Many highlights in a breakthrough year for Tolü Makay
Nigerian-born Tolü Makay who grew up in Tullamore has firmly cemented herself as one of the rising stars of the Irish music scene. With influences ranging from Frank Ocean to Nina Simone and Beyoncé, her debut EP 'Being' was released in October to a stellar reaction. Coming from humble beginnings of gospel singing, and having only started to pursue music full-time this year, here she reflects on the year that has passed and looks to the future.
*Looking back to January 2020, where were you, what were you doing and how did you expect the year to turn out?
In January I was back in the midlands panicking about quitting my job but was very headstrong about committing to make my music career take off properly this year. I had many plans such as releasing my EP which I did, but despite the planning, no one could ever predict how the year turned out.
I didn't have a set plan per se, I just knew I had to make this music thing work.
*Pursuing music as a career in a year where there are no gigs taking place must have been difficult. What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?
It was challenging! I felt very alone and so scared to talk about fears revolving around money and being able to just simply afford the bare minimum. Thank God, I had enough money saved to get me by until March which was when the lockdown started and thank God for the government for being able to provide Covid payments. And if it wasn't for my team at WTTNW, I don't think I would have been able to release anything. They helped me when I was feeling down mentally or unsure of my progress.
It’s very important to have people around you who understand the journey you're pursuing and want you to succeed. I learnt to trust which really helped to put me in new spaces to be able to adapt to this new livestream era. Every challenge I overcame was because I was honestly stubborn and determined to work my butt off for this year. When I quit my corporate 9-5, I gave myself a year ultimatum. So I was just going and working and doing whatever was related to music that was presented to me! I got paid for some session vocals as well so all of this reduced the worries and anxieties a little.
*What were your highlights of the year?
Oh there are many highlights:
Being part of WTTNW.
Releasing so many songs.
Releasing my first full project, my EP called Being.
Collaborating with over seven groups, artists and musicians.
Being part of Irish Women in Harmony & X collective.
Being on the Late Late Show.
My song Don't Let Go being number 1 on Radio 1 playlist for two weeks.
Singing with Moya Brennan.
Being part of the New Year's RTE show and singing with the concert orchestra for it.
Being in an Apache ad.
Being in The Busk documentary.
For all the people I’ve met who have genuinely loved my work and requested me for shows and gigs and ads, or even to do my music videos for a really reduced cost!
Everything has been a highlight!
*How do you think the music industry has changed as a result of the pandemic, and do you think these changes will remain into the future?
I think it has affected it in a very positive way. People are attentive and understand the importance of music, the necessity of it and the joy it brings plus the bond and memories it forms. There has been a greater appreciation for live music and concerts I find. Although saying this, I hope it stays and the art of creating music is seen as an essential and integral part of everything. The reason I say this is because although there was action to show the importance of music gigs, performing and dance schools were closed for kids who are the future.
*Outside of your music career, what else did you get up to in 2020?
I exercised a bit more and drew a little bit more. I focused on my mental health and will be working with a sponsor to help bring my ideas around providing mental health information and sessions for black creatives in Ireland.
*What is something that you have learned about yourself this year?
I have learnt what love means and that it is important to show you love those who love you, I learnt to trust and share, and that, just because one day was bad, doesn't mean your life is terrible.
*Looking to 2021, what do you hope is on the horizon?
I want to write incredible music that grips people, and to perform at festivals, various gigs and perform outside of Ireland.
Tickets for Tolü's first headline show, 'The Tolü Makay Experience', in the Grand Social on May 28, are on sale from Ticketmaster.
Compiled by Connell McHugh