TurnTable NXT: Meet Cill
Cill has always been a performer first - despite having only three solo singles, she and her guitar have been a delight of hundreds of people at OLIC Supremacy Concert, Hard Rock Cafe, Central Park Abuja, Johnny Room Live, Acade Fest and many more. In this interview, Cill talks about everything from making of Cill's soothing yet infectious single "Tatarata" to working with Johnny Drille, international collaborations and more. Her manager, Taiwo, is present during the interview.
TTC: Tell us about yourself
Cill: Cill is a singer-songwriter, a graduate of Law from Uniben, and I started doing music professionally in 2016. I quit my job, I had a 9-5 – it wasn’t related to my profession anyways, I found another path somewhere along the line. My real name is Chioma Ogbonna, I’m Ibo from Abia State.
TTC: Can you describe your musical background?
Cill: For me, it is something I picked up along the way, I wouldn’t say I was surrounded by music but the closest thing to music for me was my dad playing a lot of country music when I was a child. No one else does music in my family, they are professionals [in their fields] and conservative. I think it just came from interest, I guess, maybe because I was an introvert growing up – I still am but maybe more extroverted now. Music was the only thing I could connect to and everybody was listening to music. I had this player that I would use to record my favorite songs on the radio, then I listen over and over again.
TTC: You’ve been doing this for 4 years now, any projects so far, either LP or EP?
Cill: I don’t have any project out but I have singles out – “Baby,” “Lover,” “Tatarata,” and there is one more that’s a feature with an artiste called Femi Naija, “Ileri”
TTC: What would you say shaped the kind of music you make?
Cill: I can’t say there is one person that shaped the kind of music I do cos I listen to a wide range of artistes. I can’t give the credit to anyone in particular – I listen to the most unlikely artistes you can think of. My music is a combination of different experiences and sounds that are personal to me. The only influence I can say is probably my producer – I think he is the one that has the most influence on how the music sounds and that’s Johnny Drille.
TTC: So Johnny Drille is your producer?
Cill: Yeah, he produced all the songs I have out.
TTC: So how would you describe your music? In terms of genre and categorization.
Cill: I will call it Cill-soul because I cannot say this is the genre I do [using general terms]. Obviously, you will hear elements of alternative music and sounds, folk, sometimes country, but the thing that separates how I sing and write music is how I feel.
I begin to smile, Cill’s manager, Taiwo, makes a gesture, she joins in the laughter.
Cill: Taiwo, stay out of this. [She keeps smiling]
TTC: So when did you meet Taiwo?
Cill: When did I meet Taiwo? Huh, Taiwo when did I meet you?
TTC: I guess this seems like a question that should be answered by Taiwo.
Taiwo: I think it was at Johnny’s concert, "Johnny's Room Live,", the one at Muri Okunola Park in 2018.
Cill: I was very busy that day, I can’t remember that. I was busy helping out with registration that day. I didn’t pay attention enough to know I met him that day. But I remember that he used to work with the late Tosin Bucknor, god bless her memory.
Cill: I know he is a very committed person, I saw the way he handled her Instagram page, I started noticing those pages when he started managing those accounts. I’d ask “oh who is this guy?” I think that’s how my attention was drawn to his work and what he does.
TTC: What year did he become your manager? How long have you guys worked together?
They both laugh
Cill: Like two months ago.
Taiwo: Yeah, I think June.
Cill: Not long. But I’ve known him for longer, I think the concert was 2018 right?
Cill: And he worked at Choc City for a while.
TTC: So your last single, “Tatarata,” can you describe the process behind making the song?
Cill: I can’t remember how I wrote that song but I remember how I recorded it. I recorded the song sometime in 2019. I was talking with Johnny [Drille] and he asked if there was any song I was working on, so I sent like three different songs including “Tatarata” – at the time it was titled “Friendzone,” he listened to it and told me “yeah, this is the one I’m going to produce” and we started working on it. I went to the studio and he started making beats around it. Also, I had to add a new part to the song that wasn’t there initially, the part that goes “I’ve been praying, waiting, hoping” – that part wasn’t there before, so I had to add it right there in the studio to make a complete song. And you know the rest, produced, mixed and mastered by Johnny Drille.
TTC: You released the song right in the middle of lockdown, how was the lockdown for you as a creative?
Cill: The lockdown made me explore my songwriting side more because there were no shows happening and nowhere to go. I guess everyone was just finding ways to get their creative juices up without going out – so my songwriting side definitely flourished during that period. I wrote songs for brands, there is a particular song I wrote for a hand sanitizer brand. I also had to do training for this project called “Voice2Rep” It is basically about human right, democracy, and good governance – just young people singing around these types of issues. I had to mentor them on songwriting and that took about six weeks – which covered a lot of the lockdown period. We have a songwriting community, so I wasn’t idle, there was a lot to do, no dull moment.
TTC: You mentioned a community now, songwriting community?
TTC: That’s the name of the community, “The Songwriting Community?”
Cill: Yeah. We have an Instagram page, a Twitter account, we are more active on WhatsApp. We have this songwriting challenges to make us write more every month – “3 songs in 3 days.” Someone puts an idea on the group, people write on the subject matter and they submit. So it’s just a way to keep the songwriting culture going.
TTC: How large is the community?
Cill: We’re about sixty or seventy. We have lawyers, producers, different groups of people in the community. It’s growing, it’s a close community.
TTC: The Nigerian music industry, what’s your opinion of it?
Cill: I think the industry is involving. We’ve gotten to that stage where a lot of people are more committed to music that has value. You know there was a time where everyone just wanted to dance and artistes put out music regardless of how good the content is – that’s drastically reduced.
TTC: So Cill, apart from music, what do you enjoy doing?
Cill: That would be watching people.
TTC: Yeah, like Big Brother
Cill: I’m serious, but yeah I like shows that involves social experiment. And there are many ways to watch people, you can watch people on Tik Tok, on Instagram, on Twitter – you can watch how people go at each other. I like to study what people do and it’s my favorite pastime. I think it gives me an edge with how I relate to people and it also helps with my creativity. One, I pay attention a lot to know what people go through so I can know what to write about. Also, I know what not to say and not get them offended. Sorry if I disappointed you with the revelation [she smiles]
TTC: No you didn’t, I’m just surprised, you know?
Cill: Even in movies, I try to study the characters. I study them and go like “oh wow, people do like that,” “this person is so wicked.”
TTC: Well, watching people works if you put it that way. Who knows, you might be Big Brother.
Cill: You know, you know, I could be.
TTC: Is music a part-time job or full-time job for you?
Cill: Full-time. Like I said, I quit my job in 2016 and I decided that music deserved my attention.
TTC: How has that been?
Cill: It’s been interesting, something of a learning curve. If I had known that it was this interesting, I probably would have started earlier. I discovered late that I was the type of person that likes adventure. Now, I like the fact that I wake up every day without knowing what to expect – it’s fun. You can get that in a 9-5 too but for me, the art [of music] is so broad, the possibilities are endless and that’s what I like the most about what I do. In terms of making money and return on investments, I think it’s relative for each person.
For example, if I invest ten naira and make a return of hundred naira, that’s a lot return right? But compared to another person, that hundred naira might be peanuts. So based on the resources that I have, I’ve done enough for and with my music and I’m proud of the work I’ve done so far.
TTC: I noticed that most of the pictures you sent to us are pictures of you performing on stage
Cill: Oh yeah [she smiles] I just told Taiwo [her manager] to just send all the pictures to you guys and you can choose anyone you want. I perform a lot, I would say I’m more of a performing artiste than a recording artistes, especially when I didn’t have a lot of my music out. Even then, I still performed at events, people invite me to sing. I come alive on stage and there’s no better way to tell my story than that. A studio picture won’t tell you much but a picture of me performing, and you see me screaming – yeah that’s me.
TTC: What would you call your favorite performance?
Cill: Johnny Drille Room Live last year. That’s definitely it, or at least the one fresh in my memory. I remember when I got home, I saw Don Jzzy had posted me on his story and of course there were several performances that day but he posted only my performance on his page. In that moment, I felt so fulfilled because I was very nervous going up stage and with people screaming. The connection was real. I never thought I had that amount of support from people until I climbed up stage. For me, that was a great moment.
TTC: You mentioned you are more of a performing artiste than recording artiste
Cill: Yeah, but the pandemic has changed the dynamics of that
TTC: So do you have plans to put out new music soon?
Cill: Definitely, I have plans to put out more music this year. I’m working on my EP, it’s coming slow and steady. I also have my video – I just shot the video for “Tatarata” and when it’s ready, y’all gon see that [she says excitedly]. I’m looking forward to the rest of the year even though the pandemic has taken a good part of the year. I think we can still achieve a lot this year. My EP would drop before the end of the year, possibly October because my birthday is in October and it’d be nice, you know? But no pressure, I’m definitely going to put out more music. And of course collaborations.
TTC: Do you have any unreleased collaboration?
Cill: Yeah I do. I have one with this Ghanaian artiste called Reynolds The Gentleman. It was during the lockdown, I recorded my part and sent to him. I would probably put that out after my EP, we’d still have that discussion soon. I have another one with this Tanzanian artiste. I don’t have a collaboration with a Nigerian artiste yet but that is going to change.
TTC: Is there anyone you’d like to work with in Nigeria?
Cill: Yeah, I’d love to work with Adekunle Gold, recently I added Burna Boy to the list just because I love him so much. I just have a feeling meet someday, he’s going to like my sound and say “let’s do something.” Of course, I’m going to work with Johnny Drille, that would still happen. Oh also, Ric Hassani.
TTC: How would you define success as an artiste?
Cill: That’s a very interesting question. I think I would define success in phases, like goals at every particular period. Generally, in terms of where I want to get to as an artiste, success for me would be able to bring up people just like me, people that would reach heights that I couldn’t, a position where people can look up to me and say “oh I got this because of you, I got this because of your help” – that’s success for me.
TTC: What would you tell an emerging creative that is just starting out?
Cill: I’d say be sure of what you want to do first [she smiles], let’s start from there. Ask yourself serious questions before starting out because music is not easy. I know a lot of people who’ve had to leave music entirely, not because they wanted to but because music is a tough, survival of the fittest business. So be sure this is what you want to do. Also, be strategic with your music – it’s not only about being good, there are lots of amazing and talented artistes, strategy is what makes people stand out, and being consistent is what would make you last long and come strong. So three things, be sure about it, be strategic with your music and be consistent – consistency because you don’t know when you’d get your big break.
Listen to "Tatarata" here