It almost doesn’t feel weird anymore to have to conduct interviews over ZOOM, Microsoft Teams or Skype these days. In the era of social distancing, working as a journalist during quarantine has meant conducting all of our conversations with artists over some form of conference calling app. I almost didn’t realise that I was speaking to someone in a different timezone altogether when Temilade Openiyi logged in to the lobby of our ZOOM call this week.
The Nigerian singer-songwriter, better known by her stage name TEMS has been on a press run the entire week, promoting her new EP For Broken Ears. We caught up with her virtually to find out more about her mood ahead of this landmark release for one of the fastest rising stars in Africa.
TEMS first broke onto the scene in 2018 following the release of her debut single Mr Rebel. 2019 proved to be a defining year for the prodigious talent who not only impressed with her unique vocals but her well-rounded musical skillset which includes songwriting, composing and production too. Her breakout single Try Me has amassed over 3.7 million streams on Spotify and fully affirmed her status as one to watch.
For Broken Ears comes off the back of a successful run of release and is the first time that she has released a body of work to the world. You’d forgive anybody for feeling understandably nervous ahead of such a milestone, but TEMS dived into our interview with the coolness of a veteran artist who had done this a thousand times before.
Moziak Magazine: It’s great to be speaking to you ahead of your new EP Release. For some of your newer fans, please give an idea as to who TEMS is and your journey to this point.
Well, I have been in love with music for as long as I can remember. It started when I was just four years old and since then I have invested everything I can to expand my musical knowledge and skills. I have always been into vocals and writing and when I got to university that’s where I started producing as well. I really just wanted to be hands-on and I knew that if I wanted my music to sound a certain way, I would have to produce it myself. After University I came back home (To Nigeria) where I started making the time to get into studio and work on my music and before long I was able to release my first single: Mr Rebel.
MM: You mentioned that you went to Monash University, a place known for its diversity and also for a very lively music scene. Did that influence the artist you’ve become today?
Um, not really. Although I did get to meet some interesting people on campus and I learned a lot during my time there – but I wouldn’t say it defined my sound or anything. I always strive to make sure that everything I work on sounds like me. So if you hear me making pop or R&B or afrobeat or even classical music, I wouldn’t blend myself to sound like other classical musicians, but instead, it would be a TEMS song … just classical!
MM: Let’s talk about the new EP that’s just dropped, For Broken Ears – How did the idea for the project come about?
Well, I have been recording for a while and at some point, I began to craft the vision for this project. Even the title, I thought about it and wrote it down sometime back but I hadn’t settled on it until much more recently. In my head, I knew the story I wanted to write with this project and I didn’t want to let it rest until I got to tell it. Then in recent times the title For Broken Ears just came back to me and that’s when I knew I would be using it.
MM: You are credited with not only the performance but the writing and production of this project. Does it feel like your baby?
Oh, most definitely! Like I said, I knew the story I wanted to tell and I knew how I wanted everything to sound. Even the aesthetics – for instance, the album artwork and the tracklist artwork – I created mood boards for how I envision it all coming together. It was a real labour of love. I ensured that the quality of the production was exactly what I wanted at all points and I just paid real attention to the details along the journey.
MM: You released Damages in the build-up to the EP dropping. How did you feel about how the single was received?
I was so happy with the reception which Damages got from the fans, but I wasn’t stressing over that because I always do what I believe in and then put it out for the world to have its say. As well as that I didn’t want people to draw too many conclusions before listening to the EP because Damages isn’t the only type of sound you’re going to hear on the project.
MM: It’s been a tricky 2020 due to the pandemic and lockdowns in our countries. Have you felt supported by your government and communities?
To be honest, yeah I would say so. I think the lockdown has brought us all closer together and helped us realise that this music is all we’ve got. From the fans to the government to our fellow musicians. We have looked after one another very well during these trying times so I would say definitely, I have felt the support.
MM: And lastly, at a time when tensions between both our countries are still quite high, do you have some words of advice in the fight against xenophobia?
We need to remember that we are all Africans. We are all brothers and we can achieve so much more when united. The fighting and the tension are the results of other frustrations when we realise that we will stop taking it out on one another. Let’s all celebrate our beauty as Africans.
Stream TEMS’ new EP, For Broken Ears below: