7 questions with Nigerian poet and musician Kafayat Quadri

By Mohani Niza

Kafayat Quadri is a talented poet and musician from Nigeria.  Her music touches on the lighthearted (listen, for example, to her song ‘I Don’t Know you but you are Wonderful’) to the more serious (check out ‘Religion Says’ which she performed in conjunction with Amnesty International to raise awareness about the refugee crisis).

Outside her art, Kafayat has a PhD in international criminal law and is a research fellow at the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies.

We recently sat with this multi-faceted artist to discover more.

1. Can you tell me more about your childhood and how it has shaped you to become the multi-talented and multi-faceted person that you are today?

I was born in Abeokuta in the 80s and it was a great time. My father and my siblings exposed me to a lot of music from a very tender age. In those days, my father played the guitar, the drums, the harmonica and he was a great dancer. His professional background was in land surveying though and he barely pursued his artistic interests, as he grew older. So, I guess that kind of got him even more excited when he discovered that he has a child that was into music and arts. He was keen to see where it would take me but unfortunately he died before he could see how far I could go. You know African parents would ordinarily insist on specific career paths and enforce gender roles on their kids but my parents were not like this, though, they really wanted me to study law, which I did.

However, I can’t count the number of times, my father would drive me to a music studio then owned by the late Gbenga Anozie in Abeokuta in ’96 & ‘97 and then I would get picked up by my mum. It was a lovely time. I remember it like yesterday, the day before he died, he came to pick me from my crafts class with Mrs Lara Adewusi in Yaba and we drove back to Abeokuta. I think another thing that really helped was the fact that my parents encouraged us to mix with kids of different backgrounds, religion and ethnicity. We were taught to always see people first as human beings despite obvious differences and even when there were similarities.

2. You are from Nigeria but have performed all over the world, from places such as Malaysia to Egypt, Bombay to Ahmadabad. How does travelling around the world and being exposed to various cultures influence your art?

Oh my, I love to travel but more importantly I love human beings. I’m just fascinated by our stories. We are the same in the things that we fear, love, and our other basic emotions. Human beings are wonderful. When I travel, my favourite thing to do is to meet new people, talk and listen all day and all night, play music, read my poetry and generally exchange art and ideas. The most important thing that travel is teaching me is forgiveness and believe me, there is always something new to learn in this regard.

I also had a great time while I was a student at the International Islamic University Malaysia and I went on to be accepted for some Artist Fellowships. It is a gift to get to travel as an artist. There is always a home waiting for you everywhere and that gives to me a certain kind of peace and gratitude. My art is nothing without the countries I have visited and the people in them. I usually come back home with a renewed faith in humanity.  

3. Tell me more about your art, your exploration of both poetry and music. How you started in both and can one exist without the other for you?

Well, music came first. Melodies since primary 5 but not much words to fit into them. In high school, it got a bit better. I started writing lyrics to my melodies. I remember that apart from my dad, the person that made me feel the validated as a teenage artist then was a Catholic father in my high school, Father Tony Anike. He would go through all my poems and edit them. He is a great guy. So, finally I was able to put lyrics to my melodies and so it became clear that with the music comes the poetry and with the poetry comes the music.

4. Who are some of your artistic inspirations?

My dad, George Benson, Earl Klugh Sarah Chang, Christy Essien Igbokwe, Alhaji Agba (I love Fuji music), Sunny Ade, Sade Adu, Brian Mcknight, etc. The list is endless. I listen to anything and everything. I’m a music junkie. I’m interested in the diversity and creativity involved in music arrangement and I got to display my polyandry love for different music genres with my instrumental album called ‘April 16’. April 16 has 16 tracks with diverse sounds from hip-hop to folk music. It can be found on all music streaming platforms online. It is my favorite project till date.

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