Cill is one heaven of an Afro-RnB chanteuse, spreading her wings with genuine skill, zeal and a halo of feminine appeal…
By Chinonso Ihekire
“For your love I′ve been running/ Hoping someday you’d love me too/ Sadly that day never came/ I wonder why/I tried so hard to please you/ So wrong not to have left you/ Holding tightly for dear life/I hurt myself.”
Anyone listening to Cill Soul’s song, “Tatarata,” might easily mistake it for a strawberries and kisses-under-the-rain type of love story.
However, the 2020 Afro-fusion record is a heartbreak story – a tale of unrequited love – that shows Cill, real name, Chioma Ogbonna, in her element as one of the current most vivacious voices in the Nigerian musicscape.
Cill is one heaven of an Afro-fusion chanteuse, spreading her wings with genuine skill, zeal and a halo of feminine appeal. Breaking into the industry in 2017, with her debut “Baby Girl,” she captivated Nigerians, and Africans, by extension, with her soulful voice, and emotive lyricism. Having toured the corporate industry, from being a school teacher, to working with blue-chip firm, KPMG, Cill soared brilliantly as a lawyer and a consultant.
Yet, her stubborn desire to explore her passions was burning hotter than the fringe benefits of the corporate world. And one sunny afternoon, in 2016, she burned that bridge and never looked back.
Blending Folk music with RnB, Soul and Alternative Rock, Cill Soul championed her energy into making unique melodies, carving a niche as an alternative artiste. With storytelling-songwriting and a masterful voice, Cill who also doubles as a professional guitarist, has attracted significant buzz to her brand in the past 7 years as a full-time singer. Creating soundtracks for TV commercials, performing as a guitarist for several colleagues, and releasing her own songs, it has been one galloping ride for Cill. Nonetheless, her excitement at her journey remains as intoxicating as it did from her teenage choir days.
With a litany of music covers, a handful of singles, Cill has stolen our hearts with her slow-burn melodies, and exciting groove. With no official compilation piece yet, anticipation is rife for more music from this enigmatic chanteuse.
Catching up with Afrocritik, we had an intriguing chat where she discussed the journey so far, her creative process, navigating her struggles, especially with making and releasing more music, keeping hope alive, and so much more.
Chinonso Ihekire: Nice to connect with you. What are you up to, right now?
Cill Soul: Right now, I’m actually in the studio working with an artiste, writing a song for him. That’s what I was trying to wrap up with just now.
CI: Interesting. So, you write song for other artistes?
CS: Yeah, I do. In fact, I think my song writing career has been longer than my singing career.
CI: That’s interesting. When was the first time you wrote music?
CS: Probably when I was in secondary school, but it was trash.
CI: Why? Did you sing it to anybody?
No, I didn’t sing it to anyone. That was actually the first time. I remembered I was just coming back from school. And I was humming this song and singing it in my head until I got back. I kept singing it because I didn’t want to forget – I had no recorder or anything. And it worked because I still remember it, even till today.
CI: When was the first time you ever sold a song to someone, and what was the song?
CS: I wouldn’t say I sold it. I would say there is still some level of ownership I had. But the first time I ever wrote a song for monetary purpose, I think it was for a brand. That was 2017.
CI: What brand is that? Can you remember the brand?
CS: Yeah, it was Dudu Osun. But they never used the song. They were working on their TV ad and they reached out that they needed music. But then they never finished the TV commercial. I remembered recently the client actually reached out to me that they needed the file again. It’d taken so long and I don’t know what happened, but it had nothing to do with the music. I think they just got stuck in their TV commercial. Yeah, but that was the first time.
CI: I noticed that you do not really put out so many songs. Why?
CS: The reason I haven’t put out so many songs out there is because, first, I am a perfectionist, and I get to overthink. Right now, I have been working on my EP for almost two years now. If I am being honest right now, it’s longer than that. I have produced songs again and again; there’s a particular song of mine that I have had to produce four times, because I did not like the first two versions.
Finally, I found the version that I liked. So, there’s just that overthinking that kind of slows down the process. So, besides that, finding a producer that actually understands my song took a long time. But I think I found a couple of them and we are pretty much almost ready to hit everybody. I’m pretty sure that this year is when I will put out more content, and I promise to be more active.
CI: I picked something from what you said. You try to make it perfect, like in your own standard. What’s in it for you?
CS: It’s almost like my natural habit. I always like to find myself in a song or music. It’s like the best way I express myself and I don’t know any other way to express myself as a human being. So, there’s this satisfaction that comes with it. It’s almost like you have children; every song is like you giving birth to a child.
But yeah, that’s the feeling I get. I don’t think anything else makes me feel like that. I have worked as a consultant, an activist – I am still an activist. I’ve worked in the NGO space, and I’ve been a school teacher. All of these were there, but nothing comes close. It’s just that vastness and unpredictability. It’s like an adventure; you don’t know what is coming. So, it’s very exciting, the musical journey is just very exciting. Less predictable and more adventurous, that’s why I like it.
CI: I will come back to the music, but I want to understand your adventure. You have a law background. How did you transit to music fully?
CS: The first time I ever thought of doing music full-time was in 2015.
CI: How old were you then?
CS: Hahaha, I can’t tell you. Then, I was working in KPMG. I actually just started working less than a year after school, and I was finally getting into the cooperate world. At that time, I actually finally found something that I really loved in that space, but I also became very restless. I don’t know why. It was almost as if I was going deep into it, and then I realised there’s something I should be doing and I wasn’t paying attention to it at all. The more I got into that cooperate space, the more I realised that I may never give music a try, and that scared me.
I’ve seen people in my space then, like a couple. I had a manager, for example, that told me he used to be a producer, but he doesn’t do that anymore. I saw that, and I was like, “I don’t really want to be like this.” So maybe for me the main reason I relocated from Abuja to Lagos was music. I just used this job as a cover up. I just didn’t want to feel like I did not take my own life in my hands. I felt like working in the cooperate world was also building somebody else’s empire, and I felt like I needed to take hold of my own empire, of my own life. That was it.
CI: Interesting. So, when you left your job, how was that transition phase?
CS: It was tough. I won’t even lie. It was the toughest three years of my life, down to 2019. I struggled a lot, but I also had fun. I learned a lot. It was a learning experience. So, when I resigned, I actually had offers from labels, and people that wanted to sign me, and who loved my music. But I later discovered that it wasn’t a good direction because some of them were very vain in their expectations. They wanted to make you sexy, like a sex idol or whatever. They wanted to change your skin tone, too.
CI: These brands wanted to sell you and not your music?
CS: Yeah. There was that, and then I struggled a lot because I really needed to have my own sound and create my own niche. There wasn’t that. Again, I just found that if I had signed up with them, it would have been a struggle because I wouldn’t have found what I wanted to do, but I would have been lost in what they wanted me to do. But that didn’t work. It was a struggle but also a learning experience that I am grateful for, the broke days and all. All of that was all part of the learning process, and I was prepared, maybe not very prepared but my mind was made up.
CI: You were not tempted to take your old job back?
CS: Yeah, not like my old job, actually. When I was resigning from that job, I got another job in the industry. It was like a music distribution company, but something happened and like I got the job and the other lady didn’t like the job anymore. It was like a divine intervention. That’s how I’ll put it. It’s like God knew that if he took that job, I probably would have been so unserious with music.
CI: So, from 2017 up to then, you were just recording music?
CS: I resigned in 2016, and music was like in 2017.
CI: So, you were just recording music. What was the first song you made?
CS: I wasn’t just recording music; I think what I was doing mostly was hanging out with musicians like me and just learning from them. I did performances. I played the guitar, so it was easy for people to invite me to play at their events. It took a lot of my time. So, yeah, I was hanging out with musicians and it was almost like “managing another artiste.” It wasn’t official; I was simply following the person wherever they went.
CI: You were getting familiar with the whole system.
CS: Yeah. And then in 2017, I finally put out the music.
CI: What song was that?
CS: “Baby Girl.”
CI: How was the reception at that point?
CS: I didn’t really expect anything much. I really just wanted to introduce myself. Like, “you guys, I’m a singer, what do you think about this?” The reception was really okay. People were like, “Oh-my-God, this girl can sing.” It got the attention of other producers who wanted to work with me and see what I could do. I think it was just good enough that I fulfilled this purpose. Like I overthought that one, and it took a while for me. So yeah, God it good.
CI: So, do you also overthink your inspiration as well? How is your creative process like?
CS: Oh no, I don’t overthink that one. Maybe because I have been writing for a while. Before being a song writer, I used to write a lot of poetry, and pretty good with words. Overtime, the fact that I wrote a lot of poetry somewhat built my writing, do you understand? The days of overthinking is behind me. I used to overthink when I was much younger with my poetry. Like if I bring that book, I would laugh.
I think what actually broke that overthinking was this guy who I met online, I think on Facebook. He was a poet who would just come and write, and then I hadn’t written for a long time, probably because of overthinking. And then I was saying to this guy, oh my God, your poetry is so good, I really like it. So, while we were taking about it, I read some of my poems that I hadn’t published. We were talking and then I started talking and then, as I was explaining to him that I hadn’t written in a while, I entered the zone of poetry. I was literally writing in poetry about not having written in a while, and he was just like copying them, like everything I wrote he would write it into a verse and send it back to me. And like, girl that’s poetry. And I was like, oh, I didn’t think he would see that. Because I was really being poetic about it, I was referring my poetic mind as a shit. I didn’t even realise I was being poetic, and he was like, “girl, see you are writing poetry right now.” And I was like, I am actually really good.
That was when I got up and determined I was not actually as terrible as I thought. That really encouraged me. That entered into my music. I think I am very confident as a song writer than a musician.
CI: Wow. Because when I heard “Tatarata,” it sounded like it was from a place of pure emotion. Why love songs?
CS: “Tatarata” is a heartbreak song.
But it sounded like a love song.
It’s a heartbreak song, like if I still stay, I would always be in your way, so I’ll go. It’s a heartbreak song, like I’m leaving you but I will always love you. It’s the same thing, like this person has friend zoned me, but I still like this person, but I respect the fact that he didn’t choose me.
But somewhere in my head I am like maybe there’s still a chance. So, like it’s just the reality for many people. When someone friend zones you, you say you’ve moved on, but the truth is that you haven’t, it’s just that you’re just coping. And there’s a level of hoping that this might still work out, until it doesn’t work out. So, it’s that space and window where even though you know that the person has already friend-zoned you, but you are still like maybe, maybe. I mean, it was like a personal experience, but it’s also something I have seen with people that friend zoned me.
CI: So, does it mean that all your songs or most of them are borne from personal experiences?
CS: Not really. “Tatarata” is from a person’s experience, obviously. Like I’ve heard it from a lot of people.
CI: Okay, like the other ones, “Lovers,” the “Baby Girl” which you first wrote. What about those?
CS: Yeah. Some of them are from personal experiences, some of them are a bit of people’s experiences, because I observe a lot. Sometimes it’s just like a momentary thing, like I am in my own head and I am thinking about something and then I just backup the inspiration. Like it’s a different thing. But “Permit Me” is not like a personal experience, obviously, because it is a song by a drug addict who has ruined their relationship and has to go to rehabilitation and then begging for a second chance to you know, make it right.
So, that is obviously not my experience, but I mean, as a creative, I can enter the head of anybody and create from there. So, it could be anyway, actually. But then I try to personalise it. I take it personal, because I actually feel people’s pain in that way, like I can relate, even though I have not experienced it.
CI: Okay. So, looking at your discography now, with your EP, what are we to expect?
CS: My EP will be like a slight switch-up of what people are used to, and also you will still have the sound that people are used to. So, I have kind of like embodied my evolution, or how I’ve evolved over the years, basically. I started as a song writer.
I started doing covers. I think it was in 2019. And it really broadened my mind about how music, like the various ways music can be flipped. Most of my covers are Afrobeat songs but I kind of like bring them into my own space with the guitar and I was like, “oh I didn’t know that that song could like sound this way.”
It just taught me that any song can go anyway, the difference is just the person who is actually creating it. So, it broadened my mind that that was something I could experiment with. So, my EP is going to have some very interesting sounds and people would be like, “okay that’s a very interesting combination.”
CI: We are patiently waiting. Hopefully, the EP drops this year and not next year.
CS: It’s actually ready. What’s left is that I think I have more songs that should be in the EP, so I have to do that collection.
CI: Who, currently in the industry, are the people you are looking up to work with, or do you draw influences from?
CS: I wouldn’t say people I draw influences from, but let’s just say people I look up to. I love – love is the word I use. I love Burna Boy a lot, because he’s always had his own niche for the longest time. I remember I had a colleague then, in KPMG, who was crazy about Burna Boy and it was at a time when people didn’t understand Burna Boy’s sound. He had this niche – it was like his own lane and he was consistent with it. And eventually, people loved him, people loved it. And I was like vibing to him like crazy. I really look forward to working with him.
CI: Who else?
CS: Adekunle Gold. He just understands evolution so perfectly, without sounding so weird. You know there are people who, in trying to cross over this, they begin to sound weird. But he did it and I love to see that kind of trajectory. And I admire Simi a lot, because as a woman in this industry, there’s a lot we face. I think our challenges are complex, and she’s someone who has overcome those challenges – you know, disappointments and people always trying to, discourage her. I like how she handles her music.
I like the fact that she has even used those disappointments. People should learn how not to be discouraged at all. Another is Jonny Drille. He is my friend. I’ve seen him many times. His attention to details, his quality, experience, they are things that I really admire. I also love Rihanna and Adele – they are like, I don’t want to say idols, but I’m just going to say that I admire the way that they balance work and life, because I don’t believe that because you are a superstar you should not now have a life. You should have other things that you really love to do. So, I really admire that about them.
CI: So, are you looking to balance yours similarly?
CS: My dear, I have always done that. A wise man shall not live by music alone.
CI: So how have you been doing it, because I know you said you stopped working?
CS: Like I have always been taking breaks when I need to, because I know that there is a tendency to just keep going, because of the pressure to keep making music and everybody is expecting you to do this and do that. There’s a lot of expectations from different angles, from family, friends, people that know about your music, people that don’t know your music. So, you should know when to say no, balance your life, slow down.
CI: Lastly, tell us three things that many people don’t know about you
CS: Okay, firstly, my hair was not a deliberate thing – like I didn’t choose the hair to look deliberate. It was like a mistake. Yeah, it was a mistake that it turned out well. Secondly, my phobia – I am afraid of height. Like it’s so bad that I can’t even stand on a balcony. And then when I’m climbing a staircase, I don’t want anyone behind me, and when I am coming down, I don’t want anyone behind me. Nobody should just come around me. Finally, I really like leather. I do. I didn’t even realise that I liked leather that much, until people started pointing it out. Like there’s a leather jacket that I’ve had for almost ten years. Like that’s how much I love it.
With a voice full of potentials, Cill Soul continues to race towards the grand spotlight in the African music industry. Only time will truly tell, if she will reap the rewards of her risky endeavour!