Nigeria has a long history of creativity stemming from its many ethnic groups. Over the years, we’ve had a migration of its culture and products into the diaspora.
What influence has this had over time? The Nigerian entertainment industry, which is booming rapidly both home and abroad, is just getting started.
Onyinyechukwu Akametalu popularly known as Onyiaka was born in Inglewood, California to Nigerian Parents of Igbo descent.
Onyiaka whose name technically means “GIFTED HANDS” started off as a choreographer and that describes her as a creative. It is safe to say that Onyiaka, who is a beauty with brains, is a full body of work that is not just restricted to being a music artist and choreographer. She is also a content creator, video director and producer.
In an interview with Edun Adedamola of SIMPLE MAGAZINE, the Afro-fusion diva talks about her music, tradition, motivation and goals.
Permit me to say this, ONYIAKA is Trouble. Read full interview below;
Can we meet you? Tell us about your childhood and how was growing up like for you?
I was born in Inglewood, California. Growing up in America, I always knew I was Igbo and I was very proud of it. The local community still had Igbo Mass on Sundays and they even hosted an annual summer Igbo camp to educate the Igbo Youth. I was in multiple Atilogwu dance groups throughout the years and you’d be surprised to see how most American born Igbo’s can move to traditional music, not just Azonto, Gbese, or whatever new hot dance pops up. I wasn’t the kid that shunned away from my culture and if anyone was bullying me for being Nigerian, I was too proud to really care. I would go out on the weekend and see my mom and other women, dressed in their regalia, head held high, entering these events with grace and style, I looked up to that.
My community helped me build my confidence despite what people at school said about my skin, height, weight, culture, or anything they came up with.
At what age did you fall in love with music?
I’ve always loved music since I was small. I would be the kid dancing in the middle of the party while all the adults sprayed me with money.
I loved watching music videos on BET and MTV. At the time, I was the same height as the TV so I would just stand in front and pretend I was in the video with the artist. In my home on Saturdays we start with music blasting through the house; Sunny BoBo, Michael Jackson, Awilo, Selena, etc.
In first grade, I actually brought my Awilo CD to class and danced Makosa in the middle of the class. I was always starting dance groups, whether it was my cousins, friends from the neighborhood, or from the school bus. I think I was already born in love with music.
If you were to describe your kind of music and style, what will it be?
It’s funny you ask that because I’ve been trying to find a name for what I do. I feel like my style is a blend of what I’ve been exposed to as a Nigerian American. For now, let’s call it Afro-fusion. The sound is obviously heavily influenced by African music but it will not have the same sound as someone who grew up back home. I know a lot of African artists that didn’t grow up back home will try to form as if they did. To me that is unauthentic and you can hear it.
I am an L.A.-Nigerian and that’s what I sound like.
At what point did you realize it was music for you?
When I realized and when I actually decided to act on my realization are two separate things. I had written songs here and there growing up. In middle school some friends and I wrote a diss track about girls that were always picking on us called “Doo Doo Mamas”. We would perform it on the schoolyard and anytime my part came I got so hyped. I loved performing but I was too scared to actually pursue music at the time so I just stuck to dancing. When I started at my local community college, I got close with a friend who made beats and knew how to record people. Even though I knew this was a thing, I had never encountered anyone who could do this and do it for me. That inspired me to write a new song everyday. Until years later we finally recorded something that was good enough to release, “Move Am”.
You are a multi talented creative, how was it transitioning from a choreographer to recording artist?
To be honest I didn’t even go out of my way to be a choreographer. I had grown up dancing and people just knew me for that. So when more African artists and events started coming to L.A., I started getting calls. But when I was at the music videos or concerts, dancing behind someone, I felt uncomfortable not because of anyone, but because I wasn’t satisfied. I found myself shying away from the camera and not really wanting to dance anymore. Around the same time I changed my major to film. People were feeling the little film projects they’d see me do and I started booking different directing, creative directing, and styling jobs. While helping other artists find themselves and be comfortable on camera, I was able to find myself and regain the confidence to return to the front of the camera, not in the background but as the center.
You have worked with quite a lot of artists, which was or is your most memorable?
I actually got to be Kddo’s assistant for a while. I got to watch his entire process and I really learned so much. He produces, writes, and records everything by himself. I would really watch this man start and finish multiple bangers in one day, by himself, and then he would just get up from the table and walk away like what he just did was normal. I just told my brain “you better be learning some of this.” But it really made my music better and it also opened my mind. There was actually a time when I was depressed and there was this song I’d always play that would just pick me up and make me want to dance. The song was “CheChe” by Mayorkun written by KDDO. So I just thought it was crazy that years later I was working for the person behind the song. I felt like God was giving me a sign.
You have a beautiful project out tagged “TRBL.” How did the idea for the project come about?
“TRBL” is my short way of saying “Trouble”. In some of my songs you’ll hear me say “Oniyaka go put dem for trouble o” or “trouble o”. Initially I just said it because I heard Flavour say it in a song and thought it would sound nice with my name. But now to me “Trouble” is symbolic of the way the new generation is shaking things up, asking questions, and demanding improvement. Adults see us as “trouble makers” because we are going against the grain. I am a proud troublemaker.
Why do you decide to tag it “TRBL”?
I wanted to let people know I was coming and it was time to make way. Even the cover art being red was meant to be reminiscent of an alarm or warning sign. I had to warn everyone that trouble was coming!
How long did it take you to make the EP?
The oldest song on the EP “Sauce’m” was written in 2018 and the newest song “3:45” was recorded a few weeks prior to release. And of course, a lot of unreleased music happened in between that time.
Let’s go through each song, tell us the story behind each song from Nabania all the way to 3:45?
Nabania meaning “tonight” was written during the pandemic because I missed getting dolled up and going out. I was reminiscing about those nights after the pre-game, riding to the club, and all the lights flashing by. This song is for the ladies that get dolled up and enjoy themselves after a long week of handling business.
Betty– felt like I was in a Nollywood film when I first heard the beat”. This song is my ode to the Y2K Nollywood babe era. It was a time when there was just a bunch of Nigerian films being produced that depicted African women in an untraditional and trailblazing light. It’s now become an empowering movement for young African women on social media. It’s a time when a lot of us are going out and doing unexpected things. I resonate with this right now as I learn more about who I am outside of the construct of what I always thought I was supposed to be. I built up enough confidence to pursue a career in music, dress how I want, talk how I want, etc. But that’s followed with people having things to say.
Everyone can resonate with Betty. The Chorus translates to “Look at Betty. All the time they look at Betty. The way she moves starts gossip. Leave Betty Alone!” I’m sure we’ve all had a moment when we just had to shut out people’s opinions.
Playa– This song I produced myself. It’s basically about not wanting to be played with! I got really creative and tried to step out of the box with this one. I wanted it to sound like something you’d hear in a Mortal Kombat fighting game or action film, you can even hear me saying things like “K.O.” “Finish him” in the background. This is the track on the project that grows on you.
Sauce’m– I have an auntie who always says “Swag’m na bu nala” which means “My swag is to the floor” so I tweaked it to my Anambra state dialect and changed “swag” to “sauce” thus creating “Sauce’m na wu nana”, “My sauce is to the floor”. It’s like a cool way of saying you’re fly. I’m just kind of talking myself up throughout the song, about where I’m from, how I move, and how I do my own thing. I actually recorded this song without the beat and my friend made the beat to my vocals.
3:45– This song is for the people that like to go to the party after the after party. On the weekends we get away from the stress of life. It’s a song about being fly and going out with your friends but there is a double message. In the chorus when I sing ” where will I go, where will I be” I’m not just talking about what party I’m going to next, I’m singing out that feeling you get when you’re in the middle of a great night out and you suddenly remember the stresses of life.
Your EP is a solo project, was it intentional and why?
Right now I’m just trying to find my own sound and pull out the music in me. I’ve had people throw off my energy with their bad intentions and I just didn’t want to deal with any of that. I work hard to be able to afford my studio sessions and it’s not playtime for me. You won’t see me with a bunch of people and bottles in the studio. Most times I go solo. I do want to collaborate with people more but I just haven’t found my tribe yet I guess. We shall see who God aligns me with.
Are there artist you are hoping to collaborate with?
I would love to have tracks with Don Jazzy, Peruzzi, Olamide, KDDO, Duncan Mighty, Missy Elliot, Pharrel, Amarae. I would love to write for Rihanna, Normani, Tiwa Savage, Saweetie, Doechii, Alicia Keys, and anyone with a good spirit honestly.
What’s the industry like for female artist in Los Angeles?
I’m sure it’s the same way in most places. There will be people that disrespect, discredit, and try to hold you back. People that don’t even acknowledge you until you have clout. I’ve learned to just always be ready to move on your own. Don’t depend completely on anyone or get caught up in empty promises. You just have to be sharp and be aware of your surroundings. But that’s honestly just life in general.
How has Los Angeles influenced your sound?
I grew up in L.A. so it is a part of me. It’s in my slang, the way I speak and all, so you will hear it come through in my vocals and lyrics.
Who are some Los Angeles artists you’d love to work with in the future?
TY$, Vince Staples, Tyler The Creator to name a few
When people think of Onyiaka, what is that person you want them to envision?
Someone confident, bold, real, and caring. Someone that inspires and encourages people by going out and making things happen. Someone that never forgets to look back and help those that needs it.
What else do you do?
In my free time I love to cook, paint, and watch anything animated. I highly recommend “Vivo” on Netflix.
How do you juggle all of your creative processes from being a content creator, musician, and video producer?
I honestly don’t know. There are always so many things on my mind and I just make it happen. Having a schedule and creating a list to keep me on tasks has been key. God is definitely guiding me through the craziness of it all. One day I’ll have a team and be able to relieve some of that stress.
What keeps you motivated?
I am very introspective. I spend a lot of time with my own mind, strengthening my relationship with God and myself. My faith and audacity keep me going. I say audacity because there are plenty of talented people, some who may do things better than me.
Most people would see this and get discouraged but I can admire someone else’s talent and still feel good about what I do. When I think back to what my parents did to pave a way for us in America, what my grandparents did to survive Biafra, and what all my great grandparents went through, all for me to be where I am now, I know that I can’t quit. I am my ancestors wildest dream and I intend to take full advantage of the position they have placed me in.
What are some of your biggest goals moving forward?
I want to create music like no one has ever heard and perform like no one has ever seen. I want to tour, produce films, create and invest in different businesses. But most of all I want to help people. I want to be able to pave roads and build shelters in Anambra. I would like to start different programs, courses, funds and create more jobs for people. I hope to be part of bridging the gap in the diaspora and see us all truly unite.
What’s next for you and what should your fans expect?
I have videos loaded and ready to drop for you guys so get ready because they’ll be coming back to back. A lot of unreleased tracks that I can’t wait for everyone to hear. Thank you everyone for the love you have shown me so far, it has been more than enough for me. Trust me when I say I’m just getting started.
Onyiaka go put dem for trouble o.
Listen to her TRBL EP on Digital Platforms:
Photography: Kalynn “Nnylak” Youngblood
MUA: Beat By Starrza
Creative Director: Rayo Kasali
Executive Director: Edun Adedamola