Growing up on a diet of jazz, soul and pop music with West African influences, it’s no wonder that Nigerian singer-rapper Suté Iwar has an eclectic taste when it comes to creating music. Cooking up a feast of Afro-fusion flavours, Suté Iwar is a genre-fluid artist who expresses himself through a plethora of sounds and styles. Iwar’s love for music began at the tender age of 7, when he was enrolled in piano lessons in Lagos. He later trained as a saxophonist, and his teenage years were spent experimenting with audio recording software like Audacity or Fruity Loops. His passions took him to New York where he studied a diploma in Audio Production from the School of Audio Engineering, which led to the release of his first mixtape, ‘Jelí’ in 2014.
Fast forward to 2023, and Suté Iwar has a series of releases under his belt, including his latest record ‘ULTRALIGHT’, an album that explores space, sound, love and lust, sprinkled with sensuality. Inspired by the likes of Childish Gambino, Kendrick Lamar, Fela Kuti and Majek Fashek, Iwar experiments with a combination of soundscapes for a timeless record, full of unique colours, textures, and rhythms. Suté Iwar doesn’t shy away from collaborations either, with the album featuring a noteworthy line-up of both West African and British artists including WurlD, Tim Lyre, Lex Amor, kadiata, Raytheboffin, Tay Iwar, Shalom Dubas, Ogranya, Efe Oraka and Twelve XII. Raised in a household of musicians, Suté Iwar’s brothers also remain close collaborators, writing, producing, and featuring on songs together.
With both introspective and universal musical tendencies, Suté Iwar creates music that forges a connection with the world, while highlighting his Nigerian roots. He welcomes all those who listen, each song offering a glimpse into who he is as a human and as a visionary artist. Projext Liquid sat down with this innovative creator to learn more about ‘ULTRALIGHT’ and the journey Suté Iwar has been on to create it.
Listen to Sute's EP below.
Mia: Hey Suté - how are you?
Suté: I'm good. Still a bit tired. I just got back to Nigeria yesterday from London.
Mia: How long were you over here for?
Suté: From early March. I usually do stretches, I like to visit for around three/four months at a time. Although the flight’s not too long, it's around six hours. There are some places in Lagos where you could spend six hours in traffic!
Mia: Congratulations on your new album release; Ultralight! Let’s get straight into it - if you had to describe the album in one word, what would it be?
Suté: I would say, whole. The fact that I sing as well as rap on it has allowed me to balance those two parts of myself and makes it feel like the most complete version of myself so far. Also, I had all my people around me on the album. For example, the skits on the album where I have my friends talking are all friends that have been a part of my journey since I started music.
Mia: How did you go about deciding who was going to feature on the album with you?
Suté: It’s all very organic. A lot of what I was doing throughout this process was playing what I had for my friends who are also musicians. So, I'd play through the album and they'll be like, ‘Bro, I really liked that one. I want to be on this song’. It’s the best situation to be in because it is much different than trying to convince someone to be on a song. That's how it was for ‘Space Cowboy’ with Tim Lier, with Tay and with Lex Amor on ‘Meditate’. I was literally in Lex's studio just playing stuff, and three seconds into ‘Meditate’, she's like, ‘Woo, boy that's fun!'
Mia: So it’s almost as if the song chooses them? It speaks to them and they can feel it.
Suté: Literally, that's the perfect way to put it. I think when you hear the album and hear how they slide into the song, it feels so natural and that's because the song picks them, it resonates with them.
Mia: What were your biggest inspirations while making the album?
Suté: I get inspired by all kinds of things. The album was made over a long period of time, like a year and a half. I started working on the album in August/September 2021. Initially, I was trying to make a very soul-filled Afro sound. The first songs I made were ‘Signs’, ‘Meditate’ and ‘Judah Lion’, all Afro songs, but they're kind of slow and really soulful. When I made them, it felt like a really cool direction, because it felt fresh to me. It felt like Afrobeats but with my personality. So, yeah, everything else I made was to fit into that world that I had created with those three songs. The musical influences were great albums that I care about. There's a big influence of ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ on the album because, the more I was making the album, the music was kind of leading me towards this personal, really introspective place around love and all of that kind of stuff, which is pretty much the same with 'Miseducation' and Lauryn Hill being an artist I consider similar to myself because she expresses herself in both song and rap. I take the album-making process kind of seriously, and I like building those cohesive albums. Listening to Kendrick Lamar’s 'Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers’ album, I was like, ‘Wow, you did it again, bro’. I have to make an album that feels that cohesive.
Mia: There’s a storyline that flows throughout Kendrick's album. Would you say that's the same with Ultralight?
Suté: There’s definitely a theme that goes across the album. There's a line I say on the last song of the album, ‘The Light’, where I say ‘ Reach for the Light before I get up. You know the sessions are never finished’. And I think that's the core of the album; reaching for the light. All of the songs kind of deal with that in a way. So, there’s not a story narrative, but the theme of reaching for the light and keeping your spirits up even with all that may be happening flows through every song on the album. Finding peace, comfort, and confidence in yourself. That flows through the album.
Mia: What was the biggest highlight while working on the album?
Suté: Probably having my friends say those things about me, because those aren't things they've ever told me personally. They said some really flattering things and it was pretty touching to hear. I loved feeling like my community was part of it. That was a big for me.
It’s really great to have that community around you so you don't get lonely and kind of lost in tunnel vision working on the music. I felt like they carried me up for this album.
Mia: I guess working with friends, it’s easier to bounce off of each other’s ideas as you know each other so well. Everything feels a lot more natural and that comes across in the album. So I know you produced most of the album, what's your process? Is it beats first and then the lyrics follow, or vice versa?
Suté: It’s usually beats first. For this album, I was really focused on soul chords, so that was the process. Finding those chords and then putting the drums down. And then I kind of just sit with the song. I like being alone when I'm recording so I can really just think, ‘Okay, well, what's on my conscience now that I want to put into this song?’. And then I freestyle a bit to get melodies and ideas. There are some songs on the album I'm really proud of in particular. Especially ‘Meditate’ and 'Signs' because it's hard to make a song about meditation without boring people or sounding corny. With ‘Signs’, talking about the environment, global warming, etc, it's stuff that I don't think is expected from Afrobeats, but I'm happy to be able to make songs that are about the world but aren’t super heavy and you can still vibe to them.
Mia: So, you spent some time in the UK recently, what did you get up to while you were here?
Suté: Ooh, loads. I love London. This trip was a very busy time for me because I was in London when the album dropped, so there was a lot of socialising, studio sessions, interviews and then there was the show to cap it off. Having my first UK headline was a surreal night for me after putting all of that work into the album and then getting to perform it for people and feel the energy in the room. I felt like it was really embraced. It felt really good.
Mia: I was there and it was an amazing night. You had a really great crowd! What was the highlight for you?
Suté: Oh man, the whole night was a highlight, it's difficult to pick one thing. The part of the performance where I got the crowd involved was really nice, I felt the energy from the crowd even more. Sometimes when you're on stage you can actually feel disconnected, just slightly. Because I'm up on stage and everyone is just looking at me, you know? So, that felt really good. Also, being on stage with my brother and all of the other artists was really cool. And in the dressing room, getting to toast all of the hard work. Those three moments stay in my mind.
Mia: Alongside music do you have any hobbies?
Suté: I love to bake.
Mia: What's your specialty?
Suté: I make a lot of cookies, all different types. I also want to try and start icing my cakes now. I've never done that. I also love film. Film is my big thing after music. I am really into cinema and I write screenplays when I have any spare time. That’s something I'd really love to explore after music. Producing films, screenwriting, and maybe some acting.
Mia: What themes do you tend to touch on when it comes to screenwriting?
Suté: One thing I've been exploring a lot is coming-of-age stories. In Nigeria, we don't have loads of screenplays where I feel like youth is represented honestly with all their complexities. So, I really love the stories that I've been writing. One story in particular I'm writing is about how I felt in secondary school in Nigeria, because I've never seen that on screen and I know there are loads of people like me who would want to see that.
Mia: How much has growing up in Nigeria influenced your music?
Suté: My ideas are always rooted in my perspective as a Nigerian guy who grew up on the continent in Lagos. My music is afro-fusion, so while my big influences, soul, r&b and hip hop are heavy in there, I feel like my Nigerian identity still cuts across clearly. I blend all these other influences and parts of myself together. I like to think of myself as a child of the world, and that the earth is my home, so wherever I am, I'm gonna feel at home.
Mia: How did you first get into music?
Suté: I'm a music school kid. There’s a popular music school in Nigeria called MUSON Centre, and from seven years old I was there playing piano before I switched to saxophone when I was 12. So, even before it was a professional thing, because I was playing every day I’ve always felt like a musician. Also, my dad is a big music guy. He didn't work in music, but he has a huge jazz and soul collection that we grew up listening to. So, the first music I was exposed to, like right out of the womb, was jazz music. Sam Cook, 60s Soul, Motown, and also lots of reggae. That’s why my music sounds the way it does, it's that kind of smooth, soulful sound. I believe that the music you're exposed to early on really determines your taste, so I'm really grateful to my dad and my older brother for exposing me to those sounds from such an early age. My dad wasn't big on 70s and 80s stuff, and I wasn't listening to that growing up. But in more recent years, I've been listening to a lot of 70s/80s funk and soul.
Mia: Do you see yourself exploring that more and having more elements of that within your sound?
Suté: For sure. In the mixtape before this debut album, I was trying to pull all of my interests together, so it had a lot of that sound on the project. I'm gonna do that again. My dream project would be to make funk music where you can identify the funk, but you can also hear Afro drums in there.
There are a lot of labels within music so we can put certain genres in boxes. However, there are so many crossovers it’s hard sometimes to put them into one genre. A lot of the time, the artist has poured influences and inspiration from different places to get to a specific sound.
Mia: How would you say your music has evolved over time?
Suté: I think my music has changed with me. Very early on I was doing more rap than anything else. During that time, I had some insecurities around singing and around vulnerability and so the rapping was the only part of me that I wanted to expose to the world. But since then I've built the confidence to be more myself. I think listening to artists who are similar, like Anderson Paak, Lauryn Hill, Childish Gambino, and SZA gave me the confidence to explore both sides of myself. I was never just a rapper. I feel like I've grown in ways that have allowed me to fuse both without neglecting either one and I think there's definitely a good balance of both throughout the album.
Mia: What can we expect next from you?
Suté: In the next year I really want to tour the album and perform it in front of as many
people as possible. I'm always working on music, so there will definitely be songs in between. There are some artists I'm working with now that I'm really excited about. Some sessions I had in London were really amazing. So yeah, lots more dope music.
I’m also working on some popup, experiences in Nigeria that will be really cool. You have to stay tuned to hear more about those!