Trailblazers’ corner: We suffered to make gospel music what it is today — Nikki Laoye

 Trailblazers’ corner: We suffered to make gospel music what it is today — Nikki Laoye

An award-winning recording artiste, radio & TV host, entrepreneur, and humanitarian; Nikki Laoye isn’t your regular musician.

The proud mother of four is a woman of many parts and one who wears many hats. Despite being a multi-faceted figure, she has continued to blaze the trail in every aspect.

Eclectic is how she describes her style of music, and you can’t agree less. It takes a lot to be different, and Nikki Laoye has never shied away from it.

Talk about a heart of gold—she embodies it, her care for children with cancer and cerebral palsy is all the proof you need.

From “Never Felt This Way Before”, an alternative rock gospel song that made listeners feel what they’ve never felt before, to “Trust You,” and even “Yeshua” Nikki has “Never fail(ed)” to deliver.

There have been storms that rocked her boat, but she stands unwaveringly strong.

Eighteen years and counting, and the ‘Best Female Vocal Performance’ winner at the 2013 Headies shines still, even ever brighter.

In this interview with CRISPNG’s BLESSING CHUKWUNEKE, the royal nightingale, Nikki Laoye speaks of her musical journey as an urban contemporary gospel artist, her philanthropy, her breaking points, her losses, and also counts her blessings.

Can we meet you?

I am Oyenike ‘Nikki’ Laoye. I am a recording artist, humanitarian, radio and TV host, and founder of the Angel for Life Foundation. Additionally, I’m a beauty entrepreneur, running my haircare line, Fine Woman by Nikki Laoye.

Tell us about your background and how it shaped your music career

My beginning was more musical, in the sense that I grew up in a musical family coming from the Laoye Ajeniju royal family in Ede, Osun state.

My family is well-known as one of the royal families in Osun state. My granduncle, my grandfather’s brother, was Oba Toyeshe Laoye, while my grandfather was known as Baba Kekere, and was more like the Oba’s right-hand man, but the two of them were both musical.

My grandfather used to play the organ and keyboard, while my granduncle was also known as the drummer King because he played the talking drum.

Oba Laoye made the talking drum as popular as it is today. During Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Nigeria, he welcomed her with the talking drum, and right now, the talking drum industry pays homage to him. It has opened many doors for me because when I go to places and I mention that I’m Laoye, people want to prostrate to me in appreciation of Oba Laoye. That’s how amazing it is.

So, coming from a family that had music in its bones, I grew up watching my dad and his brothers always playing music, always singing together. I would hear them singing in harmonies, in parts.

Growing up as a family, we were all very close. My dad and his brothers always made sure that once a year, we came together to go away on holiday. Our cousins and friends were always present.

My cousin is the popular actress, Ade Laoye, and we all used to sing together and hang out. So we just grew up in the creative system. So, everybody in the Laoye family is very creative. They either sing, dance, act, draw, or do other things in creative space. However, some of us took it to the next level.

While growing up, my dad had a vast music collection. My dad always had music, all kinds of albums, all kinds of recordings. So, I was open to different kinds of music as a child from R&B, Hip Hop, to Reggae and jazz. My mum was a dancer and it added to my music experience.

Growing up, I decided to do music fully, which was a path I built since childhood. I made sure that every time from my primary to secondary school, no matter what school I found myself in, I was always either in the dance club, Atilogu class, or acting class. I was always in every kind of thing that has to do with music and art as a child and it gave me room to blossom and grow in that direction.

When I was at the University of Ibadan, I also joined a group called Exclussia, which was the top dance club at the University of Ibadan at that time. I soon started a girl group called soul sisters with two of my friends, Aboyowa and Debola Kester and we were popular at the University of Ibadan because we were the only female acapella group at that time, which was in the early 2000s, between 2002 and 2004. That was also the stepping stone to me becoming a recording artist because. Soul Sisters recorded a couple of singles. One of our singles, “Babaloke” was featured on my first album. So that was more or less what helped me to grow into the recording artist I am today.

My younger brother, our last born known as Xblaze is also a well-known producer and has been producing for over 20 years. So it was the two of us that decided to go into music fully. My eldest brother, Femi Laoye, who’s also known as Rap2sai, actually featured on Taka Sufe, one of my songs in my first album, alongside Rooftop MCs. While Xblaze produced the song. So, that shows how much everybody in my family has that gift of music and we all use it in different ways. Xblaze right now, works with DJs in Albania in the UK.

Also, doing music in the church helped me. My parents saw my love for music and put me in a choir at age five, an adult choir at that. So the truth is, I’ve just been in that space of being able to work on my music since I was a kid and I thank my parents for that.

How would you describe your style of music?

Nikki is so versatile. I can do any style of music. Like I said, there’s no style of music my parents did not have around them, from R&B, Soul, Hip Hop, Reggae, Funk, whatever it is, I can do all of them, but it always just depends on when I’m writing a song. I try to ask myself which genre or what style of music will best express that song. That’s why my songs have different genres. I would say I’m eclectic in my style of music, I like to call myself an urban contemporary gospel artist because I can do all kinds of styles,  but the major theme of my music is God, love and life because I believe that those are three major areas that every human being would need to handle or deal with.

Nikki Laoye speaking with CrispNG’s team virtually

We see that your style of music is quite different from the norm in the Gospel industry. So, how has the reception been in Nigerian society over the years?

It has been an amazing journey because I’ve been doing music as Nikki Laoye for 18 years now. The truth is, when I first released my first single in 2006, that’s my rock single “Never Felt This Way Before”, I remember that people didn’t believe I was Nigerian, because rock in the Nigerian Gospel industry wasn’t popular then. So, it was welcomed beautifully at the time and that song was nominated for every award possible. I remember there was the KORA award that was very popular in South Africa and I was also nominated for Best Songwriter.

So, I’ve had a great reception over the years, but of course, whenever you come up with something new, people are a little bit skeptical.

When I started dropping love songs because it wasn’t popular then for Christian or gospel artists to release love songs, there was a bit of turmoil.

People doubted if I was a gospel artist. They questioned the fact that I did love songs as a gospel artist. My stance was that we are supposed to do love songs. Who else should talk about love the most if it is not us? We are the ones who understand what love is about and we should create love songs that people can use for weddings or in their relationships.

I remember that time I faced so much backlash after releasing my first major love song, Onyeuwaoma, where I featured Banky W. Lots of people questioned it. I was wearing a wedding dress in the video trying to let people know it was a wedding song, but was not easy convincing them. So, there was a clash and I had a split set of audience at that time, with some not approving it.

Moses Bliss just dropped a love song and Neon Adeojo did too, Christian artists are now releasing love songs, but people like us suffered for it to become a norm today, and now everybody is embracing love songs by Christian artists and we are like yes, finally, that’s how it’s supposed to be.

There were also those moments of I faced backlash for my choice of collaborations. Aside from Banky W, I had a collaboration with Seyi Shay as well. People objected to it, but they don’t know that everything I do with my music, I pray and I talk to God about it.

I’m not someone that is crazy. If not, you would have seen me doing collaborations with everybody by now. I don’t just do collaborations. I sit down and think about it. I think of who has the right kind of heart for this song I’m trying to do.

I remember when I wanted to do the remix of Only You with Seyi Shay, she wasn’t supposed to be on that song it was supposed to be 2face. The song was released after I lost my dad. It got the Headies and so many other awards across the world. So, truthfully, the song was good on its own already. It didn’t need a remix, but I just felt laced in my heart that I needed to do a faster version of the song because that other version was quite mellow and I wanted to do something fast and I love reggae. 2face loved the song so much and said, “Sis, I want to get on this song with you”. But we couldn’t just find the right time to record due to his busy schedule. So, I had to reach out to Seyi Shay to do the song with me.

She came back to me crying when she had written her verse of the song and thanked me for making her a part of the song. Saying the song spoke a lot to her. When we came together to record in the studio, I listened to her verse and it made me tear up, I was like, you sang exactly what I wanted to hear. It was so deep and personal. Everything that I wanted out of that song came out of Seyi Shay and I thank God that she was a part of that song because next after that, the song went places, it went into countries I’ve never thought of before because being a Gospel Artist, as at that time, we were limited as to where our music could reach, Seyi Shay being a circular artist had a wider audience. So, more of her fans in different countries got to hear the song, which again, to me is the benefit of sharing the gospel.

I had fans from Brazil, Australia, places I’d never heard of before reaching out to me, even despite the language barrier. God wanted the song to go over the world’s walls and go into other parts of the world.

When I do music, I want to make sure that it is touching lives, and that it is getting across to everyone as much as possible, and that is why my musical journey has always been very crazy because not everybody would agree with the things I do or the collaborations I come up with.

For me, when it comes to music, there is only one person I listen to and that is God, the one who has given me the unction to function and who has given me the purpose to achieve. So that’s just how my musical journey. It’s just been all about God.

Looking at the music industry gospel industry, what do you think can be done to improve it? 

Well, I would like to say that right now, I’m seeing a lot of improvements in the sense that people are now being a lot more open.

As I mentioned earlier, now we’re seeing other gospel artists do love songs. We’re seeing other gospel artists going into genres that people were always afraid to go into, but people like myself, Rooftop MCs, Bouqui, and others, were able to step into those terrains back then. I believe that we were able to pave the way for others right now because some people will tell us that we were the ones that actually encouraged them to try out these genres, and now we are happy that these genres are now being embraced and people are being more creative with their sounds and more realistic with music knowing that we need different kinds of music for different kinds of seasons.

So, I believe that the gospel music industry is growing, everybody is learning, and everybody is getting to understand that music is much more than how we try to put it in a box. However, there will still be some people that will never understand.

Recently, I heard of this girl from Deeper Life Church who did a rap song that went viral because we all loved her sound. I was excited when I saw her because you would not have expected someone from her background to rap the way she did and I encouraged her, but she got backlash from her church because they don’t feel like that kind of sound (rap) works.

The truth is, that rap is rhythmically applied poetry. Rap is not devil’s music. It’s the use of something that makes it devilish. The devil cannot create. God created everything. God gives us that mind to create and that is what we done.

For us as Christian artists, the most important purpose is to win souls for Christ and to encourage other Christians who are already living the life of Christ,  because living the life of Christ does not mean you will not go to temptation, so we need music that will help us to through every phase of temptation.

We need songs for worship, that will help us to heal, that will help us to get delivered even. So whatever ways we can share the gospel with this music, we will do it with the right words in it.

So, I believe that the gospel industry is growing. We have better videos, productions and songs now and it’s a great thing to see.

How was your passion for philanthropy birthed and what impacts have been made through that?

My parents put that love for people in my heart. As a child, our house was always full of people, uncles, aunties, or cousins that my parents were either helping to send to school or housing. So, I’ve always had that atmosphere of care, seeing my parents care for people and I grew up with that same mindset.

I have always told God that wherever he takes me in life, I would love to be a big sister to other people. That was what birthed the Angel For Life Foundation, and we will be 14 years old this year.

At Angel For Life Foundation, we work with people with disabilities, children living with cancer, children with cerebral palsy and people of national concern, such as internationally displaced persons, refugees and migrants.

It’s been quite a journey doing this for 14 years. I was so glad when I was recognised by the government around 2014 when I was made the celebrity voice for refugees by the National Commission for Refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons (NCFRMI).

I remember one major season of being their voice when CNN put out a report that Nigerians were being kidnapped in Libya. Nigerians including myself found it shocking. I knew that we were helping to bring people back home from Libya, but I didn’t know that it was that huge.

So I went to the office, and I tried to get them to collaborate with CNN because we’ve been helping Nigerians to come back home, but I didn’t think people knew about it. Since CNN was making it a very big story, we needed to go out there and give them more information about what was going on.

They asked what my plan was and said, “I’m your celebrity voice and I have a huge follower base, let me go to the airport every time that we’re bringing back people from Libya, report with my phone and put it on social media”.

The very first video I did became the only news people had at the time, even mainstream artists, artists from America, and all over the world started reposting my video. CNN, BBC and other organisations reached out to me for interviews. That blew me up in a different dimension, not just popularity-wise, but I became the go-to person in handling cases of people lost, kidnapped or trapped in Libya, it became a serious thing, and that’s how we knew how huge this problem was.

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A lot of people were quiet not knowing where to turn or who to call to help them out, and what I did was I got their contact details and forwarded them to the NCFRMI office where they’ll be helped to look for their family members and to my utmost joy, people were being reunited with their family members that they thought were lost.

I can never forget one particular one that happened. Like I said, I always go to the airport to record and this particular day I was late to the airport because there was traffic and I was feeling so bad because they told me the plane had landed. So I decided that when I get there, whoever is left on the plane, I will record and interview them and post on social media which is a usual routine for me.

When I got there I met the last set of people coming off the plane and I recorded like I normally would and posted it on social media, and all of a sudden, a lady commented, “Oh my god, Nikki, that’s my brother that just walked past you. We’ve been looking for him for years. We thought he was dead.”

It was amazing. She said her brother was kidnapped and they couldn’t pay the ransom which was a condition for his release. They thought he had been killed, only for her to see that her brother arrived safely in Nigeria.

I connected her with the office and they were able to reunite finally, even BBC did a special coverage of the lady when she finally found her brother.

Those are the kinds of things that give me joy and fuel my passion to constantly be that person who can help make someone’s life better. And that’s what I’ve been doing over the years with Angel for Life Foundation.

Truly, we can’t do it without all the great help of individuals and organizations who are donating, who are our partners and have been helping us out.

I just started a new project with a sister of mine who reached out to me and for the commemoration of her 40th birthday wants to support 40 children with cerebral palsy.

She donated a sum of 7 million naira and right now the children are going through daily therapy sessions which would last for three months. They’ll receive speech therapy, physiotherapy and occupational therapy paid for by us, Tosin Ajose and Nikki Laoye under The Hope for CP project.

We also collaborated with Medplus, who donated about 1.2 million worth of free medicines for these children, and that’s what the foundation does, to provide wellness interventions, we help to provide customized cerebral palsy wheelchairs and standing frames for these children.

My friend, Tosin Ajose, also made donations about two or three years ago, with which we paid all the medical bills for some children with cancer.

We’ve also been partnering with DJ Cuppy who was helping to pay for the education of 10 of our beneficiaries, helping them from secondary school to university, she paid for the whole tuition and did that for about four or five years.

In the world we live in, different situations are going on. So with Angel for Life Foundation, I just try to do the best I can. We look for partners that can work with us, raise funds for us and help us support our beneficiaries.

It’s been a lot of work, it is overwhelming, it’s emotional, but at the same time, it is worth it and I just thank God that I’m able to work in that space.

Looking back at the beginning of your career, was there a time when you wanted to quit and how did you cope with the challenges? 

One of the major seasons where I felt like quitting was when I lost my dad. It was a very heartbreaking season for me because I grew up in a closely-knit family.

It was heartbreaking for me to see my dad fall sick and eventually pass away. It was even more heart-wrenching because he passed away in my car, with me driving, rushing to the hospital, and then he took his last breath in my car. It was so horrific.

It is a different case when you are informed of the passing of somebody you love than for you to witness the whole scenario, how everything was going down the hill. My daddy waited for me that night to come home. He died 15 minutes before his 60th birthday and I’ve been fasting that whole month for him and asking God for healing and all of a sudden it seemed like that healing didn’t come.

Everything I ever believed was threatened. Even after my dad died in the car, I told everybody to get down when we got to the hospital, I locked myself up in the car with my dad, I was praying that God would raise my dad from the dead, but nothing like that happened.

I was in a place of doubt. Everything was scattered for a while and after laying him to rest, I told God I was taking a break and for about two years I could not go back into the music space.

But in that season God gave me “only you” through my friend, Nelson who is my guitarist and very close friend. He wrote the first verse and chorus of the song and he said God told him to give me that song, at first I didn’t want to consider it, but the more I kept singing the song to myself every day, I just felt that healing coming and God was trying to say, “Nikki, open your heart to me, please, let me heal you. Daddy is fine, daddy is with me. You need to go on and do this work. Many others need to be healed by you.” That was when I recorded Only You and I worked with my friend and producer, Rotimi Keys who helped me to produce the song and when the song was released everywhere went crazy.

The song was trending all over Twitter, people were sharing their testimonies on how it helped them deal with the loss of a loved one. Only then, did it dawn on me that I had to clean my tears and keep working. Soon, the song started winning awards. It won the Headies for Best Female Vocal Performance and I  was the only gospel artist nominated that year for the Headies award.

I remember I told God that I wanted to win that award as a memoir that my daddy didn’t die in vain and that He is with me.

When I won that night, I remember I climbed up on that stage crying because God heard me and till today, I look at that award as a memorial that indeed God was with me in that season of my life and he just wanted to also use that to help others as well.

I remember one time, I went to sing at a concert in the UK at KICC church, and I talked about this testimony of my dad and I sang the song. When I finished singing, I was informed of a lady who wanted to see me, she wrote a note as instructed by the protocol.

In her note, she said that her dad just died about two days before that event and she had been in a place of confusion and sadness, but that my song touched her. So I asked that they find not knowing that the lady was peeping and watching me read her note. So the moment I asked for her, she ran to me crying and I fell on my shoulder and fell on my shoulder and she was weeping profusely and I had to comfort her.

When I look back, I don’t know how I survived it. Because it’s it’s going to be 13 years now that my dad has passed and it still feels like yesterday. You just never get over the loss of a loved one no matter how many years it has been. But you will be able to move on, with God’s help. So, that was one of the major low seasons of my life.

Going through a divorce was another low moment of my life. We both decided to go our separate ways amicably but it was a very sad season for me, but I’m happy that we are both doing well today. In all, God has been faithful and he has been an amazing father.


Is there any project you’re working on?

This year there will be more music from Nikki Laoye. In the past year, I’ve released Yeshua (extended remix) which has been going viral on TikTok, with myself, Holy Drill and Sonny Green. There’s ‘Trust You’ and ‘Never Fail’ as well.

Also, I’m constantly looking for more support and more partnerships for Angel for Life Foundation, as it will help us create more wellness interventions for our beneficiaries.

Fine Woman by Nikki Laoye, which is my haircare is still running. My radio show Girls Rock with Nikki Laoye, is back on air this year, alongside GR Top Five, which we run bi-weekly.

What advice do you have for young people who are looking to delve into the music space?

The advice I would give you is to stay focused. It’s been 18 years and I’m still in the music space. I’ve not faded up, I’ve not left, I’m still recording and releasing new songs and it’s being focused that has kept me.

Trust me, there’ll be things that would want to shake you, just as I’ve been shaken by different things from loss, divorce, and new life to relocation. It can be shaky, but the truth is that I’m constantly focused on my purpose.

So, stay focused and also, know why you’re doing this ministry. If you’re doing it just to get fame, it’s not going to work, but do it because God has called you to encourage, enlighten and uplift the lives of others.

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