As she prepares to drop her debut album next year, Tolü Makay tells us about the importance of collaboration on her adventure to date.
“At the end of the day, we’re all humans and we’re all going through the same sort of journeys in different ways. It’s nice to know that other people relate with me through my music.”
Now more than ever, we’re seeing the importance of collaboration. In the world of arts and culture, prolonged time away from structured routines and human connection encouraged many artists to cultivate new rhythms in life and work. It incited an openness for the cross pollination of ideas and genres, often steering people towards opportunities that, perhaps, felt unattainable in a ‘quote-unquote’ normal world. Even with the closure of a number of industries throughout the pandemic, especially the live music sector, this period of transition and uncertainty proved to be unexpectedly fruitful for some.
One such individual who flourished in 2020, and continues to do so today, is Nigerian-born and Dublin-based independent singer and songwriter, Tolü Makay. Over the last eighteen months, Makay has become a household name. Her remarkable vocals have made waves on the radio with her solo material and contribution to the Irish Women in Harmony group. Meanwhile, she has charmed audiences with televised performances from her stunning cover of The Saw Doctors’ ‘N17’ accompanied by the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, and her participation in the recent celebration for President Michael D. Higgins’ 80th birthday on TG4. As well as broadening her fanbase across the pandemic, Makay was busy releasing her debut EP, Being, and commencing work on an album.
With a number of festival appearances at the close of summer behind her, she’s now preparing to end another hectic year with a headline tour entitled, The Tolü Makay Experience, an evening described as “A Night to be Reborn” on her website. In conversation, Makay is exuberant and warm as we reflect on her career milestones and exciting projects in the pipeline. One of the only topics she approaches with reservation is her upcoming November tour as she is reluctant to reveal too much about the finer details of the shows. “The message and the hope is that people will feel some sort of joy or resolve with their emotions,” she coyly shares. “I want [the show] to provide a form of introspection to audiences. To be a space for them to say, ‘I feel good. I feel better about myself.’ It’s been a tough year for a lot of people and the best way that I can keep myself sane is to just say positive things to myself. So, I want people to get into that so that we can all understand the hardship of life and cry a little bit if we need to and then come back to happiness.”
Throughout our conversation, about her eventful year – what has taken place and what awaits her – it’s evident that, not only does she commit everything of herself to her career, it brings her boundless joy, also. That energy translates into effervescent and engaging soundscapes which often evoke early Amy Winehouse arrangements and Lauryn Hill’s inimitable swagger. Lyrically, she instils empowering affirmations across Being. “Live your life and be your free self,” she sings on Wild Thang. The confidence and self-worth conveyed through her music, in her words, and the visual representation of her art, is infectious. Perhaps, unintentionally, Makay is building a community amongst her fan base through her songs. She humbly notes, “At the end of the day, we’re all humans and we’re all going through the same sort of journeys in different ways. It’s nice to know that other people relate with me through my music.”
Whether in music videos or on stage, to the artwork for her releases, Makay presents many sides to her personality. “I love experimenting; with my looks, my hair, my music, everything! I think that’s why I find it so hard to find one genre I like, because I like all types of music and think about how I would do it in my own work,” she smiles. “I want to have fun and always enjoy my time on this Earth. My career is one hundred per cent my life and I’m a complete perfectionist with everything to do with it. Outside of that, though, I don’t know why people take things so seriously. In terms of how one should enjoy their journey of life, like have fun. Whatever you find yourself doing, choose something that gives you joy.”
One such project Makay became involved with in 2020 that sparked joy was Irish Women In Harmony. A collective of over thirty Irish female musicians and songwriters who came together to remotely record a cover of The Cranberries ‘Dreams’ to raise awareness and funds for Safe Ireland, an organisation working to end domestic abuse. Singing with artists at all stages in their careers and from varying genres of music such as Moya Brennan, Loah, Orla Gartland, and Lisa Hannigan, amongst others.
For Makay, the overall experience has been extremely informative. “It felt like a warm hug! I got to meet Moya Brennan and ask advice from all these great women. It was also amazing to have some form of an anchor at a time when everyone was trying to figure out what to do next. To have that circle where there are all these women in the same position as you, but at different levels in their careers, and see yourself as part of that makes you feel like you’re doing something. It makes you feel like you’re seen, in a sense. Before the pandemic, I’d been doing music and all these different things, but that felt like a certain point where people started to see and follow my work. So it was reassuring to have that. It was like a thumbs up; keep going.”
Building from that momentum, Makay struck up another hugely important partnership with Kildare Village, which aided the development of her artistry and profile; a different form of collaboration that is equally vital to her creative progression. “The partnership with Kildare Village arrived at a perfect moment,” she says. “I think there’s a perception of artists having money, especially when we have cool outfits for videos and performances, but we don’t. The reality is that it costs money to put on headline shows and record an album, especially when you are looking after a band, as well. Working with the amazing team at Kildare Village, once again, shows the importance of collaboration. As an independent artist, there are certain things you can’t do on your own. It’s all for the growth of my career and I’m really happy to have Kildare Village along with me and be part of the story. I really appreciate them.”
Amongst all of her astonishing achievements, there is still at least one dream Tolü Makay hopes to make a reality in the near future; to perform with an orchestra on stage. Buoyed by her abundance of positivity and talent, and with the support of her team behind her, that dream is well within reach for the singer.
The Bicester Village Shopping Collection is committed to supporting young talent, and this season, Kildare Village proudly sponsors Tolu Makay’s series of exclusive gigs around Ireland. The Tolü Makay Experience – A Night To Be Reborn is on in The Grand Social (Nov 12, 14 & 16) as well as Cyprus Avenue, Cork (Nov 17) & Róisín Dubh, Galway (Nov 21).
Words: Zara Hedderman
Images: Alex Sheridan
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Also, Tolü is wearing items from Aoife McNamara who recently opened a new pop-up boutique from Aoife Ireland – boasting sustainable womenswear designs – at Kildare Village for two weeks, while Aoife Ireland’s beautiful womenswear collections will also be available online as part of The Creative Spot Goes Virtual – a digital space powered by The Bicester Village Shopping Collection’s Virtual Shopping platform as part of the Collection’s commitment to support creative talent in the design industry. This prestigious initiative will showcase works from 17 of the most creative and innovative contemporary designers in Europe in this specially curated virtual boutique.