Afrobeats has gone around the world. The sonic fever taking the world by storm has even risen onto Mount Olympus. And there, like the Melopoioi of ancient Greece, Nicolas Georgakis has wielded Afrobeats like Apollo did music in the age of the gods of Olympus.
Nicolas Georgakis, professionally known as Niki Tall, has hewed a following for himself as an Afrobeats artist, Disk Jockey, Multi-Instrumentalist and music producer. He’s become the ultimate “Oyinbo boy” of Afrobeats, a Nigerian street lingua for describing a white or light-skinned person.
Niki Tall first hit the spotlight following his cover of 9ice’s monster hit “Gongo Aso” by “9ice” in 2008, of which he performed a unique acoustic guitar version of the song. This performance gathered over 200.000 views on YouTube, which served as his stepping-stone into the Nigerian music Olympus.
Niki’s passion for music started at the age of 5 when he learnt how to play the guitar from his father, who is also a modern melopoeai, and together they would regularly make traditional Greek folk music.
Aside from being a regularly booked DJ in Germany, Niki Tall has been the bedrock for well-known Afrobeats artists and has shared the stage with artists such as P Square, Davido, Wizkid, 9ice, Olamide, Flavour-Nabania, Bracket, Kcee, Iyanya, Timaya, Mc Galaxy, Fuse ODG, Shatta Wale, Sarkodie, Mc Loph, Duncan Mighty and Wande Coal.
Niki Tall sat with Tola Adebayo to talk about his Afrobeats Oddysey and his many adventures on the seas of music. Excerpts:
As a European, how did you encounter Nigeria to the extent of falling in love with the music?
My interest in Nigeria started in 2008, when I was about 17 years of age in Germany, it was around that time I started joining the nightlife, my older brother took me to the club for the very first time and there was a Nigerian DJ, Lanre Zafaru who introduced me to Nigerian music. As someone from a musical background and also into music, this DJ was the first person who played Gongo Aso for me, it was a trending song at the time and I made a cover of the song which went viral on YouTube – that was how the whole story started with Nigeria and Niki Tall.
In 2015, while I was still doing my thing without visiting Nigeria for about 7 years, I visited Nigeria and that was the very first time I deeply fell in love with Nigeria and since then I come to Nigeria about once or twice a year.
You must be very tall to have named yourself Niki Tall, how tall are you?
There is not much to it, my name is Nicolas and my nickname was ‘Niki’ and since I am around 6’4, people started to call me Niki Tall. It was a name given to me when I started as a DJ.
How did you manage the transition from the wheels of steel to an artist and then a producer?
I started everything at the same time. I was a musician already as I started playing the drums, guitar, keyboard and Greek traditional instruments between the age of 6-7, and later on, around the ages of 13-14, this was when I got my first computer and my journey as a producer started. I will say I started everything at the same time, I added singing and vocals at the age of 16/17.
Which song/songs made you a complete Nigerian music fan from back in the day?
I got in contact with Nigerian music around 2007/2008, these were the days of Gongo Aso, Yahooze, 2face, P Square and Mo Hits; this is the era where I fell in love with Nigerian music.
What exactly about Nigerian music got your attention?
The sound, rhythm and language, Pidgin English, I fell in love with Pidgin English and Yoruba, I didn’t understand the language but I enjoy listening to it.
What is the music scene like in Germany compared to Nigeria?
The music scene in Germany is quite an interesting market that has its own development over the past 20 years, especially when it comes to German rap music. We have almost 85 million people and almost everyone has access to internet, streaming platforms and this makes the whole market very lively, plus we have surrounding countries that are German speaking as well so if you have a song that is big in Germany it crosses over maybe Austria, Switzerland, and that makes it a little spicier. There are also a lot of artists doing really well and getting international recognition.
Do you ever get requests to balance Nigerian sounds with European sounds?
Yes, this is what I do intentionally most of the time, when I produce songs, either conventional, pop or world music, there is always a touch of Afrobeats getting into it right now.
What is your favourite thing about music as a producer/artiste?
My favourite part of music from a lonely day in the studio: dreaming of standing on the stage and people singing my songs, to well celebrated live performances, where I have people interacting with me and the song I created, that is the most beautiful thing about music for me.
Who are some of the artists you have worked with on your musical journey?
First when I started being like a cover artist where I covered other people’s songs and started doing my remixes to it, that was the moment I was all over Europe, being the opening acts at concerts. I opened the stage for Bracket, Timaya, Flavor, Kizz Daniel, Oritse Femi. In 2017 I had my major live performance where I featured 9ice on stage at the One Africa Music Festival in London, this was all like the pre-work before I started doing my own shows as a headliner mostly around Europe. I have a song with Ice Prince, which I am very proud of. I have also worked/produced for many other artists. I’m the kind of person who plans my own movement, so whether you are famous or not as far as I love the sound I can work with anybody.
What is the reception like every time you come to Nigeria?
From 2015 till now, I have so much love for this country and I will love to see this country head in a direction where things are going well for its people because one of the most beautiful things about Nigeria is the people. I have also been able to adapt to the conditions in the country like traffic – it is what it is at the end of the day.
What is your relationship like with people in Nigeria?
The love that I have been receiving for the last 14 years is overwhelming and I don’t take that for granted, it is actually what keeps everything going because music has its own timing, you can be relevant today and irrelevant tomorrow, but the love I get when I post things about Nigeria, when I interact with the people, the love that I get is always so refreshing, no matter if the music is trending or not, there is a level of love that I always feel, and that has always bring me back.
What will you say defines success for an artist?
For me, what defines success is the presence of fans or fan base either locally or around the world, either 50, 100 or 50,000 people, as an artist do you have fans that are willing to buy your ticket to see your show or buy your merchandise?
This is how I will define success for an artist, because all this streaming, and streaming fans, social media and streaming statistics on the internet, for me it is more about can you really sell out tickets for your show. Winning awards and the likes is another way of politics; the interaction between you and your fans is all that matters.
What is Niki Tall working on?
I recently just dropped 2 singles, one of them was the Yemisi remix alongside Jumabee and Dj Baddo produced by myself, and the other was an international collaboration with a lady from Turkey where I tried to introduce Amapiano sound with Turkish pop and the song is called ‘Yildis’ alongside Ilatun. These were the last 2 projects that I have been working on this year (2022). This year I really want to go all out and drop singles more frequently, work more through Tiktok and use more of the modern way of promoting songs to get my music out there, this is like one of the biggest challenges I would say, for someone that started music when CDs were fading out to the time of social media to Tiktok.
For 2023, this is my challenge and goal, to release music in the way it is supposed to be done by now.
What should we expect from you this 2023?
I want to come out with a release strategy which sees me release a song every 4-6 weeks, and really use social media to push and advertise it, whilst also promoting songs the traditional way too. I will be releasing more music, more collaboration. I have been doing this for so long and I am not worried about the quality anymore, it’s more about getting it out and waiting for the right moment for something to happen, there is this philosophy I believe in: ‘luck exists when opportunity meets preparation’, the more songs you deliver the higher the chance that something picks up from somewhere.
What is your thought on Afrobeats and its popularity on the world stage?
I am happy to say I am a witness to the growth of Afrobeats globally. I remember when I started playing Afrobeats as a DJ back in Germany around 2009/2010, there were very few songs people were familiar with, it wasn’t even called Afrobeats at that point. I am happy and proud to see that this became the biggest genre in the world right now.
What is your advice for artists who are struggling to find their voice?
I will say branding is a very important point when it comes to this, of course you have to believe in your music, and be presentable in a way you should be setup as an artiste, you can’t just be at home without putting yourself out there and expect your career to go somewhere, achieving success is not impossible especially in this day and age. I would say package yourself, make good use of the internet, do a nice photo-shoot, save up for one music video, and the rest should just be you creating content around the song, with a little bit of luck and a lot of consistency you will see growth.
The numbers definitely matter in the beginning, but my advice is do not buy fake views, fake followers, if you have 100 solid fans listening to your song, if they all recommend to one person it multiplies, and you start from somewhere. Don’t feel discouraged because you are not there yet, or because you don’t want to be seen as a beginner, just start and you will be ahead of the majority of people around you.
You can also watch full interview on Youtube;
Interview by: Adetola Adebayo @adei_tola
Photographed: Rewa Ekunola @rewa_foto
Camera: Ibrahim Olowolagba & Felix Babalola
Creative Director: Rayo Kasali @therayokasali
Executive Producer Adedamola Edun @adedamolaedun