Dapo Torimiro: Proudly Nigerian Producer, Celebrated by American A-List Artistes
He is enigmatic, audacious and creative. Growing up on the various sounds from his father’s turntable in Lagos. From Jazz to Highlife, Pop to Rhythm and Blues, Highlife to Apala, Soul to Funk and other genres of music melted in the pot of his young innocent mind where they left an impressionable mark which have steered him on course throughout his journey in music. Famed for producing the defunct Nigerian star-studded group ‘‘Kush’’ who brought a breather of freshness to Nigerian airwaves in the late 90’s, Music consumes his entire life; he doesn’t have time for anything else. The Music producer speaks to Adedayo Adejobi on his glowing resume, working with Hollywood’s A-listers, thriving in a racist country, his influence on standout projects at Disney and multiple award-winning Oscar projects…
How did you get into music and for how long have you been producing for?
Growing up, my dad had an eclectic collection of records at home, Gospel, R&B, Folk, Country, Jazz… you name it. I was immersed in those sounds from when I was basically a baby. There were a lot of musical instruments lying around our home too, so around the age of twelve, I picked up the guitar and basically started attempting to figure out what I was hearing on those records, thus began my music education and journey. Production for me started when I was in college.
I was involved in a lot of music groups on campus (although I was there to study medicine). We would write and work on songs and we needed the songs fleshed out, so out of a necessity, I taught myself how to produce.
I was fortunate at the time to have access to synthesizers and keyboards that were also workstations. I utilised the onboard sequencers and built my music production and arranging chops, which I basically transferred over to DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) like Pro Tools and Logic Pro X, when I moved onto computers. I’ve been doing that for over two decades now.
What inspires you and what makes you want to keep producing music?
I am inspired by sounds a lot, that’s why I’m an avid collector of soft synths and all types of plugins. New sounds always without fail inspire me. Additionally, a lot of my practice time on either the piano or guitar is spent on inventing new voicings. It’s an incredible resource for me to stay inspired and fresh.
Are there any artists that you draw inspiration from —if so who and what sort of music?
Weirdly enough, a lot of my inspiration comes from Jazz music. Masters like Bud Powell, Bill Evans, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock are definitely top shelf. Legends like Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson are always an inspiration. Their contributions to Pop and R&B music is reverberated to this day. ·
People starting out in music may be questioning what they need to get started. What was the first set of equipment/software you ever bought?
I would suggest to anyone starting out in music to first be proficient on an instrument (preferably the piano).
The lessons you learn will be absolutely invaluable to your career. If you’re going to produce music, the more you know about music, the better you’ll be able to produce it. I believe my first purchase was a Mac laptop and Logic Pro software.
What are a few key lessons you’ve learned about producing that other aspiring musicians and producers could take advice from?
For me, the most important lesson is, music production is a service.
You should always “serve” the artist. It’s not about you, it’s about the artist. If you can do that, you’ll always be working. · You produce both film scores and various types of music, which is quite impressive.
From a production standpoint, what do those two have in common?
It’s basically all music, right? In both instances, you’re trying to create moments, captured in a pocket of time. I really never look at it like, “this is for a movie”, or “this is for a song”. My thought process is, “how can I accent this moment, to make it the most emotive?” If I can do that, I’ve accomplished my mission. ·
Do you remember the first piece of music you ever created?
Omg, I think I do. I believe it was called “Loving God”, I wrote it on the guitar and performed it in church a week after I wrote it. It was both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time! Lol! · For, Musicians, the studio their sanctuary. Is it same for you? For me, my practice/writing room is my sanctuary.
That’s where creation takes place. I am very focused when I’m in the studio because I’m there to execute those ideas. · Leaving Nigeria and transitioning to the United States.
How did you manage to get them to believe in your vision, especially in a racist industry?
I believe cultivating your talent (with hard work), being professional, courteous and polite, all go a long way in furthering your career in any chosen field. People gave me referrals based on my work ethic and reputation. I was never late for any gigs/appointments, I always under-promised, but made it a point to over deliver. If people know they can count on you, and you always get the work done, it’s only a matter of time before your number comes up. ·
You make a very diverse range of music and much more. When we look at all of these different styles of music you’ve made over the years, are we seeing an evolution of your taste in music, or are do you just make whatever music suits your mood at the time?
It’s a bit of both. I have always been interested in all kinds of music. It’s always fascinated me that, you can put two people from polar opposite sides of the world on the same instruments, and the sounds you get would be totally different! I made it a point earlier in my career to be proficient in a lot of music styles. I
took time to study the “rules” of different genres, so when I break those “rules”, it’s intentional and for effect.
Additionally, you’ll rarely hear me say, “I’m a Jazz musician” or “I’m a Pop or Afrobeats producer”. I basically believe I’m a producer/musician, that sometimes speaks through the medium of Jazz, Gospel, R&B, Pop or whatever genre I need to communicate to an audience.
The same way an English or American actor can do a French accent in one movie, then do a German accent in another. The actor is neither French nor German, but can easily “speak” in that voice as the occasion requires. I believe Music Producers should be the same. In terms of evolution, I think it’s important to always grow and evolve.
Listening to the new trends in music, as well as embracing new technology, keeps me engaged and learning.
Having been in the music industry for so long, you’ve surely seen a lot of music trends come and go. What do you think shapes popular music trends?
The younger generation 99.9% of the time set new trends. As newer technologies are introduced, both into the music and other sectors, it’s usually the younger generation that embrace such tech and consequentially, create newer and newer trends and styles.
I personally embrace trends. I’m not one of those, “back in our days” kinda guy. If you like the new trend, pick up something from it and add it to your bag of tricks, if not, move on. ·
What films have you helped produced the soundtracks for?
At Disney, I had the privilege of working on some great projects, Personal standouts and favorites of mine are “The Princess and the Frog” and “Step Up 3D”. And, although I didn’t work on the soundtrack for La La Land (multi-Oscar-winning musical film ), I did get a chance to work closely with John Legend as a music consultant on the film which was really fun for me and it was another chance to work with John which is always great. I also got to play a jazz musician in a scene with Ryan Gosling which, as you can imagine, wasn’t a stretch for me! (lol!) And, people should know, Ryan is a real musician! I was impressed. ·
So, what projects are you currently working on?
I’m developing and writing for some very talented new artists that I’m excited about. Also, I’m one of the featured artists in an art documentary by my business partner, Lisa Murray, titled “Soul Providers: Los Angeles” that is scheduled to hit the film festival circuit in 2019. And I’m gearing up to put out some of my own music as well! Stay tuned… I’m just getting started! ·
Is it safe to call these notable global names and figures your writing partners: Justin Bieber, Frank Ocean, Ester Dean, James Fauntleroy, Kevin Risto, Waynne Nugent. How would you describe the experience working with these figures?
Yes, I have had the good fortune of writing and producing works that were released with each and every person on that list. These are some of the most talented people in the American music industry. Working with them made me both a better writer and producer. ·
You’ve over the years worked closely with these and more musicians- John Legend, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Brandy, David Archuleta, Jordin Sparks, Toni Braxton, Jesse McCartney, Stacy Barthe, Demi Lovato, Girls’ Generation, Arashi, Little Mix, Anika Noni Rose, Ella Henderson, Aretha Franklin. How would you describe the pool of experience?
Omg! It’s unreal! I mean, look at that list, Aretha Franklin?! An American treasure! Me, a guy from Nigeria, that heard her incredible voice on my dad’s record collection, to now have my name listed as a producer, along with Babyface and Clive Davis on her album? It’s unreal! I pinch myself every now and again to ensure that I’m not dreaming. ·
You’ve also toured performing alongside notable names like Lauryn Hill, Stevie Wonder, Toni Braxton. What’s it like working with these greats?
Again, it’s a crazy unreal feeling! It’s a very humbling experience, knowing that these world-renowned people are depending on you as part of their core music team. They respect you as a co-collaborator, and seek and listen to your input. It definitely a confidence builder. ·
Which top 5 Artistes have you enjoyed writing songs for and producing?
In no particular order: 1. Aretha Franklin 2. Demi Lovato 3. Justin Bieber 4. John Legend 5. Toni Braxton 6. Michael Bolton Sorry, I cheated. I know you said 5 Lol! ·
What Album projects have remained the most remarkable for you?
I’d have to say my “legacy” projects, which are the Aretha Franklin and Michael Bolton album projects. ·
Which musician in the world, dead or living would you love to work with?
Definitely Michael Jackson and a living legend right now, definitely Adele! ·
How do you juggle being a Grammy-nominated, multi-platinum songwriter, record producer, multi-instrumentalist and singer?
I don’t allow any pressure or expectations attached to any of those titles weigh on me. I take everything one day at a time. I am essentially a songwriter, record producer and singer, who has had some good fortune along the way. Over thinking and over-analyzing would just lead to me being overwhelmed and being ineffective. I just concentrate on working on the fundamentals that got me where I am now. If I can do that, I’m in good shape. ·
How would you assess Nigeria’s Music Industry, as compared to the global playing field?
The Nigerian Music Industry has definitely gone global! I am thoroughly impressed with how Nigerian artists (and African artists at large) have been able to take their sound(s) worldwide, especially without having the musical infrastructures in place (like what is present in America) but still thriving. It’s a thing of personal pride for me. Could you imagine the magnitude of the reach they would have if said infrastructure was available? ·
You’ve produced and written Grammy award winning songs, any plans to replicate same with Nigerian Acts?
Absolutely. I’m waiting for the right opportunity with the right artist to make that dream a reality.
What do you think Nigerian Musicians can do differently?
As musicians, we don’t usually have retirement funds. Our royalties are our retirement funds/plan. I wish there were PROs (Performing Rights Organizations) in Nigeria. In the United States and other countries, every time your music is exploited, you get compensated for it. There are all sorts of royalties, Mechanical royalties, Sync royalties if you music is used on TV or film , etc. I believe we can get there, but we need to start now. On the creative side, Nigerian Musicians are already doing a fantastic job.
Nigerian melodies are instantly catchy and infectious. As someone who believes in always bettering oneself, my only suggestion (please, take this with a grain of salt), would be raising the bar when it comes to lyrical content. Great lyric writing is essentially expressing common sentiments in an uncommon and unique way, giving your listeners a different perspective.
There’s only so many times you can tell someone to “Chop my money”… or whatever cliched lyric line is often used. My challenge would be, say “Chop my money” in a way no one has ever said it before.
I believe more could be done with the lyrics of songs, and they could “say” more. That being said, Nigerian artists have an audience that place a certain demand on them as far as their content, lyrics and even compositions are concerned, but don’t ever underestimate the ability of a listening audience to follow and grow with you, if you go into uncharted waters lyrically.
What do you do on a typical day, and how do you manage to make it productive?
On a typical day, I’m either finishing a mix, starting a new composition or brainstorming a lyric. I set a goal of what needs to be done, and by what time. I’m strict with myself on these, otherwise, some other project might suffer. If, on the rare occasion, I have a free day, I do what I call “creative growth”, which is when I study a new software or plugin I just bought, so I can add it to my workflow, or watch tutorials on YouTube to learn how to produce a new production sound. ·
What nostalgic moments do you hold of growing up?
Sitting with my family in a room that’s candle lit (because NEPA just “took the light”), playing the guitar and we’re all singing together. ·
If you hadn’t chosen music, what do you think you would do right now?
In college, I was pre-med, so maybe a doctor, but truthfully, I can’t picture doing anything else but Music! ·