The French-Nigerian artiste's unique blend of tropical rhythms and R&B melodies is certain to resonate with you, no matter your taste.
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 subject of this conversation is the notable SirBastien. Born Oamen Irabor, the French-Nigerian artiste makes Nigerian alternative music for a new age. Although most of his life has been spent in Nigeria, visits to France for the holidays have helped keep him in touch with the other half of his heritage. He officially began making music in 2019, although his musical journey was truly set in motion when he was in middle school. “A dear mentor taught me how to play my first chords on his guitar,” he recalls.
He began exploring his knack for production back in 2015, earning his first production credits on a song with Eri Ife, a fellow artist. The transition between beatsmith and vocalist was a tenuous one, eased by the plaudits of his collaborators. “I started producing circa 2015, and roughly around 2017, I used to sneak my vocals onto people's songs while I was working on their beats. Those people started encouraging me to make my own songs until I was featured on Remy Baggins and Eri Ife’s Yllw (2018) as a vocalist. From that point, I started recording my demos by myself in my bedroom and here I am — still recording demos in my bedroom,” he shares.
Being a musical triple-threat comes with its obvious advantages; the ability to be responsible for all tasks in an artist’s work-flow is rarely one possessed. This gives a different meaning to the term one-man-band. “I always start with the instrumentals; I often start by playing a few chords on my guitar until something strikes me as very groovy or experimental. I add elements bit by bit until I’m mostly done with it. I could leave that instrumental for a few weeks and work on completely different ones. Then I come back to all the instrumentals I created earlier and see if any words come to mind. I start writing based on what I see around me or on the internet — keeping lyrics simple, easy to hear, and very relatable so that they are instantly recognizable and easy to sing along to. Then I mix, master, and then I’m done.” he discloses.
His sound has steadily evolved from predominantly R&B to his unique recipe of hip-hop, R&B, something he calls Industrial Afrobeats, and a dash of Caribbean sounds. “My first project, Mango, was me trying to make “Afrobeats” at the time. This was coming from making solely R&B, and Hip-hop beats only. So the R&B influences are very apparent in all the songs. They are generally a bit moody, save the obvious tracks that are Industrial Afrobeats and Highlife. After I was over and done with the project, I started looking for how to make lighter and more bouncy music. I turned to “island” sounds and forced myself to stick to those boundaries I had now set. There are still some songs on the more recent project that have R&B influences, but they are heavily masked by lighter melodies, bright-sounding keys, guitars, and Caribbean-style drums.” he discloses.
Unexpectedly, after the release of his first project, he received an invite from the PGM club to their radio show on the Beat 99.9 in Lagos. Blissfully unexpectant, he was surprised the project had made it beyond his circle of friends. “It cemented the idea that my music can be enjoyed by a lot of people and that I was more of a musician creating rather than just a dude making demos.” he says. The validation from the experience provided some much-needed self-belief in his abilities.
While most musicians reel from the effects of having their biggest economic outlet halted, some have been blessed enough to perform for limited crowds at increasingly exclusive venues. SirBastien falls in the latter category, fortunate enough to be able to perform for not one, but two respectably, socially distanced groups of audiences — the icing on the proverbial cake being the fact his first-ever headline show was one of the two. “I’ve performed my music on several occasions with my friends who have become members of our little band. My most recent performance was at the Arnheim Jazz show in Ibadan,” he recalls. “The reception was super great because of the type of music we were playing. The biggest show I had was a headline show at The New Culture Studio in Mokola, Ibadan. I had people from all over Ibadan attend, and even friends of friends traveled down from Lagos to see the show. It was such a blessing to see that people took the time and effort to see me play.”
Ibadan might be famous for being the biggest city in West Africa, yet one of the more popular attractions should be the community of talented artists that exist within. From the endless classist jabs taken by Nigerians against people from the state, social media paints a skewed image about the city — one peppered by the idea that for the sheer reason that you do not exist in the same realms of relevance, you are less important than people who do. The idea would hold more water if Nigeria in itself were not characterized by two cities alone. Many make the periodic treks in attempts for better opportunities; many also discover that the grass is rarely ever greener on the other side. Discussing why he doesn’t deem the move necessary, he says: “I have made the move. I moved to Lagos in October 2019 and came back to Ibadan in March 2020. I worked with a couple of people, but then I realized it wasn’t a lot better than collaborating over the Internet. Sure, things get lost in translation from time to time, but the pay-off isn’t as great as many people position it to be. I don’t think I’m missing out on anything.”
Amid all this bias, Ibadan has quietly become a hotbed for artists pushing their soundscapes further than they met them. Speaking on the state of the community, SirBastien explains: “In Ibadan, the community is really small. If one person starts to make music, it’s impossible not to know of them. Lucky for us, we are both a communicative and collaborative community. People constantly reach out to each other, and we try to all music together.”
His collaborations are often the result of him seizing the initiative and making the first contact. Scouring the Internet is something most millennials are savvy at. Doing so to collaborate is a bit more nuanced as the stakes are tied to many other factors. “After I complete a song, I think about all the people that would sound nice on it and send it to all of them in stages (for fear of multiple people accepting at the same time). I always text them on Instagram first. Then I see if it’s okay for me to send an email. If none of them respond, I wait and discover more artists and send some music to them as well. It’s often very scary because you don’t know how they are going to respond or if they respond at all. But most times, they do and respectfully decline, and sometimes they accept and send vocals down to my mail. I don’t think I’ve ever recorded my features except for songs with Eri Ife, who I normally record and produce for.” he says.
This state of mind is responsible for some of his more illustrious features on his latest project: DAP The Contract, AYLØ, and AYÜÜ. These collaborations were only possible because he connected with all the artists organically.
The influence of the Internet on his career cannot be overstated. Despite his reserved disposition, he is a bigger fan of people than most people would expect. The fear of rejection is still palpable when he reaches out to artists who may have never heard of him, but the notion that they already do not like him is one he does not entertain. “I think it’s poisonous. I think you should always just try talking to people first, most of the time they aren’t as bad as you’d imagine.” he shares.
The expectations most artists have for the impact their music is having are often partial. To have an industry heavyweight find out about you without anyone putting in a word is usually a moment of validation for many artists. At its heights, the first co-sign received can be the push a career needs or can be pointless gratification. On the attention his most recent single “Girlfriend” has received, he says, “I saw a post about my new single Girlfriend on M.I Abaga’s Instagram, saying it is one of the hottest tracks out right now. That blew my mind because of the deep respect I have for him and because it was entirely a surprise. No one I know had reached out to him or anything; he just discovered it and listened.”
Taking time to smell the flowers is a necessary part of growing, and that’s exactly what SirBastien is doing for the time being. With no concrete projects in the pipeline, he only plans to drop a couple of well-timed singles for the rest of the year. An artist having a preferred audience is not a sentiment commonly encountered. For the preferred audience to be a cocktail of family and friends that are already familiar with your music is even rarer. SirBastien details his ideal crowd to create for: “I make music that I can personally enjoy. I also make music that all my close friends can enjoy. If they casually decide to play my music for their enjoyment (and not necessarily to support), then I know I’ve made a good song.” With his unique blend of tropical rhythms and melodic harmonies, SirBastien is making music that everyone can enjoy.
Listen to his most recent single, “Girlfriend”, here.