey has truly just begun and I’m just so thankful for what we’ve been able to accomplish so far.
What was your first production like and which of your singles is your favorite?
My first ever production was actually a song I composed by myself in my room which I recorded on my phone and it was after my first heartbreak lol. It’s called “Existing” and I still feel like that’s one of my favorite songs of all the productions I’ve ever made. It just hits me differently.
Who are your musical influences?
Man! I definitely admire a lot of artists but to name a few Erykah Badu, Alicia Keys, Rihanna, Fela Kuti, Wande Coal, and Wizkid are just some of the many artists I used to listen to growing up and I still listen to them now.
What is the inspiration behind your EP ‘Bigger Than Four Walls’ (BT4W)?
The fact that I am doing something different, something new, and not very common within the industry was definitely what inspired this project. To be as open as I could be with the style and keep my tracks as versatile as possible, played a big part of what brought out the best from this EP.
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What was it like working on and releasing the project in the middle of a global pandemic?
Aside from not being able to tour the song and really expose it in different natures as much as I could have before the pandemic, it is a blessing because more people have the time to sit and listen to the project, unlike before when everyone was out and about living their lives. We’ve had that time to listen and pay attention to new things and I believe that that really helped the exposure of the project.
How would you describe the current music trend in the Nigerian music industry?
Fusion is definitely the new trend in the Nigerian music industry. I think we are finally starting to realize that music is so versatile and we can be as open as we want to be and I see so many artists taking that risk and diving into new sounds and new ways to showcase our roots at its finest.
Which artist(s) are you looking forward to making hits with?
Yeah wow way too many to even think off the top of my head but definitely Burna Boy, WizKid, Tiwa Savage, Wande Coal, Tems, Rema (this is in no particular order and surely not the full list).
You have a unique sound, one which is not common on the African continent. Do you believe it would be embraced?
I can only hope so. I may not be able to fully connect with Africa in every way (as I was born in Canada and cannot exactly speak Yoruba fluently etc.), however, I know that we are so versatile and multicultural within our own home base. This is a new era where music has no limitations no matter where you are in the world and I think that that is going to make the biggest difference in how my music is received within our community. So far, I’ve been quite pleased to know that there is space for me to grow.
There is stiff competition between female musicians in the male-dominated music industry. How do you intend to stay atop regardless?
Great question! I don’t believe that my music or my brand is in competition with female or male artists within the market. I believe that I’m bringing something totally different and something completely new and I will always make sure that I am trying my best to beat myself more than anybody else. The only person who can stop me is me.
Youths are easily swayed by new trends. Is your style flexible enough to contain their insatiable nature?
Well, it’s very true people are swayed by new trends considering how music has shifted towards being aligned with social media. But as long as I stay up to par with what’s going on and I know what’s relevant, then my music will continue to stay flexible as it already is.
You are not just a musician but a Nigerian French-Canadian woman. How have you been able to influence other women with your multi-cultural diversity?
By allowing myself to be confidently shameless, by allowing myself to be truly who I am and express who I am through my art. I plan to use my music to make women realize that they don’t need to be boxed in any way shape or form, that they can be whatever they like, and they can strive to be whatever they want.
In your opinion, did the music scene adapt to other means of reaching out to their fans well enough during the pandemic?
For sure! I think the fans’ ability to live stream was one of the best ways to get personal with them online through the various platforms. This also gave artists ample opportunity to build our fanbase and get to know the people who support us the most. I believe that that was really something that most artists capitalized on through this pandemic.
What do you miss the most since the coronavirus outbreak locked the world in?
Performing, being able to tour, leaving the country, seeing new places, and learning new things while performing in front of different types of people and culture. Yeah, I definitely miss those.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a musician?
I would be acting which I still do as much as I possibly can now. I would also probably create my own business venture even though I’m not sure what it would have been for now but all I know is that I would find any way to work for myself in the most creative way possible.
What has been your biggest challenge yet?
I would say being consistent on social media and online generally has been the most challenging because it is so tricky to know what’s trending and to know what works for you to be able to grasp the widest audience.
Describe Töme in three words.
Confident, Shameless, Enough.
Music and fashion go hand-in-hand, style is a different ball game. How do you blend these three?
Quite honestly, my dressing reflects my mood. If I’m feeling cozy or chill, I’ll dress casually. If I’m feeling more glam or if an occasion arises, then I’m likely to sauce it up with a glam outfit. It totally depends on the occasion and mood for me because I am not the biggest “fashionista” I’d say.
What next should we expect from Töme?
We’ve been up to a lot but I’ll be releasing an acoustic medley by the end of this week, which will be followed by a single, “I Pray” to be released on my birthday, September 17th, 2020. I would also be opening my new studio based in Toronto, Canada which will be a new place for more artists to be able to grow their own brand and name.
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