Sonia Aimy-Nigerian Spirit.

Label: Self-Released.

Forty years ago, the only way most artists could release an album was if they were fortunate enough to be signed to a record label.  As a result, a lot of talented artists and bands slipped under the musical radar, and their music never found the audience it deserved. However, for a few lucky artists there was another way to get their music heard.

A few artists managed to raise enough money to release a private pressing. That was the easy part. Now they found themselves with often 1,000 copies of an album to sell. Many, artists had problems distributing the album and were left with boxes of unsold album. Their decision to release a private pressing had been an expensive venture, and one that left them out-of-pocket. 

Nowadays, things are very different for an artist who wants to release their own album. The internet was a game-changer for artists who wanted to release their own music. They could’ve relatively small quantities of their album pressed cheaply on CD, and then promote their album to a worldwide audience via social media. These artists then sell their albums via their own websites. In doing so, they cut out the middleman and keep more of the profit for themselves. This is what newcomers, rising stars and musical veterans have been doing for a number of years. 

The latest artist to self release their own album and sell it via their website is the velvety voiced Nigerian-born singer, songwriter and actress Sonia Aimy who recently released her sophomore album African Spirit. It marks the welcome return of one of the rising stars of African music, who has a fascinating story to tell.

The Sonia Aimy story began in Benin City in southern Nigeria. Benin is 200 miles the Nigerian capital Lagos, and has a population of 1.5 million. Several languages are spoken in Benin City, including Yoruba, Hausa and Edo. Sonia Aimy grew up speaking the Edo language, but is also fluent in Yoruba and Hausa. Both would later influence Sonia Aimy’s music, when she embarked upon a career as a singer. That was a long way away.

For many within Benin City, life was tough and poverty was rife. Despite that, Sonia Aimy has good memories of Benin City and its people. “No matter the situation, we’re all responsive people. The poorest person will still manage to make you laugh. You have to try to tell the story in a positive way. It may be dramatic, but you will still laugh because of the narrative style. That’s the key. That’s the thread that draws it all together.”

There was also a thread that ran through Sonia Aimy’s life from an early age…culture. At home, Sonia Aimy was exposed to music and dance from an early age. Her mother was a performer in an eminent cultural group, and Sonia Aimy would watch her mother rehearse new songs and learn new dances. Soon, Sonia Aimy was following in her mother’s footsteps.

 The young Sonia Aimy became the youngest chorister in the local Catholic church choir, where she was first exposed to notated Western music. This would go on to influence Sonia Aimy when she eventually embarked upon a career as a singer.

 “My music now is a combination of the experience with gospel music, as well as the traditional music of my people and my formal training.” This is apparent when on songs like Ase, Sonia Aimy explains: In Edo music, you have room for improvisation. There are lots of runs, call and response, solos. It’s very powerful.” That is certainly the case, and it’s no surprise that nowadays, Sonia Aimy is one of the rising stars of African music.

Having started singing aged eleven, music soon became Sonia Aimy’s passion. Soon, when Sonia Aimy sang, people started to take notice. It was obvious she had the same talent as her mother, who  educated her in the folklore of her people, the Bini. Before long, Sonia Aimy’s interest in Bini culture included music, storytelling and dance. Sonia Aimy was definitely her mother’s daughter, and it loped as if she would follow in her mother’s footsteps.

Sonia Aimy’s life changed when she immigrated to Torino, in Italy, where she enrolled at music school. That was where one of Sonia Aimy’s tutors introduced her to Mahalia Jackson’s music. For Sonia Aimy this was a turning point. After this, Sonia Aimy immersed herself in jazz music. She remembers: “When I first went to the school and was told my vocal style was more jazzy, that studying that style would help me, I was skeptical.  Then I listened to Mahalia Jackson. Sometimes I’d really feel myself through her. I thought, this could be me. I’d think of the songs I sung back home. I really related to the spirit of her work, though I didn’t know that much about African-American history. This convinced me to study jazz.”

At music school, Sonia Aimy started to study jazz,interpretation and theatre arts at musical. Soon, Sonia Aimy was well on her way to honing her own unique and inimitable sound. Her introduction to Mahalia Jackson’s music had been a turning point. However, Italy had also influenced Sonia Aimy and her music. 

“The Italian feel in my music lies in metaphor. How metaphorically they write about love and life; it’s influenced me a lot.” 

During her time in Italy, much of Sonia Aimy’s time was spent touring with various theatre companies, and putting her own shoes. It was gruelling work, but Sonia Aimy dedicated herself to what she was doing and was determined to make a success of her new life in Italy. 

When she had time to herself, Sonia Aimy was always writing down ideas for songs and parts of melodies. Some of these would later evolve into songs. This included the riff and syllables that later became Chotima. It was a song that took shape in an unexpected way. Sonia Aimy had only written part of the song when an artist friend heard her singing a line from the song. She cried out: “You’re singing in my language! This is my language!”  Soon, the pair were working on the song and Chotima started to take shape. It’s described as a song about a soulmate. Chotima isn’t the only song that has a story behind it. 

Many of the songs have been inspired by what has been happening in Africa. That is despite having moved to Ontario in Canada, where Sonia Aimy has embarked upon a new chapter in her life and indeed, career. Her career as a singer continues to go from strength to strength. Despite this, Sonia Aimy has also launched her own range of jewellery, and a fashion range that has been inspired by her travels the world. However, the thing that is constantly in Sonia Aimy’s mind is Africa, and problems its facing. 

“This album draws on my anger about what’s happened in Africa…It captures my rage about Boko Haram, about the war in places like Somalia. Ever since I started my career, I rarely had a break from the stage, from touring, from networking. When I did, I connected more to people, to the news, to the world and these crises. I started to feel such anger.” Sonia Aimy channels her anger and frustration into the music on Nigerian Spirit.

This includes songs like Lampedusa, which is Sonia Aimy’s tribute to the refugees who drowned trying to reach Italy and what they hoped was a better life in Europe. Another song inspired by events in Africa is A Dream for Somalia, which Sonia Aimy premiered as part of a community event in Toronto. Many in the audience wanted to hear A Dream for Somalia in their own language, and translated the words for Sonia Aimy who went away and learned to sing them. This comes as no surprise as Sonia Aimy is multilingual, and can speak English, Italian, Yoruba, Hausa, Edo, Somali, Obamba, Wolof, Lingala, Kiswahili and Somali. Sonia Aimy is a talented lady whose come a long way since she first started singing aged eleven.

This includes recording her sophomore album African Spirit with a talented band of Canadian musician. They accompany the velvety voice singer Sonia Aimy as she works her way through nine new compositions. These songs find Sonia Aimy seamlessly switching between, and combining elements of Afro-jazz, gospel, highlife, Nu-Soul and call-and-response African griot tradition. Sonia Aimy makes this seem easy, as she flits between genres and between ballads and uptempo songs. That is apparent throughout African Spirit.

Opening African Spirit is Light My Way Mother, where Sonia Aimy is backed by a tight, talented and versatile band and delivers a heartfelt, soulful voice that brings the lyrics on this beautiful, melodic and memorable song to life. In doing so, she sets the bar high for the rest of African Spirit. Chotima is the song that Sonia Aimy cowrote with her artist friend. Sonia Aimy sings call and response with the backing vocalists in the African griot tradition while horns, percussion and a guitar play a leading role in this song about her soulmate that combines elements of soul and gospel. Nigerian Spirit is an impassioned ballad where stabs of horns and backing vocals accompany Sonia Aimy on this powerful song that is full of social comment about the problems facing Africa.

Voices of Orisa was inspired by a recurring dream Sonia Aimy kept having. She remembers being in a family compound and  teaching young people to sing and dance. However, when their movements and sounds reached the right place, and their trance went deep enough, the ground beneath their feet would burst into flame. This recurring dream worried Sonia Aimy until: “I spoke with Nobel Prize-winning playwright Wole Soyinka. He told me not to be afraid of the message. I knew I had to sing it.” That is what she does on Voices of Orisa, a captivating, thought-provoking and beautiful, soulful ballad. Fittingly, it gives way to Dreaming which features another impassioned vocal where Sonia Aimy combines emotion and power as she draws inspiration from soul, jazz and traditional African music. It’s a heady and memorable musical brew.

A Dream for Somaliya is a powerful and poignant ballad about the problems facing Somalia. There’s despair and hurt in Sonia Aimy’s voice. Especially when she sings: “I don’t know why are we living behind the world?” Another powerful song is Ase, where Sonia Aimy combines gospel music with traditional Edo music. Sonia Aimy explains that: “In Edo music, you have room for improvisation. There are lots of runs, call and response, solos. It’s very powerful.” This she proceeds to do during a musical masterclass that epitomises the African Spirit of Sonia Aimy. Lampedusa is heart-wrenching ballad where Sonia Aimy remembers the African refugees who drowned off the shore of Italy, on their search for a new and better life in Europe. This a hugely powerful and poignant song, especially the way Sonia Aimy breathes life and meaning into the lyrics. 

Closing African Spirit is Husband In Canada, a Highlife song where Sonia Aimy celebrates her new life and newfound happiness in Canada. Not for the first time, does she touch on the subject of family which is important to Sonia Aimy, as she delivers the lyrics to this joyous, celebratory song. As an added bonus, Sonia Aimy has added radio edits of Ase and Nigerian Spirit onto the album. They’re a welcome addition to Sonia Aimy’s recently self-released sophomore album Nigerian Spirit.

For those still to discover Sonia Aimy’s music, then African Spirit is the perfect starting place. It’s a truly bewitching and captivating album that is melodic and full of irresistible rhythms. Backed by a tight, talented and versatile band Sonia Aimy whose one of the rising stars of African music showcases her considerable skills on Nigerian Spirit.

Sonia Aimy’s eagerly awaited sophomore Nigerian Spirit features nine new songs. They’re a mixture of ballads and uptempo tracks. They veer between celebratory, joyous and uplifting to poignant and powerful to beautiful, heartfelt and moving as Sonia Aimy switches between and combines disparate musical genres. The result is Nigerian Spirit, a heady and tantalising musical brew from Toronto based Sonia Aimy.

Sonia Aimy-Nigerian Spirit.

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