Lagos is the cultural hub of Nigeria, a city where dreams can be brought to life. It’s now home to Bloody Civilian (born Emoseh Khamofu), who featured in this year’s NME 100; marking her identity with her unique fusion of Afrobeats, R&B and house music. Already catching Marvel’s eye even before she released her debut single, a track on the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack followed, before she was picked up by 0207 Def Jam – a label home to the likes of Stormzy and Adekunle Gold.
While the accolades are mounting up, it’s been a turbulent road to this point. Before moving to the capital city of Abuja when she was younger, Khamofu grew up in a rural village in northern Nigeria before it was taken over by a flurry of political unrest, its residents forced out by the violence that is alluded to in her artist name. Her recent debut EP ‘Anger Management’ traces this chapter of her life, produced as the result of a healing period that’s been characterised by these intense emotions. “Even just surviving hurdles fortifies you in a way”, she tells NME over Zoom. “The pain isn’t one hundred percent gone, but age has this way of healing.”
Despite this emotional hardship she has had to overcome Khamofu says she is inspired and motivated by the current globalisation of African music, which is seeing artists from across the continent hit new heights. Last month, Burna Boy became the first African artist to play a UK stadium whilst Glastonbury’s Other Stage was headlined by Wizkid this year, who is soon set to take over Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Khamofu’s message, delivered via a spritely Afrobeats-infused bounce with Amapiano flavours, has never been more poignant. NME catches up with her shortly after the release of ‘Anger Management’ to hear her story, from Abuja to Lagos – and beyond.
NME: When did you start to work on ‘Anger Management’?
“The first lyric was written four years ago. It was a period in my life filled with question marks. I was kind of writing to free myself through expression. I just wanted to be able to let go. Whenever I write about something, it’s the beginning of a healing process for me…over the years it’s evolved into different layers of healing.”
Your artist name directly relates to your experiences with violence in northern Nigeria. How has your upbringing impacted the music you make today?
“I grew up in a city called Abuja; typically we would go back home to my actual village for Christmas. As I got older and things got more turbulent up north, it became virtually impossible to visit home. My village technically no longer exists, it’s sort of shifted because people have had to run away from their homes. Being from up north, it’s in the heat of everything – the Boko Haram attacks. It’s definitely a different experience.”
When music first came into your life, did it serve as a form of escapism?
“As a child, anything that could make me emotional could make me write. Now, being a grown adult, it’s the same thing. Even if it’s humour, anger or sadness, it definitely can find its way into my creativity in some sort of way.”
You’ve since moved to Lagos. How did you find that move from Abuja?
“I’ve had to move to Lagos to basically be closer to all the opportunities and work here. The differences are very clear, they’re in your face. Abuja was a small, intimate city and Lagos is a big city with a lot of opportunities and disappointments, excitement and sadness.
“Although the creatives are able to create in their various cities that they come from, Lagos is sort of like the Mecca, maybe the Hollywood of music in Nigeria. This is where you can really have life-changing things happen to you.”
‘Wake Up’ featured on the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack even before your debut single. How did that come about?
“At the time when Marvel called, I was still wondering whether it would be worth moving to Lagos. It was no longer an ‘if’ – I knew I was going to have to move. When I got in there [the Marvel camp], it got easier by the minute. Everyone was very welcoming, down to Earth, it didn’t feel like it was work. It felt like your favourite art or creative writing class, we were just experimenting and getting to know each other.”
What are your experiences with anger that inspired the EP?
“Pretty much all my life, I’ve felt different types of resentment, anger and frustration. This EP was a compilation of those different sentiments. Although another title I was playing around with was ‘Cognitive Behavioural Therapy’ but I felt it was too long. ‘Anger Management’ gets straight to the point.”
“It was different topics, a lot of stuff; being a woman, growing up in a third world country where your heart gets broken every step of the way. I will specifically talk about drugs, because we have a huge epidemic here – and I’m honestly one of the people that nearly slipped down that slope. When it comes to drugs, it’s also something I had to haul myself out of at a period in my life and it’s what inspired the first song ‘Escapism.’”
What did it mean to you to sign with 0207 Def Jam?
“I think what stood out about them was that they made a specific effort to hire women, Black women in particular. Just being able to see they had people on the label that looked like me, from where I’m from, it would be a better decision to do business with people that I can relate to on that level.”
How do you feel about the level of globalisation African music is currently experiencing?
“I coincidentally fell in the demographic of people who kind of experienced it in real time. The year I went to college in the States was a very good year – the first good year – for Afrobeats. My first year of college, I felt like I was still in Lagos. There were so many huge Afrobeats parties, so many different races of people were going to these Nigerian parties and I was very confused. It was very interesting to see that happen in real time, to see other cultures vibe to the music.
“Growing up as a kid, there were people who looked down on those of us who listened to African music. But now, Nigerians are proud of their sound and their culture. Which is honestly the one thing that Afrobeats has done for Africans – it has given them a sense of pride of who they are and their identity.”
You fuse Afrobeats with a range of styles, particularly house. How did this melting pot of sounds come together?
“I really like specifically what the South Africans have done with their Amapiano sound; it became something very grand and timeless, now the whole of Africa loves that sound. We have our own drums in Nigeria, and we’ve incorporated some of those into Amapiano from this perspective.
“I’m just somebody way down the line that’s fusing it with the stuff I grew up listening to. I grew up on Tame Impala, Kid Cudi. I just wanted to see how I could add that electronic effect back into the Afro-house and still keep it very African, very cultured but give it a modern twist.”
Are you working on new music?
“Now that the EP is out of the way, I definitely feel I won’t make anything like that again. It does feel like a letting go situation, writing a letter and putting it in a box or throwing it into the ocean. It’s gone now, and I’m glad to say goodbye.”
Bloody Civilian’s ‘Anger Management’ EP is out now