Tomi Agape is a Nigerian Afro-Soul artist born and bred in London, UK. Her sultry voice and striking look have gained her fans from across the globe. As one of the first female voices in the UK Afrobeats space, Tomi continues to evolve and create new distinct sounds.
Ahead of the release of forthcoming EP ‘It’s Never Gunna Be The Same’, Tomi Agape sat down with PAUSE Her to discuss finding your voice, not conforming, mental health, Nigerian delicacies and so much more!
Words: Gracey Mae
Photography: Laré A
Welcome Tomi! Agape means “unconditional love”. What have you got unconditional love for?
Music. God. My family. Yeah, those are the things. I should have said God first [laughs]
I get it, I get it. You describe your sound as Afro-Soul/Fusion. If your music was a Disney character, which one would it be, and why?
That’s a really good question. Let me think…I love Disney. Hold on. As in a Disney character, or Disney film? Which one did you say? Um, I would say it’s Ariel. [And why?] Because she was beautiful, and she had like, really big dreams. You know, she didn’t want to be married anymore. She wanted more; and she fell in love…and that’s what made her want more. And so yeah, I just I thought her character is actually quite deep and quite complex for such a film for young people…like for children. Yeah, I think that’s why my music would be her because I feel like my music is like…I’m always changing my sounds a bit. It’s not like every song I dropped sounds the same. My music has a lot of love inside it as well. So yeah, I feel like Ariel just makes sense.
For the record, I was obsessed with the Little Mermaid when I was a child. On the topic of you changing and evolving your sounds, you did take a hiatus for a year or so. How did it influence how you make music and what was the biggest thing you learned during that time away?
To…focus on myself…and that’s it’s okay to take mental breaks, because you really need it. Sometimes, especially when you’re a creator, you have to be at your best, or sometimes at your worst, I guess, to create your best work. And so like, I feel like I took a hiatus but I really needed it. I felt like my mental was just not okay, so I knew that I had to get away.
Do you feel like as a community whether it is the Nigerian community, the Black Community, the Afrobeats Community…do you feel like we talk about mental health enough?
I think we’re getting there. And we definitely don’t talk about enough. People speak about their mental health and some will say “Go to church”. I mean, yeah, that will help but that’s just not enough. I feel like especially in the black community, especially in the African community, especially in the Nigerian community, there’s still like a stigma around, you know, depression and mental health. It’s like people don’t see it as a real disease, even though people with bad mental health are actually like sick. It should, I mean, people that are depressed are actually sick. They’re not okay, and they need to get better, but I don’t think our community sees it like that yet, but I do think we’re getting there.
I definitely feel that progress is being made, especially as the world becomes more globalised. I think concepts that were foreign are now becoming normaland hopefully we see a change.
Let’s switch it up a little bit. Let’s talk about collaboration. Now you have worked with everybody from Juls to Show Dem Camp, Ladipoe, Mystro, Nonso Amadi, Cruel Santino, Amaarae…the list goes on. I watched a previous interview where you mentioned that you and Tems had something in the pipeline but girl, I ain’t seen the track so: first of all, what’s happening with that collab, and second of all, what other collaborations can we look forward to?
Okay, so firstly, I just want to say I love Tems. I think she’s amazing. She’s got a really special voice. We have a song that we did with this producer, but I don’t know what’s happening with it, because you know, sometimes you record something and then after some time, when it becomes old, it’s like, both the artist might not really be feeling anymore. But yeah, things just got in the way and that’s why I didn’t end up coming out with it at the time we wanted it to come out. Hopefully we can still either drop that one or work on something new but um, for my project ‘It’s Never Gunna Be The Same’, I do have some features. I have a song with the BOJ and Amaarae; and it’s like this reggae kind of vibe. It’s actually very much like lovers’ rock, reggae vibes. It’s actually called ‘Lovers’ Rock’. I think it’s dropping as a single and then I have a feature with this other guy called Fyffe. He’s like this new rapper guy in London. He’s so sick. Like, he’s really good. So we just yeah, we put them on the project as well.
I’m so excited. Since you touched on the project, we may as well segway there. What can you tell us about it? How many tracks? How many features? When is it dropping? Give us all the tea!
Okay. Okay, so there’s about eight tracks on ‘It’s Never Gunna Be The Same’. It’s dropping on 11 December. It’s got three features. I think the three I just mentioned; I’m trying to think hasn’t got any more. Some of the songs on it already out, and then I think there should be like, three or four like brand new songs on it. The producers are just like my usual you know: Juls. I worked with this really dope producer in Nigeria called Le Mav. I’ve worked with Biggzz from The Compozers, and I worked with this other really good producer called Who Else, as well. They’re like part of like the Rah Boy team. Low key. Yeah, yeah.
Sick! Now on your Instagram, there is a whole highlight that is dedicated to you rapping. Are we going to get any rap on this project?
No, not on this project. I need to end this year like with what people know from me, I guess. And then next year, you know, as I said, I’m always trying to evolve. We just come with something new. I mean, I’m always gonna sing, always! Like that’s number one but I’m gonna, you know, I’m gonna throw some rap in there as well. I think my two favourite artists in this whole world…if I only have to say two, I would say, Erykah Badu and Lil’ Kim. I’ve always said, Lil Kim is one of my biggest inspiration, she’s just iconic. Like she’s actually sick. She’s so sick. I mean, in her time, she was so sick. And I feel like she inspires me a lot, even with how I perform; just my attitude…my confidence. So it’s not really surprising, I guess that, you know, I like to rap. I guess to everyone else, it’s surprising, but it’s not surprising to me.
You’re right! Lil’ Kim has such a distinctive sound and look; I feel like you do too. How did you find your voice?
I think…whether you’re confident or whether you’re shy, people are still gonna talk shit, they’re still gonna, you know, have things to say. So it’s like I’d rather be authentically who I am and have people not like me for that; than to be like pretending or to be shy…Like, it just is what it is. That’s how I feel.
I love that. That’s so inspiring for our readers; you just have to be authentically you. Now, tell me about growing up as a Yoruba child in England and how that formed who you are today.
I think that I can say, I feel like I’m in a mixture of both industries: in Nigeria and in the UK. I feel like a lot of people, because of the music I make, think that I live like in Nigeria. Yeah, I am from Nigeria but I was born and raised here. So it’s like, I’m a real London girl, who is just very, very Nigerian. I would say that it’s inspired who I am today. I really like this question. Sorry! Because I was speaking to my girls about this the other day. Being from London is like its own culture. I feel like there’s things that people from London would get that other people might just get like, even like our music, you know. There’s just an understanding. I went to three different secondary schools; I went to one that was like really good and really posh. I went to one that was very much not posh at all, I think is even shut down now. Like, I feel like all these things have shaped me. So for instance, in the posh one I went to, obviously I come from a good family and everything so I mean, that one it just it definitely helped me just make sure I was you know…I always know how to be classy. I always know how to have decorum. You know? A little bit of boujiness. But then also I went to a school that was wild, and I had to really stick up for myself; had to defend myself a lot. I definitely got into a few fights. I’m definitely not scared of backing down from anything. So I feel like, all these things shaped me to who I am now.
You dropped a track a couple months ago called ‘London’. What’s it like making Afrobeats/Afro-soul/Afro-fusion in the UK? Rumour has it that the scene in this country is on the decline.
I mean, I get what they’re saying but I don’t really think it has to be like ‘UK Afrobeats’. It just is music. I feel like when this UK Rap, like okay, yeah, you know. Also, I don’t think I’m making UK Afrobeats; I’m literally making Afro fusion. There’s nothing wrong with that. If that’s what people want to class their music as. For me, I didn’t think I’m making UK Afrobeats. So I don’t know. I think I’m just making music and any Nigerian, or any person can fuck with it. Yeah, I definitely don’t think my sound is UK Afrobeats.
I guess the confusion sometimes comes when you’re making Afrobeats or music under the Afrobeats umbrella, and you’re from the UK, so people just put you in that box.
Exactly. Exactly. Funnily enough, I don’t actually feel like I’ve been put in that box. I never feel like I’m in that box. Actually, even though I live here. I don’t ever feel like I’m in a UK afrobeats box. And I’ve never really felt like that. Maybe it’s because I do a lot of work with people that are from Nigeria, like directly. So maybe that’s why.
On the topic of location, though. You’ve got 22,000 monthly listeners on Spotify. What country gives you the most love?
It’s Nigeria and London. Canada. Those three.
Hmmm, why do you think that is?
I don’t know about Canada, that’s interesting. I mean, Nigeria and London. I guess that makes sense because that’s where I’m from. I’m from both places.
Oh yeah! Your music is global. Congrats on performing at the Afropunk Virtual Festival this year. What was different about preparing for a live stream compared to a live show?
This is like the second live stream show I’ve done during this period. The only thing I miss is not having the crowd interaction because that’s something you really feed off of as a performer. But apart from that, it felt the same as having a performance. I was still holding the mic, I’ll still had like styling, I still had to look lit, I still had to get my set ready…all that type of stuff. There wasn’t much difference in preparing; it’s just the actual feeling was different. Yeah.
So more of the same? Got it. Quick question, what is a Fuego Mami?
Oh, that’s me!
Explain it to our readers!
Okay, so Fuego just means fire, and to me, it’s like I think that I’m fire. I’m also Sagittarius which is a fire sign. So I’m literally fire. Mami is just me being like, you know, I’m your mum. I’m not – joking. I joke around on Twitter, because a lot of my Nigerian supporters, like the guys, they love to call me their mummy. So I just thought this is funny, let me just mix Fuego Mami together, that’s just yeah, that’s like my alter ego. It’s not even an alter ego to be honest. It’s actually me. It’s just two sides of the coin.
We I’d love to see it!
‘Better’ is your current single – loving the track. Do you feel like the scene is better for female Afrobeats artists over here (UK) or do you feel like female Afrobeats artists receive better love in Nigeria?
Um…I think they definitely probably receive best love in Nigeria, because that’s the hub. Over here, there’s so many other types of music as well that might cloud over. You know, there’s drill, there’s just other things so maybe, and I feel like female artists usually get pushed to the wayside as well…anyway…naturally, which is annoying, but is what it is.
I feel like there is a legion of females making music out here in the UK, but I think the reach is a lot wider in Nigeria.
Alright, on the topic of Better, we’re about to play a game. I’m going to name some Nigerian delicacies. You have to tell me if the current food item is better, or worse than the last.
Okay, the next word is Gizzard (Digestive muscle). Is Gizzard better or worse than Shaki?
Oh! It’s better…Ah. I’m gonna make that now. Oh my God! I’m so hungy.
Alright, next you’ve got Snails. Are Snails better or worse than gizzard?
It’s better. I can’t even lie.
Next? Heart! Is heart better or worse than snails?
Liver! Is Liver better or worse than Heart?
Oh…erm! I’m trying to remember but there’s one of them that’s more dry than the other. I’m trying to remember which is which. I would say liver is better.
Interesting. Cow Foot, is that better or worse than Liver?
Better. [Tell us why]I love Cow Foot. I actually really like it. I even prefer it when it’s like, not too soft. So I can chew it a bit. I dunno – yeah, it’s a bit weird [laughs] Not hard, just not too soft. Sometimes. It’s too soft…
*stares in horror* Okay, next word is a Kilishi. Is better or worse than cow foot?
I don’t really like it. You know? Well, maybe it’s the one that I…I mean…nah nah. It’s worse. I prefer cowfoot. I don’t really like Kilishi like that.
Wow. I thought we could be friends after this but clearly not.[laughs] See if you had asked me about Suya…
That was the next word! Is Suya better or worse than Kilishi? I know what you’re gonna say already anyway…
C’mon now. Anybody can say that! That has sense…
Okay, and then the last word is Fish! So is Fish better or worse than Suya?
Damn because some there’s some nice croaker fish from 805 that bangs! I’m just trying to think, what’s better? I’m going to say better. Actually, I really like seafood. I’m a seafood girl o let me just say, better.
Perfect way to end the game!
2020 is almost done and 2021 is almost here. You’ve let us know a little bit about the forthcoming project. Tell us what else is happening. God willing, Corona, settles down. What’s next?
Just more music, more good visuals. Hopefully more love show. I mean, the shows thing is really like difficult. I don’t know, I feel like everybody…every artist is probably in this boat where they’re frustrated because you want to perform so badly. But I mean, right now you just can’t unless you do something virtual. So hopefully more shows. And yeah, I’m just honestly, I’m hoping for the best and I’m hopeful that things are gonna turn around and things get back to normal. But yes, I mean, you just new music, man. Always evolving…new photoshoots, new videos, new visuals, everything. Good art, great art.
On the topic on photoshoots, visuals and art, your style is probably one of the most distinct in the game. Can you give us any tips on finding your individual style and what inspires yours?
Okay, so when finding your style, I feel like you need to remember and think about how you feel when you wear certain things. So if today you wear a skirt and the tomorrow you’re wearing like trousers or jeans or whatever, how do you feel? Like which day made you feel your best? And I think that helps you start curating your wardrobe. And you start picking pieces that actually are your style. And before you know it you just have your style. You know, like with me, I do like darker colours, but I will mix in some bright colours like for certain things. I love leather. Also, you have to know your body. Like I know the parts of my body that I like to show – like my legs. I love wearing super short skirts, but I also love wearing like baggy jeans or baggy leather trousers. So I like to mix and match both of those things. And I think what inspires me is: however I feel that day is however, I’m gonna dress and I will wear whatever I want. Like, it doesn’t matter. My friends can say we’re going to a little drink up – come super casj but still in a cute way. Or I could decide “Actually, no! I really want to wear this like tight little leather skirt I just got, I’m gonna wear that and a bralet with it and a blazer and call it a day” You get? So I think you just have to know and what parts of your body look best in what – you have to pay attention to it. But also don’t put too much effort, I think. And people sometimes try too hard and that comes across as well. My style icon is probably Solange, I think that’s like my number one. And then I just love Rihanna because she just does what she wants and that inspires me a lot. So yeah, with clothes, I would say I just do whatever I feel like
I love that. I’m making notes myself! Final words for your friends, your friends, your following?
Thank you guys for rocking with me this far. I hope you enjoy the project: ‘It’s Never Gunna Be The Same’. I’m going to just keep giving you vibes or vibes and vibes and love you!