Oyinda is a mysterious figure in the new world. In a time where artists are drawn to viral fame, pop hits and sex, sex, sex, the music Oyinda puts out with it’s husky enchanting tempo and glitchy beats seem more like songs of substance from a musician in pursuit of true artistry, full of layers of sounds and visions.
Not much is known of Oyinda. Glance at her Wikipedia page and it leaves you with little to create a full picture. She keeps it that way hiding underneath her long black mane and metal adorned fingers, letting only her music seep out to the limelight. Her voice is an enigmatic instrument with vocals that neither push nor pull the music, rather lets it swirl into the melody and carries it to the last note like a crowned monarch returning from the battlefield. It’s music that Nina Simone would no doubt be happy to pass her torch to, from beyond the grave. Simone unsurprisingly is someone that greatly inspired Oyinda.
“Nina is Goddess,” Oyinda says her voice filled with admiration, “Listening to her so much definitely influenced me a lot. I wrote “The Devil is Gonna Keep Me,” after I listened to her nonstop for a month. That’s a song that I loosely based off of “Strange Fruit.” That’s the vibe that Nina’s performance of that song just really evokes. I really appreciated her timbre and her tone.”
Oyinda grew up in London by way of Nigeria in a traditional family and she was always expected to go on to be a doctor or a lawyer like most first generation Africans. Music was never a huge part of her upbringing.
“It’s pretty complicated. I don’t come from a musical family. I didn’t grow up with a lot of records or variety of [music] being played in the house. It was mostly like, the three CDs my mum was listening to, or maybe kids radio or Disney movies or what I’d watch on TV. Which is probably why I’m so influenced by film scoring because all of the kids shows you’d watch growing up a lot of the mood and everything is influenced by the within music in the show. And shows that I still love today, like Samurai Jack, are all about the music rather than the dialogue. I thought that was really cool.”
Her musical calling came full force when in 2014 she booked her first show, Lollapalooza. The set booking was prompted by only two songs that were released unto the world wide web,”Rush of You” and “What Still Remains,”sending the internet into a frenzy for more music. Since them Oyinda has moved to New York and continues to experiment and work on her craft. We catch up with the brooding beauty to wax poetic about Michelle Obama, find out the inspirations behind her cine-noir style, her destiny to be in the music industry and maintaining her sense of self.
How do you feel about being in New York?
New York is just kind of that place that is more accessible. You can meet other creatives and explore that different side than what you’re creating yourself. I feel like what I was finding in London was that it was more closed off and more of a scene and exclusivity. I don’t think I’m… my personality was with that. I’m too much of a hermit to try and break through those kinds of boundaries.
You’re so stylish and very–you have this kind of branded mystique. I love that you have directed all of your own beautiful and moody music videos. You produced them, you wrote them, and directed them.
I feel like I have a vibe and if people don’t get it, then you’re at risk for that male gaze. Or someone else’s point of view coming across, but it doesn’t fit the tone per se. I’ve worked with people who are very collaborative and let me have a more hands on approach. And I do my own styling. I’ve been doing my own styling, I might not forever, but I found it was really important to do as much as I can myself. And it’s a better experience for me too, if I get to explore and figure out what I like and what I don’t like and learn different aspects of myself along the way.
That’s so important for artists–the male gaze and that different perspective. It’s really nice when artists are fully immersed in the song and the aesthetics and everything. You can really see that they’re showing themselves off as an artist. It feels more authentic that way, I think.
Right. Yeah. I think so. I think it’s more personal that way. But, there are ways to collaborate with people. It just becomes… at a certain stage it’s less of a risk because people know you as an artist already and they just wanna explore a different side of you as an artist. But where, it’s the earlier stages, people want to project the ideas that they have of you–rather than getting to know you.
And you are kind of in the early stages. It seems like you… exploded out of nowhere. It wasn’t a very traditional kind of grooming into the music industry.
[laughs] Yeah, no…
What has it been like navigating the industry, putting out a few songs, playing a set, being seen by the booker of Lollapalooza, then booking that festival! People being so excited about your music online and you are so buzzy? What’s the whole thing been like for you?
I don’t even know how to describe it. I mean. I did a showcase–just two songs–when I got booked for Lollapalooza. It was just very random. It made me extra anxious, and I already deal with anxiety. [laughs] It was an overwhelming experience, but luckily, I rose to the challenge and wrote a bunch of songs for it. I just had fun. It was easier because I was performing with my mates and I feel like having them be a part of what I do just makes me that much more grounded.
I like being able to grow with the people around me. I like it to be like a shared experience. It’s been really cool to create. It’s been different to create at someone else’s pace rather than my own. That has been a struggle. I really like to take my time. And I know it’s the day and age where everything is instant gratification. I just never been with it. [laughs] I’m a very old soul. I don’t know how to keep up with it sometimes. But, it’s fun. It’s all good.
I know the feeling. I feel like, dealing with facebook and social media–we need to see you now, we wanna hear your music now! Where are you?! What are you doing?! Who are you with?! Who are you dating?! People are so in your face, especially if they like a product that you’re putting out, they really wanna know everything about it. It’s so easy. You can type in anything and all this stuff comes up. But it’s kind of interesting about you. When you’re trying to do research about you–you type in your name–even your Wikipedia is very mysterious. I think that’s cool.
[laughs] That’s so funny that I even have one! I haven’t even read it yet. I don’t even want to open that gate and be like, “What?! Oh. Okay.”
So now you are a public figure. What are your parents think about it? Are they ever like, “Oh my god, this is exciting!”?
I mean… growing up as a kid, I was always that oddball who likes to hang out with herself and just create my own imaginary playground. I feel like they’ve already–at least my mum–noticed at an early age that I was just one of those creatives. But, she always told me that music was a hobby, so it was really hard for her to let me actually delve into it. And that’s understandable–coming to a foreign country and not knowing how to navigate those things. And you know, as a kid growing up, you resent that. But now that I’m older, I understand where she was coming from.
Even now, it was a struggle. But once I booked my first show, which was Lolla–luckily! She was like, “Be a lawyer!”
That’s so great. I think that’s the universe pushing you in this direction and saying, “We need your music. We need you to perform and make stuff because it’s really important for civilization.” You never know.
Yeah, I feel like God just gives us what we can handle. And I kind of just really, really needed music in my life. And I feel like the way I approach a lot of things is very musical and it’s very scored and moody. I just felt like–I couldn’t think any other way. Everything happens for a reason. I’m lucky that I get to do what I love–and really delve into it now with both hands. I feel like now that I have this chance I get to know a side of myself that I wasn’t allowed to explore.
It’s been really fun. I’ve been producing myself and writing myself. Everything is really coming from me.
That’s wonderful and awesome. Where do you feel…. Where do you get your strength or power from? Like, inspirations or mantras? Or just like, how do you feel like you’ve gotten to this point?
My mum’s pretty religious. [laughs] So, growing up in the church and growing up in that kind of household… It just made me naturally a grounded person. It kind of went hand in hand. [laughs] I don’t think I could have been any other way if I had grown up in a religious household. I feel like it comes with that, with that structure.
Yeah. My mom and dad too are very religious, especially my mom. She’s the prayer warrior. Everytime I talk to her she’s like, “I just finished praying.” and I’m like “I know, mom.”
Haha, It was one of my friends birthday recently and my mom called us and was just like praying for him.
It’s really sweet and so special, especially as you get older. Like, when I was younger, I think I was a little embarrassed, you know? My house smells like fish, or my parents’ accents, or just being this indie person and having a different background family. I always felt so different. But now that I get older, it is kind of like a grounding experience. It makes me feel very special that they instilled fear and being a good person and helping others–that kind of thing. I think that’s really important for a person.
Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s also different when you’re growing up in a foreign country and you’re also one of the few people of color. I think it’s a naturally different and more jarring experience where you’re gonna really wanna absorb your surroundings and figure out how to navigate. I feel like that’s just a part of growing up.
Do you feel any debut album pressure? What’s it gonna be like? All your EPs have been so well-received and people are like, “More, more, more!” How do you feel about finally releasing the debut debut?
I’m still working on the last EP, so I’ve just been feeling really guilty. Every time, even with the first EP, [it was], “Oh, when’s your debut album coming out?” And I knew I was going to do two more EPs [laughs]. Uhh… sorry. No idea!
But I don’t feel pressure to make an amazing debut album–I’m just gonna make an album.
The EPs were the first few songs I had ever written, so really, I can only do that. There’s no hit or miss with me. It’s just, okay, I’m gonna write songs. And if I love them, I do, and if I don’t, well, they’re not gonna be there.
That’s amazing, I love your attitude. I like that you’re like, “I’m gonna keep doing my thing.” It makes it feel more authentic. It’s not like you’re putting out music just to have a hit. Like, “Listen to the club! Come see me!” It feels real, real personal and beautiful.
I feel like everyone approaching music, of course, wants their music to be successful. And I think you’re never gonna know if it’s gonna be a hit, unless you’re writing true pop structures. I’ve always set out to create something different. And I feel like all the people I’m influenced by do just that. I just always wanted to create a mood and create a zone.
And again, from being so influenced by films growing up, always wanted to create a short film in my EP, or like a cool mood that tells an actual arc or tells a story. That’s just always been important to me. So as much as I would love to have a single, that’s not precedent in what I’m creating. It’s–is the vibe right? Is the mood there? Can you hear every single detail even with the sound effects, synth, fuzz, and distortion is there? Does that fit the mood? Does that help the story? I would love it if people could still get the same message from the track and the lyrics should coincide. Everything is supposed to be there for a reason. Or even if it’s not, and they’re the polar opposite of each other, that’s gonna be purposeful. I’m always going to create to the integrity of the song and the integrity of the track rather than my own agenda because I just cCan you tell me who are some of the most powerful people that you know are? This is going to be in our Power issue, so I wanted to know who you see as powerful or just some shout outs of powerful people.
I think of Michelle Obama.
The fact that she’s our first black, female First Lady–and hopefully President, someday.
Me too, me too!
She is so hardworking . She’s changed so many individuals’ lives and our lives in general. Being a black females and being told that we’re at the bottom of the food chain–and to just be a First Lady like her is just so inspiring. What she does for children… she’s amazing.
I have to jump in on Michelle Obama. She’s changed my life–my mom’s life, my sister’s lives. It’s been, you know, being a black woman and always being told, “No one wants [you].” There’s so much negative propaganda that goes on in the media against black women. I just think that–and probably you too–I was shielded from the typical rhetoric because you had parents from a different place. So if you’re looking at the TV and go, “I’m ugly,” they’re like, [in an accent] “What are you talking about?!”
I was always told that I was beautiful and that I do anything. But in the media, they tell you you’re not shit, you’re not gonna succeed, men don’t wanna date you, you can’t own your own business–you’re gonna clean houses. That was never my life. So it feels so good to see Michelle Obama stand there with such confidence and love for herself and others. I just adore her.
I’ve had two different experiences, because I grew up away from home majority wise. I was at boarding school in London, so I had both sides of that.
Going to school, I was definitely called ugly so many times or had racist slurs said to me. And that’s just growing up. Now that you’re older, obviously you grow a thicker skin from that. But, it’s a problem when you think, “Oh, that’s just normal,” and they teach you that that’s normal.
It shouldn’t be. So that’s why I think having her as a First Lady is so inspiring.
Okay, next one: Serena. Like I just watched her documentary. Such a strong woman, athlete, human being. Overall, so inspiring, and see what she had to deal with, too? It’s just insane.
There are so many people when you actually think about it. It’s great to be a woman in this world right now, if you think about it. I think there are so many people who do such great things. Angelina Jolie was always someone I loved watching as a kid because she was such a tomboy. Growing up, she was teaching kids how to be a humanitarian and I think that’s really important too. I think it’s great to teach our young generations how to help others and how to be less selfish. The name of the game is about being selfish if you want to be ahead at the game–you have to think of yourself first. And that’s a tough world to live in.
But I don’t know, there’s so many powerful people. Bernie Sanders? He pulled a lot of people to speak out and to really strive for something more than themselves. He brought a generation together in order to evoke the same feelings and to be outspoken and to really want more for the future. I think he’s a powerful, powerful man. I hope one day he gets another chance. But you never know.
I know. There are a lot of people. I think, actually, you’re one of them. Hearing your boarding school story–that’s so horrifying. Kids are cruel. But I’m so glad you blossomed into who you are. And also, you’re one of the prettiest people I’ve ever seen. When I saw your music video, I was like, “Oh my god! She’s amazing!” You’re just so good. You’re gonna have a long, beautiful, amazing career, so keep doing what you’re doing.
photos / Jason Rodgers @ The Brooks Agency NYC
styling / Bianca Bailey
hair & makeup / Phoenix
photo assistant / Victor Demeester