At first listen to Ifé’s music is a glaring observation, the attestation of her soothing voice. Then it hits you, her sound—a merger of sounds across two worlds. A hybrid of genres, birthed off the fusion of Igbo folklore and soul music. A high level concept definition of Ifé’s artistry is simply put as Whitney Houston Meets Igbo-Folklore. The songstress defining her sound in her own words goes, “Afro-soul and alternative music. Recycling folk into contemporary sounds.” Simple and precise. Fast rising, with a growing fan base, she is taunted as the rising sun from the east. Receiving cosigns from revered folks in the industry.
We caught up with Ifé to get into her space, and get to know the lady behind the beautiful music.
Ifechukwu Mercy Michael, was born on 29 November. A native of Umu Awulu, Anambra State. She was raised in the commercial city of Onitsha. Her sojourn into music was almost inevitable, more like a family business. Born into a family both parents were musicians, her DNA habits music in their strands. According to her testimony they also led professional careers with three (3) albums to their names. To top it off she would go on to major in Music & Performing Arts at the prestigious Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka.
The romance between Ifé and music is age-long she can hardly pin a definite record of the genesis, she says, “I’ve been around music all my life….” Through childhood and adolescence she grew up listening to Gospel music, African music, Highlife and more. Her music influences includes; Angelique Kidjo, Onyeka Onwenu, Miriam Makeba, Asa, Brymo, Beyonce etc. The array of artistes on her list of influences says a few about Ifé — she is eclectic in taste, and it does mirrors in her artistry, composition and songwriting.
Regardless of her music genealogy, it was all passion and love, not until 2018 she took the bold stride to chase a professional career. In her words, “Although I have been singing all my life, I decided to take it more further in 2018. Late 2018 when I released my first official single ‘Nwa’.” Two years into the journey has seen Ifé become an emerging name, a rising sun from the east, carving a niche for herself.
Ifé does it with ease, you are triggered into an inquiry how she draws her inspiration. The mind is conditioned to picture a complex process, but simplicity does it. Her response, “In this case, I allow it to flow. My environment, my state of mind at a time etc.” Her songwriting is purposeful and intentional with a clear message in mind. Her lyrics are littered with references to Igbo tradition, and good mastery of Igbo adages employed as writing devices. When quizzed if her upbringing has a play in this she responded, “I read a lot about my roots, culture, heritage so that’s it. I wouldn’t be wrong to say I’m grounded.” A deep love for her root, which spurs her to study, stay consciously aware of her ethnicity.
The love for her music is glaringly evident. She immerses herself in the making of each, so much she hardly can pick a favourite. Ifé is seemingly religious in her response or probably believes in the supernatural, a higher power which dictates fate and calling. She thinks every song in her discography all serve a purpose collectively. She thinks her music and creative direction isn’t purely of her will. She says “No, not at all. I can’t be everything. I’m doing my calling. I didn’t come here on my own. This leads me.” The response comes when asked if she feels a bit of pressure to switch to the more mainstream sound—Afropop. In an industry predominantly ridden with a monotonous sound, and the hot pursuit for instant hit and less concern on classic, carving a niche and tending to the audience is the grand plan.
We delved into the making of her debut project — DarkLight EP. The 6–track body of work, which boasts of a feature with highlife heavyweights Umu Obiligbo was born out of the desire for a new milestone. After serving her teeming fan base with four singles the consensus within her team was a body of work. The title of the EP is paradoxical in reference to her name — Ifé, which means light in Igbo. Which might hold a lot more meaning to us, she is the sun rising from the east. One thing is however certain, the darklight did illuminate through this project.
How did she score this feature with the Umu Obiligbo duo on ‘Ozo’ off the EP? Hard work and good networking equals smart work. “One evening I was with my manager Mr. Kenechukwu Ibedu and the call came in. They asked my manager to tell me to arrange something good so we can do it together. They have been watching me from a distance and seeing the level of work I put in, and also going by the personal relationship they have with my manager because they all grew up together, he has always been supportive of their journey since 2006 now you see how close they are. That was how Ozo came to be”, she says.
Aside her manager, one thing is noticed through out the interview. Ifé gives props to her team lavishly, according them when due. She might be the front-man of the workforce, but she isn’t oblivious of their input to her surge. The team is no doubt goal–driven, daring, with crystal clear vision. With a debut project off the bucket list, a new milestone is initiated; staging a headline concert — Ifé & You Concert, held 23rd, February, 2020. Speaking on how she pulled it off she gives credit to her team. “My team. My team. My team. We made it happen. They are the best thing that happened to me. And I’m super grateful. It was first of its kind in the city. Many didn’t believe it but yes, we did it! And of course we shall do more.”
Ifé & You Concert was an experience to remember. An event of pure live band performance void of lip-syncing and the regular miming we are accustomed to. Obviously Ifé’s period in the university wasn’t a tale of necessity to pass through the four walls of college and bag a certificate as with lots of Nigerian youths. It really molded her, and influenced her sense of choice as regards her artistry. “I am a music student. Music should be felt. That’s why live band does it for me. Not that I’m cancelling lip-syncing but it’s live band for me anytime I have wherewithal to do so. It makes more sense music wise” she reiterates.
She picked up learning the keyboard and guitar before heading to the university, but it was there she perfected it. She would even pick up playing the native Igbo instrument Ubo-aka. An instrument she got tutored on by her lecturer, Mr. Gerald Eze. Ifé thrilled attendees at the concert playing the ubo-aka, to the amazement of the crowd present.
With full knowledge of the industry shenanigans, how money primarily runs the music industry, with less funding from the government, largely private investors, how does she fund all these projects? She replies, “personal funds, my team and people around me willing to support my journey. It is not easy but we always tell ourselves we belong to a place called forward hence we keep pushing regardless.”
On her rating of the music industry in the south eastern region, she thinks it is growing and can only get better. Contrary to popular belief—as common amongst artistes—that one has to relocate to Lagos to make it big in the music scene, Ifé is of the opinion the advent and technological advancement of the internet era has erased the location hinder, a paradigm shift from the norm. She doesn’t seem to be making the relocation anytime soon. “Music isn’t about where you are anymore. The Internet era has made it easier. I do go to Lagos when need be. Anyone can operate from wherever they are. It’s a global world once one has Internet and a smartphone. Or a computer”, She stated.
What does the future hold for Ifé? Time, only time they say will tell. However from where we are seated it’s a blinding bright one from here.
You can follow Ifé on Instagram and Twitter @Ife_musiq, and on YouTube, Ifé Musiq.