Photograph by Tayo Jr
By Carrie Battan
January 17, 2019
The rise of music streaming has wrought countless changes, but perhaps the most exciting is the flattening of the global playing field. We no longer need to wait for a powerful interloper (see: Drake or Diplo) to import a new style of music to the U.S.—foreign musicians, such as the K-pop sensation B.T.S. or the Latin stars J. Balvin and Bad Bunny, can do the work themselves.
African pop is also making headway here—New York’s hip-hop radio mainstay Hot 97 routinely plays long-simmering Afrobeats hits, and pop stars like Wizkid are cropping up on tracklists for major American pop albums. Still, despite the quickening pace of crossovers, the process can be slow. An artist generally has to be a household name in his or her country before starting to slip into playlists in America.
One exception is Teniola Apata, known as Teni—a supremely talented singer, songwriter, and rapper from Nigeria whose star may rise as quickly in the U.S. as it will back home. The twenty-six-year-old landed on the scene, in 2017, by revealing on Twitter that she helped write “Like Dat,” a huge hit from the Nigerian superstar Davido. Last year, she began releasing songs of her own, including “Case” and “Askamaya,” which infused the melodic sensibility of African pop with flashes of hip-hop and R. & B. (“Case” interpolates the chorus of Linkin Park and Jay-Z’s “Numb,” which lends a strange sweetness to the song.) Teni’s latest, “Uyo Meyo,” is a bit like an acoustic art-pop take on anthems like “We Are the World.” On the track, Teni assures listeners that “You can be just what you want / If you just work hard” in a delicate, mournful tone that absolves the message of its mawkishness. The video for the song is chopped up with grainy footage from a selfie camera, leveraging both Teni’s charisma and her knack for making clever videos on social media. In an era where star power relies not just on talent but on relatability, Teni’s potential isn’t bound by anything, least of all geography. CULLED
FROM THE NEW YORKER