Having spent half of her musical life on the road, the past twelve months may have physically halted Yemi Alade in her tracks, yet her emotional journey has become enriched by deeper connections with the music she loves and her native homeland.
With a fifth studio album in the works and plans to tour the world ground to a halt, Alade had to look inwards during 2020 to understand the character she really is. “I was on the road, in New York on the way to Puerto Rico, I had trips planned and at that point I just said, ‘You know what? I want to be at home in Nigeria.’”
Taking time to nourish, relax and catch up with family, the singer decided to spend the majority of her quarantine in her motherland – a place she so-dearly wears with pride. The self-titled ‘Mama Africa’ reflects on how being at home made her feel a truer sense of connection with her birthplace. “For the first time in forever I got to live in my house – in my own house, and to really experience it, to be sincere.”
Although desperately missing the stage and interacting with her devoted fans, Alade, like many of us during this time, found solace in music. Even though inspiration, at least in the physical sense, was hard to find, she managed to squeeze in some studio sessions and release her fifth album, Empress in November to critical acclaim, with many citing it as a statement piece, solidifying her title as the ‘Queen of Afrobeats.’ Littered with dancefloor-ready melodies, captivating drum patterns and a truly pan-African vibe throughout, it’s a record that’s waiting to be brought to the stage, with its latest single “Dancina” the lead track for Spotify’s launch into African territories earlier this year.
“This past 12 months have been strange because there are no performances. It was a different time, especially for an artist that is always on the road and always touring,” she explains, “But I’m 100% sure that once we can all go outside again it’ll be like 2020 – which didn’t actually happen, so we need to replay it. Trust me, there is a lot of dancing to do.”
From her advocacy work with the United Nations, to collecting countless awards around the world, to recording a soundtrack with Beyoncé, unpicking Alade feels like the impossible challenge. Jovial, witty and incredibly upbeat, her energy is infectious, and it shines throughout our conversation as she takes me through the songs that represent her truest self.
Via sparkling renditions and razor-sharp banter, we comb through the songs that mean the most to her, with each record signifying a thematic feeling on a journey of changing emotions.
“There’s a song for every feeling, and that’s what I tried to do with these Nine Songs. I know that when people listen to this, they’ll find something that works for them. I believe there’s a song for every mood, so depending on how I feel it can change. When I want to party, when I want to be calm, chilled and reflect, when I really want to feel happy, when I’m feeling empowered, when I’m feeling closer to God, they’re all based off how I feel at certain times.”
From meditative, to empowered, to vulnerable, to joyous, these nine corners of Alade’s musical mood board represent her changing seasons during a time of deep reflection. “If I only had these Nine Songs on replay, almost all day I’d be fine!”
“Make Room” by Jonathan McReynolds
“I came across it when I just clicked on Discover. I was listening to random tracks and that’s where I first heard “Make Room.” This song really resonated with me.
“I don’t know why I took forever to find the song, or why the song forever to find me, but when it did, every single lyric in the song made sense – it just literally makes sense to me. We all make room for things that are important to us, so I definitely needed to take out time to make room for God in my life, way more than I did previously.
“The entire song is special. I don’t know how or why every single lyric works. Even to be sincere, just the tone of his voice is incredible. What really fascinated me about it is that it took me a while to find out that it was actually a guy – Jonathan! When you hear the song it’s feminine, it’s soulful, it makes you feel warm on the inside. And then he starts with, ‘I’ll make room for what I treasure, I’ll make room for what I love,’ of course – “Jesus, you’re my number one”, so everything is just, ‘Wow!’ Do you want me to sing the whole thing?”
“True Love” by Yemi Alade
“I was thinking, ‘Oh, would this be okay?,’ but the request was the songs that are my top Nine Songs that make me feel a certain way, and this song – although it’s my song – I’m a huge fan of. Literally because of how it makes me feel, because of how people have told me it makes them feel and also because of the time in which it was put out to the world.
“I had recorded my Empress album in Amsterdam in February, and that was when they discovered the first case of COVID in Nigeria. So we had to come back, I came back home to stay and wait for COVID to go away. Everybody was just waiting, because there was a lockdown in Nigeria, there were curfews and all of that. But every time in my solo moments – because there was really nothing to do but stay indoors – every time I listen to that song “True Love” I felt a burst of energy, I would dance literally like a madwoman. I would forget my sorrows, I would forget anything and everything I was experiencing.
“It was all about the joy, it was so truly infectious for me. In releasing that song, I felt like the world needed to vibe to that, and those were the exact words and comments that I got online and physically in person. It was released at the right time. It makes me feel happy, and that is the magic that is music. So “True Love” is definitely a song forever.
“Lyrically, I’m tempted to say the whole song is my favourite, but I would say I like the part that goes ‘My mama said this feeling must catch you, if it’s true love.’ I’m saying my mother said the feeling will definitely catch you if it’s true love, like you feel it if its true love. The other line that I am crazy about is the chant.
“I’m there for the groove, I didn’t get to perform it live and I have to perform that song live. I’m 100% sure that once we can all go outside it’ll be like 2020 again.”
“Leave the Door Open” by Silk Sonic
“Yo! I can’t tell you how I feel right now. Look, this is what I want, I need to be in the studio with Bruno, and the teams with Silk Sonic. I need to know how they do this.
“I feel like this song is a conversation. It’s a conversation and it’s totally relatable. The lyrics are basic lingua, I learned the lyrics one time without having to think it over. It’s such a classic a mix of very old R&B, Pop, and then vibe and then the attitude, ooh! And then when he goes, ‘Imma leave the door open’ I was like ‘Okay!’ But yes, Bruno Mars, I’d love to work with him someday for sure.
“‘What you doin’? Where you at? Oh, you got plans? Don’t say that!’ I was sipping wine at the time, at home when I heard it and it’s such a perfect balance, it’s all over Tik Tok as well, all over social media. Other than the fact that I think the song was beautifully written and performed, I think that musically a lot of people are just doing Pop music, just pop, but Bruno decided to bring in the classic, and still finds a way to balance it so that the new generation can still vibe to it.
“I think that formula is never easy to get but he performed it perfectly, so to me it’s like listening to a masterpiece, over and over again. If you don’t know music, you probably wouldn’t understand, but this song signifies a lot to me musically. It took me back to the days of Boys II Men, and I was really like ‘Who is this?’ I can tell he did so much research and put in so much work, and I’m just so grateful for his craft.
“Bruno, don’t ever change.”
“My Power” by Beyoncé
“As a kid growing up Beyoncé was definitely someone that I looked up to – and that I still look up to, she’s such an icon – and when this opportunity presented itself, you can’t say no to that. So if there is even a response to that opportunity, I mean, you only respond to that with action.
“Luckily, I had a gig in Las Vegas so I made a quick trip to LA and I put in my verse. Being on that song, the entire process was like a full circle, which hasn’t exactly ended, so I’d say there’s still more to come in the future! But I’m grateful and I’m happy that it happened.
“Just being in her space, in her studio, really made me feel close to her. Eventually she invited about five of us to the premiere of The Lion King movie in London, and that definitely made me feel even closer to her. Just to see her, her smile is very genuine and her skin is like butter! We had a very short chat and in that moment she was very real, and I just really commend her.
“Apart from the fact that I was on the remake of the song, the females on the song definitely spit fire. I love Busiswa’s lingua – even if you don’t know what she’s saying you can just hear and feel the adrenaline and the gall of her voice, she sounds unstoppable. Beyoncé came through of course – yes sir! Tierra Whack was on that, Moonchild Sanelly was on that, and all together they reminded me, and anyone who listens to the song, that we are strong, beautiful and unstoppable.
“Everything that makes you different is actually your power, anything that makes you stand out from the rest of the crowd, that is your strength – and that should never be played down. That song is on a lot of people’s workout playlists and they go monster, they go HAM!”
“Daisies” by Katy Perry
“I was on the road, I think I was somewhere in Tanzania or Ghana, and I decided to go to the ‘Discover music’ feature. First of all, I just fell in love with the lyrics, and then I fell in love with the song, because it makes so much sense.
“In summary, she’s referring to how hard the journey to greatness is and how so many people, even the ones closest to you, might think that you’re out of your mind, or that achieving it is out of your league and you’re incapable of achieving it. Even the smallest things can try to discourage you.
“She’s singing her heart out and saying that still she gets her daisies, she’s going to continue to be herself unapologetically and keep winning and getting and getting. She’s so vulnerable in the song and I fell in love with it because every one of us out here face such challenges.
“As human beings we experience so many things and there are times where we should all be vulnerable. I think if you lose that little hint of vulnerability you might become a robot, you become insensitive and so many other things. Being vulnerable is part of being human. Within your vulnerability there’s strength, they go together.
“I listen to this song with my eyes closed, because she’s very descriptive in her storytelling, and you can just see everything with your eyes closed and your ears open. It’s like a journey, so picking just one line doesn’t send the message home. It’s such a beautiful story.”
“Don’t Start Now” by Dua Lipa
“Party! “Don’t Start Now” just makes me want to party, and party all the way. Even though that doesn’t involve going to the club these days, just being able to listen to the music I see disco lights, in my head I see flashing lights.
“It’s so exciting, I like the way that the music crescendos, it fills up into that beautiful infectious hook. I love the artist and I love her artistry and I really love the song. I love how pop it is, in such a refreshing way.
“It’s got that amazing bassline and that groove makes you want to let loose. I think even the title of the album Future Nostalgia is literally the driving force of the song, which is just that – the nostalgia. It takes you to somewhere you’ve been before without actually going back. And it just makes me happy.
“I was in the gym when I first heard it, and I saved it real quick. And I really don’t stop when this one comes on! Yo, that song is my personality. I’m playful, witty, colourful. It literally plays into the backbone of what I am musically and who I am musically.”
“Heartbreak Anniversary” by Giveon
“He came out of Tik Tok for me – you know, there’s the dance, and then the shake? Tik Tok is fun to watch even if you don’t participate. It was played so many times on there, and I was like, ’What is going on? Everyone’s dancing to this.’
“And he sounded exactly in person as he sounds in the recording. He did a recording on his phone, a video recording when he sang the song and it sounded exactly the same. It’s like his voice comes from the back of his throat, and it’s already mixed and mastered right there. We need him at a live concert soon.
“I’m also happy that this breakout song is a heartbreak song, because my breakout song was a heartbreak song, so it’s like we made something out of the heartbreak. I feel like I could see him rapping a few bars, I don’t know why, but I feel it would send me in a trance or something!
“It was kind of like a journey for me before I eventually fell in love the song, because you know on Tik Tok most times people just use like 10 or 15 seconds? I always had the beginning, ‘Don’t wanna let you out my head / Just like the day that I met you / The day I thought forever,’ and I just kept skipping over and over again. And then, one day I’m on my own and I just start singing it, and then a month or so after, I see a video of the guy himself – and he definitely looks very good, I have to say that – and he sounds exactly as he does on the record, and that’s not something we find every day.
“Artistry-wise I’m in love with Giveon’s idea of music. I like what he does with his sound. I sit down and I wonder what the first few people who ever heard him sing thought when they heard him sing. I wonder if they thought he sounded too strange to make it, or if he sounded peculiar, and his peculiarity was going to be the thing that would eventually making him a great star, I just wonder. That’s how interesting his voice is, it’s not like anything that is out there right now.”
“a lot” by 21 Savage Ft. J Cole
“For a long time, I hadn’t really been a huge fan of Rap until probably a year or so ago. There are few songs that I like, but Rap kind of changed, the sound and the vibe of Rap changed, especially Rap coming from the United States, so it’s either more R&B or it’s something else for me.
“I’m such a DMX person, a 50 Cent person, an Eminem person, I’m on that vibe. And then I hear 21 Savage, on this song called “a lot”, and it’s not just the fact that it’s a great Rap song, but it’s every single word this young man says. He’s trying to say that everybody has problems, we all have our own issues. Let’s start ticking the boxes – ‘How many problems you got? A lot. How many pray that you flop? A lot!’ So, it’s a lot, and then he goes on to the verses, and he’s so real there too.
“I think that it was the verse that actually got me, there’s this one line where he says, ’So many faking their streams, getting their plays from machines,’ and I’m like, ‘Brother, preach!
“There is the organic and then there is the forced, and I’m so happy that someone on that pedestal understands, and he knows that for some people, fame is more like a fluke. Some people make millions and some people just make memes! I’m just really feeling this young man, and I’m so proud that he’s young and he’s spitting this knowledge. It excites me when young people are daring enough to do things that people don’t expect them to be able to come up with.
“It’s not like I don’t like any new age rappers, because I’ll be in my car bumping that heavy bassline, but there’s some songs that say things that I don’t really relate to, and some people are talking about some really sad stuff. I try to connect with music on every level, but I guess there’s a song for everybody right?
“This one definitely makes me reflect, and it reminds me that I’m on the right path because throughout all my career, my team and I have done everything the organic way, which is kind of the hard way, but it definitely is working. So when I listen to this song, it makes me feel like someone out there feels exactly the same way that I feel, because I definitely know that it takes patience and hard work.”
“Never Would Have Made It” by Marvin Sapp
“I stumbled on Marvin Sapp last year as well, and I would say it was at the right time, because his songs are so uplifting and they’re so real. He bases everything off real life, he bares himself naked to the music. He doesn’t hide anything, the more he sings, the more he reveals.
“Every one of us has very similar problems, those things that we call issues and challenges – we’re all facing something, no matter the level, no matter the stage. Some people are facing rent issues, some are facing mortgage issues, some are facing monetary setbacks. Sometimes they’re challenges that are personal to you, your love life, or just as a person, being happy. It could just be that you’re always second guessing yourself and thinking that you’re alone. And “Never Would’ve Made It” always reminds me that I am not alone.
“I know that every time I am faced with a challenge that I have to reach inside to get that inner strength. I definitely know it’s coming from a reserve that is not just by my own power, and so I’m happy every time to give the glory to God – very happy to do that – and that’s what this song reminds me to do.
“It’s all encompassing and it’s even more beautiful to understand that God is love. The more you learn to love yourself, to love your neighbour – and your neighbour doesn’t have to be someone living in the house next door, it could be whoever is next to you at a point in time, no matter how random. But the minute you understand that it helps you to make better choices, especially choices that don’t only affect you, but affect others, you become more giving than always taking.
“I was in my house when I heard it and I had just fallen ill. I was ill in 2020 and I hadn’t been ill in like six years, so I had no idea what being sick was like. It felt bad, I didn’t like it and I didn’t understand it. It made me feel anxious on so many levels, but this song always gave me a calm, because every day that I got better I was grateful to God for the strength. How could I have made it if not for God?
“I love the whole song, ‘I am stronger, I am wiser, I am better / When I look back over what he brought me through / I realise I made it because I had you to hold on to.’
“The words are just apt – I’m stronger, I’m better, and I’m wiser.”