Nigeria’s Nissi: Charting a path towards creating ‘The Disney of Africa’

By Shingai Darangwa
Posted on Friday, 21 October 2022 11:21

Nissi (photo via Nissi's publicist)

Singer, animator, artist. Nissi, the sister of musician Burna Boy, is a rare all-around creative talent that’s doing things her own way and charting a path towards building “the Disney of Africa”.

“That flight was bumpy as hell. The pilot said it happens when you’re crossing the continent and I thought to myself, ‘What do you mean by that?’”

Nissi is in the throes of her story about a wildly turbulent flight from London to Johannesburg yesterday. “I messaged (my road manager) and said I’m scared. I thought something was gonna happen. I was seeing lightning as well outside the window so I thought, ‘… don’t strike this plane’.”

Nissi tells this story as we arrive in her hotel room at the posh Marriott hotel in the upmarket Melrose Arch precinct. The 28-year-old Nigerian singer, animator and all-around creative is a talented storyteller, smiling warmly and speaking engagingly. It’s her first time in S.A and she’s eager to paint the town red over the next few days, she says.

Gravity with Major League DJz

Nissi has a growing local and continental fanbase following the release of her latest single, the amapiano-leaning “Gravity” featuring amapiano star duo, Major League DJz. “They DM’d me, to be honest,” she says when explaining how this collaboration came about.

“And then I checked their page out to see what they were about. And then they sent me a pack with a few beats inside. I like to open beats when I’m in the studio because once I latch onto a sound I can get straight into it. So I got into the studio, played it, heard the “Gravity” beat and instantly on the spot made the song.”

She recorded a video of the recording and sent it to them right away. When they came to London a few weeks later they linked up and jointly polished the song until completion. It was a simple process thanks to their organic chemistry — “We just vibe. I love those guys.”

Recently, Nissi joined Major League DJz on stage during their performance in London as they performed the new single during their DJ set. “I find it so interesting when we perform the song in places with crowds cause I just like to watch how they react. For me, that’s the biggest indication of how a song makes people feel.

“And it’s always great for this specific song. It moves people in a way that I haven’t seen before. Everyone behind us and in the crowd was dancing and moving. It was really cool.”

Nissi would go on to perform “Gravity” alongside the duo at the popular DSTV Delicious International Food and Music Festival the following day.

The song is part of an EP that she’s currently putting the final touches on before it comes out in November. It’s basically a reintroduction of her to the world and a showcase of where her headspace is at.

Musical beginnings

Born into a musical family where her grandfather, Benson Idonije, was the band manager to afrobeat icon Fela Kuti and her mom, Bose Ogulu, ran a music school, Nissi took to music from an early age. At age six, she started playing the keyboard and the piano. A few years later, she started singing.

She recalls: “At age 13 I was in the corner just singing and recording and one of my best friends now, who’s a producer as well, heard me and he’s like, ‘yo let’s go record something’. So I go to the studio, I do a demo, I bring it back home and play it for my granddad and my parents and everybody is teary-eyed. My grandad is like, ‘Okay let’s get serious’.”

Everyone behind us and in the crowd was dancing and moving. It was really cool.”

Her grandad then went on to help her start thinking of a soundscape and explore how best to record music. With his experience and extensive musical background, he was a big influence in her early days by showing her the ropes and exposing her to different sounds.

Throughout this period she also grew an interest in art.

“With art, it was almost like a parallel path with the music,” she explains. “At the same time that I was in music school I was also in art school, I was enrolled in both. I would paint and draw comic books and recreate cartoon characters. And that also just developed as I grew up.”

Sister to Burna Boy

Nissi’s older brother is the Grammy award-winning superstar Burna Boy. I ask her what it’s like having a sibling of his stature.

“I think there’s definitely industry learnings that come out of it. You just see what goes on in the industry and get a better understanding of what you want to do and what you don’t want to do, the spaces you want to go and the spaces you don’t want to go, and the things you like about it.

“So it’s almost like learning from above the space without having to put yourself in a situation where you’ll be stuck. So it’s just navigation really. Musically, I just do my own thing.”

Burna – just a sibling

Does this come with any pressure? “Not to me, no,” she says without hesitation. “Cause I’ve always done my own thing and he’s always done his own thing, we’ve never been in each other’s business like that. At the end of the day, that’s just my brother, it’s like any sibling.”

As she charts her own path, Nissi is optimistic about the future. With her growing animation studio gaining steam, she is eager to do things the African way. “It’s like building the Disney of Africa. We’re in production for one of our films that’ll be out next year, we’ve got more projects in the works.

He’s always done his own thing, we’ve never been in each other’s business like that.”

“There’s a lot of African stories we want to tell and make sure the next generation has representation and we’re able to give the world our perspective and make ourselves the cool entity as opposed to ingesting from the outside world. We should also bring the taste of who we are and what we have to offer.”

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