Afro-fusion singer Preyé Reclaims her Inner Child

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“Preyé means God’s gift,” the Nigerian Afro-fusion singer explains to me. “What I do is an Afro-fusion RnB Soul sound. I love infusing my influences into my songs,” she says, a faint chuckle shadowing her assertion. Born in Lagos, Nigeria, and to music-manic parents, Preyé grew up in the lively company of vinyls and compact discs, most of which had been collected by her father, who “loved listening to songs as he worked.” If other people’s childhood consisted of play-acting with action figures and Barbie dolls, hers comprised an informal and yet encyclopedic musical education. As a lass, Preyé enjoyed exposure to many musical traditions and musicians: Jazz, Soul, RnB, Enya, Michael Bolton, Marvin Gaye. “A lot,” she says resignedly as if baffled or perhaps bored by the task of recalling her many influences. “I was also interested in painting. You know, making human figures, looking for things in the kitchen to make something out of them.” As people are usually only what their environment permits them to be, young Preyé naturally fell for music. It was, she recognized, her destiny. But first, there was an interim destiny: she wanted to become a medical doctor.

Preyé soon discovered that her “fear of blood,” by far, overwhelmed whatever passion she thought she had for medicine. And so that dream was put to rest. But though her hemophobia got in her way in real life, she isn’t afraid to partake of the macabre in her songs. In Mortia (2015), her first single, she dissects the anatomy of death using an extended metaphor. In other songs, she provides candid, first-person treatises on a variety of the human condition. Like in her single Love Fumes (2019), where she celebrates her break away from a toxic lover. As for her latest single, Red Wine, Preyé crams it with so much sensuality that both the lyrics and the whispery voice funneling it is nearly pornographic. She uses boat and car metaphors in talking about sex. So we can assume that for Preyé, sex is a destination. That ride to pleasure, Preyé sings, is even better when aided with wine. For agape mouths at Holy Communion service, wine transforms into the divine. Preyé believes in that transformative power, except there is a more Dionysian than Christian end in mind for her. When she sings, “we making love on the red wine,” it bespeaks a reckless abandon — the wine bottle has been upturned by a wayward foot belonging to one of the two lovers now conjoined at the hip — the sort common to a Dionysian orgy.

“A good song conveys feelings in very simple, succinct words,” says Preyé. Her songwriting, likewise, beams with this minimalism she advocates. Yet, despite her interest in music and the frequent compliments she got from friends on her singing talent, Preyé did not practice music throughout secondary school in Benin, nor did she write a song until 2015. She ended up in Covenant University, a private Christian university in Ota, Ogun state. Here she studied Engineering, which, according to her, “forced me to suppress my creative spirit in order to enhance my analytical side.” “I did this,” she says, “so I could graduate well and make my parents proud.” She describes her time at the university as both unenjoyable and unmemorable and is thankful only for some of the people she befriended during her stay there.

She came to hate even more her time in Canada, where, stuck in a 9 to 7 real estate job, she felt her “inner child” flattened by this very adult workspace. “I hated my life for that period of time. Whenever I got home, I was always feeling tired and cold. I had no motivation to create anything. Really, it made me depressed,” she says. Drawing from her expertise on the subject of death, as shown off in Mortia, Preyé declares that “Creatives need to create. If not, they die.”

To escape that metaphorical death, Preyé quit her job and moved back to Nigeria in 2020. “I moved back to Nigeria during a turbulent period of my life. There were so many times I wanted to quit music. So many times my mental health wasn’t right. I don’t want to be in that position again. I’ve been there before and it’s not a great space to be in. So whenever I’m taking a hiatus, it’s not because I don’t want to release music. It’s because life is happening.”

Leaving a secure job to chase a childhood dream is the stuff of a Hollywood picture. But Preyé’s life mirrors a movie, one of the exciting ironies, too: her songwriting is somewhat literary, but she “hated” literature while in school; her parents love music to boot but weren’t exactly charmed by the idea of her pursuing a music career. That has changed though. “This year,” Preyé says with cheer, “my parents have finally opened up to my music career.”

Besides earning her parents’ approval and becoming “generally happier,” Preyé has also regained her creative side, or her “inner child” as she likes to call it. To fete this personal Renaissance, she has titled a song in her forthcoming project “Crayons.” The song, she says, is about “finding the color and wonder in things.” On her creative process, she describes it as messy and varied: “It’s not just one way. It’s all over the place. But eventually, I get things done.” She singles out patience as a key virtue of the ideal creative, when she says, “You can’t rush anything. Good work takes time.”

Her influences include Jill Scott, Enya — from whom she learned “vocal stacking” — Yanni, Michael Jackson (whose “perfectionism” she adores), and Frank Ocean, because “Frank Ocean’s storytelling ability is bonkers.” Of the musicians she’d like to work with, she lists Asa, Joyce Olong, and Burna Boy, whom she describes as “unapologetic,” and who, like her, hails from Port Harcourt in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria.

“What I want to be doing in 5, 10 years from now? I want to be helping singers like myself. I mean, women who are not singing mainstream kinds of songs. I want to help them get to where they want to be in the industry. To create a network where information and knowledge of the industry can be easily accessed.”