Can You Simi Now?
The 34-year-old speaks about motherhood, being more expressive, constantly challenging herself and her new album.
Simi is a perfectionist. A workaholic, if you will. She has this sterling resolve to constantly create and adjust her art until it is where she desires it to be. Her fourth LP, To Be Honest, took about three years in the making. Since she originally conceived the idea for the album, she’s worked tirelessly, night and day, writing and recording, but every time she paused to listen, it didn’t feel right. “When I started working on it, I had this idea of writing [about] some of my feelings and some of my stories and title it to be honest and I really wanted to be as honest as possible on the project,” she tells me over a Zoom call one Tuesday afternoon in May. “I really worked on it in bits and pieces. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted it to sound like so I had this whole compilation at first, but it didn’t feel right so I left it alone. Then I went back again.”
This work ethic and dedication surely didn’t start today. On “Story Story”, the pensive opener from her new album, she recalls her fraught beginnings: “I go to bed by 4 and wake up by 6 / I’m begging my producer friends for beats'' she sings, before bursting into a slow, gospel-inspired chorus. It sounds a little sensational, cliche even, but there’s a searing candour with which she sings, it’s almost impossible not to believe her every word. Again, at the tail-end of the record, she boasts and laments: “Anytime you hear me sing song wey you like, you know me don write am 5 or 6 times”. This was her mode of operation for years: hunkered down in the studio, constantly creating and tinkering, scoring millions of global streams, topping charts and bagging notable awards in the process.
When I started working on it, I had this idea of writing [about] some of my feelings and some of my stories and title it to be honest and I really wanted to be as honest as possible on the project
This approach, however, came to a halt in 2020, not least because of the effects of the COVID 19 pandemic but also because she was pregnant with Deja, her first child. “In a way, I kind of appreciated it because usually, I’m always on the go, there’s something always happening. But when the pandemic hit, I had the opportunity to basically relax and do nothing for a while. I could enjoy the process of my pregnancy without stressing too much about work.” she tells me. “This wasn’t until I was 6 months pregnant though” she quickly adds, once again hinting at her relentless and constant desire to work. The more time she spent with her daughter, before and after she was born, the more her focus began to recenter. Her spirit, as she constantly put it, needed to take a break from this thing that she had dedicated much of her life to, and now she needed to focus on her newborn. But speaking to Simi, who took short pauses after every question, frequently letting out a low hmm, it’s clear that this is a compromise she would make a hundred times over.
“A child is no joke you know,” she states, letting out a little sigh that emphasizes her words. “Children need you. I’ll stand by that any day. Also, I’m the kind of person that when I do something, I wanna do it well. I don’t want to do it because everyone else is doing it. I do it because I’m ready and I wanna do it well. When I gave birth to my daughter, my priorities obviously got rearranged. My norm before I got pregnant was spending about 12 to 16 hours in the studio at a stretch. That’s me. But I don’t have that luxury anymore”
While this time off afforded Simi quality time with her child, one which she relishes dearly and a much-needed break from constantly working, it also gave her time to simply sit back and observe. The music industry moves at breakneck speed. Myriad styles and trends pop up every other day and as an artist, it’s very easy to lose your artistic identity trying to keep up. Simi is however very grounded. “I don’t like to be swayed, especially when it comes to my art,” she tells me with a strong sense of conviction. She’s an old soul and this is what largely informs the kind of music she makes. On her eponymous sophomore, standouts ー and some of the biggest songs of her career to date ー like “Joromi”, “Aimasiko” and “O Wa N’be” all reimagine famous classic records. She’s however found a middle ground, a working formula ー one that has set her apart in this ever-evolving soundscape ーpairing her nostalgic sensibilities with a more contemporary approach. “At the end of the day, you can’t please everyone. Even if I drop something that Taiwo says he wants, Kehinde probably wants something else so I’m going to displease someone one way or the other so my goal is to make myself happy. I’m front and center of whatever decision I’m making when it comes to my art.”
My norm before I got pregnant was spending about 12 to 16 hours in the studio at a stretch. That’s me. But I don’t have that luxury anymore
This is the same energy that imbues her new work. It’s unapologetically Simi. In truth, while the title is a little on the nose, it essentially captures the essence of the project. On the sweet-sounding “Loyal” she addresses an old friend who betrayed her trust. “Usually, I wouldn’t say anything publicly with things like that. But I put some of my experiences into my song. I’m more candid, more in your face with this album. I’m a little more daring, with a little more cussing.” she tells me as she chuckles. Apart from the themes that she explores, she’s also a little more daring with her sonic approach. While cuts like “Naked Wire”, “Logba Logba” and the Adekunle Gold-assisted "Balance" sound like songs you’ll normally expect from Simi, the trap-infused “No Joy” and “Loyal” move her slightly out of her comfort zone.
“With this album, I’m trying to show what more I can do. My range. I know there are a lot of people obsessed with my first album and think I should keep making albums like that. But the thing is, I’ve already proven that I can make that. It’s not a challenge for me anymore.”
Simi relishes a challenge: transitioning from a budding gospel artist to pop mainstay is no easy feat, but it’s just one of the many obstacles she’s faced head-on and scaled. Now, her latest challenge is pushing herself once again and in turn her art: pulling back the curtain of stardom and opening up bits of herself like she’s never done before. On a number of occasions on the album, she asks, as if to constantly confirm: “Can you see me now?”