CKay says Nigerian musicians are not politicians or the actual solutions to the problems in the country.
Rave of the moment, Chukwuka Ekweani, popularly known as CKay, kicked off his music career in 2015 after running away from his parents in Kaduna and relocating to Lagos in pursuit of his big break.
He became popular after releasing the 'Love Nwantiti' remix during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.
Though the original version of the song was released in 2019, it did not gain massive airplay like the remix but enjoyed remarkable organic global streams. The track currently has about seven different remixes including Spanish and South African versions with millions of streams across major music streaming platforms.
He recently released an EP titled "Boyfriend", which featured guest appearances from the likes of Amaarae, Kidi, Oxlade, and Bianca Costa.
In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, the singer speaks about his unique Afrobeats sounds and career
PT: Could tell us about your 'humble beginnings'?
CKay: Growing up in Kaduna was really regular, there's nothing crazy about growing up. I grew up in a middle-class family, my dad is a doctor, my mom is a nurse.
PT: Was any of your parents music-inclined?
CKay: My dad used to play the piano, he was a choirmaster in an Anglican church. So, I'd say a lot of my musical influences started from him.
PT: Were your parents supportive of your career from the onset?
CKay: They did not! My parents didn't support my career at first. You know, African parents don't believe music is a legitimate career, but they eventually did. And I still had to run from home to do music, because my parents were not letting me do it, so I had to make a decision for myself because at the end of the day it is not their life, it is mine.
I had to be responsible for my actions and the consequences of those actions in the future, so I had to take that step and I'd say it was a very important decision because if I did not take that step, I'd never be where I am today.
PT: When did this happen? Where did you run to?
C-Kay: It was in 2014. That was the year I left my parents. I left Kaduna for Lagos. Kaduna is in northern Nigeria. A very small town, really small town compared to Lagos - very different from Lagos. And it was a really big risk.
PT: How would you describe the music you typically create?
It is Afrobeats fused with different elements - I'd also call it 'emo-Afrobeats', because the main element is emotions, and it is called Afrobeats.
So I basically use Afrobeats to express emotions that I feel, and in the process, I may have to use, maybe chords, from different genres; it could be rock, it could be R&B, it could be different things, as long as it captures the emotions I'm trying to express. I basically use those instruments and I just fuse them with Afrobeats because I'm an African. I feel like, for me to be authentic in what I do, my music has to be a representation of where I come from, which is Africa. My music is Afrobeats but it is very emotional. I believe, in Africa, we are not very emotional and I think someone has to bring emotions back to Africa and I feel I'm that person.
PT: When you say emo-Afrofusion, could it be likened to Alte music?
C-Kay: I think so many people have given their own definitions to the word Alte to the point where what ALte means isn't clear anymore. I don't know if I fit into that classification, but I'll say this; everybody who is considered Alte, basically, if you look at them, you'll notice it is just different artistes that are being themselves and making their music their own way.
So, I'm doing that as well. I'm making my music my own way - I'm not following the conventional trends, I'm not really trying to re-do what has been done before - I'm actually creating something new.
PT: Besides music, what else are you skilled in?
C-Kay: I draw really well. I do graphic design, video editing. I designed the cover of my EP; I designed the cover of many of my songs as well.
PT: What inspires your creativity?
C-Kay: I think my life inspires me; the things around me; the things I experience; the things I go through: the people I talk to, you know, it is all energy that is transmitted and sometimes, those energies just strike a chord in me and it makes me create something special.
Like, "Love Nwantiti" was about a girl I was dating in 2019, so that energy gave birth to that song. "Felony" was from a completely different experience. So it is just a thing of energy creating emotions in me and I use those emotions to make music - which is why I kind of call it Emo-Afrobeats.
I'm just literally expressing how I feel, you know! And my listeners, I guess they feel because I always hear people telling me things like - they just felt a certain type of way when they listen to my song, you know, or they can get lost in my songs. And I think what is basically happening is, they are connecting to the emotions I put into the records, so that's my kind of thing.
PT: What track or event would you say made you famous?
C-Kay: I'd say it was "Love Nwantiti". It got really big, like so crazy! We dropped the remix version ft. Joeboy and Kwame Eugene on Valentine's Day in 2020.
We had the original first in my EP in April 2019 and organically it was doing so crazy so we decided to do a remix. In about two months after the remix was released, it started to pop up in different parts of the world during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.
Supermodels from many countries were making videos to the record, and it just became a global situation; we ended up making different remixes for different countries - we had the Spanish remix, the South African remix, East Africa remix and North Africa remix - Morocco. So, basically, that's just how it happened, it was massive! Each of the remixes has millions of streams and views.
PT: Who do you sing to?
C-Kay: I would say, girls! But the thing is, it is not only girls because of the emotions I express in songs, some guys feel that way too, they connect to it. I would just say, the people who connect to the emotions I express are young people and they are mostly girls.
PT: What are the essential skills a Nigerian artiste should possess in 2021?
C-Kay: I guess you should have the skills that every other artiste has - you should know how to make music, you should know how to sing, perform and market yourself. You should also know how to pray because I feel music is spiritual. It comes from a deep place.
PT: What does Burna Boy and Wizkid's Grammy win mean for the Nigerian music industry?
C-Kay: I think it is huge! When they were nominated, the whole country rooted for them because we knew it'd be so huge, it'll mean so much for Afrobeats, for Africa as a whole.
It is not even a Nigerian thing anymore. We knew it would mean so much and for it to actually happen, it means doors have been opened, new frontiers have been pushed, and it inspires the whole generation.
It kind of proves to us that we can all do it. I mean, we all believed we could do it but actually seeing Wizkid and Burna Boy do it just gives us that extra motivation. So, it is actually possible. Big shout out to Wizkid and Burna Boy!
PT: Nominate three Afrobeats artistes you think should win the Grammy next year.
C-Kay: I cannot really say because not everyone has dropped albums yet, so I don't know. I guess that'd depend on everybody who has dropped albums, but for sure, Davido's Album (A Better Time) is a great album and I know that it is definitely in the conversation. I think (Wizkid's) "Made In Lagos" was also dropped around that period and it was an amazing album as well. Well, I'd say that, and myself too.
PT: Who are the top three emerging artistes you think should be getting more recognition?
C-Kay: I think Oxlade should be getting more recognition; there's Viktony, he's good; and Blaqbonez. I feel like certain award bodies have not given him the credit that he deserves. Definitely, Blaqbinez deserves so much more credit than he's getting, but the thing about Blaqbonez is I feel he doesn't even need the validations but I feel he deserves it still.
PT: Recently, you randomly telephoned your fans and sang your hit 'Felony' to them. How did that make you feel?
C-Kay: It was fun. It felt good to connect with fans - you know, people who have been connecting with me by listening to my music for so long, so it felt good for sure. Talking to them and feeding off their energy was amazing.
PT: The COVID-19 pandemic has, no doubt, affected the way we connect and network socially. How have you managed to stay in the touch with your art, your loved ones, and fans?
C-Kay: It is very easy, I mean, we have phones, so phones make things easier, largely. You can talk to people on FaceTime; you could do so many things. Solitude helped me connect well with myself. I made my "Boyfriend" EP during the lockdown. It basically hit me a lot of times with some retrospect and as much as it was a bad thing, I'd say I found a way to bring positives out of it.
PT: Which big names in the music industry are you looking forward to working with?
C-Kay: It is a pretty long list. But I'd say Drake, Wizkid, and Rae
PT: Your EP, Boyfriend, was a hit. Take us through the creative process?
C-Kay: It was a lot of exchange of emails between me and the producers I was working with; a lot of recording... it was during the lockdown so I couldn't go anywhere, so everything was digital, you know. I played instruments a lot because I played a lot of live instruments on my EP; I also worked with a lot of instrumentalists, like Felony had violins, it had live guitars.
So, it involved a lot of live instruments and a lot of emails with other creatives. The collaborations with Amaarae, Kidi, Oxlade, it was all via emails, it was so crazy because Amaarae and I have not met in person but we've made two amazing records.
So, all this was because of COVID-19 but we made it work and people loved the project, so that is definitely a plus for me.
PT: Your track with Amaarae, "Show My Side" is brilliant. What was it like creating that music?
C-Kay: We had a conversation on Instagram, via the DM, and I've been an Amaarae fan for a while; I like her music, I like her voice and it was really nice to know that she felt the same way about my music, so, we basically shared that regards and Show my Side happened and Fancy on her album happened - we made two records. It was just basically good vibes and good energy between us and when there are good vibes, good music always comes.
PT: And your deal with Warner music?
C-Kay: It happened sometime last year. The relationship has been in the works for a while. It has been great working with the team; we have a lot of stuff in the future that we are going to achieve and we are looking forward to it.
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PT: Do you think Nigerian artistes are lending their voices and influence enough to effect social changes in Nigeria?
C-Kay: I feel we are doing their best. We are not politicians. We are not the actual solutions to the problem. No matter how many songs you release the government has to be the ones to make the change. If the government doesn't make the change we can sing songs from now till tomorrow and use our voices and nothing will happen. So, I feel Afrobeats artistes are doing their best.
PT: It appears most young Nigerians have had a fair share of police brutality. Have you had any such encounters?
C-Kay: Multiple times! Just that I don't like talking about it - each time I do, it puts me in a bad mood. The last one happened on my birthday last year, funny enough! That was the night after I and Davido recorded "Lala". The police actually... kind of messed me up (sighs).
Enough stories have been told. I feel at this point, it is up to the president. I think anybody who followed the #EndSars campaign knows how it went; everybody tried their best but our president is a tyrant and he practically gave a speech and threatened the country.
Moreover, this was after people were shot at Lekki Toll Gate and we waited for a speech but what we got was more like a threat. I think it is very clear to the whole world where the Nigerian government stands on police brutality. Like I said earlier, artistes can sing one thousand songs about it but it is still up to the people in power to change things.
PT: What do you think Nigerian youth achieved with #EndSars?
C-Kay: I think we achieved awareness. At least a lot of people are aware of the situation. I guess more people outside the country are now aware of what is going on in the country. Nigerians are more aware of politics now and so are more involved. I believe the in the next election we would have more young people coming out to vote for a better Nigeria. So I think that's something.
PT: With all the distractions and inconsistencies in your environment, how do you manage to stay consistent?
C-Kay: To be honest, I don't know! It is God. It is so crazy when white people come to Africa and they hear the stories and we share what we have to deal with on a daily basis, many of them are surprised that we are able to be this productive against all those odds. I can't tell you how I manage to stay consistent, but I think it is just God giving us the energy to do it.