Found His Calling in Music, Started Over in New York City, Released God-Given
Singer, songwriter, producer
In an age when commercial success has continually trumped talent and originality, singer Siji (pronounced shee-gee) has joined a growing list of artists who are bucking the system. His breakthrough CD, God-Given (sometimes listed as God-given), combines elements of jazz, soul, and Afrobeat music to create a new sound that has mesmerized listeners globally. Siji has also become a much sought-after music producer, despite only having produced several tracks and his own album.
Siji was born Adesiji Awoyinka in the early 1970s in London, England. His birth name means "protection" in Yoruba, the native language of his Nigerian parents. He was born into a large family and was the second eldest of nine boys and two girls. His father was a re-insurance salesman, who later became an evangelist. The family moved to Lagos, Nigeria, when Siji was five.
Found His Calling in Music
Siji's talent for performing became apparent at an early age, when he would entertain at family gatherings or for guests who stopped by the family home. He always wanted to become a musician but chose to study engineering. With that in mind, he returned to London when he was 17 to further his education. He later received a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and, following his parents' wishes, earned a master's degree in engineering product design. While attending college, Siji taught himself to play the piano, using a piano near his classroom. In addition to learning the piano, he also taught himself to play the double bass, and percussion.
Siji also formed a musical duo with a friend. They called themselves Soulminded. The two went into the studio to record some tracks, and Siji was hooked. He began writing lyrics, and the two created a demo and sent it to all the major record labels. They were soon approached by a representative from Warner Brothers. Nothing came of their meeting with Warner Brothers, but the duo began performing at various clubs.
The duo later parted company, but Siji continued to perform and write lyrics. He also formed his own record company, Ivy Records, in 1995. Siji released an EP, Facets, and word spread about the new artist. He performed at various major club venues around London, including Ronnie Scots and Smollensky's. His EP and performances caught the attention of record label Warner Chapel.
Siji signed a recording deal with Warner Chapel as he was putting the finishing touches on his first full-length release, Parables, recorded live. Warner Chapel convinced him to hold off on releasing the album so he could get a proper deal and more financial backing. Siji, however, did release a song, "My Lover's Embrace," in 1997. He also went to New York City for the first time that year.
Started Over in New York City
After waiting a few years for something to happen with Warner Chapel, Siji terminated his contract. With a few contacts and some financial assistance from his older brother, he moved to New York in 2001. He soaked up the music scene, did a few performances, and began his association with hugely popular house music producer Osunlade, who had worked with R&B singers Musiq, Eric Benet, and the legendary Patti LaBelle. Osunlade was gearing up to tour the United Kingdom and asked Siji to watch over his apartment and take care of his dog; in exchange, Siji was allowed use of Osunlade's recording studio. Elated, Siji began to work on tracks for the album that would become God-Given. He had no record producing experience, however, so he had to learn everything by scratch and called friends in the middle of the night to ask which button to push.
Despite being excited about being in New York, Siji felt lonely and isolated. He threw himself into recording his next release, and even the terrorist attacks on New York on September 11, 2001, did not dissuade him from his work. In an interview on the BBE record label Web site, he said "Coming from the [United Kingdom], having dealt with the IRA [Irish Republican Army], you tend to get on with things afterwards." Though he wrote and produced most of his own tracks, Siji did find time to collaborate with some other experience producers, including house music producer Alix Alvarez and Bill Lee. After a recommendation from a friend to use elements of the music of his youth, which included music from Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, and music from the Yoruba culture, Siji incorporated these influences into his songs. He also included a secret recording of his father reciting his oriki, which he described as a birth song, a praise poem that is recited at the birth of a child. With help from Kofo the Wonderman, a talking drummer from Nigeria, he was able to add a talking-drum element on a couple of his tracks. The album would also contain the collaborations he did with Osunlade in 1998, when they first met.
In the early 2000s Siji signed with BBE Records, owned by Peter Adarkwah, a London deejay he met while performing around London in the 1990s. He released his CD, God-Given, in the United States in November of 2004. He began promoting his record by performing at various New York clubs, including the Bam Café and Joe's Pub. The first release off of the CD was "Feels Like," which was also remixed by the Danish group the Sunshine Coolers. Siji dedicated the album to his mother, who had died a few years earlier.
Siji described his musical style as Afrosoul, and he fused together elements of Afrobeat, jazz, and soul music with touches of house music to create God-Given. Several songs also included the Yoruba language, which, along with a gospel music element, added a spiritual aspect to his music. Writing on the Rhythm Flow Web site, Craig Chapman stated that Siji's sound was "an energetic blend of R&B and neosoul" and that "even while you are grooving, you sense a certain spirit in the music that becomes more evident as the rhythms begin to mellow out." On its Web site, Godbrain Distribution, a Swiss record distributor, called God-Given "an album born and grown from a deep familial love … beaming [its] glorious message across the airwaves."
Though Siji devoted time to marketing and promoting God-Given, he also began to produce the work of others. He collaborated with Osunlade on a remix for Césaria Evora, and he also produced tracks for up-and-coming artists Salif Keita, Wunmi, and Vinia Mojica on albums for BBE Records. In addition, Siji worked with Alix Alvarez on an African electronica project.
Siji hoped that the fact that his music garnered attention from all over was an indication that originality and talent might win out over commercial success and popularity based on superficialities. Looking to the future, he hoped to work with hip-hop artist Lauryn Hill, to create a film score, and, eventually, to return to Nigeria as an honored member of society. If he continues to create music that soothes and inspires, Siji's wishes are likely to come true.
Facets (EP), Ivy Records, 1995.
"My Lover's Embrace" (single), Ivy Records, 1997.
Parables (unreleased), Ivy Records.
God-Given, Ivy Records/BBE Records, 2004.
"In the Spotlight: Music You Should Know About," Rhythm Flow, www.rhythmflow.net/Spotlight.html (September 16, 2005).
"Profile: Siji," Bounce FM, www.bouncefm.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=599&mode=thread&order=1&thold=0 (September 16, 2005).
Siji, www.sijimusic.com/bio.htm (September 16, 2005).
"Siji," BBE, http://bbemusic.com/data.pl?artist=742 (September 16, 2005).
"Siji 'God-Given,'" Godbrain Distribution, www.godbrain.ch/bbecd044.htm (September 16, 2005).