Singer Johnny Drille is blazing a trail on the African music scene with his unique brand of Afro-folk. His sound, a blend of folk, African percussion and pidgin English, is inspired by bands such as Mumford and Sons.
Drille who is signed to Africa’s largest label Mavin Records, spoke to iSingmag about his new single Papa and his musical journey.
Your most recent single Papa was a tribute to your Dad. What is he like and how has he influenced your music career?
My dad has been my number one supporter. He helped me start my music career by taking a loan out to get my music equipment and shoot my first music videos. Nigerian dads are often seen as tight-fisted and emotionless but I’ve grown to see mine is none of that. He’s a great dad and I hope the song tells that enough.
What was your journey to becoming a professional singer?
I grew up in church. Both my parents are pastors, so I got introduced to music pretty early. I learned to play the keyboard by myself and learned music production from cassette recorders. Professionally my music career began after I left [the African music talent show] Project Fame.
How did you find your Project Fame experience?
It kick started this whole journey for me. I exited the competition at the early stages clocking out at the tenth position. But it was an eye opener for me. It was the first time I had performed in front of a large audience and under so much pressure. I learned so much from this experience that it helped me become a better singer.
How did you maintain momentum after the show?
When I left the show, I could have given up and moved on to something else but leaving so early was some sort of motivation to do better. So, I spent the next few years honing my craft, getting better at being a singer and performer. I built the fanbase I had gotten from the competition step by step and enjoyed the whole process of evolving. I made more covers to get people’s attention while releasing original songs too. It wasn’t easy, it was really hard sometimes, but I loved and enjoyed the process.
Your music is different to the typical Afro beats sound. Have you ever felt pressure to conform to a different music style?
Afrobeats is the big sound out of Africa, it is our sound but at the same time there are also many other beautiful sounds in Africa. I can best describe my sound as Afro-folk. Folk music with the African twist. There’s a lot pidgin English intertwined with some African percussion instruments. It’s a new sound in Africa but I’m excited to have come this far because the fans love it and we’re gradually expanding that niche fan base further and further.
What challenges do artists who are based in Africa face when trying to break into other markets like the US or the UK?
I won’t necessarily call them challenges but the cultures in Africa, just like in the rest of the world, are very different and certain markets might be reluctant to embrace another culture of music. However, that’s been changing a lot lately. Besides the fact that the African populations in the UK and US are the highest consumers of African content, others are beginning to see and love the sounds from Africa. As more collaborations and fusion happen, the world will see more and more how beautiful the African sounds are.
Who inspires you musically?
Owl City, Mumford and Sons and Jon Bellion. They’ve been huge inspirations to me and my music.
What’s next for Johnny Drille?
I’m working on a project and collaborating with a lot more artists than I ever have before. I’m getting into making movie soundtracks as well. There’s so much I want to share but will have to wait. Very exciting times ahead.