Nearly three years since she graced our ears on Odunsi [The Engine]'s debut album, rare,, SOLIS's growth as an artist is undeniably apparent. With a new EP scheduled for release later this year, the singer is certainly prepared for her new act.
It has been about two and a half years since Kammal Zulu-Okafor, better known as SOLIS, made her musical debut, landing a spot on Odunsi The Engine’s stunning debut album, rare. Her soft and ethereal voice is what opens up “hectic”, the penultimate track on the album, which combines delicately with Odunsi’s gentle electric guitar strums as she recites/sings heartfelt lyrics setting the tone for the soulful number. “The first time I ever got into a studio was when I recorded my verse for rare. Prior to that, I would just record on my phone and mess around on my phone sometimes, but the first time I was on an actual record was ‘hectic’,” she tells me with a calm demeanour, halfway into our Zoom conversation.
However, that wasn't the Lagos-based singer/songwriter’s introduction to music. Growing up with a filmmaker dad and in a relatively creative household, she was raised to believe in expression – singing was just the mode she chose to express herself from very early on. “I had been singing from the very beginning. From like the age of five or six, I was singing the house down, singing at my dad’s birthday parties, my uncles, and my aunties. I would sing wherever I could; I would sing at church as well. Then I started writing music at the age of eight. Music has been there from the beginning,” she recalls. Even though her parents wouldn’t let her listen to a lot of Western music growing up, she still got inspired by the likes of Sade, Michael Jackson, and Shakira – acts who would greatly influence the kind of artist SOLIS would grow to become. “Michael Jackson and Sade, in particular, inspired me. Sade, all across the board, from the type of music to the way she carries herself to like the sensuality that her music exudes without her even trying. With Michael Jackson, he was just so versatile and such a performer and I always try to bring that whenever I’m on stage.”
While SOLIS always knew she wanted to be an artist, she didn’t necessarily know how it would happen. “It was just one of those things that I had in the back of my mind would just happen,” she tells me. Like most of us, she had lofty dreams growing up, albeit with no clear plan on how to achieve these dreams. Nevertheless, she believed it would. As time passed, she became more intentional about reaching her goal. “I’m a firm believer in manifestation and saying what you want. Prior to rare., I would post videos on the internet like Twitter, Youtube and stuff and then one day I just randomly tweeted I’m going to make a song with Odunsi and he responded to it and he was like let’s do it and that’s how it started. We met up, hung out a few times and then recorded the verse for rare.”
After her strong showing on rare., she went on to release a loosie, “Watch Me”, a couple of months after, simply captioning it “lil something”. It turned out to be much more than a “lil something”; it soon became an impressive solo outing, properly introducing us to the kind of artist SOLIS really is. Here, her soft voice is joined by a poignant guitar loop and syncopated drums as she employs a monotonic flow to sing about finding strength following a breakup, making “Watch Me” a warm, schmaltz record. “‘Watch Me’ was like the birth of a lot for me,” she says, speaking about the single. “Angel”, her official debut single, followed months later, this time firmly stamping her presence as a unique, talented artist worthy of your attention.
The warmth she brings to tracks like “Watch Me” and “hectic” is on full display on “Angel”. Her voice is nicely enveloped by lulling instrumentals. The soft drums and gentle, subtle guitar melodies create a dreamy backdrop for her constant plea: “Let me be your angel”. The tranquillity that her singles constantly exude is something she is always particular about. “I think for the most part why that resonates with people is because whenever I’m recording, I not only look at the beat as the instrument but my voice as the most important instrument,” she explains. “So for me, my voice isn’t just about the singing or the lyrics; it’s about creating an environment that people can rest in and find solace in. So I try to be very intentional with my harmonies, with my melodies and with my background vocals. I make sure I’m creating something that fills you up.”
While SOLIS has a knack for creating alluring, dream-like melodies and harmonies, it’s her flowery, astute, and deeply intimate lyricism that truly sets her apart. “Music is definitely my personal diary,” she says. “Music has always been an outlet, a safe space and a place to allow for cathartic releases. So whenever I want to make music, there are definitely times when I’ll be in the studio with friends and I’m just messing around and having fun. Still, whenever I want to really work and get to that space, I just channel whatever it is I’m feeling or whatever it is that is going on in my life. Also, I’m inspired by the story of my life, the story of people around me and I just generally channel the world around me, nature, the universe and the divine. My music touches on a lot of pain and a lot of dark subjects sometimes but it’s also really beautiful because I feel like what I do the best is channel the divinity within me. So releasing that pain is not like a sad or bad thing; it's a very powerful thing. I find a lot of strength in the music that I make.”
These themes that she highlights – divinity, pain, nature and much more – are what underpins her debut EP, Ruled By Venus, Unfortunately. The 6-track project, which arrived in the middle of the pandemic-induced lockdown last year, is filled with extremely refreshing and personal music. SOLIS is unafraid to display both vulnerability and strength. She’s super confident on the assertive opener “fuck boys kiss girls” while on “mercury”, the next track, she’s vulnerable as she crams tales of her abuser texting her, her best friend going into surgery, the turbulent year taking a toll on her mental health all into 2 minutes and 36 seconds. She has no intentions of selling a perfect image of herself: she seeks love in one breath and despises it in the next; she’s fine one minute, and the next she’s not.
Speaking about the process behind Ruled By Venus, Unfortunately, she tells me: “During the pandemic, I was just at home every single day and I would just like roll up and just sing about whatever. Most of the songs on RBVU are freestyles. I would just put on my microphone and headphones and sing about whatever I was feeling; I would sing about astrology and things I really liked. So it allowed me to express myself way more freely. I also had a lot of identity issues with being SOLIS. With ‘Angel’ I felt like I had to be that all the time. I felt like I had to be that sound; I had to be that version of SOLIS. But SOLIS is ever-changing, as any human being is, so the pandemic helped me to create freely. I would rap sometimes; I would sing [others]. It was just fun.”
After the release of Ruled by Venus, Unfortunately, SOLIS went silent for months until “Body Signal” – her first single in almost a year – dropped a couple of weeks back. The single embodies everything that makes SOLIS who she is. This time, though, she sounds more confident, more assured. Her kaleidoscope of melodies and harmonies are as strong as ever; her delivery is air-tight, and her flows are smoother. “‘Body Signal’ is about letting go and letting loose, being somewhere and allowing yourself to be there and letting go of inhibitions and just living, really living for once,” she tells me, speaking about the inspiration behind the single. She also points out that she’s not necessarily bothered about taking her time to release music. From her introduction on rare., she already learned to take it slow: “I learnt to take it slow and to not be in a hurry because you know, I had to find myself and find my sound. I did not want to just release because people are watching. I wanted to release something that would satisfy people. I really wanted to be intentional about everything I was releasing.”
“I don’t try to rush it at all. With music, if I’m not in a good space, I’m not going to force it. So it’s just about knowing who I am and taking care of myself, and making sure that my art is enjoyable. I never want to make music and be miserable about it” she continues.
It’s this constant intentionality coupled with her unbridled talent that she has used in crafting her forthcoming EP, a project she claims she has worked tirelessly on. “It’s coming this year. All I can say is it’s all going to make sense when it drops. From the very beginning when I debuted up until when I release it – it’s all just going to make sense. There’ll be one or two features on there, and it’ll be great,” she says, slightly letting out a laugh and also exuding the confidence of someone that knows they’re sitting on a goldmine.
Featured Image Credit: Danielle Mbonu