Music

Töme is enough

© Ryle Watson
I don't need to be more than who I am or ever less than who I am
Written by Wale OloworekendePublished on
As the Internet continues to obliterate restrictions of space and time, a generation of young adults of African descent residing in faraway lands, unsure of the nature of their connection to the continent, are looking for ways to tether themself to the rhythm and pulse of Africa and accentuate its positive messages. Töme, who recently received a cosign from Reekado Banks, is one of those young adults pining for a connection to her roots in Nigeria . “I was actually born in Montreal, Canada, and I moved to Toronto, Ontario, when I was two-year-old,” the afro-fusion singer tells me one Thursday in June. “I have lived within the Toronto area my entire life. I went to a full French school, so my sister and I were the only Nigerians - or people of Nigerian descent - from kindergarten up until my high school graduation.” She, however, credits her father for ensuring that she never lost touch with her Nigerian heritage: “My dad always did a great job to bring us back home (Nigeria)!”
Years of travelling across the world and absorbing cultures have imprinted an instinctive appreciation for life on her and when I ask her how she navigates her identity in a world constantly in flux, she references making peace with her origins. “I’m French-Canadian and Nigerian, that’s my heritage. I always try to lay claim on that first before sort of diving into other cultures. I have grown up around a lot of Caribbeans and French-African friends of mine, Canadian-Caucasian friends of mine, so I definitely believe that I know who I am as a French-Canadian and Nigerian.”
Töme’s earliest memories of music include writing her first songs at eight and picking up a guitar at 10. A phase that the singer, who has credited R&B legends like Erykah Badu,Alicia Keys, and Rihanna as key influences, described as her time experimenting with R&B and alternative music. Her debut project, One With Self, is a conflation of all those sonic reference points needling into each other over atmospheric semi-cooked beats that rarely segued into shouting.
Since then, her sound has undergone evolution, swapping out the processional uniformity of those early songs for the contained unpredictability of afrofusionist sounds. First Töme’s Room and now, its canonical follow-up, Bigger Than 4 Walls (BT4W). BT4W is an ambitious, sweeping body of work finding expression in myriads of language and forms, but the album is simultaneously anchored to recognizable sounds from Nigeria and Ghana that suggest a realignment of goals. “I took a journey with afrofusion,” Töme admits. “Moving into Töme's Room, which was the project before BT4W, that project (Töme's Room) really came about after we opened our restaurant in downtown Toronto, Kiza, which is a Pan-African restaurant and I really got opened up to the African culture in Toronto that I really didn't know existed before, I didn't know anyone, didn’t know how to get in touch with them before. But once Kiza opened, it was kind of a hub, sort of a community where I met so many different people from artists to DJs to promoters to producers to so many different type of people and that was when I started working with them and once I started working with them and started realising that afrofusion sound, I said, ‘Oh, I can do something here, now I feel like I'm starting to feel really good in this little pocket.’”
Much of BT4W was recorded on the road, in between tour stops and in different studios in Europe and North America, as Töme opened for Wizkid, Burna Boy, and Mr Eazi. And it is an experience that she is grateful for as she learned about artistry from being around those seasoned performers. “Being on tour with Wizkid, Burna, and Eazi, Wizkid and Eazi to be specific, opened me up to a whole different music,” she says. “When I first started with Wizkid, I was at a point where I was just starting to get comfortable performing. It was actually one of my first few times that I was performing in front of more than a thousand people, so, it was a bit overwhelming too because I executed my songs well but my stage engagement could be better. But we kept on improving and the more I performed, the better I got. By the time the Eazi Europe tour came around, I'd really improved. I started taking my time more, I just started feeling like the stage was my home and that's something that I definitely feel takes a little bit of time when you're first starting to perform and I just fell in love with it. I miss it so much right now because I really fell in love with performing and engaging with the crowd.”
As much as it is an album made by a multicultural 21st century citizen of the world, BT4W, by virtue of Töme’s paternal heritage, has Nigeria at its centre and it is a link that Töme hopes the project helps foster. “Being in the diaspora my whole life, it is a lot harder for me to connect back home, a big part of that is because I can't even speak the language,” she readily admits. “I feel like if I could speak the language that would help me a little bit more like, 'I'm back home and I want to rep you guys a little bit more.' But I'm hoping that BT4W is a step in the right direction because the feedback we've received so far is really good and it's been surprising for me of course because it's just love I've always wanted from back home but I didn't know how to get. I've always wanted to start to build a bigger support system, just have more friends back home, I just didn't know how to connect with them; and I think my music in general, but definitely BT4W in specific, has been able to give me a bridge to go back home and allow me stay within the middle of the bridge where I am connected to both the diaspora and Nigeria and I think it's just the beginning of me connecting.”
As she navigates pulling her diaspora and Nigerian inclinations together into something to hold on to, there is a never-absent quote that sums up her view of self and destiny: I’m enough, I’m Töme. Her message is as simple as it is essential for her: “Töme is short for Oluwatomi, and Oluwatomi means God is enough for me. Tomi itself means enough and that's my middle name. That was the reason for using my middle name as my artist name because I always identified as Michelle initially. Then I said I wanted to go with Töme as my artist name, and for me, it holds a strong message because it is allowing me to always remind myself that I don't need to be more than who I am or ever less than who I am. I am enough.”