Ibejii: The New Alté King

Ibejii sat down with The Moveee to talk about his music and his recent win at The Headies.

The burgeoning alternative artist, Ibejii, is a storyteller utilising music as a medium for telling timeless stories about his people and their culture. 

He has become a point of reference and a promising figure for the future of good music in Nigeria after winning The Best Alternative Album at The Headies 2022 for Intermission. He ventured into the music industry seven years ago and has released six studio albums – GreenWhite Dope, Tribal Marks, MSML, Ilu Ilu, Intermission, Post 19 – and several singles. 

He defines his music style and genre as afro-retro, afro-fusion, and afro-soul, and he achieves this by fusing traditional genres – juju, fuji, jazz, afro-beat, soul, and highlife.

One quality to admire about Ibejii’s music is the intentionality and thoughtfulness he knits in executing every single project. In Intermission, he explored a variety of well-put-together themes. 

“Intermission is a 6-track electro-soul EP that explores the emotional rollercoaster foisted by the combination of a global health pandemic. It is a worldwide movement for racial justice, a campaign to end police brutality that resulted in a crushing emotional event and the daily challenge of keeping it together in aloneness, social isolation and physical lockdown.

Ibejii’s capture of what is hopefully a rare breach in the march of human progress, a temporary break in transmission, sets off with Gonto, a tale of the victory of tiny masquerades in the face of a selfish big masquerade that will not let other voices rise. 

Running is a mid-tempo confessional of Ibejii’s mortifying relationship with social anxiety. Dae Soleil transports the listener to a love affair with that hot ball of glowing gases in the sky. 

PandaMinion, is Ibejii’s repudiation of the failed promise of 2020, while EndPunity gives voice to the forgotten in this wilderness called life. 

Happy Me, the outro, is a mid-tempo electro-soul that permits the listener to reclaim mental and emotional worth and wellness in lockdown, isolation and aloneness. 

Intermission is Ibejii’s ode to a breach in transmission and a hankering after the better days ahead. “

For Ibejii, the award is not only a deserved recognition for his years of hard work in the background but also a stepping stone in challenging himself to release more electrifying projects in the coming years. 

First, I congratulate you for winning the best alternative album at the Headies 2022. Undoubtedly, the category was tight, and I must say, it was a pleasure witnessing your triumph above the competition. Interestingly, one factor that makes your win spectacular is that you’ve been trying for seven years. I’m curious to know how you played that. Did you submit a new project for every edition of The Headies? How did you navigate the recurrent non-success for this category? And how did you feel when you finally won?

I didn’t submit Intermission for nomination, and I have never submitted any project for any award nomination.

I didn’t realise that one could submit a work for an award. I just get on with the work of creating sound. It is what makes The Headies nomination especially special. It tells me that The Headies run an independent sifting process that works without interference. It tells me that the Heavens will do the rest as long as I focus on creating great work. 

As to how I feel about this win, I am elated beyond description. It is a massive win for us and the recognition of our work away from the limelight. The Headies is the number one music awards ceremony on the continent. It is our Grammys. So yes, I am excited, honoured, humbled and energised. I am particularly grateful that Intermission, a project that is possibly my most personal, most intimate of my six album releases, is the recipient of this recognition.

I can feel the excitement from here. There’s a reward for every hard worker. Well done, and here’s to more wins.

Intermission is a beautiful body of work. The first song I heard was Happy Me. My friend recommended it to me, and I wanted more from the artist as soon as I heard it because the artist’s voice was intriguing and satisfying. So let’s say for Ibejii and me, it was love at first listen. Tell me, what was the inspiration behind Intermission and what was the goal when you created the album?

2020 was challenging for practically anyone living on planet Earth’s surface. October 2020 was doubly tough for those who believe in Project Naija.  

Things fell apart in ways hitherto unthinkable. The impact of all of this on our mental wellness and our state of happiness is well documented. Happy Me is Ibejii’s license to find happiness from within to substitute for the external challenges of that period. Happy Me is a license for the listener to look to thyself, to gift yourself the right of happiness.

Intermission as a body of work was my reflection on the breach in the course of global advancement in 2020. It was my reflection on the chaos and confusion of Covid and EndSARS and lockdown, etc. Intermission was my attempt to hold on to something specific, my thoughts, in a period in which nothing, absolutely nothing, was predictable.

Omg, that’s right. 2020 was the year I fully settled into my creative side because the world was on hold, and it was up to me and many of us to find something to hold on to within ourselves.

Also, from Intermission, Gonto was nominated for Best Alternative song. Gonto is a masterpiece. The melody settles into the soul, and the fun part is how the music resonates whether the listener understands Yoruba or not. So for fans like me who love Gonto but don’t understand Yoruba fully, can you summarise what it means in English?

Gonto is my celebration of little people, ordinary people – dismissed, silenced, oppressed by the powerful. It is the promise of our ultimate victory. Gonto is an eruption from the silencing of dreamers at the Lekki toll gate on that dreadful October night. It is a warning that men of power silence the dreamers at peril to all of us. Great nations are, after all, built by dreamers – young, vigorous and hopeful.

I’m honestly impressed by the intentionality you invested in creating Gonto. It also shows how powerful your music is.

Alternative music is almost a background genre since most Nigerians are into mainstream music. What’s the most challenging part of being an alternative artist? How are you navigating the challenges? On the flip side, what’s the best part of creating alternative music?

If you think of alternative sound as the act of sonic storytelling in a unique and personal way, then alternative music is not half as muted today as it once was. After all, many of today’s mainstream artists – Tems, Burna Boy, Naira Marley, Asake – are sonic storytellers in the truest stripes of alternative sound. They are true alternative musicians. While Asake and Naira Marley are dialling up street sounds in a manner never before imagined, Tems and Burna Boy are fusing new tones to soulful melody and afro-jazz and capturing hearts and ears in Lagos, London and everywhere. Alternative artists are unique and typically inimitable. They are alternative music at its finest and most successful. So, no, alternative musicians are no longer marginal. We are firmly in view. The question really is how much acreage we will take from afro-pop in the coming years. The jury is still out on that one.

Truly, alternative music is broader than it seems, and alternative artists are now making the waves. It’s a perfect time to be a consumer of Nigerian music. The future is brighter, and we’ll be here to witness the propitious success.

Considering this laudable achievement in your musical career, what should we expect from Ibejii moving forward?

Winning in the humongous Best Alternative Album category clearly places Ibejii under tremendous pressure to live up to lofty expectations. This is how we intend to go. It is how we roll anyway! Nothing left to chance. 

As we speak, we are in the advanced stages of the production of my next album, an ode to ‘love’ – pure, true, unadulterated. We are digging deep to attend to your listening pleasure. We will not relent. The project is scheduled for release in time for Valentine’s 2023, and we expect to meet the deadline.  

So, get ready to reimagine love, to reengage the love of your life – to the tempting sound of Ibejii.

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