VIBE/ Stacy-Ann Ellis

NEXT: R.LUM.R Is An Artist Unapologetic About His Quirks

Singer, songwriter and guitarist R.LUM.R uses his music as a connector with fans just like him.

R.LUM.R has a lot to say. No seriously, a lot. From the moment the singer, songwriter and instrumentalist walks into the airy conference room reserved for our sit-down, clad in a simple cuffed yellow tee and khaki joggers with work boots, the words begin tumbling out. His mid-answer tangents, spot-on impressions, animated anecdotes and sporadic bursts of encyclopedic karaoke disarm any nerves or awkward conversations that may have preceded the interview. Like how he got misty-eyed over a viral video on his Twitter timeline, for instance.

In Birmingham, U.K., a seven-year-old girl donning a canary yellow jumper and bright pink sneakers strode up to her gaggle of classmates on the playground, noticeably different from the last time they’d seen her. In place of her right leg was a fancy pink prosthetic, curved at the bottom to give way to the naturally athletic ways of a child. They crowded around her, awestruck and curious at her new life accessory, and threw their little arms around her in a group embrace before leading her around the concrete square to play.

He’d shed a thug tear that day, but his sappy feelings are the kind he knows people like him aren’t always free to release. “There’s a lot of toxic male machismo, especially with black men, where you can’t do that. You’re not supposed to do that. You’re soft or whatever,” he says. “But nah, f**k that. I’m a grown a** man. I feel that way, and I want other people to feel comfortable feeling that way as well.”

That’s R.LUM.R’s job, essentially: to be up front with who he is and wear his truth on his sleeve. “It's hard enough escaping my reflection/And thinking what he's thinking bout too/I know that all you wanted was affection/Something I could never do,” he sings wistfully on the “Love Less.” His lyrics straddle the line between comfort and discomfort, and he writes and sings from and for the intricacies of in-betweenness. Being bounced around as a child due to turbulence at home (his parents divorced when he was around five years old and, although it missed him, alcoholism ran through the blood of his father and grandfather). Being “too white for the black kids and too black for the whites,” a phrase he borrows from Earl Sweatshirt. Being more than broke but less than rich, not quite sad but just shy of content. Much of art is created in extremes, but there’s substance in the normal midpoints and feelings to be explored. “We always talk about that 9-to-5 or that cubicle worker as this bastion, this monolith of what you never want to be, but there’s a lot of people like that. Who talks to them? Who speaks for those people?” he says.

The Brandenton, Fl. native—born Reginald Lamar Williams Jr.—makes the sort of woozy music that triggers free-falls into feelings, regardless of whether or not the listener directly relates to the song’s inspiration. The song that launched him into the buzzy pocket he occupies now is 2016’s “Frustrated,” a soaring number that will fool first-time listeners into wanting to console him for heartbreak. “A lot of people think that song is about a relationship, and I never want to rob someone of their story that they attached to the song because you become very tied to a thing. Everybody’s free to interpret it however they do.” In actuality, the breakout song—which has amassed more than 20 million combined Spotify streams—was born from a choice hanging over his head at the end of his lease. He could either stay in his inexpensive “broom closet” Orlando apartment, getting by singing covers at bars five times a month for $150 a set, or he could honor the strong call he felt to go 687 miles away to Nashville to chase music professionally.

“[In NYC], there’s the great Boom Bap tradition,” R.LUM.R says, addressing why he didn’t flock to more popular career-boosting music destinations. “You got JAY-Z, Nas, and everybody under the sun. Out in L.A., there’s the G-Funk, the whole Long Beach sound, the portamento synth. Chicago has their great sound as well—Chance [The Rapper], Vic Mensa, Kanye. Those places already have a celebrated tradition, and I just felt like in Nashville there wasn’t that. So I could go and roll the dice to create my own lane there.”

The move proved to be more than fruitful. To build up momentum for his debut EP AFTERIMAGE, set to release August 11 via PRMD, he’s been on the road touching the ears of old and new fans. The trek (which started June 23) takes him from a smattering of West Coast cities to Denmark and Korea before ending on Oct. 7 at Austin City Limits in Texas. To say he’s excited is an understatement. “I’m too pumped,” he says. “Like, why the f**k am I here? Because I wrote some songs y’all liked? Great. Let’s get it.”

As effortless as his music now feels as it leaves him, making it was something he stumbled into. “I didn’t really think about seriously playing music myself because I always imagined the John Mayers and people of the world [on] Mt. Olympus, and they are this special thing and you can’t make that transition at all, ever,” he says, prefacing his fragmented forays into music.

No one in his immediate bloodline was a musician, but he was a child brought up on hodgepodge tastes. His young ears became accustomed to the voices of George Benson, Dave Brubeck, Anita Baker and Sade, his mother’s soul, jazz and blues favorites. His older sister hipped him to the aggressive corners of Tupac’s catalogue, like All Eyez On Me. Middle school introduced him to progressive rock and emo bands like Linkin Park, King Crimson, YES, Dream Theater, Liquid Tension Experiment, The Mars Volta, My Chemical Romance and Coheed and Cambria. All the while taking in vibes from Christina Aguilera, Alicia Keys, John Mayer and whoever else snaked across radio waves at the time.

During this exploratory period he’d dove into classical guitar, and spent his high school years plucking away at strings in his own world, never really sharing his gift. That is, until a friend persuaded him to perform an original song during a talent show. R.LUM.R, a natural introvert, did so with his head down and a cap pulled snugly over his brow. The ballad was written for a close friend he watched get sucked into the murky “fun” of drinking and other damaging vices (he seldom partook in the partying, and consequently became the straight-laced guy they no longer invited).

“I sang that song called ‘Stay,’ because it essentially was just like, ‘I want you to take care of yourself, but I know there’s nothing I can do.’ I was up there on the stage crying, pouring my heart out and I finish the song. Place is silent, and then they just like clapped for a long time. I got up, just so nerdy and weird and sh*t, and left.” Mr. Kaiser, the music teacher he cites as one of his most important mentors, forced him to go back on stage and bask in it. “’Go back out there, and just stand there,’” he recalls of the advice. “’Don’t do anything. Just stand there.’”

“Once you’re on stage, it’s not as much about you in a sense,” he says now, having developed a comfortable stage presence. “It’s about creating this moment for an audience; you’re just kind of a conduit for the moment. It’s for them to enjoy.”

After that performance, passersby in his high school hallways would chime in every now and then, encouraging him to continue creating music and performing. He wound up at Florida State University on scholarship for classical guitar and music therapy after transferring from Manatee Community College (now the State College of Florida). Very serendipitously, FSU had a commercial music program where students were tasked with writing and recording their own music. A friend encouraged him as a sophomore to try out for the junior and senior level program. Naturally, he aced the audition, built up a collection of modest LPs and soon became a “hook guy” for local artists in the Tallahassee, Fl. area.

“Show Me,” a pulsing, silicon-kissed fusion song that simultaneously teased the gleam of his R&B falsetto, became his first big music splash on the ‘Net after it got picked up on Spotify’s then-New Music Tuesday. “That picked up, got all this attention and people are like, ‘What’s next? What’s happening? Are you playing shows?’” he recalls. “Yo, this was a side project. I literally planned to just put it out on SoundCloud and let it do whatever, just as an expression.”

His humble expression left, and still leaves, quite the impression. The way he hoists his mid-range singing voice to the upper rungs of notes without notice, leveled and piercing, is a treasure. Up until he did some “opera sh*t” in college, R.LUM.R’s voice had remained untrained, his attraction to falsetto something like a natural gravity. “Being young, I always sang in my falsetto,” he says. “I wanted to sound like Anthony Green, Claudio Sanchez and all these male singers with a really high tessitura, but I obviously talk like a baritone, low tenor-ish.” Like Lil Yachty did to a fired-up Joe Budden on Everyday Struggle, he initially deflects from identifying his “contemporaries,” but he’s aware that his voice has been gathered with those of Frank Ocean, Gallant, The Weeknd (flexers of their upper registers) and Khalid, PartyNextDoor and A.CHAL (singers beneath the hazy, alt-R&B umbrella).

What sets him apart from the aforementioned, then, is his immersive approach to the making of each song. His creative process is steeped in normalcy and in still, simplistic observation. “Last night I just couldn’t sleep. I got really hungry late at night for some reason, so I just got up and walked around Times Square and just seeing all the people’s tiny little stories happening,” he says. It’s a practice he does in airports, too: Using moments stranded in layover cities to wander between terminals, looking at people and making beats thinking about what those people might be like. “I take most inspiration from a lot of places, but I think I take most inspiration from talking to people, trying to be empathetic to them and trying to figure out what they’re like. I think I can figure myself out a lot of the time in the context of other people.”

Even the way he consumes music has a poetic methodology. When Frank Ocean’s Blonde came out, he (a dedicated fan just like you and I) took a stroll across a paved walking bridge near Nashville’s Ascend Amphitheatre and found a peaceful place to properly absorb the album. “I sat at the water,” he says, “and if you sit at one of the picnic tables there, you can just see the city and people’s lights flickering on and off in windows, people’s days stopping, people’s days ending, people walking out to the balcony, stuff like that. That just felt like an appropriate area to sit and listen.”

Much like he did with Blonde, the point of R.LUM.R’s music is to make listeners connect on a purely human level, prompting them to think outside of their personal boundaries. “Being intentional works for me,” he says. “I want people to think about themselves and think about other people and where they sit in the world. Empathy.” The conversation then veers to the spiraling plight of navigating the world as someone with brown skin; as male, female, or nonconforming; as anything that could be considered “other.”

“I’m not just a man, I’m a black man in America. I am so many things. Being a woman has a thing. Being a black woman has a thing. Being a tall black woman has a thing. Instead of asking someone to get into the deep history of all of these things, get into the habit of thinking about a person as an individual,” he says, making it clear not to align his intersectional thought process with “all lives matter” rhetoric.

R.LUM.R’s casual charm has a way of poking through as he speaks. When he shakes his head recounting the quirks of his nerdy black youth, the freeform locs sprouting from his head shake this way and that, moving as free as his spirit. He’s undoubtedly himself, and his melodic platform creates a safe space for his audience—or his “framily,” as he calls them—to exist as they are, especially the ones who would relate to adolescent Reggie. In his eyes, it’s kind of cool to be black and nerdy in 2017.

“Young, black 12-year-olds get more exposure to that stuff being normalized now than they did when I was a kid,” he says, envisioning a Lil Uzi Vert fan Milly rocking in a Naruto Uzumaki shirt. “Because those kids beat the sh*t out of me and stole my skateboard, you know what I’m saying? I bought the Linkin Park Hybrid Theory CD like three times because kids would scratch it.”

Music finding him provided him with a thing. In this profession, he could belong without question and find the safety to grow as himself. “I’m not the buffest dude, I’m not the tallest guy, I’m not like the most good-looking dude. I’m not walking up in here looking like f**king Taye Diggs or some sh*t, but I feel like all that stuff has definitely made me stronger because I’ve gotten over it,” he says, pushing back against societal impositions of “cool.” “I feel like I can be an example to people who feel that, but don’t exactly subscribe to the whole Odd Future thing and don’t exactly want to be like, ‘kill people, burn sh*t, f**k school.’ That’s too violent. I’d rather shuffle my Yu-Gi-Oh! cards, you feel me?”

Growing up, those projections were damaging and hindering, but he considers himself past it all. Well, mostly. “I mean, it rears its ugly head in new ways at all times,” he says, pausing, “but if it didn’t, I wouldn’t have anything to talk about.”

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Steve Morris @stevemorrism

Afrochella Sets Sight On Connecting The African Diaspora, One Festival At A Time

African music and culture are going global.

There’s a concerted effort to create and connect on the continent and to the continent. In Ghana and Nigeria specifically, a number of events, festivals, concerts, and activations have grown to prominence over the past five years, attracting newcomers and serving locals. This year, December will harvest a crop of opportunities for those abroad and at home to tap into the music, art, food, and fashion of the new-wave vanguard.

“Ghana remains home to the global African family,” Ghana Tourism Authority CEO Akwasi Agyemang said in an interview earlier this year. "We are positioning Ghana as a gateway to the West African market," Agyemang added. As African cultural productions popularize abroad, Accra and Lagos have become the go-to grounds for people of the diaspora to initiate immersion into experiencing Africa. 

The Ghana Tourism Authority and the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture have lined up a slate of activities in an effort to boost the country’s tourism industry. The government has taken initiative to further pushing for mobilization, galvanizing both descendants and diasporans to visit, invest, and live in the country.

Certain factors make Ghana appealing for visitors. Along with it being one of the more stable nations in West Africa, according to a 2011 Forbes report, Ghana was ranked the 11th -most friendly country in the world, ranked higher than any other African country. But as of last year, according to the World Atlas, Ghana didn’t rank amongst the top 10 African countries to visit for tourism in 2018. There is already a history of diasporans permanently relocating to Ghana. The government attempted to facilitate this process when it waived some visa requirements and passed amendments to a 2002 law that permits people of African origin to apply to stay indefinitely in Ghana. 

But this year has been a particularly important one for visitors. This December marks the ending commemoration of the Year of Return. Ghana 2019 is an initiative of the government formally launched by the President of the Republic of Ghana in September 2019 in Washington, D.C. as a program for Africans in the diaspora to unite with Africans on the continent. The mission transcends a marketing strategy. The year 2019 commemorates 400 years since the first enslaved Africans were brought to Jamestown, Virginia. The program serves to recognize the surging people and the following generations of achievements, sacrifices since then. 

The past year has seen a steady influx to West Africa. According to a report in Quartz Africa, Ghana’s tourism sector contributed 5.5 percent to GDP in 2018, ranking in fourth place after gold, cocoa, and oil in terms of foreign exchange generation for the country. And the government is hoping for more growth. Ghana is reportedly projected to rake in an annual $8.3 billion from the tourism sector by the year 2027 in tandem with an estimated 4.3 million international tourist arrivals.

But with the opportunities for connection and investment comes a slate of new concerns attached to old ones. Tourism, for example, can be lucrative for local business, but also can have a broader disruptive impact on the nation’s economy. Then, there are the issues that programmers face to bring locals and visitors the sought-after idealized experiences of Ghana— a taxing and a challenging feat to execute in an environment that’s still developing its infrastructure in multiple sectors. Along with improper documentation of visitors, the 15-year development plan put in place to help push the numbers, in ways, has not been implemented in full force.

But a rush to Ghana is still projected, and there’s a slew of events coinciding in the region at the same time this year aiming to accommodate this. One of the events slated for a return is Afrochella, the annual art, music, and food festival happening in Accra from December 20 to January 5. Separate from the official year of return events, each event also aims to fulfill a similar mission and market individual appeal amidst similar events. There’s AfroNation, the popular Europe music festival holding its first-ever edition on Ghana’s coastline at the same time as Afrochella, while Nativeland is planning a selection of panels and immersive activations with Melanin Unscripted focusing on music, art, and culture in Lagos right before it.

Afrochella was conceptualized by Abdul Karim Abdullah in 2015. Abdullah, along with co-founder Kenny Agyapong, and COO Edward Adjaye, launched the full-scope festival with the hopes of curating a connection to the continent this year, focused on increasing visibility to the rising talent on the continent. Their 2019 theme is “Diaspora Calling,” aiming to promote networking within the Ghanaian community and diaspora, ensure African youth value and celebrate their native cultures while connecting communities through education, fashion, art, music, and business in Africa. 

Community involvement representative Emmanual Ansa states they want the event to become “the impetus and mecca for the celebration of African music, culture, and art.” But amidst the many options on the ground this year to fulfill these missions, where does Afrochella stand, and how does it stand out?

VIBE sat down with the Afrochella co-founder Abdullah to talk about the structural challenges of executing this initiative while appeasing the demands of a growing consumer base, the cultural significance of the event, and envisioning Ghana as a premier frontier for a global black connection.

Can you talk about the origin of Afrochella? What inspired it?

I went to school in Ghana for about seven years, and then I came back to the US and I went to high school in the Bronx—  High School For Teaching And The Professions. I went to Syracuse University in 2006 and got my bachelor's in psychology and biology. And then I got my master's in 2016 at CUNY Hunter college in public health. I've been working in medical research for eight and a half years. But this has been a passion of mine that I've always done on the side, which is throwing African-inspired events.

That’s when my team came together. It started out with me wanting to do a festival here in New York called Native Tongue festival, and that was geared towards food. I just wanted to explain the culture and engage people within the diaspora. But then, on our yearly trip to Ghana, I found that we would gather and we would have a great time, but we couldn't really have that much of an effect once we left. I felt like we could have an effect; we could encourage more people to reach back home and do certain things by creating a space where we can engage each other. I thought there was so much talent coming in from all over the world that were from Ghanian descent or African descent and if we could create a place where we can galvanize all of that and the people that are doing amazing things within those industries, we would be able to create something pretty good. [In] 2017, we decided to do something like that.

How has it changed since 2017? Has it been easier to translate what you're trying to do in terms of this new interest in Africa — Ghana and Nigeria in particular? 

My team is battle-tested. We understand what we have to do in order to make the event successful. But, I wouldn't say it's been easier; each year presented different challenges for us. In year one, it was financial. Until this year, it was navigating bureaucracies. Last year, it was navigating governmental agencies. This year is navigating competition, navigating finding more funding.  One of the things that we noticed about events in Ghana specifically is that once it [nears] completion, people tend to not attend it anymore. What we want to make sure we do is every year we want to increase the amount of people that attend— and each year we have at least by 30 percent. Each year, we've been able to define our message more clearly. 

Talk a little bit about the government in Ghana. How has it been dealing with things on the bureaucracy level?

I would say our event is doing a big service to Ghana. Afrochella has definitely given people an opportunity to visit Ghana. The government should support us in a way that makes gaining access to certain government facilities easier. But that has not been the case. We've had to be very proactive about that with regards to certain policies that may exist that are not written on an online forum. Like in America, if I wanted to do a special event in the park, I'd be able to go to an online source. I'd be able to see all the things that need to do in order to get a specific permit for a specific venue. In Ghana, these things don't exist.

For instance, this year we received an email from some agency. Out of all of the years, we've never communicated with them and in the third year, they're reaching out to us about musician copyrights and, apparently, we have to pay a tax. Those are the kinds of things that we've faced. You can end up paying people that are not actually supposed to get paid. And there's no way of you knowing whether or not it exists or doesn't exist. 

Last year, we had a very weird incident four days before the festival. We were told by the Ministry of Aviation that our stadium is right by the takeoff of the planes leaving Accra. I would think that the venue that we're renting out for this festival would be able to let us know, “hey, you need to do this with the Ministry of Aviation,”— they did not. The day before Christmas, we got a notification that we have to change venues because they feel our lights will interfere with flights taking off. It's, of course, an accident. So, we reached out to the Ministry of Aviation, sat down with the director and devised a plan in order to allow our event to continue. Those are the kinds of things we faced as an event that we are still trying to navigate. Hopefully, as we grow, it will get easier.

Do you think it'll get easier when some type of infrastructure is built to help those types of events move more smoothly?

I think that Ghana is going to have to look itself in the mirror. We all don't know what to expect in December. Because there are a lot of people going to Ghana in December, the anticipation is very high. All the major hotels in Accra are sold out. How Accra responds to the influx of people I think should inform the government on how they should prepare for events and things like this for the future. I do hope that there is an effort created to streamline policies. 

I would like for the government to encourage events. I think events is one of the major drivers of tourism. And if they're paying attention, they will notice that a lot of people are coming to Accra for Afrochella and the events that exist during that last week of Christmas. The double mission is to take a deeper look at this creative industry and figure out a way to encourage that positively in a way that it affects both the people on the ground and the people within the diaspora. 

The government has not been welcoming this with open arms or does it not have any type of structured initiative to help this run smoothly?

I'm not saying that. I just feel like in general, we do not know what changes in infrastructure or policy being made to accommodate the amount of people that are coming in. For instance, with Afrochella we understand that because there's going to be so many people—there was an excessive amount of traffic coming into the stadium last year—that we need to figure out a way to get people to the festival in shuttles. If we can get people that are shuttles, then we could reduce the amount of cars. We reached out to the Ministry of Roads to help us so we can avoid traffic in front of the stadium and that we can make sure that there's a safe way for people to enter. This is some of the planning that we have done. Until now, I personally have not seen any information come out, access [to] policies that exist. 

One of the major complaints that people from the diaspora face when they go to Africa during Christmas time is we feel that we should be having the same sort of customer service that we enjoy abroad. With the influx of people, I think that it's going to get worse.

We just wanna make sure that infrastructure exists to make sure that people that are coming do not disrupt the way of life in Accra.

There are a lot of other events happening around the same time as Afrochella. What is the concerted effort to kind of stand out from the rest?

Our goal is to highlight the thriving millennial talent from within the continent. So we take pride in making sure that we're highlighting people within various industries of food, fashion, music. With our Afrochella Talk series, we’ve been able to highlight people that have been doing amazing things within the creative industry. In December, we'll be doing one on music. And this is an opportunity to be able to educate people on opportunities that may exist within their field or create a platform for people to be able to discuss questions they may have. 

We're also involved heavily in charity. Last year, we supported Water Aid to help provide clean water to families in need. The year before that, we gave out school supplies to kids within Madina Zongo. This year, we're doing charity twofold. We're rebuilding an orphanage school, in Jamestown, Accra and also providing them with school supplies. We call this initiative Afrochella Reads]. We’re also doing Afrochella Feeds on December 26th. 

Our goal when we bring people to Ghana is not just to come and turn up, not just to have a good time, but also to give them a feel of the vibration of the country, what the culture is.For us, it's a holistic approach.

What does the full festival entail?

The festival itself is art, music, food, fashion and all of that culminates in our eyes what culture is. We believe that each part of these is equally as important. Not one part is more important than the other and that we should celebrate them together. In addition to people getting to go to our festival, we also give them the opportunity to be able to engage with the country through our tours, through our charity. The tours and the charity that we do is to make people understand that yes, Africa is a good time— you can go to all the clubs— but we want to make sure you leave and provide an impact at the same time. 

Talk a little bit about the Audiomack rising star challenge and that effort to kind of curate the connection with music and culture.

With the rise of afropop music in America, I feel these artists deserve a chance. Right now, the popular, mainstream artists are the ones that are getting the looks they deserve. But I think that there are a lot of talents that exist from the continent that deserve to showcase their talent.

The other aspect of it is, I feel that people in the continent are using all of these apps and all of these different services and they hardly get to connect with representatives from those services. One of our goals is to make sure that we partner with these companies and give them the opportunity to invest in the talent directly. With Audiomack, we're doing exactly that in that we're giving seven individuals an opportunity to perform at Afrochella. And the one with the most streams, we’re giving them $1,000 towards their career and we’re giving them an opportunity to for a studio session at our partners BBnZ Live. This is one model of the type of partnerships we want to, we look to create with companies in the future. 

Why is this year in particular so important for the reconnection of the diaspora in the context of the 400-year anniversary?

A lot of the conversation between the diaspora and the people from the continent is what makes us different, why we don't get along. What we want to do as a festival is take that conversation and change it into what can we learn from each other and how can we help each other. I think that it's very important that as you see the Chinese and the Japanese and the Americans and everyone reaching for Africa, that we engage the people in the diaspora to make them understand that there are opportunities that exist and there is amazing talent in Africa and they are interested in starting a business and you're interested in developing a space and you can engage with your counterparts on the continent and help build the continent yourself.

I think the more black people we get to invest in the continent, as a whole black will be helping each other. This year is absolutely important and I think that shoutout should go to Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana for declaring this year The Year of Return. Ghana is definitely a good site that people can visit, but we hope that as people enjoy themselves and have that experience that they use that as a platform to visit other African countries and see what opportunities are there for them to be able to leave a lasting impact on the continent.

This interview was lightly edited for clarity.

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Nick Rice

The 25 Best Latinx Albums Of 2019

As we inch closer to the end of another memorable chapter in music, the Spanish-language gap gets bigger by the day. To anyone who believed reggaeton's second coming or Latin trap was a trend were gravely mistaken as artists across the diaspora found success on the charts and in the streaming world. Artists like Bad Bunny, Rosalía and J Balvin continued to thrive off last year's releases while dropping memorable singles (and joint projects). Others like Sech broke the mold for the marriage of hip-hop and reggaeton with Panamanian pride. Legends like Mark Anthony and Ivy Queen reminded us of their magic while rising artists like Rico Nasty, DaniLeigh and Melii provided major star power and creative visuals for their tunes. Latinx music has continued to push boundaries and the same goes for our list.

Enjoy our ranking of the 25 best Latinx albums of 2019.

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Pictured (L-R): WurlD and Sarz
Courtesy of Management

Meet Sarz and WurlD: The Nigerian Producer-Singer Powerhouse Showing Africa’s Sonic Range

There’s a slow infiltration of sultry, soulful, lo-fi music in afrobeats—and the latest from Nigerian producer Sarz and his fellow countryman and singer-songwriter, WurlD, is just a taste of how the scene is evolving. Before landing at No. 1 on Nigeria’s iTunes Albums Chart, I Love Girls With Trobul was a long time coming. Backed by Sarz’ fresh instrumentals, WurlD flexes his songwriting chops to talk about all things love and lust in this eight-track EP. The project is a cohesive narrative of the ups and downs people face when grappling with relationships.

On the origin story of how this project came to be, the duo notes that a mutual friend of theirs made the initial connection for them to explore working together. Sarz, born Osaretin Osabuohien, then sent over a few beats, with WurlD delivering with 2018’s “Trobul” in less than 24 hours. Sarz says he was so in love with the song that this collaboration needed to go beyond one track. They both describe the foundation of the EP as “seamless,” and for WurlD, this was one of the few times he made a decision to work on a project with someone without overthinking it. It just felt right.

I Love Girls With Trobul is the duo’s take on balance while pushing the culture forward. WurlD comes with his relatable, minimal lyrics (he’s also worked with the likes of BOB, Trinidad James, Mario, Walshy Fire and more during his time in Atlanta) while Sarz (a chart-topping producer who’s had Niniola and Wizkid grace his beats) delivers trendsetting instrumentals. There’s a song on I Love Girls With Trobul for everybody—for those on the continent and in the diaspora alike.

“Mad” is the newest music video to drop from the EP. A continuation of the storyline that the collaborators showed us in their previous single “Ego: Nobody Wins,” we take a look at the dysfunctional insecurities of a relationship between WurlD, born Sadiq Onifade, and his love interest (played by Bolu Aduke Kanmi). The relatability of the visual and the song will surely get you in your feelings.


VIBE: Sarz, what kind of sonic journey did you intend to take listeners through in this EP?

Sarz: I was trying to make something that suits WurlD’s sound, makes him comfortable enough to express himself, and also isn’t alien to the afrobeats space. I was also trying to push the narrative with the sound because that’s what I’m known for. I’ve always been that producer in Nigeria that doesn’t really follow trends and does stuff that other producers use as a template to make music. This is just one of those projects where it doesn’t sound like anything else in the afrobeats space right now. This time next year, you’ll hear so many songs that sound like songs off this project.

How would you describe the creative process of working with each other?

WurlD: We had to trust each other—I was very open. It was all about both of us meeting in the middle. There were times where Sarz would advise me to tweak the conversation in my lyrics. Another thing we focused on was bringing Africa along as much as possible. He’s Nigeria at its core. I learned how to create music in America, though I was born in Nigeria—so I know the culture. I lived there until I was a teenager. We understood each other and I was open to the idea; we were both determined to do whatever we needed to do to make the best project. One of our biggest challenges making this was that we were both in different places throughout the process, so the ongoing support we got from “Trobul” kept us alive. We recorded the first series of songs in L.A., the body of it in Atlanta and we then finished it in Lagos earlier this year.

Sarz: We had to go back and forth with ideas because his musical background and experiences are different than mine. There were certain songs that we had to go back and forth with to make it more relatable and right for the project.

Why is a project like I Love Girls With Trobul needed in the popular African music scene now?

Sarz: From my end, I feel like when you’re genuine with your art and speaking your truth, people will always gravitate to that—because there’s someone out there that feels the same way you feel. I don’t know who’s out there who feels the same way, but judging from the reviews and feedback we’ve been getting, there are so many people that we’re touching right now with this.

WurlD: I like the idea of collaboration. I wanted to shine a light on the importance of collaborating with producers. Living in the States for so many years, I saw this happen every day. I noticed how there are different ways to collaborate and how in general there’s not a lot of love for producers. I hope this inspires other producers to put more value in themselves.

Wurld, what inspired you to be so vulnerable with the stories you share in the EP?

WurlD: I feel like when I’m creating music is when I’m the most vulnerable. Music is communication—people go through things. I like the idea of empowering people through words where a sad song can actually lift you up. If it’s done in a happy space, you don’t feel so sad after all. I can’t really explain how I balance that but it’s a free, caring space. I care about the listener. I understand how difficult it is to empower yourself through a heartbreak. It’s being vulnerable, but it’s to be free and accept a loss. I understand the need for people to feel empowered to get up and keep going, so that makes it easy for me to tap into my vulnerability and to keep the audience lifted.

Sarz, what inspired you to conjure a sinister, dark sound with “Mad”?

Sarz: There’s nothing like that in the African space right now. That was the last record we made, and I felt like the project needed a little edge. After working on a few records, “Mad” was the standout one. We just knew this is what we’ve been looking for—it was just me trying to make a global soundtrack. I feel like anyone, anywhere in the world can relate to “Mad,” even though it’s afrobeats.

Walk me through its music video. What should viewers keep in mind while watching?

WurlD: We wanted to stay close to the conversation of the song. And “Mad” goes through different emotions with an afro-dance element. The key part in the record is how I’m dealing with my issues and I’m dealing with yours, but at the end of the day we get mad and we’ll make up. This is an everyday situation. We fight, we come together. And we wanted to highlight that in the video. With “Ego,” we were disconnected. With “Mad,” we give it a try when you break up to make up. The making up part is not easy, so there’s a lot of highlighting the highs and lows of those emotions to get past what made you mad. The dance elements highlight African culture and we wanted to keep it simple, stylish and straight to the point.

Sarz: With this project, we were really just trying to do things how we feel. And the project itself sounds like a story from the first song to the last. We wanted to try and keep that visually and interpret it as much as possible so people understand that journey with the visual.

What’s next from the project?

WurlD: I feel like this project we created is the first of its kind coming out of this region in Africa. We hope to inspire and show the rest of the world the necessity of range. Africa is not just one thing, and there’s so much more that we have to offer. We’re planning on doing more visuals because we feel strongly that these records deserve A1 narratives and visuals that push the culture forward and shines a light on African art.

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