Tems’ voice stops me in my tracks

If you haven't heard her yet, you've got to check her out, says Stevie G in his Downtown column
Tems’ voice stops me in my tracks

Nigeria has another big star in Tems, whose unique voice could comfortably find favour in a range of genres.

Every so often there comes along an artist with a voice that stops you in your tracks and makes you turn up the volume. When it happens for me, as a DJ, I immediately go and search for every song I can on that artist and quickly download everything too. A couple of years ago this happened with a young singer from Nigeria names Tems.

‘Try me’ was the first single I heard and I soon went back to her earlier jams, ‘Mr Rebel’ and ‘Looku Looku’.

Last year she released the incredible For Broken Ears mini album, containing classics such as ‘Free Mind’, ‘The Key’ and ‘Damages’.

By this time, Tems was well and truly on the map and she had also collaborated with Khalid and Davido on the ‘Know Your Worth’ remix, before teaming up with another legend of modern afrobeats in Wizkid, with ‘Essense’. Tems is the real deal.

Tems is only 25 years old and, despite a swift rise in recent years, it was a slower ascent to the top. She grew up listening to largely American R&B and hip-hop such as Destiny’s Child, Alicia Keys and Lil Wayne, before moving on to Lauryn Hill and Burna Boy.

The R&B and soul influence is very evident in her music, which is unique and boundary crossing. Though still sitting comfortably in the afrobeats and afropop genres, Tems has got one of those powerful voices that could comfortably find favour in many other genres too. Her music moves effortlessly between genres.

Her rise has been organic and natural, and Tems had already begun writing and producing her own music by the time she left school. Like most other youngsters, she soon found that paying her bills was a big challenge, but she bravely quit her job and made a go of things.

‘Mr Rebel’ blew up into an unlikely smash and things have been progressing nicely since, with Tems making waves independently through her own Leading Vibe label.

It’s an impressive approach that has allowed Tems to explore a number of genres freely, and she seems to be a strong-willed artist who is gonna be around for a long time.

But let’s get back to the voice! This is what makes her truly unique and this is why Nigeria has got another big star. I’ve written extensively about the new wave of afropop artists here and Tems is about to sit at the top table with the likes of Burna Boy, Wizkid, Yemi Alade, Davido, Tiwa Savage and all of the others.

Tems has a loyal following of ‘Rebel Gang’ fans and the world is truly at her feet. My only real regret at the moment is that we are not getting to experience these tracks in a club or at a festival, although at least I have the radio at the moment.

With afropop and afrobeats, we have reached the fifth anniversary of our legendary Taboo night, but unfortunately we couldn’t celebrate in the club this year either. We will be doing a virtual party for Africa Day at the end of this month, and I’ll have details soon.

Taboo started in Amp on Hanover Street and we did many parties elsewhere too, but we spent the last few years in Dali. Sadly Dali is another club that looks like it won’t be opening after the pandemic, but Hope and the crew are keeping things going virtually with plenty of online activity. Our own Taboo night will have a new venue by the time the clubs are back.

I’ve written before about how it’s a strange time for artists to be releasing music through a pandemic, in which they can’t really perform too much in front of live audiences. It’s very weird for DJs too and, while I’m lucky to have a platform on RedFM where I can mix live, there are tracks that really need to be played in clubs and festivals. The afrobeats and soul by the likes of Tems will still sound good when we eventually reopen later this year, but there’s nothing like the feeling of playing tunes that are just out as they are blowing up.

Whole sub genres of music have exploded during the pandemic. Irish drill music is one example of a flourishing scene where the main bangers aren’t being heard in clubs and festivals yet. At least we have something to look forward to when it does all return to normality!

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