Armed with intimate lyricism and lovestruck melodies, the singer-songwriter pushing the envelope for Nigeria's ingenious crop of soul artists, one ballad at a time.
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.
“Football is my first love,” says Ogranya, an R&B/Soul singer-songwriter. Born Ogranya Jable Osai, the Rivers State native was raised in the state’s premier city, Port-Harcourt, and found his first love in athletics, not the arts. “I had dreams of going pro as a kid but here we are,” he chuckles. Trained as an architect in Ghana, he began his journey creating music in university, going from one studio to the next with similarly inclined friends. His upbringing eased him into his craft and he credits his family for their early influence. “I grew up in a family where music was a part of our daily lives, so transitioning from listening to making was fairly seamless.” He describes singing as a hobby, one that he developed enough to pursue a career. Over time, he embedded himself in creative communities innocuously and he only realized after taking stock of his friendship groups. “I noticed at some point that the friendships I found myself sustaining better were the ones I had with those who were either into music themselves or involved somewhat in the creative arts,” he reveals. Coming a long way from his 2019 debut album, Eden Evermore, his sound has evolved into a noticeably stripped-down version of his earliest efforts, highlighting his intentions to create a more original product than his older music suggests. “My sound has become less experimental but more expressive. Not as overly embellished as it used to be but more concise. I can’t explain it.”
As far as an ideal audience, Ogranya believes he caters to a specific portion of all demographics; people who are compulsive overthinkers. Whether or not this results from his knack for over-analysis remains unclear; the sentiment is appreciated even by listeners who may not consider themselves of the same ilk. The validation often necessary for artists and people alike to continue down a path they have chosen can come from the most unlikely places, a co-sign from a contemporary, words of encouragement from a parent, or in more intangible ways. “I can’t say there’s been a particular moment where I felt life coursing through my veins after having my plight asserted,” he discloses. “However, investment and support do the trick in all shapes and forms. Emotional, financial, name it. Nothing lets you know you’re treading the right path like having people commit to your cause.”
A serial performer, he has performed his music for a range of crowds – from small intimate settings to larger stages – and it is one of the things COVID has held back from members of his audience who have not had the pleasure of witnessing his prowess. On the other hand, the lockdown has provided him some self-assurance as far as the quality of his art: “It’s made me far less apprehensive about my music.”
His creative process is heavily influenced by pop culture and the media he consumes, taking cues and ideas from everything he experiences. "[It's] slightly complicated," he explains. "I write down random thoughts a lot – excerpts from conversations, books, movies, and so on. I also try to hum new melodies from time to time while conceptualizing song ideas as well – stories that would make good songs, fictional and nonfiction alike. Producers send me beats which I then try to lay all these ideas on, usually with a trial-and-error approach resulting in multiple drafts till I’m satisfied with one.” Considering himself a solid songwriter aids his cause in more ways than one, granting him the self-confidence to pursue ideas and language that might seem arbitrary to most but make for excellent songs. His collaborative efforts often require this part of his artistry to be at full strength as he lends his ear and pen to either producers or other singers to arrive at a finished product. “It’s pretty straightforward,” he says. “Whether it’s with an artist or a producer, I usually like to go back and forth with ideas till we arrive at something both parties are happy with.” He considers his edge over other artists to be his versatility. “I’m relatively versatile and can do quite a number of music styles without too much trouble.” His recording process is a split-up progression born out of a need to amplify resources. “It’s in different phases. I rehearse the songs on my phone first till I get it right before hitting the studio to lay down proper vocals. This is also to maximize studio time.”
Not many artists in modern times are big proponents of the volume strategy popularized by American rappers in the mixtape era and characterized by a consistent barrage of new music that maintains aesthetic and sonic cohesion. Mostly popular with rap music, this system has recorded excellent success for artists outside the genre globally. Yet, it is not one many alternative African acts are comfortable pursuing. Ogranya’s recent work (and work rate) has placed him squarely in the conversation of artists who have followed this particular tactic. That is in many ways responsible for most of the recent attention he has received. He says the feedback so far “has been very encouraging. I’m finding that different people enjoy my work in different ways.”
Ogranya is a veteran of sorts, thanks to the impressive catalogue he’s acquired over the last three years. His latest deluge of music has employed the aforementioned strategy to significant effect and has seen him release 24 singles (and a joint tape plus an acoustic version for fun) so far this year, at an average of two and a half singles a month. More than just an opportunity to flex his phenomenal work rate, the singles have served as the buildup for the mysterious Project 52. They have shown a varied range of R&B-influenced records that draw inspiration from over half a century of styles and are tied together by his electronic touch.
Ogranya finds that the financial constraints of pursuing his art are particularly tough when it comes to creating professional visual content to accompany his music. “Every artist dreams of shooting videos for majority of their work. Unfortunately, these things cost an arm and a leg. So, I’d say it’s this amongst a few,” he shares. Working as an independent artist thus far, some of these constraints can be attributed to a lack of overall support from his informal label structure, which could be rectified by external aid. When queried about what he considers the best path to market himself and his craft, he shares what he considers the optimum route. “Music is now significantly democratized, and this has built bridges between being independent and getting a deal. 10% of something is greater than 100% of nothing, so I’m out to broker for the best. Better put - ‘there are a million ways to get it’”. Already trained as an architect, he explains that he would practice full-time if he was not already pursuing music. On the best advice he has received on his journey, he maintains the calm demeanor portrayed by his music: “Become water.”
Very few independent artists can take a time-intensive approach like this to unveil new music. Yet, Ogranya’s recent exploits show that it is possible to maintain deliberate control over one’s art, from the staggered approach to the uniformity across motifs and soundscapes. The costs of being an independent artist are pretty steep; Ogranya’s part-time job as an architect is clear evidence. Moonlighting as an artist seems set to pay dividends if his latest releases have anything to say about it, though; major labels are sure to pay attention to more than the music. The strategy has built muted anticipation for the upcoming project, yet the quality of the music nullifies the need for any; Project 52 will almost certainly bear the weight of expectations as far the Nigerian R&B scene goes and push the envelope for our ingenious crop of songwriters.