The talk with Suté Iwar began with reference to his earlier works, spanning back to 2014. He mentions the steps he has made in his artistry as well as his own self-discovery, whilst finding common ground with like-minded and similarly multifaceted artists who dip in and out of genres in the same way he does. Artists like Anderson.Paak, Lauryn Hill and Childish Gambino to name a few.
“There’s an understanding amongst us, there’s a difficulty to present yourself as many things but there’s a way to do it that can make sense to people if the music is right. If it feels right and sounds good, no one is worried about the genre you fit into. Those artists showed me how to do it.”
Fast forward to 2023, Suté Iwar is now also described as an artist who goes against the grain and ‘defies’ genres. The Afro-fusion artist pulls from both inspiration and experience to birth something that doesn’t entirely fit into Alté or Afrobeats, whilst simultaneously using all the characteristics that define these categories and more. With his soulful sound and introspective lyrics, Iwar has emerged as a rising star, gaining recognition not only in his home country of Nigeria but also internationally.
Iwar also cites the maverick and unconventional thinking behind Jazz as heavily directing his path. Growing up on Jazz music at home instilled the ‘come as you are’ mentality in Suté at a young age, which is to be unique. He was deeply immersed in the world of music thanks to his family’s deep roots and enthusiasm. "My father owned a huge record collection", he recalls. Growing up in such a musical environment undoubtedly had a profound impact on Iwar's artistic development.
“My inspirations are artists that choose to explore every side of themselves. When I found out Prince was rapping in the 90s, I was like whatever… I’m gonna do whatever I want.”
And that’s exactly what he did. Whilst many know Suté for his singing ability, especially as a feature artist, his versatility and range is that of a rapper and instrumentalist too. Delving deeper into inspirations and influences, we take an unexpected turn at early 2000s Nigerian Pop and Rap. From 2Face Idibia to M.I and Naeto C, Suté references these legends as the blueprint to being a Nigerian rapper. To be a rapper in Nigeria differs greatly from those who came up in the UK or US. Melody is embossed in African culture; it is impossible to shy away from. Therefore, singing is almost inevitable; we see this from 2Face on multiple occasions and Naeto C on Super C Season.
It’s no surprise that Suté is a fan of the album process, given his extensive wrap sheet. Unlike other artists in his scene, who hone their craft and polish their skills covertly and behind the scenes, Suté’s progress and sonic journey is well documented through his EPs and albums. It shows a certain honesty and transparency that isn’t common, and probably never will be. The latest entry to his discography, Ultralight, is arguably an accumulation of Suté’s previous works summarised and sharpened in a 15-track format. With the central theme being “optimism”, the Benue singer showcases his ability to create infectious and rhythmic tracks while maintaining a sense of emotional depth and introspection.
“I’ve been trying to write songs where I’m layering ideas but not being overwhelming with it. So it’s the 10th or even 15th listen where you realise he’s not just talking to his girl, it’s also about global warming and the environment.”
Even without context, the level of thought and precision that went into Ultralight’s process and creation, is evident. The more the listener becomes familiar with the album, the more the mysteries and motifs unravel and reveal themselves with the conversational skits acting as signposts along the way. And it speaks directly to how the album was put together:
“It’s my most collaborative project. On almost every song there’s someone who chipped into the process”.
With features such as kadiata and Lex Amor, and even recording Signs in London, the UK essence was very much captured throughout his latest body of work. The capital acts as a creative gateway for many West African artists to explore their sound unapologetically, in attempts of further discovery and progression in a way that might not be possible back home.
“The music structure in Nigeria is still being built. There are things in Nigeria that don’t exist that are quite easy to access here. For example, doing shows. Without thinking, there are so many venues where you can present your music to the world. In Nigeria, it’s reserved for certain times like Christmas.”
Although Suté doesn’t perform in Nigeria as much as he would like, his headline show at The Grace in London displayed not only how important it is to give music physical space to breathe amongst fans, but also how well Ultralight translated in a live space. He is a performer that brought together die-hard enthusiasts alongside the curious and casual fans but it was clear that there was a shared experience of joy and positivity - much of what the album is all about.
Suté Iwar is a shining talent that is only getting started, despite his tenured discography. However, to describe Suté as an artist that ‘defies’ genres as aforementioned is a slight disservice. Instead, he should be seen as someone who bends genres like Rnb, Hip-Hop and more to his will and ultimately blends them into a completely new and modern sound - one that is taking Africa and the rest of the world by storm.