One of the things you learn on becoming a music celebrity is that your former primary school mates have a long memory. They, and pretty much everyone who used to know you, will reach out to you; and it doesn’t matter how cursorily they knew you. So it has been for Abimbola Elijah Oladokun, whom the public knows as Bayanni. But though fame has many friends and perks, it also has many inconveniences, Bayanni tells me. One of the things the 25-year-old can no longer do is visit public places without bodyguards. “I just can’t do some things I used to do,” he says.
Two years ago Bayanni’s reality was much different. Known then as Zhenoboy and then an accounting student at the Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile Ife, he leaned heavily on social media to promote himself as an artist. He often uploaded covers he had made of popular songs, such as of CKay’s Felony, Fireboy DML’s Peru and Davido’s Jowo, the last of which got Davido’s attention. But Davido wasn’t the only one paying attention. Don Jazzy, Mavin Records’ CEO, was also taking notes.
Before long Bayanni joined Mavin Academy, where he learned the ins and outs of the music trade. Last August, in a video that’s three-quarters campy, he was eventually revealed as Mavin Records’ newest signing, joining the label’s cast of young talents which includes Rema, Arya Starr, Crayon and Boy Spyce.
Bayanni’s unveiling was accompanied by the release of his debut EP, the eponymous Bayanni which comprises four tracks. In one of the songs, the contemplative Family, the singer shows a strong sense of familial obligation. Bayanni has also said Family is his favourite track in the EP. But, as he would learn, it won’t be the song which puts him at the centre of things. That honour would fall to Ta Ta Ta, which can best be described as a sleeper hit. Although the EP was released last August, Ta Ta Ta would become a mainstay of many TikTok videos early this year.
The song’s commercial success warranted a remix with a guest artist, so Bayanni and his record label thought. And so the artist teamed up with one of his music heroes, the American RnB artist Jason Derulo. In this interview, which has been minimally revised for clarity, Bayanni talks to The Culture Custodian about his collaboration with Derulo and what changes celebrity has wrought on him and his approach to music.
How did your feature with Jason Derulo come about?
It’s a dream come true. Jason Derulo is someone I grew up listening to back then. I would always dance to his songs, learn his dance moves, and it’s amazing how some of the things you thought would not be possible happen sometimes. I’m grateful to God.
We had a lot of people on the list, but for some reason I thought he [Derulo] was going to be perfect. My team didn’t tell me when they reached out to him. And then Jason then sent me his verse, and I was just blown by his energy towards the song.
So you two didn’t actually meet in a studio?
No. As much as I would have loved that to happen, I had a little visa constraint. So I couldn’t go.
Besides Derulo, who are some of the artists you grew up listening to and have influenced you?
Lots of them. Chris Brown, Usher, Mario, Neyo. These are guys I took my RnB side from.
These people you’ve mentioned, one thing connects them: they are dancers, too. So were you a professional dancer at some point?
Yes. In fact I was more of a dancer. I only started singing professionally when I was in university. Some months after I got into uni was when I entered a studio for the first time. But I was a professional dancer before then. I danced at parties, events and stuff. I had this dance group back then, but I’ve forgotten the name we called ourselves.
You have said you play instruments. Which and which?
Drums, the keyboard, and the guitar. I learnt the saxophone at some point, also the trumpet. And I can play the violin.
What’s your family like?
My family was a musical family. Everyone in the family was either singing or playing instruments; and my mom is someone who loves music so much, though she’s not a musician but a teacher. I have four brothers and every single one of them can either sing or play an instrument.
It’s been about nine months since you were introduced to a mainstream audience with your EP. How has life as a celebrity changed you and your approach to music, if at all it has?
The attention is more now. I’ve got my old school mates calling me, and people that I have not even met before but who know my family. The attention is more, both the good and the bad. And there are a lot of things I used to do that I can no longer do. I can’t go out alone, and I’m more conscious about what I say, more conscious about my environment, my music, my delivery, and more conscious about everything right now.
My personality has not really changed. I’m still the same.
You started to make music professionally when you were at Obafemi Awolowo University. What made you decide to go into making music full-time?
When I finished secondary school, I stopped dancing for a while and went back to playing instruments. During that time there were not many friends around, so the only thing I could just do in my solitude was to play with my laptop. That was when I started making beats, because I had this idea of becoming a producer. So my music started with me making beats, but at some point I felt like why don’t I write something to this beat so it becomes a song? So that was how I started making songs. I would make beats and write songs to it and I would just record it by phone or something.
I was doing that before I entered uni. So immediately I got into uni, and saw the studios around the school, that was when I had my first session and made my first song. And that was when I got the thought that, “I think I might continue doing this”.
Do you remember the title of the first song?
You’ve said you weren’t expecting Ta Ta Ta to be the song most people resonate with the most in your EP. And it didn’t blow up initially when it was released but only re-emerged at the beginning of this year. So how did that make you feel?
Yeah. I felt people were going to connect most to Family. We were still promoting Family and the other songs in the EP sometime late last year, when some people started tagging me into some contents, some videos. And then I checked these videos and saw people doing crazy stuff to the song [Ta Ta Ta]. So I made a tweet. I’m trying to remember what I said precisely in the tweet, but I know I said something like “the kind of videos I’m seeing on Ta Ta Ta. Y’all should calm down”. And then I started reposting videos. There was one guy that made a video with a lady, that was the first video I reposted. And then after that some Spanish people tagged me to some videos and then I checked and I was like “what!” And then I posted that, and the rest was history. I was seeing 50k videos everyday, a hundred new videos everyday.
Which would you say you enjoy more: making beats or singing? Or is it an equal love?
I enjoy writing and singing more. Making beats is not easy because you have to really make everything from scratch. For me singing or writing is a lot easier because I write from my personal experiences or from what I’ve faced or something I’m going through. It’s easier to just write a song about everything that has happened this morning or the first thought that came to my head this morning, unlike making beats where there is no place I’m drawing inspiration from unless I listen to some song and try making it sound like that.
You were formerly called Zhenoboy. Why did you switch to Bayanni?
Bayanni means someone who is fearless and someone determined and someone who is brave. It has a Philippine origin and a Yoruba origin. The Philippine definition is a great person and an intelligent person, and the Yoruba origin means an oracle.
I changed Zhenoboy because it didn’t have any connection with me. It was just a nickname, a random name. I wanted one with a connection with me.
What’s next for Bayanni?
What I can say is this is just the beginning. There is a whole lot more about Bayanni that is yet to be unveiled, and as time goes on everyone will get to see the different colours of Bayanni. What I can promise you is a lot of beautiful music coming out this year. So sit tight and brace up.