Bankulli is one of Nigeria’s top powerhouses both behind-the-scenes and in the studio with some of the biggest and rising stars from around the world. Lambo XTRA sat down with him to discuss the ins and outs of making music, working with Beyonce, linking up with WUrLD and the recent debut and remix of his first solo single. The interview is edited lightly for clarity.
LX: How did you first get into music?
Bankulli: My introduction into music started from age 4 years old. The good thing is, my dad at that time was the choirmaster of a church so we had no choice. Anytime he is going to choir practice or church service, we were bound to go with him. That was my first interface with music, singing, was in church. Age 4, going through the Sunday School choir, then I graduated to the main choir. It was during that time, I learned how to play musical instruments: keyboard, bass guitar, lead guitar and of course, it enhanced more of my capabilities when it came to singing and singing with groups, learning all of the traits that come with it.
What is the primary difference between recording with other artists vs recording for yourself?
Singing for other people comes with you following instructions and trying to deliver into specifics of what they give to you, and I believe because I’ve been doing that for quite a while and from my background experience, it was easier for me to morph into making my own song. Because it’s something that has been part of me, too, all my life. It was not surprising. I knew it was something I could do, just have to do it better, so people wouldn’t look at me like a joke and stuff like that, but that’s it.
You recently worked and collaborated with Beyonce on The Lion King; The Gift. How did it feel to finally see visuals for songs you worked on with her in the Disney+ Black is King film?
Watching the visual gave more in-depth interpretation about the creative direction for what they were trying to achieve. Of course it gives the project [The Gift album] an extension, a more life line. For more people to enjoy what they were trying to paint as a picture, and a canvas to the world. For me, it was a great joy because it gave the chance for some of the artists from the album to be visually represented. It’s great to finally watch the picture, because it gives the project more joy, more representation, in their own light.
So true. So getting into your music now, what made you feel like it was time to release music on your own?
I won’t say it’s spontaneous but it’s something I’ve always had in my mind, because of my background, because of the people I have around me. Around 2019, specifically around October or November, I was in the studio with some of my friends and he played the beat, and somehow, my spirit connected with the beat. I started singing “Gbemiro, gbemiro…” You know, “lift me up, lift me up.”
Prior to that time, I had so much in my mind thinking about what the new year would bring. I was invited to attend the 2020 GRAMMYs. Maybe thinking about everything, how to navigate, that may have clocked my mind at that time. I think my spirit just needed to connect with God at that time, and what came to my mouth was Gbemiro, which means lift me up.
The entire song went forward to say, in my journey of life, lift me up, don’t let me stumble, don’t let me fail. So it was more like my spirit connecting to God, praying to God. And I left it like that until the deep end of the pandemic, I thought about the song, put someone on it. I thought of WUrlD, and we were able to come up with the final piece and the world, everyone who listened to it, just accepted it.
What was it like working with WUrlD and how did you team up for the song?
When I went through the song many times, listening to it, I thought to give it more of a soft landing, I needed to put someone who could match that energy. The first person who came to my mind was WUrlD. I reached out to him to see if it was something he would be interested in, and he said “yeah.” He said his mom walked in while he was listening to the song and his mom listened to the song with him and she was probably the one who made him realise, this, I love this. So he called me back and said he was actually playing the song and his mom walked in and she loved the song.
Tell us more about the remix with Hiro that was released this past Friday.
The new remix that I’m bringing out for my song, I’m featuring an artist named Hiro. Hiro is a Congolese, French-based artist. I believe he’s going to be bringing a different dynamic to people from all over other sides of the world. France, Europe. If you listen to the song, it still holds the same vibe, the same element, but trying to expand the reach beyond just the Yoruba language, for people who want to feel the vibe, to all languages across the world.
The song kind of blends different genres. Speak more on that. How would you define it?
That is a blend of the older generation and the younger generation. The same way I feel is probably how other people feel. The unique thing about the song and the mix is that it crosses beyond cultures. Anybody who comes across this song, there is a specific soothing feeling. There is a sort of calm, a sort of spiritualness. I call it African spiritual sound because it connects with our inner love. When the whole world was battling uncertainty, trust, love, care, that song was able to sooth people’s minds and calm people’s minds and give people general hope.
What do you think of the state of Afropop today? And where do you see it going?
Afrobeats is one of the fastest growing music genres in the world. And Afropop, as a subgenre, the ability of it to be able to connect with other cultures, all the international collaborations, is helping to expand the sound to all parts of the world. This is going to continue for a while because it gives an opportunity for people to discover new talents, new sounds. It’s there for the world to digest and explore. New listeners are coming on board, and with that, it will be able to shape the way people see African music, the way people see Afrobeats. The collaboration for people all over the world to digest it more than before is a positive thing. We can’t grow in isolation. I always say this to people.
Bankulli, Tell us what is next?
I’m going to be putting out new music. I’m working on a documentary, Chronicles of Afrobeats. It doesn’t just stop there. All this music is going to feature in the documentary as well. So instead of waiting until we release it we believe it’s an opportunity to start the groundwork, to start an awareness of stuff. Music is part of me. I can’t remove that from what I do. So definitely there will be more music. And I think people are going to like it.