Offiong Bassey isn’t a household name - yet! But after the Feb. 4 release of her self-titled, debut CD, Offiong Bassey, her name will roll off the tongue of music enthusiasts.
That’s because her 12-song original compilation is refreshing, unique and stands out amongst the cookie-cutter offerings.
Bassey, a first generation Nigerian American, grew up in Boston. Music has been an integral part of her life. “It has always been a part of me,” she says.
Her grandmother, whom she is named after, used to sing to her. And, like most powerful singers, Bassey grew up singing in her church.
The CD, debuting on the CMJ New World Music charted at number two and vaulted up to number four on the SoulTracks album chart.
The songs contained on the Offiong Bassey CD include: Legitimate Child, Edidem,Weatherman, Full Moon, Mistaking Chivalry for Chauvinism, Conclusion, Chasing After the Wind, Owo Iba Me Ita, Wild Oats, It Might Be Hard, Efik Praise Medley and Edidem (Traditional Mix).
This year, Bassey, along with her nine-piece band, plans to record an unplugged session some time in the spring.
I caught up with Bassey recently to talk about her entry into the music industry and what the future holds.
DD: You are a Nigerian American. There is a definite Nigerian influence in your music.
OB: Oh, definitely. Nigeria, is definitely a part of my music.
DD: Your debut CD dropped Feb. 4. How long did it take to complete?
OB: It was three years in the making. It’s so exciting. The oldest song on the CD I wrote in 2005. The anticipation is high. On Feb. 4 it all became very, very real. It’s a dream come true.
DD: Is it more exciting or more scary?
OB: It’s more exciting. The only scary part was during the process. You have all these collaborations. I had to think about all it takes and how it helps to build character. The beautiful thing in the end is the process it took to get here.
DD: These are all original songs?
OB: All of the songs are originals. Some are adaptations, you know, epic choruses. I’m a poet first. I respond to the world around me. I ponder life. I receive messages. I build songs around those messages. I want the songs to be empowering. It’s important that music be a thing to bring positivity and wholeness. I want to do music in unique ways, with unique rhythms. I want to open people’s minds.
DD: What is the oldest song on the CD?
OB: It’s Legitimate Child. I wrote it in 2005. I was in college at the time.
DD: Talk about what it’s like to perform.
OB: Wow, I performed a senior showcase at Yale. That was in 2007. It was called, A Moonlit Evening. Tonight I’m doing a show at the Regatta Bar in Cambridge (www.regattabarjazz.com). It’s also called, A Moonlit Evening. This is going to be special.
DD: Your music is described as Afro-Peruvian, Nigerian Ekombi, R&B, jazz, gospel, funk, soul and hip hop. How do you personally describe it?
OB: The most difficult thing for me to do is box my music into a genre. All of those that you mentioned are true. When I introduce myself, I say African, soul jazz and gospel. Depending on the audience and the set list, I might emphasize one over the other. I have to represent all facets of who I am.
DD: Talk about your writing process. Do you carry around a recorder, or take notes?
OB: Anyone who knows me knows that I can be having a conversation and I’ll go to my notebook or sing something into my phone. If I don’t’ make a record of it, it will go away and not come back. It’s all about that moment in time. Wherever I am, whether it’s in bed or in the shower, I have to make a record of it. It’s a gift to receive words and melodies.
DD: What were you trying to say with your music?
OB: My name is an epic name. It means “God’s Moon.” I feel that with my music it’s a reflection of my creative way. Life illuminates and brings love and correction, it’s something I want to embody in everything I do. I think of myself as a moon. How can I reflect that light. It’s about illumination and creation. It’s about the lyrics and the message. That’s my message.
DD: Who are some of your musical influences?
OB: That’s hard because there are so many. Some of my influences include: Miriam Makeba, Anjelique (Kidjo), Jonathan Butler, Donny Hathaway, Rachel Farrell, Fela Kuti, Michael Jackson, Mahalia Jackson and many more. I grew up in a house with many types of music playing. I always wanted to move and create.
DD: What did you expect from the biz, what did you get?
OB: I expected it to be more straightforward and methodical. I come from a business background. I started in 2010 and thought the CD would be finished in early 2011. I used to always wonder, ‘How can it take two or three years?’ I always wondered that. I was quickly silenced. It didn’t’ work that way for me. It was a humbling experience.
DD: Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014 is the day your CD dropped. Describe the day.
OB: I opened my eyes at 5 a.m. I had a full day of media appearances. I went to an ABC news affiliate in Boston to film a full-length concert that is airing on the Feb. 9th at 12 noon ET. I also filmed an interview with the ABC affiliate, the Chronicle. Then it was NPR in Boston, then rehearsal for the show I’m doing tonight. This is the life I prayed for and prepared. I’m getting a taste of what I’m in for. It sure takes a lot of energy to show up, smile and perform.
As seen in the first video (http://tinyurl.com/kch3w8o) from the disc, Edidem, a song inspired by a traditional Efik prayer as passed down by her grandmother, Bassey not only incorporates authentic cultural elements from her Nigerian-born parents and grandparents into her colorfully textured aural mosaics, she also invites family into the experience. Her brother, percussionist Eniang Bassey, performs on one track on the album.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: www.offiongbassey.com