During a childhood which echoed with sounds of blues, instrumental jazz and African music, the Nigerian musician Bloody Civilian, real name Emoseh Khamofu, began to find her sound for herself, writing out her own lyrics on small pieces of paper and performing these first to her parents, and then at church, talent shows and school performances. When she was 12, the indomitable artist began to take her first steps into the production element of the space, using the platform Audacity to record her compositions, before developing these skills to become the producer she is today. These early and continuing lessons have shaped her successes to date, from the release of her debut single How To Kill A Man to her soundtracking of Wake Up for Marvel’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Ultimately, each lyric, composition and track is written and produced by the artist with the overarching intention of paying homage to her homeland.
How’d you first get into music?
I grew up in a musical home, my dad was a civil engineer, but he used to play in a band over the weekend, they would tour and then he would go back to their 9-5 his during the week. He was a bass guitarist, and when I was growing up I listened to a whole lot of jazz and African music, I wrote my first song when I was 8.
I know that you have a wide range of cultural, musical and familial influences. Can you tell me about your roots and how they have influenced your approach to your music?
My Nigerian roots are my music. I have a Nigerian story which is told through my compositions. I was born and raised in Nigeria, and I grew up here, so everything I do from the food I eat to my experiences is deeply rooted in my culture, my heritage and the stories of my home country.
Which sound has had a lasting influence on you?
I grew up listening to a lot of blues and instrumental jazz, so that is where a lot of my instrumental influences come from. But I grew up on African pop music when I was a kid, and a lot of it was influenced by R&B. Aside from that, as a kid a lot of American music was popular here, particularly Black music. I grew up listening to a lot of R&B and hip-hop and then I graduated into trap when I was in high school. I pretty much had different phases and listened to different things at various times in my life.
And so, if I have to say what had the biggest, biggest influence, I would say African music because that’s the common channel between everything at the end of the day. What really felt like home was always African music because it was always relatable. And an artist that made me want to be a musician was an artist by the name of Asha, she’s a Nigerian singer/songwriter from Lagos, she was my biggest inspiration growing up.
What does the performing name Bloody Civilian mean to you and how do you believe this has been shaped by your personal and professional experiences as a Nigerian woman?
To start off, I’m from Northern Nigeria where there’s a lot of military violence against the people. So mainly, that name came from the derogatory term that’s used on us, the army would usually call you a “Bloody Civilian!” And, in my opinion, I just basically took it as, “You know what? I am an ordinary civilian,” but I decided that I would make it something that I would tone and make my own, and use it as a way to go against the norm, and empower myself.
Which genres of music are you drawn to?
When I think about genres, I think about limitations. I found myself listening to a lot of things that aren’t necessarily where I felt my comfort zone was, there are so many things that make songs relatable, you might not know the genre, but maybe the lyrics or the voice touches you. So I’ve listened to everything, I listen to country, reggae, I love pop... I think pop is where there’s a lot of versatility. I love those top-liners and the simplicity of pop music as well. I love, love rap music, I love hip-hop, I feel like you can’t express a story in the same way you can through rap, and it’s really inspiring how their song structures go and how they’re able to write. And like I said, African music is my biggest influence, especially old and new, and then I would say R&B secondly, and then the final thing would be trap.
How do you hope to fuse these into your own compositions?
I don’t have any plans. How I make music is not planned, I don’t really say I’m going to fuse this and this, it just happens. I just pretty much start from something random, it's usually not premeditated in any way and I don’t like to create music in any other type of way, I don’t like it when it feels mechanical.
Which artists featured on your playlist would you characterise as having influenced your work?
My playlist currently is filled with a lot of different music. I’ve been listening to a lot of amapiano, I don’t know most of the actual artists and their names, I kind of just know songs, and it’s not one artist, it’s the genre as a whole which is inspiring me right now. If we needed names I'd say Niniola from Nigeria, what she does with amapiano is hypnotising. She’s one of the first to kind of be on the amapiano wave in Nigeria and she just does it so beautifully, no one has caught up years after.
How would you say your relationship with music has evolved as a listener, composer and producer?
The older I get, the more I can see my skill set building. I think my journey and my struggle as an artist is just to stay as simple and as unintentional as it was when I was a kid, there was a time when there was no incentive, I just did it because I loved it. I never want to forget that place, just because of the need to survive and make money off of music and I don’t know go global and be a big artist or star. I don’t think that’s what would make me feel fulfilled, I think when I reflect on creating music I really want to be able to speak on things and really just express myself and my emotions. Safe to say, that is where my head is at right now, I pretty much just want to stay as authentic as I possibly can and as carefree as I possibly can.
I’ve read that you began to study music production aged 12. How do you utilise your knowledge of production to inform the composition element of your work and vice versa?
I will say at age 12, I didn’t even know I was producing, just to clarify that. When I started off making beats on my laptop, I was making them with the software called Audacity, which any professional will know that it isn’t really for production, I just needed something to be able to record. I would pretty much make acapella beats and I would use buckets and toothbrushes as drums, because I didn’t have any fancy equipment or plugins and I was in a hostel, in a dorm.
So it went from there to actual production later on, when I was 16 when I started to really take production seriously and I got the appropriate acts and I started developing myself as a producer.
It affects the way I create music because music is an art which can be created with so many tools. I see producers as artists as well, and they are songwriters as well even if they’re just working on the beat because there are emotions that only the rhythm and the beat can capture. And I am a composer through and through, I want to be able to express myself through various forms, I can’t just sing and write the song, I also want to be able to say what the drums are saying. I also want to be able to say what the bass is saying because those things speak as well and it’s a story that’s in my head. I can’t really explain it to people, and people may not really understand how to be a part of that process, so for now I’m super loner-ish with how I make my music.
I’ve read that during your childhood, you would write on pieces of paper and perform these lyrics to your parents, at church, talent shows and school performances. How do you believe these early experiences have informed your approach to music today?
I had a lot of support, so I would write, and my parents are very critical, it wasn’t a kind of a relationship where you give your parents the song and whatever you give to them they’re like “Oh, this is great.” If I gave my dad a song that wasn’t written very well, he would tell me, my parents are very abrupt. So I had a very good competitive relationship, I don’t have the mindset of people’s criticism being a problem for me.
When I think about music and creativity, that’s good and fine, but when you think about the business of it, and you think about how much criticism comes from it, I don’t think there’s anyone better prepared for that. Nothing seems like an issue, I work hand-in-hand with my team, and I’m always open to what they feel about music because that also affects how it’s perceived, generally. Whoever's in your team telling you anything about your song might account for twenty per cent of a demographic. I take these things into account because, at this point, I’m telling a story to people, so I won’t change the story, but I might change how I say it.
You were signed by Def Jam CEO Tunji Balogun — the music executive who is also responsible for signing Tems, Sza and Kendrick Lamar — and you are managed by Semi ‘Chubbz,’ the co-founder of Native who also took on a co-producer role for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. What have been some of the most important lessons you have learned from these relationships?
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that you never really know how things are going to go. When you meet people you just never know that they might eventually become a part of your team and I think that’s one that I’ve learned from. I’m happy that I stayed authentic to myself when I was pitching myself. I’m grateful that we’re able to work together, and we’re also able to work on terms that are comfortable for everyone in no way do I feel like I can’t work with my team and my label boss. He’s a person who has the artists’ interests in mind, he also started off as someone who was very much a rapper, so he takes things from the artist’s perspective more often than others who you would find in the industry. I feel really lucky, I’m in a very good position, and I’m hopeful for where this will take me.
How would you say your sound has developed over time?
I’ve become more honest and unhinged. I feel like the older you get, and especially as a woman, you just stop caring, so that’s where I am. I can only be myself, I can only tell my truth, and I can’t tell anyone else’s truth and that’s where I am now as a young woman trying to enter the industry. I’m ready for whatever unfolds, I’ve just evolved into somebody who is ready, I feel like I’m gradually becoming more comfortable, becoming wiser. I have more skills now, there are a million and one things I can do now, that I couldn’t do before, so I’m super excited.
You’ve expressed that How to Kill A Man, grew out of a need to channel your anger. What role does human emotion play in your work and which ones do you aspire to conjure from your listeners?
So I want to be the person, that will always be able to be honest if there’s an elephant in the room, I would like to be the person who says “hey there’s an elephant in the room.” Mainly that’s because I feel we all struggle with things and I think right now, we’re in the age where social media basically tries to make things look one hundred times better than it truly is and I feel like when it comes to anger specifically, I’m somebody that I feel like internally if you struggle with anger, and you don’t find healthy ways to express your anger, it can be really detrimental to your health, even physically.
There are a lot of things that make me mad, I struggle with my emotions, I struggle with anger, and people who have the same thing as me, don’t like to be honest about it, mainly because it’s embarrassing and it leaves you vulnerable. So I’ve just decided that I’m going to be the person who always says it as it is, and always just expresses exactly what’s on my mind and tries to make it humorous. Because it’s a lot of intense feelings, and I feel like humour is the best tool to really start conversations in a tone that isn’t aggravating to people.
Now that we released the song we expected a lot of pushback, but because of the humour and because of the way it was approached, for a misogynist country like Nigeria, it didn’t go as badly as was expected. I’m very glad it worked and I was able to tell my story and gain a new fanbase and really just re-explore, meet and discover new people.
Where do you find your strength?
I feel like, as a Nigerian woman, I’m finding my strength in myself. It’s sad to say this but Nigeria is so far behind on things that women need, as there are people who are stealing as a result of their own self-determination to survive. It’s sad for me because it shouldn’t just be that way, there should be external forms of support and places people can go. I can recall going to a therapist and being told to go to the church to seek spiritual guidance, I was just being treated in a way that I felt was unprofessional, but that’s just where we are as a nation. We’re not at a point where mental health is being taken seriously. Growing up, I struggled, I’m spectrally autistic, I have serious reading issues, I’m super ADHD even today. While it’s my superpower now in music, it was not years before. Even with my mum being a doctor and all the privileges that I have, I still struggle to find help. So, I will say that where I find my strength is internal, I just decided that look, no one’s going to help me. If I don’t do this for myself, I’m not going to be able to last that long, so I just pretty much push myself on a daily basis no matter what happens.
Can you tell me about the process behind co-directing the music video for How to Kill A Man and the messages you hope to send?
I guess the focus of the video is the motive. I think a lot of people would have expected me to tell the full story from this song, which I didn’t want to do, I knew that I wanted different forms of art to come together. So in the song, you can’t really tell the motive, all you can tell is that there’s the effect, but the video tells you the cause. It tells you a story, it shows faces of African women, and it portrays them in an empowering light, which is what I wanted to get out of the video.
What was the process behind your soundtracking of Wake Up for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever featuring Rema?
I came in with what wasn’t on the table, meaning they were looking for a female producer, and I came in with a beat pack. I was recommended by Semi, who at the time wasn’t my manager, that was actually the first time I met him in person. He was part of the team who were tasked with curating Black Panther for Nigeria, he called me in because at the time, he knew me from Instagram, and I worked on the track that was picked from my work, then I went home and wrote the verse, and then I sent it in. They had a collection of other songs, which they were picking from, there were so many artists which had gone through. Luckily, I was able to scale through the process and the song got picked for the album. That was pretty much how that went. 
You’ve expressed the ambition to ‘empower, platform and uplift’ African art. How did you look to do this, with this track?
How I look to empower others is by looking inwards, that is how it starts for me always. First of all, I struggle with waking up in the morning and getting the drive to start my day on time. And so in order to capture another aspect of the theme of this film, I decided to take it from that perspective of waking and pushing from the jump of the morning, so that’s how the idea for the song came about.
Ultimately, who do you want to create music for?
I don’t know, this is one of those questions. I would like the music to lead me to where I’ll be accepted, I don’t want to target any group of people, but I know that Nigerians will resonate with me because I’m theirs. But, wherever it goes, I’m open, I only want to be involved in places where I’m welcome, and that I feel safe, that’s how it’s going to be until my career ends.
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