Nigerian French-Canadian singer TÖME'S latest studio album LӦV is a bold statement of intent as she looks to take over the world with her eclectic fusion of sounds.
Nigerian French-Canadian singer-songwriter TÖME released her third album last Friday. Too established to be described as a fast-rising artist, the globetrotting 24-year-old's peculiar sound continues to position her uniquely. Possessing an appeal that opens an artist up to a broader audience could be the tool that provides an edge over her contemporaries. On her sophomore project, Bigger than Four Walls (stylized as BT4W), released in May of 2020, her collaborative approach shone the most with features from industry vets and rookies including King Promise, Runtown, Wavy the Creator and Zlatan. The project was as multifaceted as the guest list suggests.
On her latest effort, she hones in on her own voice as the predominant instrument, flexing her vocal chops with no accompaniment on eight of the ten songs. The only visitors present are the Yaba Buluku Boys, Skales and J-Sol, each party contributing unique elements to complement the overall cohesion of the project.
There is representation for every sound from traditional club-ready Afrobeats songs to R&B fusion ballads. While she was in Lagos doing her press and promotion tour, I caught up with her to discuss her latest project and career trajectory.
The day before your album drops is generally fraught with uncertainty, for TÖME the feeling can best be described as good nervous. Coping with the weight of expectations can also deter an artist mentally during such phases; however, the earliest reviews quelled some of those fears. "Most people who listened to the project before it came out had at least two or three favourites and whenever that happens, you know you're in a good place which helped me calm my nerves." Tome shares.
Fresh off one of the busiest years in her career heralded by music with industry stalwarts like Bankulli and Sean Kingston (the latter responsible for her 2021 JUNO award nomination and win), TÖME took no pauses and hunkered down to prepare her third studio album. For what she considers her most well-rounded project so far, TÖME recorded half the album in Lagos, Nigeria with the other half being done in Atlanta, Georgia.
On a project that feels more like her major-label debut — even though she remains an indie act — her growth is evident, especially in terms of intentions. As an artist with significant music in the drawer, putting a project together is second nature, however permeating the Nigerian market is a clear goal. Fully aware that her music possesses more travel outside Nigeria, LӦV, her new album, is an attempt to align herself more with her Nigerian roots. Working with predominantly Afrobeats producers is the clearest representation of these intentions.
Her claim as a fusion artist is more grounded than most due to her diverse personal background. Growing up in Canada has provided her with a unique viewpoint as far as who her audience is. On a less commercial note, it also helps her steer clear of appropriation. "I am making music that comes from Nigeria, that comes from Africa, so it's fused within the sound I'm making, no matter what it is." she tells me. While the Nigerian entertainment industry is approaching a point where being of Nigerian descent is sufficient currency to tap into for attention, examples of artists taking this route to induct a new audience have not always been appreciated in the past. For this reason, artists in diaspora tend to pussyfoot their way around their identity and potential audiences — careful not to alienate their core foreign audiences and gracious enough to highlight their ethnicity for their Nigerian fans.
TÖME's potential to double down on this pathway is significant, possessing enough of a following in Canada and the UK to focus on those markets solely. However, her decision to maintain a ubiquitous presence in all markets points to the global artist status she aspires to. "I feel like I’ve done a great job at exposing my presence within Canada more than within Nigeria and being a global act. I don't want to be seen within a single location or area, I want to be accepted by the cultures I am, I'm Canadian but I’m also Nigerian, so it's important for Nigerians to understand me. There's a place for my sound in Nigeria and I don’t think you have to be from here to be accepted here." she tells me.
Another challenge for TÖME in terms of her musical identity are the denominations available. Being an Afrofusion artist does not allow for strict pigeonholing. "Because of the kind of music i make, I can't call myself Afrobeats or R&B or Alte, my sound isn't just there, it's everywhere. When you listen to this album it's evident I am honing in on Afrobeats but I am also providing the space to say this is not all I can do. Even for my demographic in terms of who they listen to, it's a very eclectic blend." TÖME expands.
Describing LӦV as the most she has worked with other writers, the album is a collaborative effort, especially in terms of the songwriting. “It always starts from the beat, once we find a melody we go from there, but a lot of the stuff was off the top.” Her creative process is utilitarian “once we hit the studio, we hear a beat and we start writing, there’s never like a broad intention or strategy or plan. Once you keep it authentic, you get the best results,” she adds. Crediting herself for 70 per cent of the songwriting on the project, TÖME’s collaborators lent their shared experiences in the studio to create LOV. “A lot of the time you hear a story and you imagine yourself in that situation and that point of view is something you never experienced yourself but you can tell it would make for a great song.”
Her aspirations for the project are as wide-reaching as her influences, confident in its variation and eclectic nature; she hopes it becomes a global classic album. “I truly believe the project will and can do that. It’s great for the general Afrobeats scene but I see it doing well in the US and Europe, I think Asia would eat it up as well.” She tells me both confidently and optimistically.
The album opens with 'Nobody Else', produced by Yung Willis and from there the prominence of the production team is clear. Stalwarts like Shizzi, Michelin Shin, Legendury Beatz and LT Moe all contribute across the album’s 32 minutes runtime.
The benefits of being recognized by a prestigious award body in an artist’s career might seem traditional, yet the validation such recognition brings not only opens metaphorical doors but also does significant work for the artist’s confidence. One of the singles TÖME released in 2020 titled “I Pray” did exactly this for her. Reaching out to Sean Kingston over the internet and receiving a stellar verse from him was not how TÖME planned to spend the rest of the pandemic. Almost a year and substantial streams later, her nomination and win happened. This is the sort of innocuous success that has trailed TÖME since she began pursuing music three years ago. Capitalizing on more than vibe metrics, her discipline and drive have been instrumental in her progress. “I don’t really wait on anything, it’s useful to follow emotions but it’s also an unreliable process, the most important thing is locking in and doing the work.”
Stream LӦV below.