In her artistic journey, British Nigerian newcomer Yetunde weaves enchanting melodies that effortlessly captivate and resonate with audiences. Her roots trace back to Lagos, Nigeria – the cradle of Afrobeats music – and extend to Liverpool, the iconic home of The Beatles. This fusion of diverse cultural influences has shaped Yetunde’s distinct musical identity, blending an array of styles into a sound that is unmistakably hers.

 Drawing inspiration from a spectrum of legendary artists, from Fela Kuti and The Beatles to Wizkid, SZA, and Stevie Wonder, Yetunde’s songwriting prowess is marked by its versatility and depth. Her approach to crafting songs is a delicate balance between artistic expression and meticulous technique, traversing various genres with ease and finesse. ‘Promise’ is the cosmopolitan new single from Yetunde about the essence of new love’s exhilarating yet chaotic nature.

Sheen caught up with the Manchester-based Afropop and R&B newcomer to discuss this new track and what is coming next in 2024.

What inspired you to blend such diverse cultural influences in your music, particularly in your new single ‘Promise’?

Growing up I was exposed to a lot of highlife, afrobeat and fuji music as that was what my parents grew up listening to. My dad was a huge fan of the legendary Fela Kuti and I specifically remember singing along to ‘Water No Get Enemy’ and humming to the melody played by the horns section every time it came back around. My dad is also a guitarist so it’s fair to say we were surrounded by love and a whole lot of music! Through him I also discovered The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Tamla Motown as these artists had been his musical heroes growing up. I think initially I thought both sides of me couldn’t mix and that I had to choose a side. But as I began to write, it just came out of me. I didn’t even realise that some of the melodies and the way I was singing them were a natural mix of my rich musical upbringing until my dad pointed it out! I think it’s important to represent your cultural heritage in your music and in ‘Promise’ I really set out to do just that. The song to me has a rn’b yet pop feel whilst still being firmly rooted in Afrobeat and I love that.

Can you share more about the story behind ‘Promise’ and its theme of balancing new love with self-awareness?

Promise is a fun love song at its core. It’s about all the emotions that come with newfound love, from the physical attraction to connecting with someone on a mental level yet at the same time because things are so new, attempting to tread with caution to essentially protect your heart. This has always been my experience anyway! The first verse talks about the reluctance to open up to someone new, but due to the “hunter’s” relentless pursuit with possibly a pinch of voodoo, you now find yourself falling for this person! Love is a very powerful emotion and sometimes despite our best efforts, self-awareness and control completely go out of the window. The next minute we find ourselves compromising on all fronts! In the end I guess it’s all about taking a gamble and hoping it pays off. The key is to not be mad at yourself for falling and maybe losing yourself for a moment but to just set healthy boundaries, remember that you’re worthy of the kind of love you crave and to make sure to honour those boundaries if required to.

How do your Nigerian roots and UK upbringing influence your approach to songwriting and music production?

I feel the art of creating should be freeing and with the help of my dad I infuse my African roots into my music, whether in the form of a highlife style guitar riff or a chant at the beginning of one of my songs or even in the way I sing the verse, tapping into the percussive elements that are often heard in afrobeat. On the flip side, I may add vocal movements that are reminiscent of the pop and R&B music I listened to a lot as a teenager but at the same time ensuring I maintain my own identity.


What was the creative process like for developing the unique sound of ‘Promise’?

I came up with the chorus of the song first and from there we built the rest of the song around it. I love layering vocals to create harmonies that really bring out the beauty of my melodies and this can be heard in the chorus of the song. The drum pattern used is a classic afrobeat pattern and we refined this with the help of Lagos based producer, PD. I love guitars and it’s an instrument I always try to feature in our productions. In Promise, the rhythm guitar is played by my dad, and I think this really adds a brightness to the song and gives it a distinctive sound which I don’t think I’ve heard before in modern Afrobeat. Finally, the beautiful synth you hear at the beginning of the song that runs throughout was the finishing touch! I think this synth along with the “oh yeah yeah” chant really gives the listener something to sing and bop along to. With the chant itself I wanted to include some East and South African elements and I hope I captured that too.

How do you feel ‘Promise’ represents your vision for the future of Afrobeats?

I believe afrobeats will take over the world. By no means is it a new genre, in fact it’s been around for over 60 years. It started from the days of Highlife in the 1950s to Osibisa in the 70s who popularised afro rock. In the early 1970’s there were many afrorock and afrofunk bands, and Osibisa gained worldwide popularity and played large scale venues across the world whilst working with Tony Visconti, a western music producer of the moment. Alongside this movement, we had Fela Kuti developing his sound and who today is recognised as the founding father of Afrobeat. Now the younger generation have taken all these different African music styles from their parents and Grandparents and made what we now call afrobeats. ‘Promise’ to me is another reflection of the evolution of the afrobeat genre. This song serves as an introduction to my blended musical worlds fusing pop, R&B and afrobeats in a new and refreshing way. It’s an introduction to a sound I have cultivated for myself and will continue to develop whilst still harbouring the grounding elements of afrobeats and highlife. I see myself as one of the many exciting artists in this genre who continue to push boundaries and I’m so humbled to exist in this space with them. The talent in the Afrobeats genre is overwhelming.

Who are some of your biggest musical influences, and how have they shaped your sound?

I grew up in a very musical household. My dad is a guitarist, and my mum is a music lover, and I don’t think even till now she cooks without having some sort of music playing in the background! Through them I was exposed to so many rich sounds that crossed borders and genres and I believe this led to my very eclectic musical taste. My first two biggest influences would probably be The King of Pop and The King of Afrobeat, so basically Michael Jackson and Fela Kuti! I love how Michael Jackson used harmonies to really bring his songs to life and just the sheer colour they added. Certain songs of his come to mind, such as ‘Off The Wall’ and ‘Man In The Mirror.’  Fela Kuti to me is where my love for Afrobeat really began and I love his overall musicality and his ability to use music to not only dance and feel good but also to raise awareness of social issues of the time. I think we as artists can all learn something from that. I’m also a huge fan of many many artists in the R&B, rap and pop genres, too many to mention here.

Can you describe the moment or experience that made you realize music was your calling?

I remember being on stage at an annual Christmas show when I was still at high school and I had to sing a song by Elton John and it was the audience’s reaction as I sang and when I finished and they all clapped, I realized, ‘ok I’m actually good at this, I can see myself doing this forever.’

How do you navigate the challenge of maintaining authenticity while exploring various genres in your music?

I don’t really see it as a challenge, I’m just being myself and hopefully by staying true to who I am, this comes through in my music and people can also feel that when they hear my songs. I don’t believe music belongs in distinctive separate categories. I think as creatives one should be able to flow and move freely. If one really thinks about it, what we know today as Western popular music originated from the Blues and Jazz and the birthplace of that was New Orleans. So really a lot of the modern-day genres aren’t as divided and sectioned off as some might like to think. Secondly, I am a child of the African diaspora and due to my upbringing in the UK, I naturally assimilated to the culture here and with that also came the music. During my teenage years I fell in love with pop and R&B and listened to a lot of Beyonce, Adele and Coldplay. At the same time, because I grew up in an African household, I never lost touch with my Nigerian roots and the music too. Like when Wizkid was coming up, I was so proud and just hearing this new sound coming from back home was really empowering for me creatively and really inspired me to ensure that I always stayed true to my roots.

What message do you hope listeners take away from your music, particularly from ‘Promise’?

I want people to use my music as a portal for escapism even if it’s just a couple minutes while the song is playing. My songwriting covers various topics and emotions that we all experience at some point or another. I hope listeners will feel empowered by my songs and challenged to open their minds to experience something that probably sounds familiar yet feels different. I hope ‘Promise’ conveys this too.

What has been the most rewarding part of your musical journey so far?

I think just being able to bring my ideas to life in my music and have people connect with the songs has been incredible. I often receive messages from people telling me how much they love what they hear, and this just further reaffirms that I am doing what I should be.

How do you plan to evolve your sound and style in future projects?

As an artist I’ve really taken the time to find my sound. The journey of artistry is one of constant learning and self-discovery and I embrace that. I don’t know everything and there is still so much more to uncover even within my roots. I hope to explore more percussive wordplay in my lyrics, incorporate more acoustic instrumentation along with traditional African drum rhythms in my production. I want to continue to push the boundaries within afrobeat. If you consider how far the genre has come over the past two years alone, it just shows how versatile and forward thinking our artists and producers are. Afrobeats just keeps evolving.

Can you share any memorable moments or experiences from your artistic journey that have significantly impacted you?

I had the opportunity to write a motivational song titled ‘Why Not Me’ for a published book and with it came a short American tour. It was such an incredible experience; having 1000 plus people sing your lyrics back to you word for word every single night of the tour had my mind blown!

What role does storytelling play in your music, and how do you weave personal experiences into your songs?

I write songs covering different topics such as love, hope, pain, motivation, loneliness. I try to set the scene within my songs lyrically, ensuring that I’m truly speaking from my heart. A lot of artists say that music is like therapy for them, and I’d have to second that completely. It could be a new love or maybe I’m experiencing a low point; sometimes it can be hard making sense of these emotions, but music has always been like that bestie that listens to me and just helps me articulate what I probably wouldn’t be able to without it. I’d say most of my songs are written from my own personal experiences and I hope they will resonate universally and connect with those who will eventually become my audience. I think as human beings we all share similar stories and at some point, experience the same emotions and it’s comforting when you hear a song that reminds us that we’re not as weird or alone as we think. Music is therapy not just for me writing about what I’m experiencing but hopefully for those who listen to those songs and find themselves in the lyrics too.

How do you see your music contributing to the evolving landscape of global music genres?

I think right now is such a beautiful time to be an artist and to just make music. The lines are being blurred between genres and that gives so much more freedom to just express yourself creatively. I believe that Afrobeat will take over the world and with so many sub-genres gaining popularity, every day I discover something new from my fellow musicians within this space and it’s so refreshing. I’m here, I guess to make my own contribution too. I want my music to reflect my blended world’s and through this, the listener is taken on a musical journey with infusions of different genres all whilst still rooted in afrobeats and my heritage.

What can fans expect from you in the near future, any upcoming projects or collaborations?

My release plan for 2024 includes 5 single releases that will form part of my EP to be completed by the middle of the year. I also have a couple collaborations I can’t speak on just yet but that I am very excited for.


Photo Credits: Courtesy of Yetunde