Nigeria’s sweetheart, singer, song-writer and sound engineer, Simi, sits down with F Word after the release of her critically acclaimed EP, Restless II. The multiple award winner discusses music, motherhood and marriage with F Word Music Contributor, Gracey Mae.
Read on as they walk through the incredible year Simi has experienced: unpacking all the things we want to know from recording the project whilst suffering from bad morning sickness to her thoughts on #EndSARS. We hear about her collaboration with Beats, potential collaborations with Wizkid and Stormzy, her 2021 album, plus we get details on how she stole her husband’s song!
Gracey Mae: Welcome to the F Word Simi. Can you Simi now? [laughs] First of all, congratulations on an amazing 2020. You’ve just released latest project, Restless II, but let's reel it back a little bit. Duduke. Anthem of 2020. Did you know it was gonna resonate with so many people across the world?
Simi: Honestly, I don't think that I did. I knew that it would be news, cos I mean, I was pregnant. And I was, you know, singing about my pregnancy and my baby. But I honestly did not think that it would be as wide spread, like, as wildly as it did. You know? And that really excited me because I mean, at the end of the day, I realised that we didn't really have a song like that, you know, for people to celebrate, like their unborn children or their children. You know, so I guess that was a really strong selling point for the song.
G.M: Obviously, you touched on motherhood again, congratulations for this new role in your life. The video for Duduke was sick! You came through with the baby bump and the yellow dress flowing by the beach. Were you always planning announce your pregnancy in that way? I know you pushed back the release of Duduke once or twice.
S: Um, well, I… let me say we because it was my team. We kind of decided that. I didn't know for sure that that was how I was gonna announce but sometime early on in my pregnancy, you know, I was talking to my team, my husband [Adekunle Gold] as well, because I mean, obviously, he has to also be cool with it, because it's a personal part of our lives. And I just said, it would be beautiful, because I know I have announced a few important things in my life through my music… like my marriage, for example. So when we decided, it was a no brainer, and then we just put the ideas together. Like, how do you want that to come about? The video itself I wanted it to be as minimal as possible. I wanted it to be myself as much as possible. In fact, the last outfit on that video, I was wearing shorts and a crop top. I wanted to dress how I would dress normally. I'm not trying to be all mummyish… pregnantish on the video. So, you know, we just honestly really went with the flow, and I just wanted to be as comfortable as possible.
G.M: The announcement really gave us a lot of joy in the middle of a crazy year; everybody has been dealing with this pandemic, but Nigerians specifically have been dealing with a lot more. E.g. protesting against #EndSARS. I see that you've been very vocal about this. Tell me some thoughts about how you feel about the civil unrest since you're not based in Nigeria at the moment, and touch on what it’s like being a social activist because you often lend your voice to these initiatives and movements.
S: First of all, I will say that I think that it's important for anyone that has the kind of platform like we do, to lend their voices to movements like this. Especially being from a country like Nigeria, where the louder you speak… or… the more obvious you are, the more likely people are to hear you. I haven't been home for a bit, but I felt and I still feel the desperation that most Nigerian people feel, you know, speaking out against police brutality. I have been a victim of it. I have friends that have been victims of it as well. And, you know, just seeing people that constantly crying out and saying, “Oh, I don't want you to kill me/ I don't want you to profile me because I look good, because I'm driving a nice car [just] because you can.” It's something that needed to be said, you know, as loudly as possible. And the fact that more people have access to social media now, we don't have to wait for the local media to speak on our behalf. You know, the international community saw what was happening in Nigeria, and the diaspora also lent their voice. So it was very hard for them to sweep it under the rug, as usual. I'm glad that I was, you know, able to be part of that movement, and I don't intend to stop.
G.M: I love it; we know that you're outspoken, and that you lend your voice to things that matter. We’re right behind you!
G.M: Let's roll back to family. Your parents separated when you were nine years old, and you are the only daughter and last born from your Mum. We see on socials that you and her are super close; has it always been like that?
S: Well, yeah, it's always been like that. I don't know if it's because I'm her only girl. [That’s] probably one reason but I'm got a very strong percentage of my personality from my Mum. My Mum is very playful and funny, and she's very outspoken as well. I think our closeness is not even just necessarily because that's how she is also, that's how I am as well. So we just match each other’s, you know, energies and she's amazing. She's one of the most important people in my life and I just love to show how she is as well. She's a superstar in her own right. And, you know, I'm glad to be able to share that part of my relationship with her.
G.M: Do you feel like your connection has gotten stronger now that you've stepped into motherhood as well?
S: Definitely! Before I had my baby, she was with us for, I think like, she was with us for, maybe six months afterwards, like five - six months afterwards. She taught me so much; she helped me a lot as well. And I don't know how I would have been able to manage without her and now there's parts of her life, she's able to share with me that I can relate with more as a mum now.
G.M: She sounds amazing! We’ve heard how Mum is super caring, but I also see her funny side; we often see her trolling you online. With that said, you’ve also been trolling Déjà [your daughter] on your Instagram stories. Alexa play Circle of Life. Is this the mother You thought you would be?
S: I don't think so. I used to think I would be like a proper career woman where like I have a boat-load of nannies honestly. Thing is, I don't know why I thought that because I'm genuinely like… for the things that concern me, I can be quite a control freak. I like to know what's happening with me. I'm the kind of person that if I drink, I don't drink too much because I don't want to do something out of character. You know, I just want to be as present as possible. So I don't know why I assumed that I wouldn't be that kind of Mum. I'm a very, I’m a very… I have some trust issues because people are just crazy! I'm not the mama I thought I would be. I'm more obsessed, and more completely hands on. You know, and I just… I am completely enjoying it as well. Because, like, they'll tell you that you've never felt love like this before but I don't think you really understand until you start to feel it so…
G.M: What I love about you is, you take a moment for yourself but you also give it back to the people. A few days ago you were gushing over your daughter but you also posted a prayer for anyone that's has gone through miscarriage or any kind of like pregnancy related issues. It was really beautiful. I think that's why people really connect with you because we feel like we've grown with you and really seen you evolve. On that note, take me back to 2008 starting as a gospel artist.
S: Oh my God! I’m so old now [laugh]. I was in my final year of school… university, and I remember that the entire project was produced by Samklef. We used this studio’ it was right next to a strip club; it’s funny cos I was doing Gospel but it was right next to a strip club. And you know, sometimes you have all these night sessions, so you can hear all that music and stuff going on just outside but then you're trying to get the job done so it doesn't matter. I was so excited. I remember, my Mum will just give me some money for study sessions sometimes or to just do a few CDs, you know, for demos and stuff like that. It was really the beginning of my hustle proper. Before then I'd been in a group [so] that was like, my first solo effort. It also exposed me to working and working hard for something that I want; not something that people expected of me. So it was a great foundation for, like, all the endeavours that I've chased in my career.
G.M: Now, you touched on the group called ‘Outstanding’ (by the way) but you skipped passed the teens’ choir you were in! Let’s not get into that [laugh] What caused the transition from Gospel to secular music?
S: Funny thing is I didn't do Gospel cos I was expected to do it. I mean, you mentioned teens’ choir, but that’s the only choir I've ever been in. I wasn’t in choir in school. I wasn’t in choir in main church. I was just in choir when I was in teens’ church. So I did Gospel music cos that's what I wanted to do. Actually, I used to try to write love song but couldn't. They just wouldn't come so I stopped and did what was working for me. Then, when I started to want to write more and differently, I was a bit confused cos all I've done before then was gospel. I was like, “God, I don't know, this is what you want from” and everything. I remember what I did. I just prayed I said, “God, you know that if you don't want me to do secular music, then don’t make it work out. I'm going to try but if you don't want it to work out, then don't make it work out” and so I just let it go. I just let myself go. I started to write what I wanted, and you know everything kind of came together. That made me feel confident, I don't know if I was telling everybody and I don't know if anyone was speaking bad behind me. Like “Look at this girl, she's changed. She's no more Christian” but they didn’t say it to my face. You know, I've never really been the kind of person to do things to please anybody else. I've never really been much of a people pleaser so that never really fazes me. I told my Mum and she was a little worried. She was like “I don’t know”. “Just make sure you’re still keep praising God”. I'm like, “yeah! Right. Thank you Mum” [laughs] But you know, she was very supportive of me. My family has had always had my back and that didn't change.
G.M: Having a supportive family is everything! We know that daddy passed away in 2014 and so much has happened since then. What's the one thing you wish he could have been here for?
S: My baby. My daddy loves kids. He absolutely loves children. And, you know… I feel like… No, I don't feel like, I know that it would have been amazing for her to meet him and for him to meet her. But I mean, I’ll just tell her stories so she can know what he was like. Yeah.
G.M: I’m sure he’s looking down and is super proud!
G.M: Now, if we take it back to the music. One thing that I was really shocked to find out about you was that you wrote five different songs on the Joromi beat before you decided on the final song. Talk us through that because five songs is a lot!
S: Man. You know everything! [laugh] It's actually funny. Well, I tend to do that. If I have a beat I like, I can do… cos like I said, I'm a perfectionist so I can go on and on and on until I'm happy with something. So, um, sometimes, when I do stuff, if I get a beat, I write on it. If I don’t like it, I’ll do another one, on the same beat until I get something that I like. When I was writing Joromi, the album was mostly… I think the album was actually done. We had just come back from our writing session in Inagbe, it’s like a resort in Lagos, so I thought it was a done album. I remember I was telling my producer, I'm like, “Don't send me any more beats, I'm not interested. I'm done with this album.” And he was like, “Simi, I have this beat I just made; you're gonna like it”. I'm like, “I don't want to hear it”, but he sent it to me, and I was like, “Damn. Now, I have to write something else” [laughs] cos I really like the beat, but I felt like I was creatively exhausted. I didn't know if I had anything else, because we've been working for months and months. I was like, “You know what, let me just go in the studio and see what happens”. I went in the studio, and I wrote, one song but it wasn't working out, so I wrote another song and I just kept going. The thing is, when you hear the song, you know! I felt like I hadn't gotten that spark yet to say, “Oh, this is this is the one” and on the fifth try, I was like, “Oh, yeah, I think I have the song now”. And that's how Joromi came to be.
G.M: That was the track that really garnered your fans worldwide. I feel like that was the moment the Simi Army assembled. Now did your fans name themselves or did you give us that name?
S: I think I gave you guys the name! I think they used to say Simi Soldiers, and I don't know… I can’t remember. I think it was me. Or someone gave it to me and I was like, “oh, I like it”. I can’t really remember.
G.M: Alright, let's fast forward now. 2019! You launch Studio Brat your own label; you're recording yourself, you’re mixing yourself, you're writing, you’re singing… Give us an introduction to Studio Brat, and tell me why the first option for the name was Studio Rat [laugh] Where did that one come from?
S: [laugh] I mean, I guess, I left my previous record label last year; my last project “Omo Charlie” was with them.
G.M: Dedicated to Daddy.
S: [laughs] Damn, you do know everything… I wanted to have my own… I wanted to be my own boss, and, you know, call the shots and everything. So I obviously had to build my own company and basically start my own personal foundation but I also wanted a name that, you know, was true to my personality. I didn't want something too serious. I wanted something that was fun and also true. Studio rat was the first option because I am a studio rat! I can be in the studio for like twelve hours straight; without taking breaks. I used to do that a lot! I felt like, I don't want to say rat because not everybody gets it. I mean, they might just abuse me and say “are you a rat?” [laughs] Nigerian people have a weird sense of humour like that. So I was thinking, brat. Brat is funny and mischievous as well. You know, I just feel like it's a no brainer; so that's how and why I went with the whole vibe.
G.M: I love it. So aside from like, now being a singer, songwriter, sound engineer, label owner, you've also now added Youtuber to your CV.
S: [laughs] Well, yeah. I think these Stoopid Sessions happened because I was pregnant, and I didn't want too much… too much space. I didn't know what it was going to be like. From what I've seen happen, usually when someone's like doing music and they, you know, get pregnant, they take these long breaks, and sometimes it can be risky. Right? And so I, I wanted to have content that would be happening even while I was pregnant so that was why I decided to just do Stoopid Sessions. I’d had the idea before but I thought this is the right time to do something so, we started to record while I was pregnant, like, the first half of my pregnancy before I came to the States. It was fun to do, but it was also really hard, because, you know, I had really bad morning sickness. So, you know, in between takes… I was like, I was just exhausted. You know, I wasn't keeping food down. You know, it was wild, but I had to do what I had to do.
G.M: I've watched and it was just refreshing to just see another side to you. We get more of that edgy energy from you on your latest project, Restless II. I know you were heavily encouraged to get back in the studio by your husband. We saw the snaps of him hyping you loudly! Why was it important for you to drop a body of work now, especially as it's not that long since your last release?
S: Honestly, I decided to make Restless II because of that conversation I had with Kunle. I wasn't trying to do anything like that before but when he said, “Babe, why don’t you do like an R&B project?” I was like “I don't know. Hmmm…why not?” I was like, “Okay, you have a point”. And I was pregnant, so I had time to record but I didn't have a lot of motivation because I was exhausted, I was not feeling very well. I was not inspired at all. But you know… you push, you move, because you have to move. I remember one time where I couldn't even get up long enough to go to the studio so he would bring like a mini studio to our bedroom so I can record. So if I had a 10 minute burst of energy, I would just sharply go sit down and try record something. [Kunle] was just the most amazing while I was pregnant because he knew that I would be frustrated if I couldn't get anything done; he knows how obsessed I am with recording and stuff. The fact that I had that to work towards was also really helpful. He didn’'t want to make it seem like I was just waiting for things to happen to me because I was now pregnant. Having [this project] to work towards kind of rubbed my brain off because I've done some R’n’B before but haven't really done R’n’B proper since I started doing mainstream music. And so I was like, “You know what, let me go back and dust this R’n’B boots that I’ve worn before and see what’s there. Melodies just came to me and was just flowing, and I was happy. You know, it took more work than normal because of how I was feeling but I got it done. I'm happy.
G.M: And so are we! The project is just amazing. Now when I last spoke to AG, he said he recorded Afro Pop Vol 1 in the closet with all the clothes as acting as his soundproofing. Was the set up the same for you as you’ve mentioned you were recording in your room?
S: Yep, yes, yes. Yeah. I mean, I started recording Restless II back in Nigeria, but I finished most of the stuff… like we recorded Bites The Dust, here [in Texas]. I did most of the mixing here. Most of the wrapping up of the project was done here. We set up a studio in the closet, like literally, cos this space is best for the acoustics in the house. If you’ve been hustling from since, you will have to manage. You have to know what you’re doing [laughs]. We have to set it up here. I mean, it worked out well. You can't really tell the difference between all these sounds if you know what you’re doing?
G.M: You touched on Bites The Dust which is obviously with Adekunle Gold. You've got other features on your project including Triggered with WurlD and There for You with Ms Banks, how did you choose who to collaborate with?
S: I think we listened to the songs I had already recorded, except for Bites The Dust, I had already recorded all the other songs. Then you know I listened with my team and I was like, “okay, we're going to get a couple features. What do you guys think?” When we were listening to There for You, I was like, “I want a female rapper. I would love a female rapper on this one.” I think Ms Banks was a no brainer. I think she was one of the first names that I was like, “Yes, yes, yes”. I've heard some of the stuff she’s done before and I really love her energy. She's very talented. We sent it over to her team and she was amazing! WurlD was so sweet. He didn’t even make my life hard. You know, he just came through in the shortest time, and that was really amazing. I'm just really glad to be able to work with people that come through for you. The song with Kunle was actually the most interesting because it started out as his song. Bites The Dust was Kunle’s song; he was writing it for himself. You know, he would ask “Oh babe, what do you think about this line?” I will give him one word and say “how about you use this one?” You know, just normal vibes now. Then I was like, “Yo, why don't you feature me on this song? What’s wrong with you? [laugh] He was like “Oya now!” so I wrote a verse. Then when we did the song, he said “Babe, why don't you put the song on Restless II?” I was like “For real?” He was like “Yeah, because it fits the theme of the EP” and it’s just a vibe, it just flows, the chemistry is there. I was so happy that he gave it to me. I'm like, “thank you!” And that's how that song came on the EP. Normally if I'm featuring someone, I most likely will come first on the song. I mean, I'm not saying it has to be that way but that's usually what happens so that's why he’s first on the song cos it was initially his song.
G.M: Tell me about Beats!. We want to know about this collaboration/partnership. What's going on?
S: First of all, I have to give big up Platoon. We partnered with Platoon to work Restless II and hopefully we're going to work on more projects in the future. They've been doing, like major, beautiful advocating for me… for my brand. I think they must have sent my project to the Beats by Dre team because they were so down to do a collaboration. I was seriously hype. When I was making the [unboxing] video, doing the recording, I was like, I don't even know if people can if I’m really as hype as I am. I was the most like goofy hype… like oh my god! I will always have this to say that this happened to me. I don't know that they've done that particular thing for any other artists before. Plus it looks so beautiful, even more beautiful in person, and just to have that kind of acknowledgement is really… it's very morale boosting and it's very… it's amazing. It's like when you get an award that you've been that you've been hoping to get, you know, I'm just really happy that you know, he thought that my brand was worth doing on that one.
G.M: Honestly, it's a beautiful piece of technology.
G.M: In the past, you've said actually that you would love to work with Ed Sheeran because you like his vibe, or Rihanna because you like her style. Are those two still top of the list or is there anybody else you've got your eye on at the moment?
S: I still would love to work with both of them but I have a few extra names! 6lack is on my radar. I love his music. I love listening to J Cole but I think I'm too much of a J Cole groupie to do a song with him. I don't know. I just feel like we’ll go into the studio and I don't know… he’ll be like “yeah you go!” and I’ll be like *heart eyes, drooling* “yeah…uhuh…” so I don’t know! [laughs] I want to work with Adele. I would love to work with Adele and Stormzy. I think there’s an energy to Stormzy that I like. Not even just the music. There's something about him that seems very genuine. I don't know. Let me see. Oh, Wizkid. I don't know why it was just an international people! Wizkid, obviously. Burna Boy. Tiwa Savage. There’s a lot of amazing people that I would like to work with honestly!
G.M: Yes to all of them! You just touched on Tiwa Savage; I feel like we see Nigerian female artists collaborating with female artists from outside of Nigeria but doesn’t seem to be a lot of unity within the country. Are there any other female artists in Nigeria that you would like to work with?
S: In Nigeria? Hmm. Oh, yeah, Tems! I love her sound, I think she's very unique and her voice is beautiful. Yemi Alade! She's fierce. I love her. She's such a hustler and she's great at what she does. She’s a great performer. Let me see… right now, those are the names that are coming in my head. Truth is, I don't know any mediocre Nigeria female artists so I think it'd be an honour to work with pretty much any female artist right now.
G.M: Amazing. 2021! What can we look forward to in the new year?
S: Um, well I have a bunch of projects but the one I will tell you now, right now, is… I'm working on my album. In fact, I was working on my album before I started Restless II. So that's gonna happen sometime next year, hopefully early - mid next year, and there’s a few other things that are not just about music, but other projects as well. So fingers crossed!
G.M: Cannot wait! Where can we find you online?
S: @symplysimi everywhere!
G.M: Thank you so much for spending some time with us. We’re wrapping up with the question we ask every guest! You’re here at the F Word. What is your favourite F word?
G.M: Energy! That’s what we like. Thank you so much Simi.
S: Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.