3rty : On a Mission to Heal
By: Bulelwa Mthombothi
Chicago born Mick Jenkins routinely speaks of the ‘healing component’ –
which in his case water, giver of life; supplier of hydration – but right here on
the continent in Lagos, Nigeria for alternative musician 3rty the healing is
music; the teller of truths and window into generations. Particularly his music
which he aptly named ‘Herbal Music.’
Besides the sonic quality of his music it has an intentionality about it that
compels you to feel what he’s saying but also gives way for your own
ideations. Listening to his discography is truly an experience, you can hear
the mixture of influences it sounds African with indigenous instrumentals but
also has experimental aspects that heighten its creative appeal. These
elements can be heard in different songs but at times showing up in one
song; an example being the song “Iyawo.”
Apart from the influences of Jazz, African Folk Afrobeats, RnB, Soul and
Alternatives sounds, his voice is as crucial an instrument. His voice a
beautiful conduit to the ideas and proclamations made in his lyrics,
combined deliver a soulful and healing work of art and experiences you
would want to go back to many times over. Like a little piece of magic, you
can always have with you.
I had a conversation with him discussing his influences and process when
making music; including a little dive into his upbringing. Here’s what he had
BM: So, for those who are not familiar with the term, Herbal Music,
could you perhaps tell us what you mean by that and describe your
sound for us?
3rty: Herbal Music is, the way I describe it, is music that is meant to heal
your heart; your spirit; your soul. Music that is made to make you feel calm
and relaxed after a long hectic day of work, you can come back home and
just relax and kick back and listen to it. So, when you think about [it]
something like Fela Kuti meets Sade Adu.
BM: You have beautiful voice, I read somewhere that you did not speak
much as a child. Can you tell us about that and how it has shaped your
sound and the way you express yourself?
3rty: Thank you. Like you said I was a very quiet child, even now I’m a quiet
person compared to the people around me, who are more outgoing. Dance
music is prominent here and that is not the music that speaks to me, I don’t
have high energy for dance music and I have to make music I also enjoy
and that speaks to me like Soul; Afrosoul, Afrofusion.
BM: Where did you grow up and how did that environment shape your music?
3rty: I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria and my family moved around the city a lot,
so I met a lot of different people and saw a lot of different places. It gave me
a wide range of experiences that inspire my music and lyrics.
BM: Within the Nigerian music scene, what space do you occupy?
3rty: Apart from Pop, Afro-Pop and Afrobeats there’s an alternative scene,
and that is my niche I would say and I think that’s okay, I don’t need to
conquer the whole country before I’m successful.
BM: I know in SA, alternative artists find they get more recognition in
Europe than they do at home. In your experience is that something that
happens in Nigeria as well?
3rty: (chuckles) Yeah, funny enough my Apple Music stats are full of
Germany and Austria, those are the people that take most of the cake. Even
in Africa you find Kenya – Nairobi – plays more than Nigeria.
BM: Why do you think that is? Do you think people are not into different sounds?
3rty: Yes, you are right but a lot of people are into Apple Music [etc], it’s
such a small percentage of music listeners in Nigeria, people are still using
CDs – there is a big market in selling CDs. One of the hallmarks of being a
mainstream artist is your music being successful outside of streaming
BM: Your music is quite sentimental, like in the song “Mama”. Can you
tell us a bit more about your upbringing and how that has influenced
your artistry not just as a musician but also as a writer?
3rty: In terms of writing I take a lot of inspiration from my life, living in Nigeria
– I’ve seen a lot of things. I didn’t really grow up with my mom, I grew up
with my dad and my step-mom, so I didn’t have that relationship with her
until 2010 when my dad passed. So that was me trying to bridge the gap
with her, she was the first person to hear that song and she understood
where I was coming from. That is the kind of influence my life has on my
music; it’s either I’m talking about something that’s happened to me; or I’m
sending myself a message or something I’m wishing or hoping for the future.
BM: You’ve spoken of your musical influences; how do you work these influences into your work without them overtaking your sound?
3rty: It’s all about inspiration, when I’m listening to the music I’m not trying to
take the entire vibe, just the inspiration from it. Like I will try to mix my own
energy into it, even it has a base in another person’s kind of sound, but at
the end of the day it has to be some kind of Herbal Music.
BM: Do you play any instruments? have you ever played any instruments? if so how does it feature in your production?
3rty: I can play the piano at an intermediate level and this is what I use when
I produce music. However, my main instrument is my voice, and I am very
intentional about the vocal production of my songs making sure I get the
best recordings that fully express the emotions of the lyrics as well as
embellish the track to make sure my listeners enjoy every second of it.
BM: What’s your production process when making music?
3rty: I begin with writing the lyrics, making sure the flow is right, from the
structure to the meaning behind the words. They must make sense to me.
Then I work on the melody to put the right emotion to the music. Then go
into the music production and vocal production aspect. Then the sound
engineering to make it up to industry standards. That's pretty much it.
BM: So, for you, what is the best-case scenario for your music career?
Or rather what would be fulfilment of your dream look like?
3rty: My dream is for people to have connection with my music, doesn’t
matter how many. My point is for it to do what I say it does, you know, heal
your spirit. Once I’m successful of that, I will be fulfilled.