UK-based Nigerian singer, songwriter and guitarist, Jide Kuti, is a student of Brunel University. He started performing at age 15, outside Euston station. Kuti wants to follow in the footsteps of one of his heroes, Ed Sheeran, who started out singing on the streets before becoming an international star. In this interview with TONY OKUYEME, the 18-old self-taught guitarist talks about his music, passion, aspiration and other issues
Tell us how your passion for music began…
Not entirely sure. I think I was about 12 and my voice had just broken. My music teacher at the time told me I could sing “a little bit” and I just ran with it. From there, I didn’t really do much but from around 15, I started performing and just loved it. The stage feels like home and writing is therapeutic for me.
You started performing at age 15. How was it?
Honestly, I was always super nervous but it was a lot of fun. It was a school talent show and I professed my love to a girl in front of the whole school.
What were the challenges?
Getting over stage fright, but the main thing is that I just wasn’t really good then. I was alright but the main thing for me was figuring out what growth as an artist looked like, as well as getting better not only at singing, but writing, playing guitar and stage presence.
Do you think you have what it takes to make it as a musician?
Yeah. I definitely think I’ve improved to the level where I can definitely see myself being a singer/songwriter.
What genre of music do you do?
Tough question, I’d say it’s mainly pop with a bit of Neosoul and folk in there.
I like music so much that it feels so hard to pick a genre, Afrobeats to R&B, to Neosoul to rap to pop etc., I just like to make music that feels good and sounds good but also lyrically means a lot to me. So that puts me under pop by default. I just feel like it’s the most liberating genre in the sense that it doesn’t keep me in a box.
Any plans to release an album this year?
Not an album, but I will be releasing my debut EP “The Open Heart (EP)” hopefully in the first half of next year.
Who are your role models?
Some of my role models are Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, John Mayer and Jon Bellion. Being in Nigeria for a couple years, I really felt inspired by Asa and her music too.
You are based in the UK. Have you performed here in Nigeria yet?
No I haven’t, it’s definitely on my bucket list though!
Do you also do Highlife and Afrobeat?
I don’t, but I would be very interested in experimenting, especially in highlife. I think I could rock that.
As someone who started out singing on the streets, how has it been?
Busking was great, it wasn’t necessarily my start but it did build a lot of my confidence and skills. Great experience though, but a little nerve-wracking.
What were the challenges?
Just the fact that no one has to stop for you and nobody has to give you their time and just accept that.
Who really is Jide kuti?
I don’t even know where to begin… I’m an open book. I enjoy conversation and learning things from other people. I’m a singer/songwriter whose experiences have shaped him and he is constantly growing.
How would you describe the Nigerian music industry today?
It’s immensely inspiring how big Afrobeats has gotten especially due to the likes of Wizkid, Davido and Burna Boy. The crossover has even inspired artists in the UK and it’s getting bigger even with the likes of Tems. I think we’re definitely a force to be reckoned with, but there is a lack of appreciation for music outside of the usual Afrobeats I find.
How do you get your inspiration?
Conversations with people, shows/ games/books that inspire me, my general experiences and things I just think about.
Which has been your biggest show so far?
Probably, I can say the Roundhouse Rising Festival or the Lambeth Country Show, in terms of numbers and stages.
Do you watch Nigerian movies?
Yeah, especially when I used to live in Nigeria – I used to watch loads of Nollywood movies.
Any plans to join Nollywood?
Haha… I’m not much of an actor unfortunately but a cameo appearance could be fun.
Let’s talk about your music. What should your teeming fans expect from you in the next one year?
We’ve got the follow-up single coming up next year and then we’ve got the debut EP too! We’ve got loads of collaborations and more music on the works as well as some live shows and listening parties coming up. So there’s a lot in store.
How do you unwind?
Music helps (writing and listening alike),but I also meditate whenever I have the time, go to the gym and go for walks. My friends are also very good for taking my mind off things.
Tell us about your first single ‘Rooftop’ which was recently released. What is the idea behind it?
My first single ‘Rooftop’ was designed not to be a love song ironically enough. I saw a rooftop as a place to clear your head and just escape for a bit but as I’m a person who gets energised from being with other people I think it’s only natural the song ended up being about someone as well. The first verse talks a lot about what I think about and thoughts, random stuff, but as we transition through the song into the chorus and second verse. It’s almost a story of how I was on a rooftop by myself, someone joins me and begins to talk about their feelings too and things they think about and we connect on that basis. A natural relationship just forms from there.
What is your upcoming “The Open-Heart EP” about?
It’s a collection of five songs including ‘Rooftop’ and ‘You’re Not Special’. The Open-Heart EP kind of describes my approach to music. My music is very open and honest even if my lyrics may be cryptic sometimes. I feel quite vulnerable and like that experience to open heart surgery almost. I feel quite exposed. This EP is that and more. There are songs about my insecurities, a story about one of my favourite games and a song about my idea of fairytale love.
How did you learn to play the guitar and ukulele?
I used to have piano lessons but my teacher mysteriously disappeared one day and just never came back. Since then my skills have completely dried up, finished. I began teaching myself guitar from when I was about 14/15. I’d had a few guitar lessons but felt inpatient with the process so I just went to teach myself. I learnt songs I liked and watched guitarists I admired. YouTube was also helpful for some of my development but I learn based on “feel”. So I often have to try something out until it feels natural or adjust in a way that feels natural to me without cutting corners. I ended up with a lot of sore fingers but hopefully the fruits of my labour have paid off to some degree.