Name: Eikiti Sound aka Leke "Chif" Awoyinka
Occupation: Musician, producer, vocalist
Current Release: In the wake of their album The Beginning, the Medium, the End and the Infinite, hip hop duo IKOQWE have compiled remix EP Falta Muito? Ekiti Sound has contributed a remix for the track "Vai de C@n@". His own debut album Abeg no Vex is out via Crammed Disc.
[Read our IKOQWE interview]
Recommendations: Painting: The Great Mastubator by Salvador Dali; Book: Big Bishop Roko and The Altar Gangsters by Kojo Laing
If you enjoyed this interview with Ekiti Sound and would like to stay up to date on his activities, visit him on Facebook, Soundcloud, and twitter.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
Sound just made sense to me. As a kid I used to wire up speakers, electrocute myself, make TDK 60 beat tapes … hit rec/play in janky timing to catch snares and breaks ... but it was a minute till I got a chance to touch decks or drum machine. I had all these sounds running round my head way before I got a chance to touch decks or a drum machine.
I lost my mind first time I heard Notorious BIG debut album “Ready To Die’, I was mesmerised by Gerswhins “Porgy & Bess”, I got in trouble for singing the hook of Big Daddy Kanes “Pimpin Aint Easy”, I knew a dance routine to Prince’s “Thieves in the Temple” and the hook of Fela Kuti’s “Teacher Don't Teach Me Nonsense” was always a classroom pleaser. Perhaps not for my teacher. Jungle Hits Vol 1 was like finding alien life in Ikeja.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I guess my unique style is really a pastiche of sonic mementos. Akin to, if you heard lots of passing conversations as you walked down a busy street and then a week later you could formulate an intricate screenplay monologue from snips of those real world memories.
How those sounds made you feel is more an interpretation for me than an actual reproduction of the sound itself.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Even by virtue of its name “Ekiti Sound” is intrinsically linked to my heritage. Ekiti is the state my father was born in and I got family there. I believe since my first love was hip hop, my “hip-hop” identity has always given me the audacity to collide sounds together and DIY my own imagination. If you build it they will come.Hip Hop in its truest form celebrates the outliers, fosters individuality but celebrates collaboration.
Lagos gave me “The way of the drum” and London gave me “The way of the bass’. The UK dance scene is a masterclass in electronica across all bpm. Deep, experimental use of synthesis and always allowing a space for the bizarre to bear fruit.
West African drumming is one of the most tonally rich, expressive and complex in syncopation on the planet in my opinion. Coupled with the expressiveness of our dancing, the rhythm section of a Nigerian is locked in from the earlies days.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I guess seeing an idea to completion was an early challenge.
People were less receptive to genre meshing before, so it was harder for people to easily put my work into a commercial box for marketing. I guess with the new forms of music distribution, which is the shift from buying physical copies of singles/albums of a handful of acts loyal to one genre … since rap dudes wouldn't be in rock stores and Meatloaf fans wouldn't be in rap stores … then itunes gave everyone a cloak of shopping anonymity … and the playlist was born.
So I guess an artist such as myself benefits from that mindset shift , since I like to collide random noises out of speakers at high speeds and volumes.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
First instrument was a talking drum, but the first bit of studio kit was a Zoom 234 drum machine. I got the Zoom 234 from a famous music store down Tin Pan Alley in London called Turnkey. I miss them kinda stores. I went in there for like 9 months, trying everything , with no cash at all until finally I could afford the Zoom. I banged the crap out of that thing, making beats that nobody should ever hear. But one of those tinny, all over the place beats, got my imagination going.
I also completely fell into DJing by accident. My flatmates and I were throwing a house party, I went to the store to buy a hifi. I wanted a stack system ... the guy in the store said why not buy two decks for the price of the stack and get a mini system … made sense to me. I ended up with a pair of belt driven geminis and then proceeded to be the worst house party DJ for a good 6 months. Things got better though. Shout out the dude from Dixons - Cricklewood!!
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
I love the leaps and bounds Ableton is taking. Abletons suites of products such as the Push 2, their DAW and their Max for live have really allowed me to combine my passion for audio with visuals.
I had a sound installation in the Tate Modern (London) that was powered by ABleton, whereby the attendees' movements and voices were picked up on mics I had placed around the room, which then in turn generated a signal to drive a visual image and trigger the samples to a song off my album. So it was a self generated audio-visual art installation whereby I had the chance for once in my life to walk around the audience while I was doing a show ... or at least my music was being reproduced … it was trippy. But amazing to be on stage and in the crowd at the same time and not have to touch a single instrument.
I probably explained that badly, but it's on my Instagram.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I still enjoy vibing with artists, grabbing food, shooting the breeze, swapping music we dig and then getting into some studio vibes.
Nowadays that's not always possible, so I'm open to whatever means we can get it poppin.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other?
I try and keep my days as simple as possible, an example is no meetings on a Monday just admin. Friday afternoons always in the studio and then try and not go nuts inbetween. But I do schedule my year in seasons, such as producing, djing, marketing, and learning.
I am an early riser now since the pandemic though. I've been getting up from 4am and it works.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
One of the first major albums I had placements on was the Abram Wilson Jazz Warrior Album. I wrote, interpolated and composed "Golden Lady" & "Supernatural" with him. I was extremely fresh into the game and I was and still am a massive Stevie Wonder fan. Most of the other producers on the project were a lot more experienced and it seemed like a shot in the dak that a newbie doing a jazz interpolation of Stevie Wonder's classic had any idea what he was doing or if it would get cleared … Both tracks made the album, and I heard a whisper that Mr Wonder liked what he heard.
It taught me to trust my gut, take risks even when I don't know what I'm doing and from Abram Wilson (RIP), a true jazz great, believing in my talent before I even know I had any … it is a confidence I've aways carried with me. "Golden Lady" is one of my favourite Stevie Wonder songs ever.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I don't know, I think that there is a side of my brain that works as an engineer. So when I sit down at my workstation I know that we about to get crunching, I find there is dignity in service.
I've been the engineer FOH, or the producer in the control room for other artists trying to achieve their creativity, so I guess I've learnt to zone in on the task at hand. To deliver the optimum ambience for someone to really hit their best performance.
I find I also really now understand the saying “trust and enjoy the process’. It doesn't mean I want to sit there trying out 40 different kick drums for 3 hrs with a 30hz differential difference in tone … but instead if a song says to me “leave me alone”, I might not come back to it for 3 weeks and I'm cool with that.
At times I do a lot of my mixing and arrangements in my head ... just watching documentaries with the music playing in the background really low … so it becomes just more a part of my normal non-work environment. I always try and make music like I'vejust finished a 12hr shift as a studio runner, and now I've got 6 hrs of downtime before the next client comes, so I can go wild. Meaning, I try to remember the times when studio time was a scarce commodity, and when every time you were left on your own with your mates with great gear, that you became Willy Wonka.
It's all fun and games with squeaky noises thrown in.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Music is a tool for World Peace. Only the truth can elevate a nation.
With Ekiti Sound I try to use it as a tool to heal. The 4 pillars of Ekiti Sound are “Culture, Love, Identity, Family”. I always have those in mind when writing music for this project. To be honest, I think on Abeg No Vex there are only 6 swear words… albeit “motherfucker’ is rapped repeatedly. But hey what can I say … “hip-hop”-attitude is the foundation, the pillars I sit on.
The traditional Nigerian songs are Orikis (prayers), parables, proverbs, sung that are meant to uplift, give thanks and spread love. I like to keep the music uptempo, since it's hard to be depressed if you're dancing frantically like a mad man. Even the endorphins produced make you feel better.
Whilst all this hippy-esque rhetoric sounds good in principle, I do know that music is a tool for truth, and if someone's truth is hard to hear, I would never censor or water down their/my delivery. Delivering honest emotions is non-negotiable.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I grew up in London which is a melting pot. Culture doesn't just apply to nationality, skin tone or region, in a deeper sense it is a shared sense of values, goals, beliefs, traditions, routines, rites, rituals, emotions … Who is the judge of when someone is accepted into a culture? As musicians we have exchanged cultures, guitar riffs, vocal techniques, drum styles, drum making techniques. If the culture is collaborated with instead of appropriated , if it started from a mindset like that, then there is space for good things to happen.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I do believe the overlap between sonic resonance/harmonics and the lifting of emotional vibration tells me that Super String Theory is true and that music is the mathematics the universe is built on. If we try to stay in a higher harmonic frequency we usually are happier people.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I feel a responsibility with my art since I know that it is unique enough for it to polarise. It is amplified from a region where people have long since said we could not produce forms of high art, whether the theft of the Benin Masks, or the complete omission of the African continent’s contribution to math, sciences, arts and humanities over the ages.
My approach is to build sonic bridges and foster exploration. I want my albums to serve as reference points to how everything is derived from African music since Ekiti Sound bends genres and sonics. I want to reveal the African DNA in music.
It must emote ... whether by force of transient volume or lyrics. I cannot make elevator music when we are still being told to take the back staircase to reach the top floor. So I must make elevation music so we can up and just float up to the penthouse.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
That nothing ever really dies, it's just energy. Energy is never lost … it's just transferred.
When the speaker stack amp gets shut off and the band has long gone from stage … as the fans filter separately into the night … you've left a piece of energy in all of them. And if they all ever came back together, same people, same vibe, same time ... then that energy would re emerge and perhaps glow even brighter. Be that life or a live show.