On The Fringe: Brum3h Is The Capital's Gift To Soul
This singer-songwriter's melodic vocals will give John Legend a run for his money!
On the Fringe will attempt to tell stories of artistes who otherwise would not receive mainstream media’s attention due to the absence of representation or the necessary publicity. While some people are not as keen on discovery as some of us are, it is still essential to chronicle the rise of emerging talents that can create timeless records. Artistes covered in the series will be at differing stages in their journeys, but they will all be emerging acts somehow — either unto larger audiences or more niche ones.
The sophistication required to be a session musician at any degree is an inherent trait one either possesses or does not. Just ask anyone who saw the Disney Pixar animation, Soul. For this week’s artist, it is an attribute he has in spades – oh, and a lot of soul to boot. Brumeh, (stylized as Brum3h) born Brumeh Oghenekaro, is a Nigerian R&B/Soul fusion artist from the inimitable capital of the country. His indoctrination into the craft came from an uncle he was fond of growing up who used to play late ‘80s Jazz and Pop any time he was around him. Soon enough he encouraged a full-blown foray into music by the way of an instrument: the drums. Brumeh was three at the time and still plays the drums until this day.
Fast forward to his adolescent years and he began to key into music from a completely new perspective, by virtue of television. The same uncle who showed him what to listen to had put him on to the Jonas Brothers on Disney and he was hooked; the amalgamation of music and TV sparked something within and he knew he had to learn the guitar. However, he would not truly start the process until 2010. His next intersection with music came via what is today possibly his most venerable muscle – his songwriting.
“I think the first song I ever wrote came when I was 12 or 13, I had no idea why I did it but it was so satisfying I knew I had to do it again,” he recalls. Like many artists raised Christian, Brumeh’s voice got noticed early on and he was encouraged to try out for his church’s choir. Naturally, he got in and he has been a part of some choir ever since. Yet, it was not until university before he would realize just how serious his voice was. As a student of the University of Ilorin (possibly every public university in the country too) he had become accustomed to waiting in very long lines for the most basic of services. “We were in line for a CBT exam and I’m not sure what it was, maybe just the conditions on the day (haha), but I ended up singing in line," he fondly recalls. I think it was “Rich and Famous” by Praiz and I drew some attention my way. I got so many compliments and got asked by a couple of people if I sang professionally. That was probably when I figured that I could do this music thing full-time.”
The development he has undergone since his debut album The Big Blue, is on full display on his most recent efforts; “White Collar Man” and “Criminal”, specifically in the sense of trust. “This project has made me more trusting creatively, I don’t question my work as much as I used to,” Brumeh reflects. “Also, I’m in a very different headspace; a lot of the songs on The Big Blue were from some of the lowest points in my life. I was co-living with Golddrummachine and another friend. A lot of them were from my viewpoint in uni which wasn’t the greatest time ever but I feel like I’ve healed from a lot of things I was dealing with at the time and that has helped me contrast my work better.” He has also recorded growth in other parts of his artistry particularly in terms of production and sound engineering. His chord and harmony selection have gained notable progress. However, he feels like his progression as a person has had the biggest influence on his new work. “Take “Criminal”, for example; I was big on Kranium and Koffee so more people could tell I was feeling the Caribbean influences at the time and you can still hear that on the new project but a lot more toned down,” he shares.
Having performed across a range of stages, picking a preferred audience is a tall order but according to him, his music has varying appeals. “Lyrically, it’s safe to say [my music is for] anyone. Sonically, I'd say the lower millennials and the gen x crowd,” he laughs. “Lyrically my music cuts across everything and everyone. We all feel love and insecurities. A lot of stuff that happened to me as a human that I couldn’t process, I’ve worked around while trying to write for my new project. In relationships, for example, I've had to deal with the fear of rejection and that's something a ton of people have direct experience with and I just hope to be able to touch on as many as possible.” In terms of the performances themselves, his most memorable one so far was the Festival of Lights concert in 2019: “It was a pretty big crowd, maybe two to three thousand and I had a 20–25-minute set. I noticed how transfixed people were and I looked to the back and even the planners had stopped doing what they were doing. I almost laughed when I saw someone near the barricades raise her hand and touch her chest.”
The significance of these performances outweighs just a bit of fan love, Brumeh’s experiences while on or backstage have provided a lot of validation from his contemporaries and some of his idols. From the smaller stages of his church where his keyboardist shared a personal story about how his music saved a mutual friend’s relationship to how his single “White Collar Man” saved another friend from committing suicide, he knows better than anyone how important it is to make authentic music that transcends shallow interpretation. “In 2018, Chocolate City did a tour around Nigeria and I opened for M.I. in Abuja, we ended up riffing about music backstage and he told me a few things that stuck with me. I opened for the Cavemen as well a couple months ago when they came out here (Abuja) to perform, Kingsley just told me he thought the music was phenomenal and it comes from a special place. Same thing happened with Oxlade, Sess shared my music with him and he said he listens to mine to learn stuff. I was one of the openers for Wizkid that evening,” Brumeh recalls. While this could come off as name-dropping to many, Brumeh appears casual as he details these encounters, recalling them with no pomp or swagger; all they have done is reassure him about the path he is on.
His coveted creative process is not very elaborate but what it lacks in grandiose, it makes up for in ritualistic consistency. “I’m a very cerebral writer, a lot of my songs are written mentally before I ever put them down,” he explains. “When I have an idea for a song it could take anywhere from a day to a year to finish. For example, I didn’t even write “Criminal”, it happened on the spot. I was in the studio with Randy and Bigshyrobot; Randy talked about a guitar loop from a few days ago, he ran it back and we banged it out. I wrote “All My Life” in 20 minutes, the whole song from the beat to the lyrics took about an hour.” Combatting lack of inspiration is every writer’s least favourite task and it is no different for songwriters. “I have a whole list of phrases I think are cool that I’ve come up with over time, I just mine that for content whenever I get stuck.” Providing the instrumentation and vocals for a host of projects over the years, Brumeh is no stranger to collaborations, yet he maintains a specific but simple process for deciding who he would like to work with: “If I’ve featured you or been featured by you, I’d like to think we’re friends. I’m not big on spamming people to make music, I’m also not a fan of working over the internet either so as much as possible I like to be involved in person.”
While most people struggled to maintain stability and sanity throughout the pandemic, Brumeh managed to find a sense of balance that has informed his professional decisions in ways that he would have overlooked before the virus hit. “Do you know the phrase about how important it is to know where you come from in order to know where you’re going? Well, I think the lockdown centred me a lot. I’ve got four siblings and I ended up spending the year locked in with my family, it helped me find my roots. We got way closer last year and it focussed me not just as an artist but as a person. It helps to have a support system,” he shares.
Brumeh considers his first edge to be his strength as a vocalist, however, developing the other muscles in his artistry has proved essential in his bid to survive as an artist in an ecosystem that favours exclusively major artists. “I have a very strong falsetto that I developed subconsciously, early on I was exposed to a lot of gospel music and that grew my head voice significantly,” he explains. Being a triumvirate in the Nigerian music industry has afforded him the ability to ease the financial constraints of being an independent artist. Credited as the executive producer for Bigshyrobot’s first EP, he has also garnered multiple songwriting and production credits for Forevatired and a host of other independent acts. His extensive performance history also puts him in modest demand albeit at a varying degree of consistency. According to him, “sound engineering and production have helped put some money in my pocket so I’m grateful that I picked up those skills early.”
While these all provide helpful outlets, a significant signing advance could be a difference-maker that provides greater visibility and access but according to Brumeh, his freedom is essential to the art he creates. “The headspace I'm at right now, I really like being independent. If I had to do this as a job where it's super structured, that might get in the way of my creativity. I hate being rushed while I record, I make a lot of edits as I go along and I need to have the flexibility to work like that. For now, I don’t know of any majors that could give me that kind of freedom. Maybe if I had more to leverage then I could. In a sense, last year helped me reflect and realize how I wanted to move and this is one of those directions.”
Championing the presence of immaculate talent in the city of Abuja was never Brumeh’s direct intention, yet, he has done more for the city than most people are aware of. You’d be forgiven for thinking he had a deeper catalogue, bearing in mind his considerable experience but even with only one full feature project, he has nowhere to go but up.