By Fatiat Saliu
Funkcleff, real name Funebi Guembe Odede, was born and raised in Port Harcourt, the sixth from a family of seven, and had popular gospel singer, Preye Odede, as an elder brother. He sang in the choir as a child, and just couldn’t figure out what school was about, except for the music notes that were used to sing his primary school’s anthem. He was a drummer in his teens, and later went on to become a piano player in his coach’s church.
Having followed him since 2019 through his manager’s WhatsApp stories, way before I was interested in music journalism as a career path, I was already a big fan. He regularly posted covers of songs by popular artistes, and I found them refreshing to listen to. He later made all his covers/remixes into a compilation and called it “YAK (You Already Know) remixes“. In the later part of 2019, he made a short tribute to victims of police brutality. This earned the attention of a few Nigerian music heavyweights, like the rapper Erigga, and Pheelz the producer. According to Funkcleff, Erigga reached out and raved about the song and his talent and asked that he make a couple of songs with him. He later featured on two songs off the rapper’s critically-acclaimed album The Erigma II.
“Letter” was the artiste’s first release, a song dedicated to several persons who were instrumental to his musical journey. After that, he released “Star”, a song birthed from experiencing several frustrating situations while struggling to hold on to his Christian faith. The track that followed was “By Faith”, also borne out of real-life experiences.
Funkcleff’s story is one of struggle and eventual triumph, and it’s very inspiring. He has overcome severe health challenges and long periods of adversity to carve a niche for himself as a fast-rising artiste. His music has motivational elements in them, and he says it’s because he makes music to comfort people going through things they cannot talk about.
“I love to motivate and give hope to people through my hard work, my music and lifestyle,” he says. He believes “if you put in a little work, a little faith, a little love, and a little patience, everything will align in your favour.”
Afrocritik recently caught up with Funkcleff, who was more than happy to share insights on his music trajectory, fashion choices, and future projects.
How did you know you wanted to do music?
As a child, I didn’t even know I would take music as a career choice, even though my siblings and I were compelled to join the children’s church choir. It was not until 2009 that I felt I could do this thing professionally, but even at the time, I wasn’t so sure. I started off as a producer, but apparently the passion for that was not as much as it was for performing, so at some point I lost my touch. I decided to focus on songwriting and vocal performances. It was in 2009 that I knew I had this thing coming.
Even though I didn’t have so much passion for music production, I did most of my production by myself in the early stages, because at the time I couldn’t afford to pay for studio sessions. It even got to a point where I had to work as a producer for 2 years, in exchange for free studio sessions. I didn’t get paid at all in those 2 years; all I got were free recording sessions, and I was content because at the time that was everything I wanted.
When did you kickstart your career officially? Was it before the freestyles or after?
Honestly, I don’t know, because there was no specific time when I said to myself, “This is what you should do with your life”. I just found myself doing it with all of my time and resources. I mean, it would be easy to say I started today or 11 years ago, but I’m just being honest. There was no specific time that I told myself, “Hey! This is what it is.”
Maybe before, maybe after, but I knew I spent most of my years dealing with health issues. I also did a couple of songs at the hospital.
Which year was this?
I suffered from these health issues for 9 years, so yeah, I was in and out of the hospital. Everyone had their thing going on. Apparently, that was my (mountain) to overcome.
After YAK, your first official release was “Star”. Am I correct?
Yes, it was. “Star” was released in January 2020.
What were the events leading up to this? Did you decide that you finally wanted to start releasing songs of your own?
After the release of that project, I was still dealing with the condition. I did several minor surgeries, so releasing songs was the least of my worries at the time. Ashraph, my manager, was actually the one pushing for releases. I was not thinking too much about releases, but I never stopped making music because it was like medicine to the stress I was going through at the time.
What inspired “Star”?
At that time, I was actually going through a whole lot more than just the health challenge. I could barely see the light, but deep down I knew I had something inside. I mean, I’d always known what I carry, so I was actually speaking to my fears in that song. Eagles are meant to fly, no matter the situation. That’s their nature and nothing can take that away from them.
That’s all very inspiring. Before “Star”, you were featured on two songs on Erigga’s album. How did that happen?
Erigga inboxed me on Instagram, saying he watched a content (Inside Life) that I released in April 2019, and that he liked it. It was a song I dedicated to victims of police brutality and unlawful killings. It wasn’t just him who responded to that content. Pheelz (Mr. Producer) also did a refix of the song. When Erigga messaged me, his words were, “Swear bro you killing it!!! I felt your vibes, You good. I dey happy to see things like this dey come from the south. We gats link up on a joint real soon oh,” and that was how we made those songs. I mean we did a lot of songs, but only those two have been released.
After Star, you released “By Faith”. How did that come about?
“By Faith” was also inspired by similar events, but I was speaking from a different perspective. I was about to go in for surgery, and thinking about the whole thing I was fighting at that time, I said to myself, “I will get through this. I don’t know how, but one day I will.” You know what they say about faith being the evidence of things hoped for. I didn’t know how because I had done surgeries before then and it was still not over, so the only thing I could hold on to was faith.
Tell us about the tagline “You Already Know”? It seems like it is woven into the very fabric of your brand. Why did you choose it?
It’s nothing deep. It actually came to me by reflex. I was doing a song and I just said it in that melody, and since then it has stuck.
You began 2021 with “Letter”, is that correct?
“Letter” was actually released in 2019 and republished in 2021. “Letter” came before “Star”.
Okay. What was the concept behind that?
So I was actually writing a letter, not to one recipient but to several people at once. Each line was directed to someone. and they know themselves. I got the inspiration from reminiscing on the time I worked as a music producer for 2 years without pay. Of course, I was hungry, because I didn’t have a home in the city where I worked. I didn’t have any other source of income, so I literally begged for food at the time, and a couple of friends came through. A friend’s mother used to bring food to the studio where I worked and she’d always say, “No worry you go blow”.
Have there been any moments where you doubted that you’d make it in the industry?
Of course, but they’re just flashes. I don’t hold on to those thoughts because I know deep down that everything requires planning, and once I’m strong enough to come out here and work, things will be put in place and that’s on God.
How has the reception been? Have there been messages from people telling you that they loved your music and it did something to them?
So, I keep a praise list to always remind myself that I don’t do this for myself alone. Yes, people do (reach out to me) and I’m grateful to God that purpose is served.
Tell me about Out of The Blue. Your first EP, no?
Yes, it’s my first EP, and as the title implies, there was no prior notice to the release of that project, as it was a compilation of records I made years back. I wrote “Only by God” in 2017, and those songs were recorded in 2018. So, there’s nothing really deep to the title of the project, other than the fact that there was no prior notice of its release.
How would you say the momentum has been, from 2019 until now? Do you think it’s been just right, or you deserve more than you are currently getting?
Honestly, I think we get what we give. There’s been more work underground than what is visible. However, people can only rate you based on what they’ve seen, and I understand that. We deserve more, but then we need to give more as well. You noticed I use “We” mostly? Because it is a team, not just me.
What genre would you describe your music as? I listen and mostly hear inspirational and motivational stuff.
Afro-soul/pop, or Alternative.
Do you sometimes feel like giving up?
Yeah, I’ve had enough reason to quit, but I’m still here and with that energy, we’re no longer where we used to be. So, knowing that there are people who might be going through the same phase we used to be, motivating them through music is my pleasure.
Would you say you’ve fully launched your career, or there are more things that we should look out for?
The world has seen nothing yet, so there’s a lot to look out for. We’re just about getting started.
Say I wanted to tell someone else to listen to Funkcleff, what would you advise that I say?
Funkcleff is an artiste/record producer who motivates and gives hope to listeners that are going through challenging circumstances.
You already know! This was a beautiful session, Funkcleff. Thank you.