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On The Fringe: Plug Into The Sultry Sounds of April Maey

The multidisciplinary artist creates a soothing blend of neo-soul and lush R&B.

26-year old April Dokpesi, popularly known as April Maey, is a Lagos-raised, Belgium-based, multidisciplinary artist. Joining the indigenous label Chocolate City, she pursued a career in the creative industry, filling several roles at the label, including administrative and creative duties. In the most unlikely manner, this set her along her current artistic trajectory in more ways than one. The privilege of working behind the scenes is one taken for granted by many artists. The glamorization of being the leading man or woman often leads entry-level participants in the industry awry, with many aspiring artists deriding the notion of gaining an understanding of the industry by working a less glamorous role within it. Many would imagine dealing first-hand with the Chocolate City artist roster (and close affiliates) in her early 20s possibly paved the way for the young singer to gain a spot in the coveted line-up; they would be correct.

Working a job while furthering your education is a reality familiar to many Nigerian millennials (and immigrants). The inability to do anything outside both preoccupations is also a familiar sentiment. In certain ways, this underlines the excellence of April’s efforts amidst her challenges. Take this interview, for example. Unable to agree on a suitable time within our packed schedules, we settled for trading emails to get the story done. While I generally insist on receiving direct quotes from my subjects, the information I received from her was robust and compelling enough to write two stories.

Moving to Belgium a couple of years ago to pursue further academic glory (and escape the sixth installment of Final Destination Nigeria), she received her Master’s from the VUB in Brussels, Belgium, last year while working on her sophomore project, Ticket to Anywhere. Inspired by the legendary Tracy Chapman, the EP’s title pays homage to one of her greatest hits, “Fast Car”. Being a multi-faceted artist has its perks, such as truly being able to apply oneself through every stage of the creative process, which is precisely what April Maey does on her sophomore. With direct input translating into a wholesome offering, her touch is everywhere, from the cover art to the visuals for her lead single “Starry Night”, which she both wrote and co-directed.

Discussing her unexpected transition from graphic design to songwriting, April says: “I believe I transitioned from a graphic designer to a songwriter in 2017 while I worked for Chocolate City Music. Although I didn't do any real professional work, or at least my work was not considered professional at the time, I wrote a lot of music that never got put out because the sound was a bit different from mainstream music. In 2019, I started recording my own music, it took a while to get used to it (I still haven't adjusted to the idea), but I got better at it and put out an EP in 2020.”

While her evolution into her current artistic phase is storied, her sonic development is not quite as documented. Regarding why that is, she details her growth so far, “Funny thing is, I never recorded music intending to have a sound. I just recorded what I liked, and people were like, ‘that's so cool! I love your sound.’ The whole time I was like, huh?”

“I think in my first project, I explored a bit with different melodies and played around with different genres of music such as Funk, Hip-Hop, R&B, and on my next EP, you'll probably see more of the same. I definitely feel like the next EP will be a lot more vulnerable, a bit more grounded. I don't feel like I was just saying things; it really feels like a collection of things that happened in one way or another.”

Speaking of her potential audiences, April shoots for the stars, “I make music from my heart, so my music is for everyone and anyone. Anyone who can relate and anyone willing to relate,” she shares. Staying on the topic of audiences, April has entertained her fair share. "I have a little band that performs live with me when I have gigs. I performed at some bars when they were open, and recently I performed at Antwerp with Lady Blaxx!”

Being a multifaceted artist provides a safety net of sorts for practitioners with the gift, and it is no different for April. We discussed her potential professional outlets if she did not create music. “Probably shooting someone’s music video.” she laughs. Being a longtime collaborator with legendary indigenous Nigerian music label Chocolate City, expectations for a long-term deal are naturally rife, so she’s decided to remain an independent artist. “I’m not looking forward to getting signed right now. I’m really just focused on being independent as an artist. I don't want to shoot myself in the foot too soon by signing a deal too early. I feel like I have a lot of potential going independent. The ability to maintain autonomy is so important to me. That's the way the world is moving, and in a few years, the real winners will be independent musicians.”

One of the least addressed aspects of art creation is the financial aspect. Since creating art on a budget can either be frustrating or fulfilling, I asked what side of the fence April falls on. “To be honest, I think things are pretty good. Marketing and promotion are a pain in the ass, and the Nigerian industry tends to be stubborn a lot of the time, but I’m really lucky cause I mostly chat to people who actually love music and just want to help. I think the easiest part of music is creating it because I can do that from the comfort of my room,” she shares.

Relocating is a significant part of life for many millennials living in developing countries; seeking better opportunities is second nature for human beings after all. On the importance of relocating to her craft, she shares, “Moving to Belgium helped me meet new people and discover a new type of industry. The music industry here is completely different from the one in Nigeria. It's crazy. Also, for the longest time, I’ve wanted to add different layers to my music via languages. Now I can do that. Playing with language is a very little thing that makes a huge difference for me! The more languages you speak, the better you can express yourself, and the more people you can talk to!”

The lockdown has become more mythical as the months have worn on, but we’re all still reeling from its effects. Discussing how she coped with a year of lockdown away from family, April says: “To be honest, I think the biggest impact it had on me was probably totally deleting my social life. It's a pity that life now is basically “work work work, oh but don't see anyone cause you could die or kill people. I still think it’s a bit messed up, but everyone has to do their bit to make sure Corona goes for good. So I’m just doing mine.”

It seems untenable that April Maey has only pursued music professionally for two years, give or take; her portfolio and specificity belie the fact. Her accrued experience in marketing, design and media serve as the basis for the rest of her pursuits; the leverage she earned working those roles has come in handy. The quote ‘jack of all trades’ captures her generalist approach perfectly. However, the less flattering suffix plays no part in her story. And that encapsulates April Maey’s career: pursuing every craft she sets her sights on, regardless of the popularity of those decisions.

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