Music, along with other forms of self expression and creativity, is as subjective a phenomenon as they come, and it’s not any less different in Nigeria. But, in an era of experimentation for the Nigerian, and even African music scene, more deviations from the norm are being accepted. Cadences have been switched, the quality of beat selection has improved, the vibes are more refined, and slowly, but surely, a niche is being carved out for those who dare to turn their backs on mainstream sounds. At the forefront of this niche, alongside other artists, is none other than genre-fluid dynamo, Sute Iwar. Speaking to RADR, the pilot of the Time Express takes us through his life, and how his experiences have allowed him to create the music he does, and become the man that he is today.
SUTE IWAR THE PILOT
While some artists tend to create a facade to cover up their inadequacies, Suté doesn’t suffer from delusions of grandeur. “I’ll say Suté is a musician and a human,” he said, in the most uncomplicated way possible. Extending to his family, he shared a home with two brothers whom he’s very close to and fond of, one of them being the artist some of our readers might know as Tay Iwar. “My brothers are some of my best friends,” he continued, “we’re all tapping from the same source. My brothers and I share similar ideas and our tastes are similar with a lot of things so it all works naturally.” This sibling synergy led to the setup of Bantu, as a platform to create something different. “Bantu started off as an art collective and then there was the business. The art collective started because we wanted to create stuff we weren’t seeing being created. World that could compete on an international level and still be recognised as Nigerian.”
We all have to start somewhere. For Sute Iwar, he knew performing in front of crowds was where it was at for him, although not in the way he might have initially thought. “I remember telling my aunt when I was about 8 that I’m going to work in show business,” he said, his memory served him well. “At that time I was acting in drama competitions for my church. That’s about the same time I started music lessons in Muson Centre in Onikan.” Muson served him well, but as a child he sought something a bit more exciting for his young mind. Classical music didn’t particularly cut it for him, as it was too academic and too different from what he actually enjoyed. From there, though, he realized the importance of learning and practicing instruments, and even he knows it has served him well in sharpening his production skills.
Fast forward to Dowen College, where Sute Iwar gained secondary education. Like most young boys trying to be like their favorite rapper, he started off in earnest. “I was writing songs and performing in class from JSS2, going to studios in JSS3 with some of my older friends. I played sax in the school orchestra, did music in WAEC.” These studio trips put him in the way of Nigerian music icons, as he once bumped into the legend, Cobhams Asuquo. “The studio was in V.I and I think it belonged to the label that had Mode9 and Asa on their roster at one time, I’m not really sure. It was so cool though, I’ll never forget the military print wallpaper in the recording booth of the studio. I felt at home.”
It wasn’t until his senior years in secondary school that he decided to make his music on his own. From making music in his friend’s house in SS1, started recording his music on Audacity, and in SS3 made his first mixtape at the age of 15, uploading the finished tracks on to Datpiff. Sounds very much like a typical secondary school experience for a musically inclined schoolboy.
FINDING HIS FEET
Going off to university can be a very turbulent time. Regardless of how much advice you might receive, you’re never really prepared for it; people have different experiences. For Suté, university took his dream that important step closer to being a reality. While in Ireland, he met John, who is the topic of the sober, yet enjoyable dirge that is “Johnsong” on his new album, Paradise. “John is a friend of mine that passed away in 2014, right around when I started my career for real. He was the first person that ever took serious interest in my music and tried to get me signed and all of that. He was also a producer and he heard me rapping in the dorms one day and gave me some of his beats to write to.” He continued, “I wrote verses to them and also wrote choruses and I’d sing the whole chorus and rap the verses to him. Eventually he hooked up with this management company and was working with one of their artists and he told them about me. It was all so surreal man. He set up a meeting with them and I joined the team as a songwriter but they had also heard my music.” While in his first year in university, Suté would take the train down to Dublin every Friday to meet with the artist and write for her. He was rewarded with first hand studio experience in the most prestigious studio in Dublin housing plaques for U2 and Westlife, as well as a song with the artist and an appearance at one of her shows. All at the age of 17. He says he would never forget John, hence the dedication of the entire outro of Paradise to him.
THE ERA OF JELÍ
5 years on from his first official tape, Sute Iwar still speaks about Jelí with the voice of a proud father who’s watched his son mature into a respectable figure. Being different from the norm, he surprises even himself with the process through which the project was created. “Jelí came at a special time. That was the first time I had the concept of the album before I had made the songs. I had never done that before; putting the concept before the music. I was getting into Nigerian/African history at the time so it all fed into the concept.” He went on, saying the project symbolizes a journey of self realization, both as a person and where he’s from. “I had all these lyrics and Tay made the beats for the songs. I remember the first time he played the beat for ‘Badagry’ for me; that really set the tone for the entire project.” He found a new level in his development at this time and started producing his own music, producing the track ‘Walls of Benin’. Putting out music at that stage in his career had him without any expectations; he put it out trusting himself and his gut. Thankfully it ended up having a great impact, getting love from all across the world.
He spent most of his time recording in his bedroom. This included work on his Visions EP, as well as Tay’s sweet sounding debut project, Passport, but 2015 came with a rekindled love of studio vibes for Suté. “When I went to Audio School in New York in 2015 that’s when I fell in love with the studio again. I was in a studio every single day for a whole year, no skips. Some days maybe for 30 minutes; but every day.” This discipline has definitely helped in keeping him consistent.
LEOPARDS IN PARADISE
The Leopards EP released for digital download in early 2018 was Suté’s first attempt away from genre-blending. Infused with bumpy hip-hop beats and honest thoughts, Suté was mainly having fun with it. The mixture of his biggest influences — Eminem, Jay-Z, Nas, and Kendrick Lamar — is the recipe for why he sounds the way he does. “I had never done a project with pure hip hop production so it was fun to try and I knew my fans that really enjoy the rap side of my music would love to hear that. Musically I wanted it to be the funkiest hip hop possible. Really sloppy broken beats but you still find yourself moving side to side. I don’t even think of those tracks as songs. There were maybe two songs on there and ‘Real Love’ & ‘M.O.T.Y’. The rest are just a stream of consciousness rap but I’m saying stuff that you can go back and listen to anytime and it’ll move you. That’s my funkiest project.”
Sute Iwar’s genre fluidity is as a result of great influence by certain musical legends, it’s a technique he has used practically throughout his career. “When I started discovering music myself, the first three musicians that blew me away were Stevie Wonder, Jimi Hendrix, and the Beatles. I like to have a range of influences though and I listen to every style of music except maybe Death Metal. I learn something from every style.” His new album, Paradise, has not come without any form of criticism. He doesn’t concern himself with negative comments, because he realizes not everybody can like what you make. “I think everyone is entitled to their opinion of music they listen to. Everyone listens to music differently and comes to the music with their own experiences and my music might not be able to cater for the experience they are looking for. That’s just how music is. It’s all subjective.” The project, on which Suté Iwar breezes through a plethora of topics such as death and love, isn’t, in his opinion, a good judge of the things he really has to say as well as his thought processes. He said, “I really don’t think my songs are a good basis for getting my views, even if it’s really honest. Each song is just a small peek into my reality but it’s so exaggerated because it’s music. There’s only so much you can put into a 3-minute song.” If these songs do not fully express what Sute Iwar thinks, it would be very interesting to know what more he has to say on “dead binaries” and survival in Nigeria.
THE COUNTRY AND ITS DIFFICULTIES
To execute some albums perfectly, some artists go to remote locations, away from distractions and cares of the world. Suté is quite different. “Abuja is really serene so that puts me in a certain headspace that I like. It influences the sound. I don’t really know if I would have made different sounding music if I was in Lagos but I doubt it. I grew up in Lagos and even back then I was making music that wasn’t the norm. I recorded about half of the songs on Paradise while I was in Lagos. I just need to be in the right headspace and be in a peaceful environment.” He finds the country limiting, though, due to its poor infrastructure that makes it difficult for artists and creatives to fully showcase their work. This is a well-known grievance amongst the populace. In spite of that, Sute Iwar has found a way to make his environment work for him, finding solutions in times of difficulty.
PLANS AND THE PILOT’S ADVICE
Constantly being able to recreate himself is what has allowed Sute Iwar to keep making headway in Nigeria, and across the world. Just as he did at the start of his new album, Sute will continue making music that transports minds into the future, finding solace in the possibilities of what can be in spite of what is. “And as far as the music goes, I think this is the best time in history to be a musician. There’s no real barrier to entry. You can make music and put it out yourself wherever you are.” Perfection, in Sute Iwar’s mind, doesn’t have to come immediately. To the younger artists, he implores, “The most important thing is to put out the music and stop waiting for perfection. The more music you put out the closer you get to the audience, sound, and team that’s meant for you. That’s what I’ve found in my experience.” 2020 comes with plans for tours and more stage appearances, and no matter the location, we are most certainly here for it.