There is something about the first lady of EME Records, Niyola that grabs your attention and locks it down whenever she’s in the spotlight. Eniola Akinbo popularly known as Niyola discovered her affinity for music at the age of 8 and has nurtured her musical skills over the years. Her unique story started in 2000 when she took part in the AMEN starlet competition and emerged as first runner up. Since then, she has had record deals with West Side Records, Trybe Records and most recently EME Records where she was featured on several tracks on the EME Empire Mates State of Mind album alongside leading Nigerian acts, Wizkid, Banky W and Skales; including her debut single as the EME First Lady, titled ‘Don’t Delay Me (Don’t Go There)’. In this exclusive interview with Adeola Adeyemo, Niyola takes us on a journey through her musical career, speaks about her personality, her record deal and being sexy!
You must have been very busy during the holidays with the EME Concert and your performances at other shows. How was your experience?
It was really hectic. As a matter of fact, I’ve lost so much weight and I’m now trying to get it back on. But I was doing what I love to do. I had a lot of fun but I’m back to work. I’m back in the studios now recording.
Are you working on any new songs?
This January as I promised last year, I’m going to drop two singles. I’ve also been doing some local and international collaborations which I can’t talk about now but you will hear soon.
Journey to EME
How does it feel like being the first lady of one of the hottest record labels around now?
I feel pretty special because having left the industry for so long, over three years, and coming back to be on EME is special. I’m thankful to God and to EME for actually spotting something special in me to think that they would sign me.
Many people didn’t know about you before you joined EME. What was the music industry like in the past and which record label were you signed on to?
The industry has changed and there are a new crop of artistes around. Back then it was Sound Sultan, Faze, Baba Dee, Sasha, myself and Trybesmen, but the industry has grown and there are a whole lot more people now. I was on West Side Records. I had two singles out on West Side, one was Call My Name and the other was Bring It On. This was around 2008/2009. Before then I was under Trybe Records.
That’s interesting. What was the acceptance of your music like when you were under these two record labels?
Music is not what it used to be back then. It is more accepted now. Back then, it was strictly about people who wanted to do music for the passion because we all went through a lot. People thought music was for those who dropped out of school.
Why did you leave Trybe Records?
The Trybesmen split and eLDee travelled to the US and I had to leave.
How did you move on after the split?
I was doing music on my own for a while. Freestyle had a production outfit so we were working together on some stuff but while I was working with him, I did a song with Faze and somehow I go on the same record label with Faze called West Side. I had an album off West Side but it was unfortunate that immediately the album was released, my contract expired. I also had two videos. It was also around that time I took a break from music. This was between 2009 and 2012.
What did you do during this break?
Plenty stuff. I went to rehabilitate myself (laughs).
After passing through two record labels and taking a long break, how did the record deal with EME come about?
I had always known Banky from back in the days. He saw me then and asked why I wasn’t doing music. I told him I really wanted to do music but I didn’t think I had enough resources. I was actually trying to make a comeback then and I did a song with Skales. It was during that period that he suggested we should work on a song. Around that time, there was a rape incident at ABSU and he was worried that no female had come out to sing about and we decided to do a song together and that is how we started until I eventually got signed.
The First Lady of EME
How does it feel like being the only female on a record label with other male artistes?
I feel special. Everybody is constantly looking out for me. They are all like my brothers.
Tell me about their individual personalities. What comes to your mind when you think of each of them?
Banky is like the father of the family. He looks out for everybody, suffice to say that he watches over everybody. Skales is very reserved but he can come out of his shell sometimes. Shaydee is the clown of the group, always making everybody laugh. DJ Xclusive is also a clown. Wizkid is also very funny. Everybody is unique in their own way.
How is the relationship between everyone on the team?
Everybody is cool with everybody. It’s like one big, happy, playful family. We have our times when we disagree, but we disagree to agree. Eight out of ten times, we are always supporting each other, personally and when it comes to music because that’s what a family should be like.
There have been a number of splits between artistes and their record labels in recent times. You witnessed one while you were with Trybe Records. Do you have any fears that you might ever be in that situation at EME?
No, not at all.
Rumours are being spread about an impending split between EME and another prominent member of the team. Is there any truth in this?
I wouldn’t know anything about that but one thing for certain is that there are contracts and agreements in every relationship any artiste has with his record label. If anybody goes out saying there is going to be a split, it’s funny because it is what is stated in the contract that would be done.
So tell me, what special thing do you bring to the table. What makes you stand out?
First off, I’m the only female, that’s got to be special. I have my own uniquneness with my sound; my sound is different from everybody else. As much as I’m a standalone entity, I also support everybody else as they support me.
How would you describe your sound?
I’m still doing a lot of experimenting, I wouldn’t want to put myself in a box. But I would basically say I do contemporary R&B pop. If I feel like doing Soul, I would.
There was a lot of anticipation built up to the release of your “Don’t Delay Me” music video. But when it was released, quite a number of people were not happy with it.
You can’t please everybody but I think in life and in this path that I have chosen, what matters most is you do your best. If you do whatever you do to the best of your ability, then you’d be satisfied. When people talk, you’d know that you did the best that you could do because you know you can’t please everybody. But there is always room for improvement.
Was it your idea to use him?
Banky and I had been talking about how we wanted to bring into the picture different guys who had known faces. We actually wanted to use some other people, about three guys, but they weren’t available for that period so we had to use Lynxxx and Gbenro and that is because they are good looking.
The Sexy Diva
Tell me about your unique personality and how it reflects in your music and in your message.
I am very reserved, I wouldn’t say I’m quiet. A lot of people can mistake that at times for cockiness but I’m really just a reserved person. I believe that everybody has something special and I think that my strength is in the talent that I have. With my music, I realize that one of my strong points is being able to reach out to people and make them feel better about themselves, let them know they can be better. I believe God has given me a platform where I can reach out to more than one person at a time. So with my music, I’m passing across a message.
When people see Niyola on their screens and in pictures, they see a sexy lady. What is the relationship between being sexy and succeeding as a female artiste? Do you really have to be sexy to sell your music?
I always tell people that sexiness is not something that can be bought; you either are sexy or not. I’m how I am not as a result of what I’ve tried to be. This is who I am, I cannot help it. God created every woman as eye candies to the men. God created us for the men. The only thing that makes a difference is that if you let people see that this is all you’re about, then there is a problem. Yes, I’m sexy; I’m not afraid to admit that I’m sexy. I’m proud to be sexy but that is not all that there is to me. I’m somebody’s sister, one day I’m going to be a mother, I’m somebody’s friend, somebody’s child… I don’t see anything wrong in being who I am. This is what comes naturally. If people see it, it’s not my fault.
If any female artiste doesn’t consider herself as being sexy, what are the chances she has of succeeding in the music industry?
Look for your strength. There is something unique to everybody. If you’re not sexy, there must be something about you that is special. Maybe it’s your voice, maybe it’s your smile. Look at Jill Scott, the special thing about her is her smile. Her smile would melt anybody’s heart and that is her strong “selling point” like D’Prince would say. So look for your selling point and bring it to the fore.
Growing up, Fashion & Relationships
What is your educational background like?
I studied Journalism at the Independent Journalism Center owned by PM News, and I went on to study English Language at the University of Lagos. I also did some courses in Travel & Tourism and I’m still studying.
That’s interesting. Did you ever work as a journalist?
I was working with a magazine, Podium International sometime ago as an editor and I used to write as well. But music is too strong a passion that I can’t suppress it. I feel like that is what I was born to do.
Tell me about your family and growing up. What are the experiences that stand out?
I come from a very large family. We were 13 but now we’re 12 because I lost my sister. I’m the last of everybody. I spent a lot of time in boarding school and it taught me to be very independent. My father was very strict so there was no room for being spoilt. He believed that because I was the last child, I had chances of being spoilt which is why I was the only one who went to boarding school. I felt he was being wicked but now I have him to thank for how I turned out.
How did you come about the name Niyola?
My name is Eniola. My dad used to call me Eni-yola.
When did you discover your passion for music?
I actually discovered that I could sing when I was about eight years old courtesy of my father. I always liked to sing. I would sing while doing my house chores. I used to sing along to Diana Ross and Mariah Carey’s songs. In 2000, I entered for a competition at the AMEN Awards and I was the first runner up.
Talking fashion now, I notice that you wear the colour black quite often. Just like today, you are wearing black.
I’m wearing black today because I’m mourning Dr Irawo Adamolekun.
Oh, please accept my condolences. Was he close to you?
He wasn’t that close to me but I knew him because he was my manager’s very good friend. I saw him during the Christmas period. We partied together one night and he was making fun of me, telling me “you look like you’re not Nigerian, are you Nigerian?” I feel very bad about his death. We are doing his candle light procession today.
So black is not really your colour?
I actually do love black, I can’t lie. But I also like other colours. My favourite colour is orange and I like green.
How would you describe your style?
I just like to keep it simple, yet classy. I don’t like extravagance.
Is Niyola in any relationship at the moment?
Just because… ?
Just because why do I have to be in a relationship? There are always exceptions so maybe I’m one of those exceptions.
What are the qualities your ideal guy should have?
I don’t believe there’s anything like an ideal guy. But I like an intelligent guy with a sense of humour who has an understanding of God because I believe that if you love God, you would love man. And he must be mature.
Let’s say a guy comes along with these qualities you’ve mentioned. Will you be ready to start a relationship with him?
I don’t know, until then.
It was great chatting with Niyola and from BellaNaija.com, we wish her the very best!
Niyola – Don’t Delay Me(Don’t Go There)