The music of the Nigerian singer Tosin Martyns has nothing to do with the sound of most African musicians in Greece: He doesn’t hip-hop nor rap, but he has created his own mix of afrobeat and dancehall sounds with lyrics that he sings rhythmically, bringing an urban African air in the dance scene of Athens.
Just a year ago, he released his first EP titled “Ebony,” and has an intense reference to his roots, the African music which he appreciated when he first visited his home country. He came to Greece at the age of 2 with his mother and he grew up in Athens. His father had already moved in Greece.
After a series of independent singles including “No Puedo” (with Rocfellaz & Goodfella feat. Raffie Raff), “Gimme” and his recent collaboration with G. Papa and Rocfellaz, entitled “Criminal Dance” the video clip of which was shot in Lesvos, Tosin returns with a couple of visualized and also independent singles, “Baby” and “Better Than Dem”.
Read in the interview that follows everything he has to say about his unique sound, his influences, his relationship with his birthplace and also volleyball.
You are from Nigeria but you came to Greece since a very young age! What is your relationship now with Nigeria and how much has its musical culture influenced the creation of your own music?
Yes I was born in Nigeria, in Lagos in particular. My mother and brothers live there, I try to visit as much as I can. My sound has been greatly influenced by the Nigerian music culture. Rhythm, melody, lyrics but I don’t feel I’ve reached the level that I can say, “YES, that’s it”. I still discover things that will help me and will continue to help me in the future, for the shaping of my music!!!
Are there Nigerian artists or other international ones that inspire you?
Yes, there are many artists who inspire me from various music scenes, various styles of music such as Bob Marley, Fela Kuti, Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, James Brown, Michael Jackson, Lucky Dube and others. From more contemporary artists I admire: J.Cole, Burna Boy, Skepta, Wretch 32, Asha, Jay-Z, Biggie Smalls, Nneka Chronixx, Damian Marley, Wizkid, 2face Idibia and many others. Everyone has something to offer every time. I hear them and as you can see they do not belong to the same musical genre.
Which of these names would you like to work with in the future and why?
With Burna Boy, Damian Marley, Nneka, Wizkid, Skepta and Chronixx. These are some names I would Definitely like to work with.
You write your songs in English. Would you ever interpret songs in Greek or even in some Nigerian dialect?
hmm .. I do some experiments in the studio in Greek, don’t think of anything big, just a couple of smart lyrics in Greek to give another color and attitude to my lyrics .. Time will tell .. (laughs). In my language (Yoruba) I definitely want to write and release a song and not just one .. But at some point in the future, it’s not the time yet.
You began from the music band Le’s Blancs. Would you consider doing new music with this band or do you prefer to work as a solo artist?
Le’s Blancs are getting together and are jamming at times, music is the escape for all of us. Our friendship never broke due to this, we are talking about a group of boys that when we are together the 80% of what we say has to do with music. I personally have in my mind projects that I would like to start with them. And if you ask me, it’s one of my dreams to reunite this party on stage once again.
How would you describe your music?
Hmm, I would say “Different”. Yes Ok it combines Afro and Dancehall and yes you you can call it “Black” music and much more. What’s for sure is that it has a beat but again it is different.I suggest you listen to it and you won’t lose …
You released the single “Baby” a while ago. Tell us a few words about this release. Does this single forebode a new full-length recording?
Yes a month ago the single “Baby” was released and it’s a fresh and dancing song, with a summer scent!!! Th Mark did its production… It’s a pleasant piece. Imagine that it was written in October… We thought of releasing it now .. (Commercially) it’s doing well and there also others that are coming!!!
Keep your eye open on the 12th of the month cause I’m releasing a brand new single and video titled “Better Than Dem” produced once again by Th Mark and its lyrics are mine. I think you will find it very interesting !!!
About a year ago, you released your first album titled “Ebony”. What is the song that stands out for you from this album and why?
Yes, “Ebony”. So we sat together with Th Mark and we created this album, thinking about having a musical basis as we release the next singles or the next album … The song that comes to my mind is “Light it Up “, however, the song that I completely distinguish and it gets me tripping is “Never Lose”. I think the title says a lot and it expresses me totally… Listen to it!!!
You also participated in the GPapa and Rocfellaz song titled “Criminal Dance”. The song reached Beatport’s No.9 and its video clip was filmed in Lesvos.
“Criminal Dance” still has a lot to give, Lesvos has embraced it and I am delighted with it especially because the style and the way I perform it is not common for the stereotypes of Lesvos and of course of the whole Greece and I am glad that after all these bad things this island has gone through due to issues we all know, the track I am participating shows the beauty of this island. #visitlesvos
How did this collaboration occur and what were your feelings about its success?
How did this collaboration occur eh? I remember getting a call from Rocfellaz saying “check your mail and listen to what we’re working on with G-Papa, we want you to perform it”. I listened to it and I went to studio the next night. That’s how “Criminal Dance” was born. Until today I have no idea how the title and the lyrics came to me.. I praise these men who invited me to join in this song with my own way…
You also play volleyball at a professional level. What is your relationship with this sport now?
Volleyball is a part of my life for years, I love it!!! Another way of escape and calm!!! I keep playing. I just got a transcript in the Armenian team of Nikea in the A2 category.
When did you realize that music was what you wanted to do in your life?
Since I was very young to say the truth .. Although I’ve done a lot of different things in my life, what I feel about music is above anything else… It’s a feeling that makes me happy, it gets me tripping and often scares me, but I like it…
Did you have the support of your people in this choice of yours?
Due to fear or shame; I don’t know, but I never said to my parents that “I want to get into the music industry” but I’m sure they understood it. Like I sing in “Never Lose” that I mentioned earlier: “mama said u can be what u want, Papa said u can be what u want, stick to it never lose focus, stick to it, stay out of trouble”. Being well was their concern.
How easy is it for a new artist to gain recognition in Greece today?
I think it’s easy to be known. There are ways, but I think that the important thing is to stay in the spotlight … otherwise you will become another “bubble”. What I do I want it to stay and that is cool.
What difficulties did you encounter at your beginning?
In this job there were and always will be difficulties… Even more for me that I do a music that basically doesn’t exist here and in foreign lyrics… I am not discouraged, there is space for everyone and everything .. There is a crowd that sees and hears me and there will be others to follow.
What is your motto in life?
“Find what you love and just chase it”. If you want it that bad, it means something. “Nothing will come of nothing”.
Interview: Thodoris Kolliopoulos