Get Familiar: TENI
Interview by Passion Dzenga
Get ready to dive into the vibrant world of Afropop superstar, Teni, her latest single is nothing short of amazing, ‘No Days Off’ has already gone viral and received cosigns from the likes of Kevin Hart, The Guardian and Rolling Stone who named it as one of the best songs of 2023. The single was made in LA, Lagos, Cape Town and London amongst other locations, Teni wanted to pay homage to the different subcultures she encountered while recording the song. The video which was directed across these locations by fellow Nigerian artist Cruel Santino (formerly known as SANTI), we see Teni getting wild with her crew in Lagos, raving in a corner shop and the underground in London and playing on the famous Kobe Bryant basketball court in LA.
Following the success of last year’s ‘MAITAMA (Going)’, a head-turning collaboration with Mayorkun, Ch’cco and the late Costa Titch, Teni’s latest single once again shows off the stylistic range and melodic power the songstress possesses. Earlier this year, Teni made her debut on COLORS, she featured on Stormzy’s latest album This Is What I Mean and most recently featured alongside Oxlade to remix Bob Marley & The Wailers iconic track ‘Three Little Birds’ taken from the posthumous album Africa Unite out August 2023.
Teni is known for uplifting, stylistically eclectic songs that stand apart from her Afro-pop contemporaries. She first came to prominence in 2018, when a series of songs including ‘Case’ found a streaming audience numbering in the millions. Her debut EP, Billionaire, followed in 2019. The same year she was nominated for a BET Award for Best New International Act and an MTV Europe Music Award for Best African Act, before teaming up with DJ Neptune on the next year's The Quarantine Playlist EP. Teni’s acclaimed LP WONDALAND followed in 2021, with the star going independent that same year.
This year marks a new chapter in sound and style, seamlessly reflecting her international influences, cultivated from living both in the United States and Nigeria. ‘No Days Off’ cements her position as an artist to watch, with lots more music on the way prepare to be enchanted by Teni's soulful vocals, heartfelt lyrics, and unapologetically authentic artistry. The world of Afropop will never be the same again.
Congratulations on your single, “No Days Off.” It's been receiving a lot of attention, reaching number 20 on the UK Afrobeats chart and garnering support from various influential figures. How does it feel to see such a positive response to your music, and what do you think resonates with your audience in this particular song?
This was quite one of the most risky moves I have taken career wise and it's incredible to see the response it has gotten.
Making No Days off, i came across quite a number of creative and talented people who are dedicated to their dream and who are not afraid to do the impossible by being themselves, not conforming to what the society thinks while having fun with it.
So I think No Days Off has resonated with the fans as it’s about trying new things and seeing a world of endless possibilities.
Alongside your musical achievements, 2023 has seen you undergo significant changes, including going independent and a body transformation. How have these changes impacted your artistic expression and the way you connect with your fans?
It allows me more creative freedom to explore and discover myself, the world around me and touch the lives of fans through what I do. I want to push myself more - musically, artistically, mentally and even physically and see how far I can go.
It’s also a bonus if someone out there can look at me and say if TENI can do this, i can also do whatever they have been dreading but dreaming to do. Right now, dare to be and do more, that's my motto.
As an artist, you have always exuded a vibrant and bubbly persona, how do you strike a balance between being entertaining for your audience and allowing yourself to be vulnerable and authentic?
This is not easy and i’ll say i’m still finding that balance because one minute you are ray of sunshine and sometimes a gloomy figure with a dark energy and it’s even worse because you are in the public eye and every move you make will be scrutinized but to be honest right now i am trying not to give a heck because i am a human being at the same time.
Your recent music has already received praise and anticipation from fans and the industry alike. What do you envision for the future of your music and your artistry?
I would say more stuff outside the box of what you think about the TENI brand from collaborations, visuals and the brand in general.
‘No Days Off’ showcases a new chapter in your sound and style. How would you describe the evolution of your music and the creative direction you took with this single?
As I mentioned earlier, it was about trying to express where I am at in life in the most unconventional way. Thankfully, I connected with two of the most crazy and super talented people like Santi with the visuals and Genio with an insane production.
Living in both the US and Nigeria, how have your international influences shaped the sound and style of your music? Can you elaborate on any specific elements that reflect this global perspective?
I would say as different as both cultures may seem, there are some similarities which I then put into my craft. For instance, the Hip Hop and RnB scene and the music industry in Nigeria grew from that obscurity but have been pushed to global acclaim by that resilience shown by the different communities.
Nigerians and Americans will fight and support tooth and nail for their own.
Last year, you made your COLORS debut, and you were also featured on Stormzy's "This Is What I Mean" album. How did these experiences contribute to your growth as an artist?
These experiences have been eye-opening as they have shown me nothing is impossible if you continue to work on your dream. It has been dream bigger and looks to shatter the ceilings. The fact that someone I really respect like Stormzy can say I want you on my album, that means he sees something unique, valuable and global you can bring to the table.
Your music showcases a fusion of Afropop and international influences. How do you strike a balance between staying true to your Nigerian roots while also embracing a more global sound?
Whatever genre or direction I look to go in, I always try to ensure I have the Naija sound and its elements - language, slangs and more. It’s what makes me stand out and yes i want to be a global pop star but represent where i am from which makes it authentic and original.
As an artist, how important is it for you to experiment with different genres and push boundaries?
It’s really vital for me to experiment in order to connect with more people and fans across all borders.
Music has the power to connect people from different cultures and backgrounds. How do you hope your international experiences and influences will resonate with listeners worldwide?
In the end, music is a universal language that helps to convey relatable emotions and thoughts and I combine this with my love of traveling as I like to explore countries and cultures.
For instance, I started writing No Days Off in Lagos but I felt I needed to be in a different environment to feel a different energy and get another perspective and then I went to Los Angeles and then I finished the song in London. This helped give the song that global appeal.
With ‘No Days off’ marking a new chapter in your career, what can we expect from you in the future? Are there any specific goals or aspirations you have for your music and artistry?
Yes new music is on the way, stadium shows, more exciting collaborations coming very soon.