Wednesday, March 07, 2012

On A Global Mission With Cross-Cultural Musician, The Tropicosmician

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TheTropicosmician in his Hapa Nation t-shirt
This month’s featured Hip Hapa Homee is Ejiroghene Bryan “Jiro” Efevberha aka TheTropicosmician, a talented young musician and cross-cultural ambassador. Here’s his story:

Q: What was your upbringing like?

A: I was born in Warri, a small oil city located in the southern region of Nigeria. I’m the youngest of nine siblings of a middle-class family—which in Nigeria is similar to that in America. Specifically speaking, it means the parents can afford the cost of education for their children from elementary school until completion of University, a family that can afford beyond the basic standards of living. Hence, I wasn't born into a family that was lacking, but neither was I born into a rich one.

However, in my family, education was a right. But this cannot be said about many families since the size of the middle-class in Nigeria is relatively smaller than in the U.S. Growing up, in elementary school, we children were protected to and from school and transported in school buses. But I noticed a stark difference in the U.S. where the school bus system was a standard, unlike in Nigeria where children went to school through various means. It was more popular back home for parents to drive their children to school, or use taxicabs. But again, just like it is here, it depends on the economic class of the family. To throw more light onto this, the school bus system I had the privilege of enjoying was provided by a foreign company my dad worked for at the time.

TheTropicosmician as Outkast
Q: How difficult was it adjusting to life in America?

A: I came here in January of 2005 and met the cold winter of Philadelphia. Coming from a tropical country, it was my first time experiencing cold of a high magnitude. But I think I adjusted pretty well in terms of the weather. However, I found it difficult adjusting culturally--particularly in greetings. In Nigeria, to say ‘good morning’, ‘good afternoon’ and ‘good evening’ to strangers was the norm. But here, you just get a nod from those who are polite enough to acknowledge your presence. Others just say ‘hi’ or ‘hello’. Those are subtle differences because I later learned that people also use the aforementioned form of greetings here.

And, people dress rather casually here. I noticed that students tried to be impressive in their dress, but I met American students who wore their ‘sleep clothes’, or they would wear almost anything they could wear elsewhere. Back in Nigeria, every occasion had a form of dressing or standard of acceptability. This is true to some extent here, although not in higher learning institutions.

I also noticed a big difference in the way younger people treated their elders here. They spoke and acted like they were their age mates or any friend. That was not the case back in Nigeria. Elders were accorded respect. I’m only generalizing here, or speaking about the standard culture.

Q: When did you first play music?

A: I think of playing music in two different terms--virtual playing and actual playing. Hence, I have two answers. Virtually, I have been playing as early as age seven, or perhaps earlier. I always had an ear for music as early as I can remember, and I was always composing and humming something. In the actual sense, I started playing towards the later part of 2005. A friend of mine had a home recording studio and gave me music production software. So, I started teaching myself how to use it, creating the songs I had written before and bringing to life all my imaginings in sounds. From then on, I could not stop because I already had lots of songs in my archives. It seemed like perfect timing because, back in Nigeria, I did not have that access or, rather, the awareness of making music on a computer.

TheTropicosmician as Michael Jackson
Q: What inspires you to write a certain song?

A: Interesting question! People inspire me--people I interact with day to day. I have a thing for writing songs with people's actual names, especially when they have touched me in some way. I think I have about four songs with actual people's names as the title. Besides people, my experiences, my struggles, my various moments and emotions bring out the art of writing in me. I write while walking in the streets. I have this thing with motion. Well, it’s a family thing. In our family, we always find ourselves walking in circular motions while in the sitting area of our home. We would move in circles while conversing. When visitors came around, they would just watch us in amazement. They thought it was kind of strange. The reason I mentioned that is that I use this motion thing as well in my music. Whenever I'm moving, it means I'm thinking and, in thinking, I'm inspired--melodies just start coming. I remember writing this song “Go the Height”. I saw the inscription on a passerby's shirt while I walked past him. So you see, I’m also inspired by strangers in my environment. I’m inspired by the weather as well. I wrote “It's Getting Crazy Here” at a time when there were strong winds blowing. I started thinking about our climate and how things have changed a lot. That's just another example of how I get inspired. Sometimes, I just form a new song from the beats of another song that I did. “I See You” is an example of a derivation song. I write about my relationships with girls. Even in a relationship I could somewhat see the future and I could just write a break-up song. (My song “Let Go” is an example.) So, this thing really comes to me in different ways. Need I mention even while I'm half asleep, literally speaking? And also, most importantly, other renowned musicians I admire, they inspire me a lot, too. Michael Jackson, Sade, R. Kelly, Shaggy, Sean Paul and a lot of others, including rock artists like Nirvana. My taste for music is quite broad.

Q: How does your music cross cultures?

A: As a producer, my sounds are reflective of my cultural environment and that influences my creativity. This is why today you can find different elements of music in what I do. I love to work with Arabian strings, African percussions, tango elements, together with the 808 drum. I like to bring them together, and they all work together. I keep a worldview in the process of making music because these are really my experiences, learning about different countries, their cultures and their music. Listening to world radio. For example, I did a song about racial profiling in the black versus Hispanic communities, although it does not really carry that strong message, but a rather subtle one with a romantic concept. If I weren’t here in America, I wouldn’t have thought of something like that. So my indirect or direct surroundings influence the kind of music I make. I say indirect to mean my perceived experience of another country, although I’m not present there, could affect my style as well.

Q: Any future plans?

A: My future plans come in phases, because I like to think in short-term, mid-term and long-term plans. But for the purpose of this interview, I will focus on the short-term. I have several collaborations lined up. I love to collaborate because other artists bring out the best in me or, let me say, they take me to whole new levels of inspiration. I am looking to cross-promote and to build together. I think we have been too self-centered. We should let loose a little bit and appreciate that we are all talented and that we can make some good progress if we engage in healthy competition. Some Nigerian acts have shown interest in collaborating with me. And, I must say here that the music business back in my home country is huge. So, I think this is a great thing. I’m currently working on an EP of love songs to be titled “I Wanna Love You More” which is the title track. I’m also looking to revive the duo “Lion's Den” and making it a group, possibly adding a female singer. There is so much unfinished work that I would like to go back to, as well as new directions I’ll take regarding the styles of music I want to explore.

Thank you, Ejiro The Tropicosmician! Connect with Ejiro here: 

Here’s a shout-out to publisher Dorothelia Barnett and writer Natasha J. McEachin at Beautifully Inspired Women magazine for the wonderful profile of Your Hip Hapa and Watermelon Sushi last month.

Hey, Hip Hapa Homeez, Your Hip Hapa knows you readers are a giving group, so please take a moment to check out this documentary about finding multiethnic bone marrow and cord blood donors.

‘til we meet again, I am

Your Hip Hapa,