THE NEXT GENERATION: NONSO AMADI
“MY NAME IS CHINONSO AMADI, AN AFRO R&B ARTIST FROM NIGERIA, AND I AM THE NEXT GENERATION.”
In the fall of 2015, a friend of mine sent me a project to listen to, proclaiming that “this kid is going to be huge.” That project was an EP called Alone and the “kid” in question was none other than the now 23-year-old singer-songwriter, Nonso Amadi. That 5 track EP was impressive for a new relatively unknown artist and enough for me to keep tabs on the singer, while anticipating a smash hit on his next release. He did not disappoint. “Tonight” came out a few months after the release of the EP and it catapulted the artist into the spotlight. Since its release he’s been gaining traction, building a fanbase and most importantly—putting out quality music. Nonso belongs to a new generation of young Nigerian artists who don’t necessarily fit into the typical afrobeats mold, but are working towards carving out a unique, alternative sound that appeals to an increasingly global audience while remaining true to their Nigerian roots. Alongside Nonso, artists like Odunsi, Santi, and Lady Donli, are emblematic of this new sound. Nonso’s take on R&B is unlike any other in the industry and he’s quietly setting himself up to be at the forefront of a musical uprising of sorts.
Based primarily in Canada, Nonso hasn’t yet had the chance to tour in the states, only performing at one show in the U.S. prior to our meeting. When I learned that he would be performing at the Un-American concert in Maryland, I had to go watch him. Due to additions like, autotune, reverbs, engineering, and the other enhancements that go into making a record, when you listen to many popular artists live, more often than not, they sound nothing like the actual song. All of this factored into my fear for Nonso coming into this performance. Can he actually sing or is the “Tonight” singer just like everyone else?
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN MUSIC?
When I was in University, I met a friend that produces music and he introduced me to different production software and we learned together. I was always trying to impress people with my production, asking them what they thought of it, and I fed off their feedback.
HOW DID PRODUCING LEAD TO SINGING?
The singing part is actually recent because I used to rap before. I was into the really hard lyrical raps and I think that helped me because when I sing, I try to be as meaningful as possible, and that’s something rappers have the edge over singers on. When I was trying to get the choruses for my rap songs, I was always looking for someone to sing the hook. It was stressing me out and at one point, I decided to just sing them myself and I never looked back.
YOU’RE NOW A MASTER’S DEGREE HOLDER FROM MCMASTER UNIVERSITY IN CANADA. HOW DID YOUR PARENTS REACT TO YOUR SWITCH TO MUSIC?
It was bad. My dad called me after he found out I did a show in Toronto. He was really angry and I told him this is what I do on the side, it’s not affecting my school but he wanted me to stop or he would disown me. I told him I didn’t care, I’m going to do me. It was a really dramatic scene. He eventually came to one of my soldout shows in Nigeria and saw the turnout and decided to give me a couple of years to do my thing. They’re watching me from the side now.
WHO INFLUENCES YOU MUSICALLY?
Drake has a very huge influence just because most of what he does has a meaning behind it and I like his approach to things. Wizkid for sure, Jon Bellion, Michael Jackson definitely. Those are the main people.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF MAKING MUSIC?
The Joy that it brings people. The reaction. When people say this song helped me through a tough time or this made me treat my girl better, that’s really the rewarding part for me. The worst part of this industry is that people can be fake and have bad intentions. You never know who’s out to get you.
WHAT’S YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS?
It’s not planned, everything comes as it comes. I could just be on a train and an Idea hits me and I record it immediately on my phone. When I get the chance on my laptop, I’ll try to bring it out exactly how it was in my head.
While backstage with amazing local DMV artists like Tobi Drillz, Riflex, Hameed, Wallz Baba, I noticed a tall quiet man in the corner donning dark shades and a fur coat, while keeping his head down. I paid him no mind. He eventually got up and made his way to the stage. I turned and asked those around me, who that person was. To my surprise someone said, “That’s Nonso.” Shocked, I quickly ran to the stage and saw one of the best displays of talent I’ve seen in recent times. Not only did he interact with the crowd well, but he also sounds exactly like he does on his records and that was a breath of fresh air. I asked him after his performance why he was so quiet and he responded:
“BEFORE MY PERFORMANCES, I LIKE TO GET INTO MY ZONE, I DON’T CARE WHAT’S GOING ON AROUND ME, AND I’M FOCUSED ON THE SHOW. STILL TODAY. I’M LEARNING TO TRANSFORM THAT ANXIETY INTO A CERTAIN ENERGY THAT SHOWS ON STAGE. I CAN’T LET THAT ANXIETY SHOW ON STAGE, THE CROWD CAN SMELL IT.”
THE DEDICATION AN ARTIST PUTS INTO HIS CRAFT CAN DETERMINE THE LONGEVITY OF HIS CAREER, AND NONSO HAS A DEDICATION OF A LIFETIME.
WHAT’S THE STORY BEHIND “KWASIA“?
I was in a relationship and I was hearing rumors about the babe I was with and I didn’t want to believe it but it turned out to be true. I never thought I’d write a song about it but one day an idea hit me. [Nonso hums the melody of the Kwasia Chorus]. I didn’t know what word to say so I called Juls in the U.K. and he told me to say Kwasia, it means “fool”. I realized when I start my show with that line, it gets the ladies angry and they want to sing it from their hearts.
SPEAKING OF JULS, HOW DID YOU GUYS LINK UP?
Juls is one of the easiest people to work with. He’s the opposite of those fake people I was talking about, I can just send him a song and he’s ready to work. We just built a chemistry.
IS “TONIGHT” ABOUT A GIRL AS WELL?
Tonight is 100% made up. I’ve never experienced anything like that. No one’s ever pointed a gun at me. I was back home in Nigeria watching a Nollywood movie and the woman pointed a gun at the guy and I was thinking that’s actually a dramatic way to start a song. I just started humming [Nonso hums “My girl, she got a gun in a car..] and I did my thing.
WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN A WOMAN?
Not too much, I look for a very level-headed person. I don’t like it when a girl is very money-focused. Even though I obviously plan to be really successful, but I believe money or being materialistic messes up a lot of things.
THE NEXT DAY, DURING OUR SHOOT, I NOTICED HIS MANNERISMS EVEN MATCH HIS MUSIC. HE’S SOFT-SPOKEN, POLITE, NICE, PARTICULARLY TO WOMEN. HE WAS SO WELL-MANNERED THAT HE BECAME WEARY WHEN WE CROSSED THE STREET ON A RED LIGHT INSTEAD OF THE CROSS SIGN. IT CAME TO A POINT WHERE I THOUGHT TO MYSELF, “IS THIS GUY FOR REAL?” WALKING AROUND D.C., WHICH HE’S NEVER SEEN BEFORE, HE WAS INTERESTED IN THE ENVIRONMENT, THE CULTURE, AND THE WHITE HOUSE. OF COURSE, BEING AN ENGINEERING MAJOR, HE WAS CRITICAL OF THE ARCHITECTURE AND THE STRUCTURE OF THE BUILDINGS AND ROADS. (IF YOU’VE BEEN TO D.C., THEN YOU KNOW.)
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE SONG YOU’VE EVER PUT OUT?
“Radio” is my favorite song. The time I made that song, that was when my parents were having the back and forth with me about music. It was encouraging for me to stay on the radio. I think as long as I live, that song will always be my favorite because of the time.
WHAT’S YOUR TAKE ON THE CURRENT AFROBEATS SCENE?
I really like what’s happening right now because it’s being recognized all around the world. It also has different branches, Afro-soul, Afro R&B, and it’s going to be interesting to see where it goes in the next couple of years. I feel like the current afrobeats heads that we have were exposed to a certain level of inspiration so they make the kind of music they make. However, my generation is exposed to something a bit more broad and diversified because of the way music evolved. We are making music that isn’t as marketable to Nigerians in Nigeria but it’s highly interesting to the Diaspora.
Besides Afrobeats, there’s a girl called Sona Jobarteh from Gambia, she’s amazing. South Africa is killing it too – Nasty C and Shekinah..when I listen to these people who are really passionate about the music it inspires a lot.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR UP-AND-COMING ARTISTS TRYING TO BREAKTHROUGH?
I would say you need to push through and learn to take responsibility for most things regarding your career. I do my mixing, recording, mastering, If I could I would do my videos myself. Become reliant and dependent on yourself if you can. Never give up.
WHAT’S YOUR OVERALL PURPOSE IN MUSIC?
At this point, I don’t think I’m making music specifically for people, I’m still making music that I enjoy listening to. When you’re a commercial artist, you then have to tend to the greater audience and give them what they want and it is a bit more stressful and demanding but right now I’m just doing what I love to do. The purpose would be pleasing myself at the moment.
A special thank you to Nonso Amadi for being our Next Generation cover!
Directed and shot by Ayo O.
Interviewed by Dami M.
Check out Behind the Scenes of Nonso and Teni’s shoot below!