On IBG we love to celebrate the unconventional and those who go against the grain. Their stories, challenges and triumphs spur us to action and help us separate the real from the not so real. Bemyoda (AKA Bem) is no different. The singer, song writer and entrepreneur has created a style of his own, birthed from a place of authenticity and courage. In our exclusive #MCM interview with Bem, he shares his challenges, success and advice for those who will attempt to follow the road less traveled.
Bemyoda is one of middle-belt Nigeria’s best kept secrets. His music is an intimate fusion of folk, soul and jazz elements, and is characterised by simple melodies and emotive lyrics. He started writing at 14, penning articles that won essay competitions for his school, and then songs, some of which were easy favourites for his university fellowship choir. He was influenced by his musically-inclined father, and icons India Arie, Dwele, Commissioned and Lauryn Hill.
The ‘Sketch EP’, first released in 2013 and then re-released in 2015 as ‘Sketch: The Reprise’ is Bemyoda’s first collection of work, comprised of 5 songs—4 of which have been used as soundtracks in short films and soap operas. Last year, he featured as himself in the second season of Ndani TV’s premier web series, Gidi Up. He recently spent time in Cleveland and Nashville, Tennessee, recording material for his forthcoming debut album, ‘Stark’. Bemyoda was listed on UK-based Nataal magazine’s 2016 ‘Ones to Watch’ list and has drawn strong comparisons to Asa and Bez.
He is signed to QuirkTheory, a new independent label.
IBG: Why do you do what you do?
Bem: I love stories. I grew up reading books and that shaped my opinion that stories are a powerful, unobtrusive way to convey ideas. Put music to them and they become all the more powerful. Songs are short-form stories. Well, some. With songs you can tell bits of stories, or whole stories, and be as flexible as you want.
There’s a need for stories that are wholesome and able to creatively convey thoughts about life and God and society and love and courage. As with reality, not all stories have pleasant happy endings. And music can be used to ignite a conversation about uncomfortable things, and still be wholesome. It’s a blessing to be able to tell wholesome stories with music. I also believe that God gives us abilities and expects us to use them to make some sort of difference, however little.
IBG: How do you define success?
Bem: You think you know what your answer to this question is until you start to answer it. You know it should be something simple, but what you start to say sounds convoluted. Success would be to get as much recognition for your work as possible, to have your work certified valuable. But when do you succeed, when you produce the work or when it gets recognised? It’s easy to look to lights and accolades as validation, but I think success is those simple moments, that song that got written, that stranger who said it touched them, that meeting that held, that one item I ticked off my list of things to do, the humility to ask forgiveness when I offend, the fact that my daily life is purposeful. Lights and accolades would be great if they happened, but if they don’t, ticking off the small boxes is success enough.
IBG: What keeps you grounded?
Bem: My faith in God does. My upbringing does. The friends that have become family do.
Nothing keeps you grounded like being sincere with yourself. It works for me that I have people around whom I have no need to impress, who know just how much of a jerk I can be, who know when I’m being stupid and who will, with one sharp look, put me back in place. I think it helps that I do not see myself as infallible. It makes me always check things, ask questions and seek guidance from more knowledgeable people and places.
IBG: What has been your biggest challenge with music and how have you surmounted
Bem: There’s loads of challenges and “biggest” depends on what scale you place them all on.
There’s the fact that “your music isn’t commercial” and all sorts of people suggest ideas on how to sell to the Nigerian listener. There’s shady incompetent people and an industry that can be fickle. There’s the lack of structure that makes simple things way more complex.
On one hand, I’m trying to do as much as I can within the country, on the other hand I’m not restricting my focus to this country alone.
IBG: What has been your biggest success?
Bem: I’m alive?
IBG: What advice would you give to entrepreneurs?
Bem: I’ve thought that the earth and its elements fall in place to help you once you set out to achieve something. They do not. The world does not owe you a thing. You’ll have your motives questioned. You’ll have your methods questioned. You’ll have your commitment tasked. You’ll lose relationships. But perseverance is the one great asset to have besides hard and smart work and the right partnerships. Know your (music) business as well as you can. Then try to know it better. In the end it’ll be, “Seest thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men.” Work. Work.Work.