INTERVIEW: Shopé

Q: Hi Shopé, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

A: Thanks for having me. Like almost everyone else, I’ve been trying to make the most of what has been an interesting year to say the least. When my 2020 plans started falling apart back in March, my team and I had to take a step back to find the hidden opportunities. I think where we are today with the project speaks to some of those opportunities we were able to identify and pursue. So all in all, I’m in good spirits and feeling quite optimistic.

Q: Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Rikiki”?

A: Absolutely! Rikiki is both the culmination of a 7 year journey, and the beginning of the next chapter of my story. Since immigrating to Toronto from Lagos, Nigeria,  I guess I’ve been on a journey of both forming and finding my cultural identity. For a while, I ignored my African side, immediately assimilating to the west. Over time though, through a series of events, I began to realize that far from being a liability,  my Africanness was in fact one of my greatest assets – my superpower if you will. This revelation began in 2013, so over the last 7 years, I’ve been exploring how to marry my proudly Nigerian with my proudly Toronto side. Rikiki comes at a time where I’m getting a better sense of how that might look in my life and consequently, my art. We’re always in the process of becoming, so I anticipate this next chapter of what it means for me to be confidently Nigerian-Canadian will continue to flourish all the more.

Q: Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

A: It’s hard to pinpoint a singular event that precipitated this song. Rather it was a number of different things that shifted my perspective first about myself, and from that came this song. One such thing was coming to realize the realities of systemic injustices in the western world as it pertains to people of colour. The killings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castille and most recently George Floyd have helped crystalize for me that fact that systemic racism isn’t simply a vague idea of talking point. It’s a real thing! This reality of systemic racism I believe, further entrenches the identity crisis for many black people who have long been seeking to establish and understand their connection back to Africa. And here I was, an African boy fortunate enough to know my heritage is rooted in Nigeria for many generations, and I was taking that for granted. At the same time, as an immigrant from a developing nation, I have a unique perspective on some of the things that I think need to happen in order to bring about racial equity. Existing in this middle ground where you can be accused of “not being enough” on either side takes a fair amount of emotional grit and fortitude. 

I also recall the birth of my son as being a pivotal moment in my re-examining how I saw myself and what I wanted to pass on to him. I recall growing up in Canada and so often hearing my dad say, “Sope, we’re grateful for Canada, but remember this isn’t where you’re from.” Something about seeing my son at birth suddenly gave new gravity to that statement I hadn’t paid much mind to previously. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it was but I suddenly knew I wanted my son to know his roots…to know where his dad (and therefore he) is from. I didn’t want that connection lost in barely a generation. So I was determined to continue connecting my Toronto side back to my Nigerian side.

All of these experiences kinda framed my thinking while working on this project. So when it came time to write Rikiki, what came out was a song that speaks to the confidence of owning your identity and walking it out with integrity, regardless of who agrees or disagrees.

As humans we are receptacles of all the experiences, interactions and conversations we have. I think what’s special about creatives is the fact that at any point in time (even far into the future), we are able to re-surface these experiences and present it back to the world as art. That’s kinda what happened with Rikiki.

Q: How was the filming process and experience behind the video?

A: It was a blast! This was the biggest music video production I’ve been a part of, so it was quite gratifying to see how far I’ve come. For the first time, I had producers, directors, dancers, choreographers, set design, stylists, photographers and so many more people who helped bring this video to life. Everyone came ready and excited to work, so it was just a positive atmosphere overall, even when we were still shooting late into the night.

Q: Why naming the album after this song in particular?

A: Because it truly embodies where I am. Although a self-coined term, “Rikiki” is an expression of a fierce, deep rooted confidence that took me so long to develop. I’m a Nigerian-Canadian, excited to be an ambassador to the west for Africa, and vice versa. I comfortably occupy that middle space. The song communicates confidence, courage and boldness…not caring what others are doing/thinking/saying about you. Simply being strong enough to be you.  So given that’s my current state of mind, it was only right to give the project the same name.

Q: How was the recording and writing process?

A: The song was surprisingly quick. Again, I think it’s because I’ve been walking around with so much, it all just came spilling out. The project as a whole took about a year because for some songs I had to leave it for a while, go live some life, then return to it. Fortunately all of the recording was completed not too long before COVID lockdowns began. So those lockdowns delayed more so the technical and administrative parts of getting the project ready.

Q: What role does Africa play in your music?

A: It’s the foundation for me. I was Nigerian first before I was Canadian. So the western side of me (and thus my music) builds on the foundation of the African side. That’s why as I dug more deeply into my cultural identity, African sounds started permeating my previously strictly Hip Hop/R&B sound. Now I strive to create the kind of Afrofusion music that is familiar yet unique in both African and western markets. Ultimately, I’m really hoping the music is a catalyst to helping me (and many others) invest in the development of the continent. Africa has given too much to the development of the world to remain “developing.”

Q: How do you blend your roots with your new perspective now that you’re living in Toronto?

A: It’s in how I speak, live, dress, what I listen to, what I value, etc. It’s in the fact that I speak Yoruba as well as English. It’s in the fact that I celebrate other cultures, being the product of two distinct ones myself. It’s simply in being open to explore the traditions of my Nigerian roots and whatever new ones I discover are part of Canadian culture, that align with my values. Fortunately, Toronto is the kind of city where it’s not hard to blend cultures. In fact, you’ll be hard pressed to find someone in Toronto who isn’t culturally hyphenated.

Q: What else is happening next in Shopé’s world?

A: More songs, more videos and finding more ways to stay connected to my fans while we’re all on lockdown. Hopefully, we can get back to touring soon. I miss travelling and seeing how the music is touching my fans. I’m especially excited to see the new faces that are now supporting me since hearing this project and watching the videos.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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