Ninety: Building A Legacy
Words By – Oreva Akpobome
He grew up in an Anglican household, the fourth of five children and the only male. Alabo Tuwonimi Tuonims, professionally addressed as Ninety, attended Kings & Queens High School, and Spring Foundation School, both in Bonny Island, Rivers State, for his primary and secondary education respectively.
He grew up listening to Michael Jackson, Damian Marley, and Style Plus and started writing his own music as early as age 15. In 2016, Ninety graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Information Technology from the Accra Institute of Technology, Accra, Ghana. After graduation, Ninety returned to PortHarcourt, took a course in music production and audio engineering, and learned to play the keyboard, making it the second musical instrument he plays having learnt drumming in Junior Secondary School.
In 2017, he set up his own studio, which he commercialized but used mostly himself.
Decked in a crisp white shirt paired with blue jeans and white low-top sneakers, Ninety gives us insight into how he plans to leave a legacy.
How would you describe the kind of music that you make?
I would describe my sound as Afro-Fusion. My particular brand of Afro-Fusion is a combination of R n B and Soul, with that familiar Afro “riddim” we all love. But this description is if we’re talking genres. I just make the kind of music that touches on personal experiences, and seeks to elevate the spirit; Silky, relatable vibrations. I think that’s a good way to describe the kind of music I make.
Where do you find inspiration?
Music! That’s what inspires me. I don’t know if that answers your question but for me, listening to music takes me to a different world. The melodies, the lyrics, the production etc. it’s all so beautiful to me, and it inspires me to create my own music, to add to everything that’s out there. The feeling I get from experiencing music is unmatched, I can’t describe it, and I believe that’s why it’s so therapeutic for me. It’s actually funny because, my friends always tease me about how I carry around my huge headphones to listen to music but to me, it’s what takes me to my happy place.
What motivates you to create?
New experiences motivate me to create. Music is how I naturally express myself, so, whenever I experience something new, whether it’s a place, a feeling, a person, or a relationship, my natural instinct is to tell people about it through lyrics and rhythm. I am quite an introverted person, so, making myself and my issues the center of attention is still a bit odd to me (laughs). But, when I turn all that into music, it’s easier for me to express myself and connect with people.
How do you define success as an artist?
For me, success is when people I don’t know start looking forward to my next drop. That’s when an artist is a true gem. Having friends and family support me means a lot but, they know me already. They’ve seen my highs and lows, wins and losses, and they have invested time and effort into my life; so, they are naturally genuinely excited about what I create. But when total strangers are sending me messages, asking when my next song is coming out, or where my next performance is, it really warms my heart and drives me to do even more.
Does your art help you in other areas of your life?
Most definitely. It has helped me express myself. It’s very restorative for me and it creates the space I need to dig deep and process my thoughts and feelings. I don’t have to bottle things up or hold on to them anymore because, my art helps me let go. It also helps me with building relationships with people. Artists need one another, especially in Nigeria where we need all the support and resources we can get. I’ve made a lot of friendships from studio sessions, jam sessions, backstage at performances, things like that. It’s made my life much fuller than I would have imagined.
What’s the purpose or goal of your work?
I create music so I can be remembered. I want to leave something in this world for generations after me to listen to. I really think there is nothing new under the sun; so, the emotions and experiences we are going through today, will still be relatable to people decades from now, especially if it’s coming from a genuine place. This music I make is part of my legacy, so I want people to grow up listening to it just like I grew up listening to great artistes. My work is bigger than me, and I want people to always know that I make music for the bigger picture, not for trends or social media fame.
How does your music relate to societal issues?
I make music from the youth’s point of view. In Nigeria, people are going through so many different things. We all have to deal with personal issues with our family and relationships, then we have career issues, school issues, rent etc. Then, there are problems specific to Nigeria like, bad governance, violence, unemployment, lack of basic amenities and infrastructure, the list is long. I infuse all of that in my music because, that’s just the reality I live in, and it’s relatable to so many young people in Nigeria. At the same time, I want my music to provide a sort of escape because problem no dey finish. We have to have an outlet to enjoy and de-stress.
How do you navigate the music industry?
I keep an open mind, and I try to learn as much as possible. I have been blessed to have worked with, and still, work with some of the most talented and creative artists and music professionals in the country. So, I try to make sure that I keep my ears and eyes glued to what they are doing and really digest the advice they give. It’s a learning curve for me, but I’ve enjoyed every step.
Which art trends inspire your current work?
I can’t think of any. I don’t usually get inspired by trends or what other people are currently doing. I just do my own thing and stay true to myself.
How has your style changed over time?
I started by doing rap, trap, and a bit of soul. Over time, it has morphed into more of an Afro sound with hints of Soul and RnB. I haven’t revisited rapping or trap music in a long time but who knows what’s to come next (laughs). I think it’s an artiste’s job to evolve, though. So, I am excited to hear what my sound would be like in a couple of years.
What are your favourite and least favourite parts of doing music?
My favourite part is the creative process itself. There is a certain magic about having an idea turn into a beat, then lyrics, and then turn into a full song. I’m in the studio a lot, so it’s a very comfortable place for me and once I am comfortable, the ideas just flow. For my least favourite part, I don’t have one. I love every part of it. Even the parts that force me to become more extroverted than I normally would be.
Do you have a network of other artistes, and how do they support you?
Yes, I do. I know people and have worked with people who have shown me and my music true love and support by playing and sharing my music with friends and at events. I have also, met some amazing people through social media who I’ve stayed connected with and have been showing me love, through reposts, shares, likes, comments, shoutouts…you know things like that. And of course, sharing tips and advice from one artiste to another, is a powerful way of building a community where, we can all support one another.
How would you describe your response to criticism?
I listen and filter out as necessary. People will always have an opinion so, to me, it is important not to sway too much, but at the same time criticism is what helps us all move forward. So, as long as I feel like it’s coming from a genuine, constructive place, my ears are always open. I try as much to stay original while accommodating criticism.
Is there a specific environment or material that’s integral to your work?
I would say the guitar. It is the base of most of my songs. It’s an instrument that fits me well because it can be played in many different ways. The guitar has many layers to it just like me.
Who are your biggest artistic influences?
Burna Boy for sure is a huge influence. Being a Port Harcourt guy himself, I feel like we share a common background. He has stayed true to himself and his sound while still developing his artistry, and creating an international audience, that really inspires me. PartyNextDoor is another big influence for me, he has that dancehall sound infused with RnB that I love. It has a cool rhythmic quality. He never does too much but it’s always impactful. And lastly, I would say Frank Ocean, because his lyrical game is out of this world, and he has a way of conveying feelings in a song that I admire.
What were your earliest influences in music?
From my personal life, I would say my dad. He introduced me to so many songs that I cannot even remember the names of (laughs), but the melodies have stayed with me till now. But generally, it would definitely be Style Plus and Michael Jackson.
What is the biggest problem you have encountered in the journey of music?
The most challenging thing for me was, having no one believe in the bigger picture I had for myself and my music at the beginning of my journey, especially, because of where I come from. It’s always a struggle breaking out from the career norm and doing something like music. Even though artistes and professionals in the music business are getting a lot more respect than they were years ago, making the cross-over into the music world, is still a hurdle. That’s why I’m so eternally grateful to Magnito, Michael Ugwu and the Freeme Music team. You know, they are still the only independent, indigenously owned distribution and label services in Nigeria, if not Africa, and the fact that they were the only people, willing to take that leap and make being a working artiste a reality for me. This is something I appreciate tremendously.
If you could change one thing in the music industry, what would it be?
I’m not in a position to say what’s what. I’m still learning and trying to make a way for myself. Each obstacle is a learning curve for me. Until I get to a point where I completely know the ins and outs of the industry like the back of my hand, I’m just rolling with it and defining my own path. I believe I’ll get to a place where I would be able to create my own wave that will inspire others to get into music.
In what ways do you think social media has changed the music industry?
I think it’s the biggest thing that has happened in the evolution of music distribution and consumption. Communication is everything and social media has made that super easy. I can drop a snippet of my song, a cover, anything and it can reach people worldwide. They are able to save it, replay it, share it, and remix it, the possibilities social media has provided for artistes and their supporters in terms of listening and interacting with music, is mind-blowing. And it is only getting better.