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Big Voice Bold Dream

Published 7 years ago
By Forbes Africa

The first time Efya held a microphone to sing at a church service in Accra, Ghana, she was so overwhelmed by the crowd’s resounding applause she broke down in tears while on stage.

She was only 10 years old—a little girl with a very big voice. Church members were left in awe and this is when she knew she had something special.

Many years later, Efya is a multi-award winning Afro neo-soul artist determined to put Ghanaian music on the world map.

I met with the effervescent entertainer at the Four Points Hotel in Lagos, where she shared her love for soulful African music and her hunger for world domination.

When did you know that you wanted to pursue music as a career?

I’ve been singing since I was six years old. My family was very involved in church activities. I liked to sing but I didn’t really discover my voice until I was 10 years old, when I sang to the church for the first time. I knew then that this was something I could take a lot further. When I was 18, I got into Stars of the Future—a musical competition held in my country in 2008. I came third in that competition.

Did you have any other interests prior to this?

Before that, I always wanted to be a film editor. My parents were filmmakers. I was that child that would go out on location with them holding the boom and it was all very interesting to me. I also wanted to be a journalist for a long time.

What did you do after Stars of the Future?

I was paired with the winner of the competition. We were called Irene and Jane—Jane is my English name—and we started performing everywhere. We did that for three years. We traveled a lot. We got nominated for the KORAs [an annual sub-Saharan Africa music awards platform] and won awards in Ghana. This was such an important step for me musically because I had a partner to work with and I really learned a lot.

Education

In between all of this, I attended the University of Ghana and studied theater as a major and music as my minor. I’ve always been interested in the theater, especially African musical productions. Using my theater background and musical flair, I still intend to put together an African musical production where we create the music ourselves and use every inherently African element to present a world-class production.

How did things progress from there?

After university, I was being managed by an artist management arm that I was with for two years and that’s where the Efya rebranding was created. We realized the kind of music I really wanted to do; I wanted to mix all genres and elements with soul which is the real basis of my music. I put out some songs and we started making hits. My first hit was called Little Things—it was written by Asem, a fellow musician.

Your rise to fame has been meteoric. How did you manage your visibility in the industry?

I started traveling to Lagos frequently—it’s a huge market here. With the help of a few right people in the industry, I started getting my feet through the right doors and onto the right stages. We performed from Lagos, Port Harcourt to Abuja. I met Chin from Eclipse, who was instrumental to setting me up in Lagos. I had also been established with One Nation [a management arm] at this point. That’s how it all started coming together. I hadn’t put an album together and started receiving awards. This has been very humbling and I’m grateful for the drive it has given me to work and push my music further. We recently put out my first mix tape called This is not the Album.

How far do you see African music spreading globally?

I believe strongly in the African dream. I believe we can change the perceptions of the Western world and African music can truly dominate. We can have everyone buy into this African dream. We have something unique and with the right steps in place, we can take control of the musical scene and this is the mission I’m on. I want to take my music to the world and have them appreciate it for being authentically African.

Describe your music. Why is it sellable to the rest of the world?

I call it afro neo-soul. I always have African elements present in my music. I love the fusion. It gives the listeners a bit of everything. I could be doing some jazz but against an authentic highlife background or some reggae fused with some soul. I love the Ghanaian elements present in my music too. The beauty of the languages all works well together; it is different and I want to share this globally.

What are your career highlights?

I’m grateful that I have been able to get this far. I’m blessed to have these opportunities. I won best female vocalist for three consecutive years and I’ve been so humbled by this. Every step of my career has been a highlight for me.

What inspires you?

My mother is amazing. She was a single mother for a while and I admire and respect her for all that she achieved in spite of this. She is also heavily involved in philanthropy. Generally, I believe in giving back and people that do so inspire me. Philanthropy is very important to me as giving a little can go a long way in another person’s life. I want to give more than just music. Musically, I’m inspired by Mariam Makeba. I love her great vocal prowess and versatility.

What were your biggest challenges?

I managed myself for a bit before I got the right management. It was not the best period and I think that phase was a learning curve. I appreciate what I have now and am glad I went through that in my career. We still have a few challenges ahead but with the right team and attitude, we will continue to succeed.

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Related Topics: #Afro neo-soul, #Efya, #Ghana, #Music, #October 2014.