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On The Fringe: Azanti is looking to bring the heat

The young, talented singer-songwriter has his sights set on the global audience and his eclectic brand of music confirms just that.

Wunderkinds are rare and special. Like a blue moon, they seldomly appear in various sectors and fields, but are unmistakably obvious, sticking out like a sore thumb. These prodigies typically are mostly secluded to distinctive fields: chess sensations, human calculators, maths whizzes and even more rarely music. While there are musical prodigies, that title is mostly reserved for kids who exhibit a high level of skill and technicality mostly in classical music and understandably so. There's a reluctance to bestow kids who either perform or produce contemporary music or generally any form of popular music with that title mainly because there’s no meaningful or concrete way to measure their ability. However, as time changes, nuance is increasingly important, and a case can be made that this term could be slightly more expansive and if there might be anything close to a prodigy around these parts, a case can most certainly be made for Nathan Ayomikun Otekalu-Aje popularly known as Azanti.

At the age of nine, Azanti already knew his way around the popular production software Fruity Loops, churning out an inordinate amount of beats ー EDM beats to be precise. “I remember I heard it [EDM] online one day and it just caught my attention and so I decided I was going to start making that type of music,” he tells me how he got introduced to Electronic music over a Zoom call one warm evening in November. At 13, he had thought himself how to play the drums, guitar and piano. He had also become a bonafide student of Jazz and Rock music, performing Jazz classics in his school while also spearheading an alternative band.

At this time when I picked up production, I also started listening to a lot of Jazz music,” he explains, almost like an old soul. “I was also listening to a lot of Rock, Alternative music. Bands like U2, Panic! At The Disco and the likes. I had a band in school and I was the lead singer. We came up with our songs and I mostly wrote these songs by myself.” he continues.

While he immersed himself in EDM, Jazz and Rock as a child, interestingly, his influences stretch farther than Helen Parr’s arms, citing Tope Alabi, folk musician Yinka Ayefele and Portuguese singer-songwriter Nenny as some of his favourite artists. He’s evidently eclectic, taking inspiration and soaking up influences from just about anything he hears. This is in part due to the nomadic lifestyle he lives.

Born in the capital city of Abuja, Azanti moved around a lot as a kid. Before the age of nine, he had lived in three major cities ー Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt ー due to his dad’s job which constantly took them around. It’s from his time in these different cities that he slowly began to pick up subtle influences and cultivate a love for music. Soon after, he quickly became fascinated with the idea of becoming a full-time musician and this is what eventually prompted him to pick up Fruity Loops and different musical instruments.

At 15, he had to move again, this time to Central Africa, Angola to be precise. However, before he moved, he made a decision that would ultimately change his life. “I remember I was in school one day with my friends and we were listening to Psycho YP’s music. The energy was great and this just prompted me to send him some of the music I had been working on,” he tells me how he took a chance on himself. “I remember he [Psycho YP] didn’t even reply immediately. By the time he replied, I had graduated and moved to Angola. From his reply, he seemed interested in my stuff and I just thought we could make one track together.” But to Azanti’s surprise, one track became two and then three and eventually fully-fledged out to Azanti’s first official tape YP & Azanti Vol 1.

The project nicely straddles Azanti’s varied musical palette with YP’s Trap/Rap sense. The Abuja-natives combine well, playing off each other’s strengths and dishing out genre-bending slappers that gave the world a glimpse into the artistry and talent of Azanti. Tracks like “Focused”, the lead single and “Posted Up”, caught on almost immediately, spreading the 18-year-old’s gospel. Our first fully-formed look and stand-alone introduction, however, wouldn’t come until a couple of months ago when he released his eponymous sophomore project.

That tape is a combination of songs that I made mostly during the pandemic year. I recorded most of these songs around the same period that I recorded my first tape,” he says, explaining the period that the project came together. “I really just want to make music that’s global. My taste is obviously very broad. I listen to a wide array of music and I’m like a sponge. If I hear something that’s good, I’m going to incorporate it into what I’m trying to achieve with my own music.”

This is exactly what he does with Azanti. He cruises and switches in and out of various infectious flows over R’n’b, Afropop and Kwaito-influenced beats. There are also subtle Caribbean and Hip-hop influences scattered across the project which is once again a testament to his diversity. “I just take bits and pieces from all the stuff that I hear and try to create my own unique sound out of that.”

Azanti is currently in Canada for school. He just moved over from England a few months ago. He’s still constantly moving and growing and so is his music. “I feel like right now, I’m just building on the groundwork that I had done as an 11-year-old. I’m getting better at my craft now that I’m growing older.” While he’s on the periphery of fame at such a young age, he doesn’t seem fazed by it at all. He talks and acts like he had stardom pre-installed from birth. He’s clearly built for the spotlight and he’s yet to put a foot wrong. Before the end of our extensive conversation, I ask what the future holds for Azanti and he replies succinctly: “Fucking fire bro”.

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