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HomeAfricaRising from the ashes: In conversation with Nigerian singer PHEENIX

Rising from the ashes: In conversation with Nigerian singer PHEENIX


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We speak to Emmanuel “PHEENIX” Olih about how living in Derby has allowed him to develop freely as a multi-genre artist.

Mojatu: What was life like in Nigeria? 

PHEENIX: I was born and raised in Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria on 24th May, 1998. Life in Nigeria was difficult as I couldn’t freely express my creative endeavours to the extent that I wanted, due several cultural perceptions – but living with my family was one of the best parts. They mean everything to me, so it was really hard for me to leave them and come to a different country by myself. The social and economic climate in Nigeria seems to make it impossible to have a creative life and not feel pressured by everyone around you to give it up, with it seeming impossible to get to the top.

Mojatu: When did you move over to the UK?

PHEENIX: I moved to the UK in 2016 after I completed my secondary school education in Nigeria, and have lived here in Derby ever since, going on to study a joint honours course of Film & TV studies and Psychology at the University of Derby. 

Mojatu: What inspired you to make your own music?

PHEENIX: I started making music at a very young age, but I didn’t officially release my first song until 2017. What inspired me were the artists I grew up watching, and the creative styles they had. I wanted to tap into that and use it to reach out to people and bring them together. I wanted to create something genuine and beautiful for the world to enjoy. My family, my life and the stories I wanted to share with the world also added to that.

Mojatu: Who are your target audience?

PHEENIX: I make music for everyone, of all ages and orientations. I am a multi-genre artist and make music to break the genre boundaries so people can enjoy the art form in its truest form in all its glory. I make songs and albums in several genres which reach out to a different target audience each time, while also creating a new target audience, which is the PHEENIX audience.

They could start off being a fan of rock or Afrobeat music, but then become a fan of PHEENIX music, because they’re becoming a part of this new world I’m trying to create with music. So far I’ve made music in genres such as rock, hip-hop, R&B, Afrobeat, Eighties synthwave, alternative and much more. If you’re a fan of any of that, my music is for you. 

Mojatu: How does music make you feel?

PHEENIX: When I make music, it makes me feel like it’s the only time in my life that I am actually myself. I feel connected to music and I am my best self when I make music. My whole life I’ve struggled with my identity, not knowing who I was and what I wanted to be.

Once I found music, everything made sense, as soon as I found it I’ve been deeply in love with making music for myself and the people around me. There’s no better feeling than when I’m on stage performing my songs, and I see the love from everyone listening, and how much they believe in me and what I make. Music makes me feel alive.

Mojatu: What are your favourite songs and artists?

PHEENIX: My top three songs are A Thousand Bad Times’ by Post Malone, ‘Blinding Lights’ by The Weeknd and ‘Vibration’ by FireboyDML. My favourite artists are Juice WRLD, The Weeknd and Lionel Richie.

Mojatu: What are your favourite three songs of your own?

PHEENIX: In the last seven years, I’ve made over five albums and twenty singles. I think my top three out of all of them would be ‘Letter to My Rockstar’, ‘Praying for a Miracle’ and ‘Friendzone’.

Mojatu: What sort of work have you done for the local community?

PHEENIX: During my time here in Derby, I have performed at several musical events for the community and have also been featured on BBC Radio Derby several times to discuss my music. I was also once approached by BBC Radio Derby to create an official song for the World Compliments Day.

I currently run an open mic/karaoke event called Love Your Sound which is for the music community. It’s an open mic night/karaoke music event made for everyone. The idea was to create a safe space and environment for upcoming artists like myself to come and showcase their talent and skill. Love Your Sound was made to bring the community back together. 

Mojatu: Tell us more about Love Your Sound.

PHEENIX: While exploring the music community in Derby, during my early years in the city, I noticed the community was separated and there wasn’t any unity, which I believed was desperately needed to revitalise the entire city. We made Love Your Sound a weekly event, on every Tuesday at BUNK and every Thursday at the Kitchen 7pm-11pm. 

Once this event began, the amount of people who could not stay away really impressed both businesses and myself, as the event brought a lot more vibrance to the street of Sadlergate, which was already well known for live music but did not have the same vibrance for quite some time. My event changed all that. We have been running Love Your Sound every single week since the start date till now.

Mojatu: What are your aims for the future?

PHEENIX– My aims for the future are to keep making music and to inspire people. On the same note, I want to keep growing my sound and my audience to greater heights. And keep promoting the musical community of Derby, eventually the rest of the UK too, because there is so much talent here that needs to be showcased, and I believe together we can all make a difference, but if I can make a platform that benefits everyone else in this community, then I will do just that. As they have given me so much, and I’d love to return the gesture.

Mojatu: Why is England such an important place for you? 

PHEENIX: England is such an important place for me. It’s the first place I finally felt like myself. I lived in Nigeria for 18 years of my life and I didn’t feel like I was myself, that I could be myself or could express myself. But from the moment I moved to the UK, that feeling went away, and I was truly welcomed into a place where I could express myself and become the great artist I’m destined to be one day.

Love Your Sound review:

Emmanuel Olih, also known as PHEENIX, invited Mojatu to watch him perform at The Kitchen on Sadler Gate. During the week, the artist had also hosted performances for the Love Your Sound event at Bunk and Baby M.

PHEENIX is a really good singer, with a powerful voice and a great stage presence. He knows how to engage with his audience – he and others found themselves harmonising together, creating the best environment possible. If you like live music, I’d really suggest you should go and see what he’s about.

I made song recommendations and he smashed them. He did his best to encourage me to go up and sing, but I thought the audience needed their ears for later use, so I gave it a miss. Ultimately, PHEENIX is a Derby star in the making – book out for his future projects!

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