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Nola Adé Takes Afro-Soul To The Tiny Desk Stage

Written by on July 10, 2023

Following the April release of her EP Royal, Nigerian-American artist Nola Adé is making waves on the Chicago music scene, blending soulful harmonies with vibrant Afrobeats to create a genre she describes as Afro-soul.

Eager to share her talents with a wider audience, Nola Adé submitted her performance to NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Contest with high hopes. Although Adé didn’t win the contest, her talent caught the attention of NPR Music, who extended her the opportunity to be an opener for the contest winner, Utah band Little Moon, when they stopped in Chicago on July 6 at the Subterranean as part of the Tiny Desk: On The Road tour. 

“I didn’t expect it, but I have a great team of people behind me,” she reflected on the turn of events. 

Nola Adé stopped by the Vocalo studios to sit down with afternoons host Nudia Hernandez before her performance for NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Contest: On The Road tour. Morgan Ciocca/Vocalo Radio

Adé notes she loves audience engagement, movement and joy during her sets, and looks forward to that at her performances. She took the stage the night of July 6, shortly following fellow opener Ephraim Bugumba, excited to bring up the energy of the sold-out crowd. Adé’s set consisted of many of her more popular songs, some from her recent EP Royal.

As COVID-19 presented unique challenges, Adé adapted her creative process while producing Royal. Most of the EP was completed inside Adé’s home, connecting with international producers in Nigeria and Germany over Zoom to bring her artistic vision to life despite limitations. 

As Adé continues to make her mark on the industry, she will have the opportunity to captivate more listeners with her Afro-soul sound. Her performance dates for August are starting to add up, including opening for Nigerian artist Ruger at The Fillmore in Silver Spring, Maryland on August 5 , giving her an opportunity to showcase her roots and talents to a crowd familiar with her culture. 

Adé stopped in the Vocalo studios before her July 6 performance at the Subterranean to chat with Vocalo afternoons host Nudia Hernandez. They delved into her journey creating the EP and the making of her sound. 

Nudia Hernandez: Vocalo Radio, Chicago’s only urban alternative. Nudia in the Afternoon here with you. You know, it’s a big day today at Sub-T. NPR Tiny Desk Concert is making their Chicago stop. And we’ve had the artists that are going to be opening for the headliner in the Vocalo studios. I know Bekoe just had someone on and I said I had a special guest coming on too. So big round of applause for Nola. Nola Addy. How are you?

Nola Adé: Great. Thank you for having me.

At her live performances, Nola Adé hopes audiences feel the energy — which is also the name of one song off her latest EP. Morgan Ciocca/Vocalo Radio

NH: Oh, it’s Adé.

NA: Adé, yeah.

NH: Okay, yes. I see the little acento at the top! And I love it. I’m so excited to have you in, because when I looked you up in our system – this is how you know Vocalo is always on top of the best Chicago music artists, because we have a song in here from you from 2015. 

NA: Yeah, that’s here. 

NH: Yeah, we have love in here. I looked at the date, it was inputted in January 21, 2015, which was, I don’t even know, was that eight years? That was eight years ago. Oh my gosh. 

NA: Oh, gosh.

NH: It was a minute ago!

NA: It was a minute ago.

NH: So it goes to show, eight years ago, you were already on the Vocalo radar. And now you’re gonna be on the stage with NPR. So tell us a little bit about how you got there! You submitted for the Tiny Desk Concert?

NA: Yes, I submitted. And, thankfully – I didn’t hear back, and then eventually they was like, “Oh, we want you to open up.” And I was like, “Oh, that would be so dope!” And yeah, I was just excited about that opportunity in general, even if we didn’t win.

NH: I was gonna say, how was that submission process? Was it a little stressful? Because things like that do take a long time. It’s a long process.

NA: Yeah, actually. So the whole process came, we actually recorded in the Promontory, Chicago, they allowed us to use the space. And we tried to make it like … that Tiny Desk vibe, like with the records and stuff, with all the stuff in the background. So we put the records on the desk, and then we put the background, and I had like a whole five-piece band. And yeah, we just shot it. It was fun. It was the process. But we got it done in one day. 

NH: That’s a lot.

NA: Yeah, we got it done.

NH: But also presentation matters. 

NA: Yes, absolutely.

NH: Because you kind of went hard, right? 

NA: We went hard. We went real hard. I didn’t even expect it. But I have a great team! I have a great team of people behind me like, “Oh, we’re gonna make it look like this.” I’m like, “Oh, okay, cool. Bet.”

NH: No, I love that! And so, of course, you want to win, right? You want to win the grand prize. But when you don’t, and you’re asked to open, you’re like, “Okay, I still get to be a part of this really great experience.”

NA: Really a great opportunity, so yeah. 

NH: And so when you play your set and things like that, what kind of energy could we expect from you tonight, at Sub-t?

NA: Man, a lot of audience participation, a lot of movement, a lot of joy going all around. Hopefully, people will just … I’m really someone that really loves audience participation. I love to dance, and you’ll get that energy. I even have a song “Energy” that I’m gonna be singing.

NH: We were talking about that before you came in! Because I was listening to Royal, which you released this year, right? 

NA: Yes. 

NH: And when I was going through, when I heard “Energy,” I was like, “Oh, this is it. That’s my song!” And so, you have this project that you’ve dropped this year, songs like “Girlfriend,” I saw, that are becoming some of your most streamed songs, like I was looking on your Spotify, and they’re already like in your top five. And so what was it like making that project?

NA: Oh, it was a process. Okay, so it was also, we kind of was on the end of the pandemic, too. We had just created like a home studio at my house. So I was just like, “Look, I’m gonna use this studio to record everything.” So pretty much, for the most part, I recorded most of my EP in my home, upstairs in my little studio. And sometimes I went outside to a studio, but while we were getting things together on the tail end of the pandemic, but yeah, we just created everything there. It was a process between the producers that I worked with. Most of the producers are not in Chicago, they’re in Lagos, they’re in Germany, and I did a lot of Zoom stuff. We went back and forth like, “Oh, this is how we want to create this. This should be here. This should be here.” And yeah, eventually, I put the vocals on it at my house, and eventually we came up with the finished product.

NH: I love that. And I love that nowadays, you could work with people from all over the world. You really get to work with people everywhere to bring this finished project. And so, for you, how would you sum up your style? If someone had to ask you.

NA: A little bit of soul, a little bit of Afrobeats, little bit of pop. Afro-soul is what I call it. Afro-soul.

NH: I love that. And, of course, you could kind of hear it in the production of your songs. Are all your songs – when I was listening to this project – are they all kind of like a baby, like you love them all equally? Or do you actually have a favorite? 

NA: I love all of my songs equally! It’s so hard to really pick a favorite. But if I were to pick a favorite, I would pick “Cookout” on my EP, because … it just shows and identifies almost who I am, right? When I wrote it, it was like me trying to find a place in the middle. I’m Nigerian, I’m American. Like, where am I? It just kind of dealt with the struggle that I had growing up. So it’s kind of the culmination of who I am right now, and I’ve just embraced, like, “I am Nigerian American. I am everything that I grew up knowing, regardless of who wants me to be what.” So that song is that, for me, and I think that’s one of my favorites on the EP.

NH: And I love that, especially in this era where we’re seeing … I know for me, we’re seeing the reggaeton chart, we’re seeing Afrobeats chart. And I think that says a lot, that people are willing to listen to music outside of just pop, or just hip-hop. We’re listening to sounds, again, from all over the world. I mean, can you can you give us a few hints at some of the tracks we may be hearing tonight at Sub-t?

NA: Well, you definitely hear “Royal,” you’ll definitely hear “Energy.” What else is on there that we’re doing? We’ll definitely do “Heaven.” That one, that’s another one of my favorites. Yeah. 

NH: Okay. And that’s enough for you guys! You guys have to come.

NA: That’s it, right! I got three more songs, but y’all don’t know what they are.

NH: You have to come and see the rest! And I’m so excited. I know it’s gonna be a super fun time. 

NA: Yes. 

NH: So what are you looking for next? I know today’s a crazy day for you, you’re probably running around getting ready for the show tonight. What’s coming up next for Nola?

Though her submission didn’t win the NPR Music Tiny Desk contest, Nola was chosen to open for the Chicago date of the Tiny Desk Contest: On The Road tour alongside fellow Chicago artist Ephraim Bugumba and the contest winner, Utah band Little Moon. Morgan Ciocca/Vocalo Radio

NA: Well, I got some dates that are starting to add up in August. The first one, I guess I could just mention. I know we’ll be going out to the East Coast, I’m opening up for Ruger, who is a Nigerian artist in Washington, D.C., I believe August 5. And then I’m doing some stuff for Lollapalooza, like a Chicago Made. So that’s really cool. They, I think it’s DCASE, that gave Chicago artists the opportunity to do something for, like perform at Lollapalooza, like on a Lollapalooza stage. So I’m doing that!

NH: That’s gonna be super exciting for you. Have you ever done anything like that before?

NA: No. I’ve not done Lollapalooza ever! So yeah, it’s a first. It’ll be a first.

NH: You have a busy summer. 

NA: Yeah, yeah. 

NH: We won’t keep you long. You gotta get ready for tonight. You have a couple of other stops you have to make today on the media tour! You’re you’re like A-list Chicago celebrity today, you’re on your A-list ride. I’m excited to see you. We’ll be at Lollapalooza, so we’ll probably see you at Lollapalooza as well! And, like I said, I told you this off-mic before we started the interview: When I was listening to the album last night, the one that I was really loving was “Energy,” and so I was like, “Can we play it?” And you’re like, “Sure.” So I’d love to have you introduce your song right here and we’ll get into it so everyone could hear it! 

NA: Okay. Hey, my name is Nola Adé, and you are listening to Vocalo, and this is my song “Energy.”

Keep up with Nola Adé on Instagram.

Interview and audio production by Nudia Hernandez

Introduction written by Imani Warren

Transcription and editing for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca

Photography by Morgan Ciocca

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