What does it mean to be a man? Surely, it’s not one thing. It’s a series of little moments that add up. Man Like is a weekly Zikoko series documenting these moments to see how it adds up. It’s a series for men by men, talking about men’s issues. We try to understand what it means to “be a man” from the perspective of the subject of the week.
Today’s Man Like is Yinka Bernie, a singer, producer and all-around creative whose work has been a crucial part of Nigeria’s alté scene since its SoundCloud days. He is also the producer behind the viral Amaarae song, Sad Girlz Luv Money. Over the years, he has also worked with other artists Lady Donli and Ogranya.
In this episode of Man Like, he talks about being a problem child, pivoting from music to tech, the relationship that changed his life and whether or not he’d ever consider coming back to music full time.
When would you say you had your “man now” moment?
I’ll say about two years ago when I turned 22 and started paying my brother’s allowance.
You started paying someone’s allowance at 22?
Yes. LOL. So I had just started to work and earn money when my parents got on my case to start taking financial responsibilities. After thinking about it for a while, I decided I’d start paying my younger brother’s allowance. Although it wasn’t life-changing money, my parents knew I was making a lot of money for my age and I could afford it.
You told your parents how much you were earning? Can never be me.
I didn’t tell them, they could see it. I switched up my lifestyle and they could tell I was making money. I was buying a lot of stuff, leaving the house a lot and I wasn’t asking them for allowance.
Not asking for money is where you messed up.
Right? But I also remember they had stopped sending me allowance in university too. After I sold my first beat and told my father how much I made, the next thing I knew, my allowance started coming late and over time it just stopped completely. I was about 20 years old at the time.
Did you ask them or did you just chest it?
I asked, but they were like, “You’re making money. What do you need our money for?” This didn’t mean that they didn’t give me money when I was very broke. But yes, they stopped the allowance because they knew I was making money.
All this money talk has me thinking you might be the first child.
You’re very correct.
Ah. Now I get it. So what were you like as the leader of the pack?
Mehn, being the first, I don’t think I was a good example to my siblings when we were growing up. I’ve grown and unlearnt some things and now I’m decent, but if we check two or three years ago, it wasn’t the same.
I was doing random shit like fighting my parents a lot, not coming back home, etc. And even growing up, I was the problem child spoiling everything in my path. I remember the time I just jumped on the center table in our living room and broke it. All my siblings were jumping on the cushion but I chose that table and broke it. I chopped beating that day and rightfully so.
You clearly chose violence. What’s your relationship with your parents like?
As you can imagine, it wasn’t good back then because I was very mischievous. However, as I’ve gotten older, we’ve become really cool. They’re like my guys now.
But I had to change it for them and set clear boundaries before they could finally understand and accept me as a grown adult. It took a lot of conflict and arguments to get to this point. I don’t think people realise the importance of setting boundaries with your parents. It’s always parents setting rules we should follow. I had to be firm and now they know not to call me at certain times or ask me really personal questions.
But how did you enforce these boundaries?
We had a lot of back and forth. They’d raise their voices and I’d raise mine too. In the end, everyone will calm down and look at the situation. Other parents might have thrown their kids out, but my parents knew that threat wouldn’t work on me because I could afford a place if I wanted to. Somehow, we reached a meeting point after I got them to understand that our generations are different and things have changed.
With some parents still being sceptical about music as a career choice, I’m curious as to whether that came up in your many conversations?
Obviously! So I studied Computer Technology in university and they wanted me to pursue it career-wise because the music wouldn’t be sustainable. I got where they were coming from because I had gauged the situation myself and chasing music alone wouldn’t have worked out well financially. Although my heart was still in music, I took a break in 2018, learnt how to code and started exploring other options. I eventually got a tech job in July 2019 and I liked it.
What was it like switching to tech?
It was seamless and fun for me. I didn’t have to dress “corporate”. Plus, it was a creative design job so it wasn’t boring at all.
Are you still there?
Oh it was an internship, but now I’m with Flutterwave.
Unicorn status? You’re a proper tech bro o
I know you’ve started making music again, how do you combine it with your job?
I started producing when I was about 16 or 17 so I can confidently say I’ve mastered how to work well and fast. It’s not difficult for me. I just open my laptop; make a beat or record vocals depending on what I’m working on. Taking out time away from music in 2018, I was able to find my footing and now I can afford to do music properly.
Found your footing how?
During the period I was away, I found a system that works for me. This time around, I’ve learnt how to delegate. I know I can do everything myself, but I don’t have to. I’m delegating so I don’t start to stress out.
Will you ever do music full-time again?
Yes. I plan on retiring from nine to five soon. It’s been great gaining experience from these cool tech companies, but in time, I’ll pick something less time-consuming so I can go back to music. Music has brought me this far and I know it’ll take me farther. I’m still young, so I have time to explore anything I want to do.
Talking about your music, a lot of it revolves around navigating relationships. Can you tell me about one relationship that left a major impression on you?
I haven’t really dated that much.
Okay, maybe I have. LOL. So I was in this relationship with some babe who was so dishonest, the relationship left me scarred. What started as me trying to empathise with a situation she was going through, ended up with us being in a relationship. There was a lot of manipulation and I just felt stuck most of the time. That relationship changed my perception of love and how it manifests. It taught me that you could love someone and still be in an unhealthy relationship. It was hard for me to trust any girl after that. When they talk, I assume they’re lying. But I’m working on my trust issues so I can allow my other relationships to flourish.
Wow. But how are you working on the trust thing?
The first step for me was acknowledging that I had a problem. I’m also trying to be optimistic in my relationships by giving people the benefit of a doubt when they speak. But last last, people are funny. I’ll just do my best to trust the process and let the relationship go in whatever direction it wants to go. I’m also conscious about being with someone who understands that it’s not about them, it’s just something I have to work on.
I feel you. Still on the music, your song It’s Ok to Cry reminded us about the importance of connecting to our feelings. What inspired the song and when was the last time you cried?
The ironic thing is I don’t express myself that much, so I don’t cry often.
So you scammed us?
LOL. No. I’m still trying to figure out how to connect to my emotions on that level, but I understand the concept sha. Whether or not I cry, I still feel like I’m just a medium sharing messages from a greater source (I don’t know who or what). I’m happy people can relate to the song. When I think about it, making the song was random. Although I was in a really happy place in my life mentally, I was still able to reflect on the darkness of the previous year (2019) where I was stuck while all my friends were making progress.
It was when I took a break from music to focus on getting a job. Most of my friends who had left university with me were doing jobs they liked and being great at it. I was just there in one place, trying to figure my life out. It was really hard for me.
Damn. So since you’re not a crier, I’m curious to know how you handle these dark days?
I talk to people a lot. I express my emotions by sharing what I’m going through. I talk to my sister and most of my friends. It’s just about talking to the people I trust.
Talking about dark places, what are some of the challenges you’ve observed when it comes to navigating masculinity in Nigeria?
There’s an information gap. We don’t really groom male children in Nigeria. There isn’t a lot of focus on developing men mentally and socially and that’s why we have so much violence. There isn’t a lot of information and people don’t know better. Our parents didn’t teach us a lot and now we have to rely on the internet.
What is something you’ve had to unlearn with the presence of new information?
Over time, I’ve come to understand equality more. Growing up, I didn’t really notice the disparities in how men and women were treated by society. I’ve come to understand this gap better as I’ve gotten older.
Nice. So looking at your life now, what brings you joy?
My babe. Lol
Single people in the mud.
She gives me joy.