Interview: Ninety Talks His Afro-fusion Sound And Debut Project ‘Rare Gem’

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Born Alubo Tuonims, Ninety is a rising Afro-Fusion artist from a small island in Rivers state. Exposed to musical influences from his dad, church and his musical idol, Bob Marley at a young age, he fell in love with music early on. After dedicating years to studying Computer Science in Ghana, he decided to go back to his first love and focus completely on music to make up for the time lost while in school. Now signed to Freeme Music with four successful singles and a project on the way, Ninety, who used to go by Ninety6, is ready to make his mark on the music scene with his Afro-Fusion sound; a blend of Pop, R&B, Dancehall and Reggae. During our conversation over Zoom, we discuss his upbringing, sound and forthcoming project while getting to know the man behind the music.

Let’s go to the beginning. How did you get into music?

I was born on Bonny Island. It’s a small beautiful island in Rivers state. Growing up there was always music. You know Anglicans have a way of infusing music in everything they do even while praying. My dad was a choirmaster so music for me started in church. I just found myself around music almost every day of the week; when I get to church, it’s music, when I go home, it’s music because my dad is a choirmaster so he was always rehearsing. Bonny is also a quiet place so there was barely any noise. It was easy to focus on something due to my environment and how calm and peaceful it was so I consumed myself with music. I guess my dad and church played an instrumental part in my love for music. My dad got me my first CD and it was of Michael Jackson though he was a choirmaster in church. Every kind of music was accepted I guess. As a young child, I wanted to be like my dad and be a choirmaster which is not something that was common among my peers. We go to church almost every time and there was always music so it was easy to blend in. 

You went from music to Computer Science, back to music, then producing. How did that happen?

Before I went to university, I made songs but while I was in school, I didn’t want to multitask so I was just focused on my education. I studied Computer science because I always saw it as a cool career but I knew at the back of my mind that I would definitely end up as a musician. I thought other career paths like law and medicine are hectic and I felt it was too much effort put into something that I wouldn’t practice. Computer science was something I liked and I didn’t find it so tedious. To be honest, I didn’t like school. I didn’t hate it and at the same time, I wasn’t one of those who was excited to go to school on a Monday. I didn’t really want to apply myself while I was in school. I just wanted to get things done. I graduated from Accra University of technology in 2016. When I came back, I realized that I lost a whole 3 years not doing music. I felt left behind. I thought about a way I could catch up fast and the solution was to make sure I don’t need a third party when I want to make music. If I wake up in the middle of the night to make music, I don’t necessarily have to go to the studio or call a producer. I can just do it anytime I want. It took about 6 months to learn production and I began producing in 2017 up until 2020. I opened a small studio in the living room of my apartment. While in Port Harcourt, I was producing and making my own music. It was a job and hobby for me. I was crafting the sound and sharpening the edges, making sure I put all the time I felt I had lost in school back into music. and ever since I have just been making music. I also produced for some people back in Port Harcourt for a while to pay the bills before coming to Lagos in 2020 during the pandemic to begin music full-time. 

Ninety is an interesting name. What inspired it and what does it mean?

Initially, it was Ninety-six. That’s the year I was born but for some reason, they kept on making the same silly mistake of calling me sixty-nine most times I went on stage. I didn’t want that carriage for the entirety of my career so I shortened it to ninety. I guess now it’s just like a whole decade ninety as opposed to the particular year i was born. The significance of that name is because I was born in the 90s.

You describe your sound as Afro-Fusion, why?

The base of what I make these days is always Afro. The beat needs to have an Afro touch to it. There are definitely a lot of Jamaican swings, pop and a whole lot of soul so I can’t fixate on any genre. 

Your sound is a blend of Pop, R&B, Dancehall and Reggae, who inspires your music and why?

I listen to a lot of Bob Marley. The whole Bob Marley family down to Skip Marley. I’ve always liked the message in the music they pass but then again I am always big on melodies. Their melodies are always easy to sing along to. There is just something about their music that makes you want to make music. If I listen to a Bob Marley album I will definitely end up in the studio making music. There is just something about their sound that makes me want to create. I love Frank Ocean too.

As a relatively new artist, what are your long-term goals musically? And are there musical collaborations you are looking forward to?

I don’t want to be selfish with my reasons for making music but then again you have to be bullish. I just want to get my family name out there like the Marley family. Bob Marley’s name is still helping the grandchildren so that’s my goal with making music. Fame can go a long way to help you and everyone around you. I will also venture into other things, probably still something to do with entertainment. I like to think I know how to create. I don’t plan to make music my major source of income in the long term. I think it’s good to be conscious of yourself and know when the music isn’t really pushing like it was before, not because you aren’t as good but because someone can’t feed off the same products for decades. People I would love to collaborate with are Damian Marley, Frank Ocean, Burnaboy, TY Dolla Sign. 

Let’s talk about your forthcoming project – Rare Gem. Walk us through your process and what we can expect from it.

I am releasing a body of work on Thursday, April 28th, 2022. The name of the project is Rare gem. I got the beat from a producer but I mostly write with my band. We created a lot of songs but I chose the 7 that best fit the narrative. They talk about 7 different female characters in Nigeria. I tried my best to narrow them down to 7. It talks about the hustlers, the clingy ones, the one who wants to get married, the one who wants to look beautiful and it’s like the 8th character is a rare gem. People hear it and think I am calling myself a rare gem. That is how it started because when people hear my song they say, “Oh, it’s unique, you are rare.” That’s the most feedback I get from people. It’s just something that came up. Honestly, I didn’t like the name for that reason because I felt there was no way to explain why I’m calling my project Rare Gem without sounding cocky or proud so I decided to make songs with the first narrative I mentioned (7 different characters to summarise the whole character traits Nigerian women have) but then the 8th one is like the most scarce. It’s like a combination of everything together. It’s not like they are all terrible characters that I am trying to avoid or say are not good. I am just saying these are the characteristics people possess in Nigeria but there are rare ones that possess all or do not possess any.

What’s next after this project?

My plans after this project is to experience a growing self and embrace it with more music. 

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