Battle of the 1Bands

Tems

Atlanta
“I hope when people see me, they see God, working through me,” Tems states calmly in a signature Lagosian drawl. For her, it’s the only way to explain her journey so far and the relationship she bears to the music she creates. Releasing her debut single insummer of 2018 -after quitting her digital marketing job at the top of 2018, much to the dismay of her family -the response was so electric that Tems knew she’d found her path. The 25-year-old artist and producer has since rocketed into the public consciousness with a series of tracks that distinguished her as a one to watch, not just domestically but globally.

Her speaking voice is smooth, alto and languorous, as she explains that she had never really considered music as a career option when she was young: to begin with she was just a fan, recounting “music was just something I genuinely loved.” Growing up on a diet of Aaliyah, Asa and Frank Ocean, in a household that wasn’t particularly musical, Tems would begin to form songs for fun while her brother played guitar but thought nothing of it. It wasn’t until she was around 17 years of age that she realised it might be her calling. “I tried to not go to school but that didn’t work out,” she chuckles. Instead, she followed through with an economics degree at the South African campus of MonAsh University, admitting casually “I actually have two degrees.” And her decision to wait was definitely one of caution, “I wanted to be 100% sure that I wasn’t making a huge life mistake.”

However, after a year or so inthe corporate sphere, there came a point when the now-singer, born Temilade Openiyi, felt compelled to shape her own future. “I just had a very strong feeling that I wasn’t meant to be there,” she explains “and I literally got a new year’s message about taking a leap or something like that and I just remember thinking, you have to quit your job today.” Not because she was bad at it but because it didn’t come easily -at least not like music did. “You can wake me up at literally any time of night and I can form a song,” Tems declares before recalling how just last week, at the house of one of her producers, she’d ended up recording an impromptu track to the beat made by a dripping tap in the kitchen. She asks rhetorically, in as passionate a tone as she can manage, why -or even how -she could give up something that was so innate to her being, just because of external perceptions? “I thought, I’m done being inside this construct.”After uploading her first track -made hastily in a studio with friends -Mr Rebel, to what she calls “one of those distro-type things”, Tems explains how everything just started to fall into place from there. Almost baffled by her own luck, nay, destiny, she emphasises, “every single thing that happened, I didn’t chase it.” Peoplewere reaching out to her, sharing her music nationwide, asking her to perform, and naturally, her own team began to form too.Since then, she’s graced her burgeoning fanbase with a select few releases, the biggest of which is the arresting single ‘Try Me’, currently sitting at over 5 million streams and 3 million views on the official video. Driving the point home full circle, she explains, “that’s why I’m so sure God knows what he’s doing with me and I’m just a tool.”

That same divine sentiment is why even when asked to describe her sound, Tems’ struggles for an answer beyond “...spiritual.” Though her sound constructs a complex patchwork of textures and feelings, to her music is the simplest form of expression. It comes so freely and without premeditation that it’s even hard to articulate the process: “I don’t know, it’s just natural. It’s like it’s coming from my soul,” she offers. And audibly, the songs become evidence of the theory. There is an effortless catharsis to the way riffs seem to fall from her mouth, strewn casually over beats that seamlessly merge the familiar worlds of Afrobeats, soulful R&B and infectious pop into something distinctly new. The deep richness to her vocal, reminiscent of Koffee or Tracy Chapman, undeniable hooks to predecessors Tiwa Savage and Niniola and an additional blend of soul and language that is uniquely hers, her much-anticipated debut EP is undoubtedly set to shake things up both in her homeland of Nigeria and internationally.

With the ascent of the bustling Nigerian music scene on the global stage, and coverage already piling up stateside, Tems is teed up to catapult. And yet she still maintains a level of patience and wisdom beyond her years. Referring to Lagos she raves, “this is the most comfortable place for me, I’m most inspired when I’m home.” Less concerned with the commercial allure of the US, laughing in almost-slow-motion “America is a big place, so I’m not in a hurry. I’m taking it as it comes.” In the more immediate future, Tems has her sights set on more intercontinental travel throughout Africa, as well as pockets of the diaspora in nations like France, “there are a lot of people out there who really really mess with my music.”

Though the rise has been markedly fast, Tems is pacing herself for the long haul and just getting started, estimating “people have only heard about a twentieth of my sound, they haven’t heard the whole of me yet.” She continues, “I’m easing into it because I really want people to get it.” And even in the age of streaming and oversaturation, when it comes to the hype, she’s got tunnel vision on lock, actively going against the grain of the industry. In particular, she’s aware of the urge to compare and contrast: “Everything is a competition. Who’s the best? Who is this and who isthat? There’s a pressure, especially when you’re new. How are you going to show yourself and prove that you’re the best?

”But Tems is consistently philosophical and measured on this, like she is with most subjects too. “You can’t feed into that because I’m not here to prove myself. I don’t need validation. I already have the validation that I need. I’m just here to spread my message.” She remains decidedly unbothered as she explains why she refuses to enable those who seek to pit artists against each other: “There cannot be any competition because I’m just being 100% myself. If you want something else you can go somewhere else. It’s not by force.

”Ultimately, what is the message that Tems hopes to spread through her presence and her art, her essence of self? Long-term, she wants to change lives. Despite the talent emerging from the nation in the forms of Burna Boy, Wizkid, Yemi Alade, Davido to name but a few, music still isn’t always regarded as a viable pursuit, not that it affects Tems who states, “apart from the government, music is the only thing that influences people individually and simultaneously.” Alongside wanting to reach a stage where she’s able to tangibly make a difference for those in need back home -creating opportunities and resources -she concludes most importantly, her main goal: “I just want to be a source of hope.”