Interview: Ijekimora Muses on Her New Single “Stand By Me”, Her Forthcoming EP and Music Career

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Ijekimora does with her mouth what Tobi Amusan does with her feet. When the Nigerian Afro-fusion singer is in the mood, no one is out-talking her. It is not so much a matter of volume as it is a matter of speed. You get the impression that she has many thoughts to unload and is simultaneously trying to conserve time. In our interview, she talks, passionately and rapidly, about her new single Stand By Me, where she features Seyi Vibez. Produced by Dunnie, the single was released a month ago.

In Stand By Me, Ijekimora lobs a query at her naysayers: Did you stand by me when I had nothing? They didn’t. While she doesn’t have everything yet — a hit record, for instance — she is hopeful and certainly in a much better place than she was in 2017, the year she migrated to Nigeria from the United States. In a way, Stand By Me is everyone’s secret fantasy. This fantasy has many versions, but here’s one: You, ensconced in the backseat of some pricey car, and then you, speeding past that secondary school teacher who once said you would never amount to anything in life. Ijekimora’s version: “When they go tell me say I no go make dollar/ But now dem they call me Ajebutter/I no get their time.” Ijekimora’s revenge isn’t vehicular; it’s horological. No wonder she saves time even in conversation.

Album-less and EP-less, Ijekimora’s discography is built on singles: Temptation (2022), Sexy Papa (2021), Cheetah (2019), and the Fela Kuti-inspired Shakara. An EP titled Kimorality is currently being worked on and is scheduled for release later this year or at the start of 2023.

In this interview, which has been revised for concision, Ijekimora, or Ijeoma Ononoju as it reads on her birth certificate, gives us a tour of where her career is at the moment.

What inspired Stand By Me, and what was it like to work with Seyi Vibez on the song?

My songs are usually about love, but this time around I wanted to talk about the struggle. I went to the studio and told Dunnie I wanted to do something different. So the song is me asking, where were you when I had nothing? Did you stand by me? I thought to myself that I needed to get someone who could relate to the struggle I’d gone through. My team and I settled for Seyi Vibez. I was cool with him and had met him many times. I was there for his EP’s listening party. I first met him when I was an OAP for a radio station: I interviewed him and he told me his story, and I found out that though I was in America, we’d gone through similar struggles. I then felt he’d be the right person for the song.

As you said, Stand By Me is a song about your struggle. In another interview, you talked about a struggle of a different kind: sexual harassment, which you said you faced a lot when you returned to Nigeria in 2017. What challenges have you had to deal with recently in the music industry?

Nigeria is my country, but I didn’t grow up here. I grew up in Dallas, Texas, which is a hub of music. When I moved back to Nigeria I met so many artists and I had the mindset that I was going to get a lot of their support. But I found out that was not the case. Niggas act like they don’t even know you. Nobody even wants to post your song flyer. And then there was the sexual harassment. It was like, “if you want me to do this for you, then you gotta give me this, you gotta be my girlfriend”. I told myself I wasn’t going to succumb to it. I’d rather pay you for your service. But that was in the beginning. Now I feel like I am more empowered than I was then because back then I didn’t have a team. The more I lived in Nigeria, the more confident I got, and the more things I understood about the music. I’ve had people go behind my back and say, “that girl’s attitude is bad”. I feel like these people don’t want to see you win. My past management, for example, was trying to destroy my image behind my back and they were stealing from me. So I sacked them. I’ve gone through a lot. Now, there’s no more sexual harassment. It’s more of stealing now. Also the non-commitment. A producer might be charging N500,000, and then they come to me to say it’s N1,000,000, then they pocket the rest. So the challenge I’ve been having is finding people I can trust, people whose word is bond. 

You grew up in the United States and didn’t move back to Nigeria until 2017. Do you feel alienated from Nigerian culture, particularly with respect to your music?

I’ve adapted to the culture. I eat all African food. I’m trying to learn more Yoruba and Igbo so I can infuse them into my music and can be more relatable. I don’t see my living overseas as a mistake, but if I had been more rooted in Nigeria, I think my music career would have been bigger than what it is right now. I had to adjust to not understanding slang, but I’m good on that front now. Many artists came from America and they blew: Tiwa Savage, so many of them. But for some reason, I don’t know what the issue is or why I don’t relate with many artists. Some see and hail me on the street, but it doesn’t feel genuine. I easily do this with fans, because I’m approachable, but I’ve just not been able to do this with other artists. I don’t know if it’s because I don’t go out a lot and don’t get invited to a lot of things. Yes, I met a lot of artists during my radio gig and tried to establish a relationship with them, but after the radio interview is done, they don’t fuck with you no more. I think the thing is that when you blow is when people want to fuck with you. Ckay, for example. But it’s totally different in the States. I think it would all change once I have a hit record.

How would you categorize your music?

I would categorize my music as Afrobeats. Before, I used to do highlife, and then Afro-house. I don’t want to be the kind of artist that does one genre of music. I like to explore. I’ve done Afro-patois. Afro-fusion is really what my music is.

What is your creative process like?

I prefer to work in camps like when I worked with Kel-P Vibes. I’m not the kind of artist who just goes into the studio to record. I prefer that we camp out, have fun, relate, eat, smoke, and relax… Then the beat plays and I come up with a melody. I have to have a writer with me in the studio. While the hook is playing, I watch out for everyone’s reaction. If they find it easy, I decide it’s got to stay. The producer I’m working with also determines my process. I like my producers to be intertwined with me. I want them to give their own suggestions. It’s like a whole team effort. 

Who do you listen to these days?

Nicki Minaj. I like Simi a lot. Adekunle Gold. Davido. Burna Boy. I don’t discriminate; I listen to everything. 

Which Nigerian musicians would you love to work with?

Burna Boy. Niniola. Kizz Daniel.

How did music start for you, and who and what were your inspirations?

I’ve always wanted to do music. The type of music I listened to was RnB. I listened to Brandy, Celine Dion, and Whitney Houston. The first time I heard an Afrobeat song was Wizkid’s, and I thought it didn’t sound like typical African music. I went on my phone and started Googling other Afrobeats songs. I listened to Fela Kuti’s songs. From then I decided I was going to do music. Although I’ve wanted to do music all my life, growing up in an American household, you had to go to school to be a doctor, teacher, or lawyer. You can’t tell your parents that you want to do music, so I kept that to myself. A friend of mine then in the States told me to come to the studio, saying that Kelly Handsome was in the studio. I went to the studio, they played a beat, and I did my thing and knew it was my thing and needed to take it seriously. I did a single with Kelly Handsome. People told me I needed to promote my music in Nigeria, so I was sending money to Lagos for that. But the money brought no results. I decided I was going to move to Nigeria to monitor things myself. I wanted to get into the Big Brother Naija House to promote my music career and signed up, but something happened and I didn’t go. 

What project should your fans expect from you soon?

I’ve been working on my EP my whole life. I came up with the name when I first moved down to Nigeria. It’s called Kimorality and it’s going to have six tracks. Stand By Me is going to be a part of it. The EP was supposed to drop last year, but I had issues with my management. I’m not sure yet, but it could come out as an album rather than an EP. 

If you could have your fans remember you by one thing, what would you want it to be?

I would want my fans to remember me as an artist that doesn’t play with them. Many artists forget that it’s the fans who made them. But do you know how hard it is for you to stream someone’s music, especially in this country that has data issues? I want to carry my fans along.

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