The Elevator is a limited Zikoko series that details the growth of young successful Nigerian women. We tell their stories every Tuesday by 12 p.m.
It’s 2022 and more women are making their way to the top in the Nigerian music industry. They sing of love, friendships, break ups, and loss but not many of them sing about sex. Not in the way Ria does. When Ria was 18, she was certain she wanted to focus on music and by the time she turned 22, Aristokrat records had signed her. Ria Sean is a 23-year-old songwriter and singer. In today’s episode of The Elevator, Ria talks about her journey as a female artiste building a sexy brand in the public eye.
When would you say you got into music?
I became the choirmaster of my church choir at nine years old. People around me loved my voice, but honestly, I preferred dancing.
How does someone become a church choirmaster at 9?
People around me noticed I had a good voice and they encouraged me to lead. I didn’t know what they saw in me and I wasn’t interested in singing as much as I am now.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an engineer for no reason. I just know that my friends either wanted to be doctors or lawyers, and I wanted to be an engineer. However, in JSS 3, I realised I preferred literature to physics and chemistry so I decided to go to art class in SS 1.
It was also around this time my love for singing started rearing its head. I joined a music group in school that sang gospel music and performed at school assemblies or special occasions. At home, I remained head of the choir at church. It was after secondary school it finally occurred to me that I could be an artist.
How did your parents take this?
My dad is late. And even though catering for three girls was difficult, my mom had never been the type of person to pressure me to do anything. We didn’t have a direct conversation about it. She noticed I was always going to the studio and never stopped me. She would drop me off sometimes and make sure I had everything I needed. My sisters were also supportive.
When I was 17, my sister introduced me to her friend who was a producer. She knew I had been writing songs and sent me to him. The producer also talked to his producer friends about me. I was charged 15k to record my first track ever, which my sister paid. After our session, he was impressed with my sound and wanted to work on more music with me. This was 2016. Shortly after, I put music on hold to focus on WAEC.
When I finished secondary school in 2017, my plan was to go into music fully but things didn’t happen as smoothly as I imagined.
Initially, there was some pushback from some of my uncles and aunties. They wanted me to go to university because it was necessary and I could do music after school. But I didn’t want to burden her with the task of paying my school fees, especially when it was something I didn’t want to do, so I decided not to go.
How did everyone take this?
My mom was cool with it. She understood I was passionate about music. My uncles and aunties on the other hand weren’t, but it wasn’t like they wanted to sponsor my education so they couldn’t talk about it for long.
I’ll go to university later in life but only after I make the money I need for the kind of education I want. I haven’t decided what I’d like to do yet, but I’m looking forward to it.
I understand that. How has focusing on music been going?
The first thing I did was meet up with the producers I’d been working with at the studio I recorded. Then I started working on an EP in 2017. I released a few singles in the meantime and they did well. At the beginning of 2018, I worked with Leriq on a song called Feelings. After it was released, I got a call from PD, the CEO of Aristokrat records, who said he’d like to sign me, and that’s how I got signed.
That sounds major.
Yes! I was really happy about it, but I know I am not where I want to be yet. I still have a lot of work to do and I am doing it. The signing boosted my motivation, but I know something massive is coming: sold out shows, my name on billboards, endorsement deals, being able to afford everything I want.
Totally here for it. After you got signed, what happened next?
I focused on releasing my EP – Fluid. It took me less than a month to put the project together. As soon as I heard a beat I knew what I wanted to do. So far, I’m looking forward to creating more music. I have a single coming out in March, and I am currently working on an EP.
That’s great. In a country like Nigeria where women’s sensuality is usually hidden or suppressed, how do you push your music?
Ria: Being sensual is a deliberate thing for me. It’s easy for me to create sexy music. I start writing music and that’s what comes out. Initially, I tried to suppress it and make regular music, but it was difficult to write anything else. So I’ve decided that this is who I am — a sensual being, and I try to inspire other women that want to explore their femininity through my music.
Choosing to express myself like this comes with its downs too. I get some ridiculous comments, but it doesn’t matter as much as the positive reviews do to me. I also see women who are tapping into this energy, and they’re more than the people against me. That’s what I pay attention to.
What’s your routine like when you’re working on a project?
When I’m ready to create a new project, I get really focused on it. That’s the only thing I want to talk about or pay attention to. I don’t have a fixed schedule so I could go to the studio every day for a month or just twice a week. It depends on what I’m working on. I’m also very excited during this time because I get to make new music and be involved in something bigger than me.
I’m curious about how you deal with writing blocks when you’re making music. What do you do?
Ria: I take a break from recording and try to have fun. I could go out with people or watch TV or play games. Those activities help me relax and sometimes inspire me. It could take a day or two before I come back to myself again.
What’s one thing that you would like to do that you haven’t done yet?
I want to sell out a large stadium. I want to perform in front of a large crowd and have them sing it back to me. That’s something that I really can’t wait to have. I want the world to know Ria Sean. That’s the dream.
What would you say to a 15-year-old version of yourself?
I’d say to her, Ria, don’t rush. Enjoy every bit of the process. Understand that you can’t be like everyone. Take your time to work on yourself. Be confident in who you are, and things will eventually work out just fine.
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