Tolü Makay is capturing hearts with her soulful melodies and poignant lyrics. Hailing from a multicultural background, with roots in Nigeria and Ireland, Makay’s music reflects the rich tapestry of her experiences and influences.

With the release of her new single, “Mind & Body,” Tolü Makay ignites a conversation about the struggles of maintaining presence in a fast-paced world. The song, born out of a moment of introspection amidst career uncertainties, showcases Makay’s raw talent and ability to craft music that resonates on a profound level.

As Makay continues to evolve as an artist, she remains steadfast in her commitment to pushing boundaries and challenging norms within the music industry. With a keen eye for innovation and a determination to carve out her own path, Makay refuses to be confined by the expectations imposed upon her. Instead, she pioneers a new narrative, one that celebrates individuality, authenticity, and the power of self-expression. With each project and release, Makay invites listeners to join her on a journey of self-discovery, inspiring them to embrace their own unique voices and stories.

Talking to us via email whilst preparing for her RTE performance of “Mind & Body”, Makay opened up about “Mind & Body”‘s genesis, her approach to recording intimate tracks, and her quest for balance amidst the chaos of the music industry.

SheBOPS: Congratulations on the release of your new single, “Mind & Body”! Could you tell us about the inspiration behind the song and its message?

Tolü Makay: Thank you! Honestly the chorus of the song just poured out of me.  I was stressed on one of the days trying to sort and plan what I wanted for my career. I needed to build a new team that would believe and help support me while being an independent artist doing this full time with little money and big dreams. I was so overwhelmed with all the thoughts drowning me in my mind. SO I started singing: “I’m out of my mind now, I’m out of my mind now I’m in my body.” I recorded the voice note on my phone, which happens quite often, and as I was singing it I felt calmer. It felt like the song was soothing the stress I was feeling and pulled me right out of my head into physical sensation. I felt grounded. Fast forward – with a new team, I met an awesome producer named Steph Marziano and on the first day of meeting her, we had a full demo of the song which is not far from the full version out today. 

Your vocals are incredibly soulful and captivating on this track. How do you prepare yourself mentally and emotionally before recording such intimate songs?

It’s important I trust the people I work with; I’m quite particular about this. I know my vocal capabilities, so I also want whoever I work with musically to have even higher and better knowledge about how to get the sound out to beautify the melodies in my head. It’s important I feel safe, respected and at ease in a room, and have space to be myself. Producers that can cultivate a space like that, who are also extremely talented and skilled at what they do, are able to bring out depth, soul and life into songs, because I know what I need and if I have the tools – it’ll be magic. Also, the environment needs to be fun and light. So skills, trust that I’m safe,  ease, food and fun are what allows me to record intimate songs. At the moment when working on a song I don’t like more than two people in a room with me; one is often enough.

“Mind & Body” addresses the struggle of being present in a fast-paced world. How do you personally strive to find balance and stay grounded amidst the chaos?

I don’t know if I do balance well, haha. When I get to a point that I can feel myself spiraling or I’m in my spiral state, I voice it out and stop everything, because realistically everything can wait. Going on walks is a wonderful thing. Just taking a one hour walk really sets me back in tune again, or leaving my phone in a separate room for hours on end. Cooking and watching shows is now a new thing because I have to concentrate on something else. Also journaling, even if it’s 2 lines about the state I’m feeling, just gets me back on track. Also, I’m learning to say yes more to outings my friends have, because those are important. Having a life outside of this passion and drive of mine makes me more connected.

Making your debut on RTÉ One’s The Late Late Show must be incredibly exciting! How have you been preparing for that performance, and what are you most looking forward to?

I traveled all the way to London to get my hair done, haha. I got my outfit sorted with my stylist and an awesome designer called Claire Garvey. I got my whole team involved and they were so helpful. The RTE crew were also so helpful. They got a stage decorator to bring in real hazel twigs which hung upside down above my head on the stage I was performing on. I rehearsed for 2 days to just make sure I was sure and happy with what my vocal performance would be as well as what my movements would look like on stage. All this happened a week right after the release so of course I was ecstatic!

Transitioning from Nigeria to Ireland at a young age must have been quite an experience. How has your multicultural background influenced your music and storytelling?

It was definitely an experience. I think now in my 20s, I’m really trying to unravel and understand much of myself, my history and my story. I’ve always found it quite difficult to just be myself because I’ve often had expectations be put on me or stereotypes of how people would want me to be. So it’s now that I’m shedding all that away to find who I am. And I think that’s what I focus on when it comes to perhaps how my background has influenced me and my story telling. This needs to be understood but mostly to share my feelings so I can be seen for myself and not how others see me. People project more than they realise.

You will also be performing at The Ireland Funds event at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. How does it feel to represent your heritage and culture on such a grand stage?

Oh, it’ll be fantastic! This will be my second time performing in this iconic space. It feels incredible. It’s historic. I am grateful and also it’s for a good cause. Ireland Funds will be donating to so many charities within Ireland and to be part of that while doing the thing that I love the most, which is performing, is ideal. 

With so much going on, how do you balance the demands of your career with self-care and personal well-being?

I’m still learning. Having people you can lean on is vital for me. This is why I needed a team because I can admit I can’t do it all on my own. Music – especially if this is your soul, career and means of finance – requires a lot. One of the best pieces of advice I think more people should take is to give yourself permission to fire yourself from jobs that someone else could do 100 percent better than you. It’s not that you can’t do it but you’ll have more time for the things you actually care for and love. This is how I think I’m cultivating better self care and personal well being. With all the tasks I have I’m learning to delegate, trust my team and lean on my loved ones for comfort and create time away when needed.

You started singing in church at a young age. Has your faith shaped your journey as a musician and songwriter in any way?

Hmm, yes and no. At some point I did want to become a Gospel singer and won a whole Gospel Competition. However, I went through what I could perhaps call an evolution with myself and again the need to feel heard and to express my true deep feelings and sharing myself was more important. However, the meaning of the gospel is to spread and share the good news. I think the aspect of being positive and hopeful is evident in the way I write, but the approach of where it stems from is different. I now write because my story is important for me to understand.

As you continue to grow and evolve as an artist, what aspects of your artistry do you prioritize nurturing and developing?

I prioritize my vocals, performance, branding and business; I’m also developing my music theory. I want to be a well-rounded artist. I see myself doing this for as long as I can, so being physically fit, being a student, and wanting to evolve and challenge myself is important to me.

In what ways do you hope to innovate and push boundaries within your genre and the music industry as a whole?

I want to push boundaries in the expectation of what someone that looks like me is expected to fit in. I’m trying to break boxes, stereotypes etc. I want freedom to be seen in my own expression, my artistry, my being. It’s already unfamiliar water that I was raised in Ireland since I was 5, that I’m Nigerian and doing music full time as my choice career. I want to inspire others no matter who they are, where they are from or where they start from. That self belief and doing is the real magic. I’m an indie alternative pop singer. I come from a different niche background and there’s so many talented people I know. I want to be part of sharing our history with the world – here, now, in the present.

As a strong voice for Black women and artists, how do you navigate the music industry and advocate for representation and inclusivity?

I don’t know if I am a strong voice for Black women and artists, but I do hope Black women do enjoy the art I share. I also hope that anyone who is struggling with their identity or not feeling seen can find and love my work too, because being strong all the time can get exhausting. I really want to enjoy life, so in fighting for my space in this industry, it’s important to trust that those you work with will relay my story as authentically as I need it to be. Again you can’t do it all by yourself, but what I can handle and what I can have control over, I make sure I voice out. The immediate spaces I find myself in are the best places to start and create change. 

What challenges have you faced as a Black woman in the music industry, and how have they influenced your approach to your craft and career?

It’s the expectations of stereotypes and judgment of who I am before I’ve even been given the chance to simply be. Not just within the music industry, but life in general. Within the music industry thus far, it’s the constant proof of having to be undeniable time and time again with little support.  So this does influence me to push harder when I feel like I’m touching a ceiling or my back is against a wall.  It can be lonely and that reality is what makes it a bit difficult. So what I’m learning and doing now is to have a team I can lean on that believes in my talent, my hard work, and speaks for me in spaces I may not be able to reach alone.

How do you believe the industry can better support and uplift women of color?

Allowing them to be. Giving them their flowers before it’s too late, sharing resources and information, not categorizing them into one genre or type of music. Not pitting them against each other. There are Black people who create rock music, country music, emo music, dance music, indie, alternative, synth, orchestral, classical compositions, scores etc. We are not a monolith of the same taste. It benefits the world to have space where people can create in the safety of being themselves.

Throughout history, women have often faced challenges in being recognized and respected in the music industry. What changes would you like to see to ensure gender equality and inclusivity for women in music?

Cultivating more space for women of colour to lead, and having more women highlighted that are producers in this industry.

What can fans expect from your upcoming projects and releases in 2024?

Expect to see more parts of Tolü Makay, more vulnerability, and more stories of who I am and how I’m becoming. 

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