According to the ancient legends of Afrobeats, every time Iyanya takes his shirt off, women from all over the world start to sweat uncontrollably, mumbling things about “my waist, my waist, all he wants is my waist”. OK not really, but anybody that has been to see Iyanya in concert this month would argue that this reaction is quite accurate, if not an understatement! The singer has been in the UK on tour with his Mademen Music Group (Triple MG) label mates – Emma Nyra, Tekno, Selebobo and Baci – throughout October, much to the delight of his many UK fans.
Iyanya is one of the biggest names in Afrobeats, having shot to fame initially as the winner of the Nigerian talent show Project Fame in 2008, but most notably for his 2012 hit single “Kukere“, which gained him global attention. Since then Iyanya has had success with a string of popular singles, three albums, his own record label, and a list of nominations and awards including ‘Artist of the Year’ at the 2013 Headies Awards. Life seems to be pretty sweet for ‘Mr Oreo’, so we caught up with the singer to find out more about the tour and his music life at the moment
So you’ve been on tour with Triple MG and have performed in Manchester, London, Birmingham and other cities, how has it been for you?
It has been fun, I feel very good about all the shows so far, and I’m thankful to everybody that has come through.
You’ve mentioned before that you love coming to the UK because of how appreciative the UK fans are. What’s the energy typically like whenever you perform here?
It’s 100 man. The Afrobeats fans, the community here, they keep it 100. The energy levels are always massive because the people who didn’t see me last year came for my shows this year so it’s a fresh crowd, and then there’s still the people that came last year that are still coming to support. So I always have a good time.
How has it been touring with Triple MG compared to on your own?
It’s a blessing. It just shows how good God has been to me and my team because last year when I came here, Triple MG was just a name, it was just me and my manager but now, you know we have other people making hits. So touring with them is fun because they just put me on that level like ‘Hey Bro, we look up to you’, which encourages me. They’re very talented too, that’s why I have them touring with me.
What has been the most memorable part of the tour for you so far?
Woah… A lot of things have happened but for me the best part is the moment they say ‘Ladies and gentleman, put your hands together for Iyaaaanya!’ The crowd is just ready for you – that’s everything to me right there, that’s priceless because I’ve seen MCs introduce artists on stage and the people don’t do anything. Other people also travel from other cities to make the show and they don’t even get a picture for it, so for me all those things just… when the flight is long and the trains are stressful, all that just makes up for it.
So your new song ‘Mr Oreo’ is out; tell us a little about it, and why you went for that name?
It’s my new single off the Triple MG album, it’s getting mad love everywhere. I had a show in London and the crowd was just mad. After the show I had people and fans hitting me up and just being sweet like that, so one day I just thought ‘Yo, I should make a song that actually says how my fans feel about me’. It’s like what I’m saying [in the song] is what they actually feel about me. So every time a girl says ‘oh it’s Iyanya, I love Iyanya so much’, that’s Mr Oreo right there…and then you know an Oreo is sweet too so…
As for the album, ‘The Evolution’ with Triple MG, how would you describe the music on there for anyone unfamiliar with the group? What was it like putting the album together?
It’s good music man. It’s us just doing different things as a team. Shout out to Selebobo, he produced like 90% of this album. Most of the songs he would just make the beats, put the hook and do his own thing and that is how we did all the songs. If I have a song, I’m like ‘oh yeah test this out for me’ or ‘I have a song, Emma jump on this’ That’s how we did it, it was teamwork.
OK so there was no fighting like Tekno wanted to sing ‘Mr Oreo’ or Selebobo wanted ‘Amigo’, nothing like that?
All that happened, it’s very normal for all that to happen. There are songs that Tekno has that I’m still trying to get from him, you know, there are songs that Sele has, every day I’m disturbing Sele like ‘I must carry that your song!’ It’s just how music happens. They want to jump on my songs sometimes but if it’s not a song that I want them to jump on then…
…You guys have to come to an agreement?
Yeah yeah but professionally we still work as a family.
What’s your favourite track on the album and why?
‘Dreaming’. I don’t know, this is the song I love the most.
Speaking of evolution, are there any moments in your life that you would say have helped you to evolve as an artist?
Just, the day I won Project Fame (in 2008), that changed everything. It took me away from my past, it just took me away from the old me, it put that new me on the map and I don’t want to go back to the old me, so that why I keep doing this. I want to keep moving [forward].
What goals do you want to achieve next?
Man… Just to conquer the world. I always tell people, I feel like Lagos is too small for me, Nigeria is too small for me, Africa is too small for me, do you get what I’m saying? When I wake up that’s what I say to myself [I say] ‘Look your voice should be heard all over the world’ and that’s my dream. I’m thankful to my fans because I still know it all starts from home, but I want to wake up one day and be standing in front of like 100,000 people and they’re just singing everything word for word – Chinese, Japanese, Brazilian – and it will all come true by God’s grace.
‘Think big, dream big’ kind of thing?
Yeah. I feel like a lot of artists just want to make a couple of hits and make cheap change. But you know if your dreams are bigger, the effort you’re going to put in is going to be bigger.
Are there any artists here in the UK that you would like to work with?
I have a couple of songs already with Angel. I’d like to work with Tinchy Stryder, Labrinth – he’s an amazing producer, one of the best producers in the world – Wretch 32, and Sneakbo as well I’m working on it… Tinie (Tempah) too.
So the tour is wrapping up here, what can fans expect from you while we wait for you to return?
It’s my birthday on the 31st of October, so I’m going to be dropping three songs and a video! (look out for ‘Finito’)
Wow, sounds great. Thank you Iyanya, it has been great talking to you, all the best with the rest of the tour.
No problem, and shout out to the fans for coming through and making all of this possible.
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Interview by Tomi Olujide