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Popularly known as Niyola, Eniola Akinbo is famous for her unique voice and stage presence. With a music career spanning over 20 years, the former EME artiste has paid her dues in the entertainment industry.

Niyola’s late father first noticed her talent when she was 8 years old. In 2000, she took part in a talent show and emerged as the first runner up, which marked the beginning of her journey in the music industry. Aside from singing, she has also done soundtracks for movies.

While her journey has not been a walk in the park, with determination, Eniola has managed to stay relevant for over 20 years. She recently made her acting debut in Kunle Afolayan’s movie Swallow, where she played ‘Tolani.’ She shares her inspiring journey, goals, challenges as an entertainer, and how she’s been able to stay grounded in this exclusive interview with Esther Ijewere.

Childhood Influence
I grew up in a large family where it was literally always like a movie set; different characters, different age groups. Incidentally, my dad was one involved in each of his children’s day-to-day lives; he noticed things even my mother didn’t. He was the one who discovered and really helped me nurture my talent. He had incentive parties every year where whoever came top of their class would be awarded a price. We would come up with acts for the day of the event; singing, action drama and other fun stuff.

Most importantly, he made me write songs for morning devotion and took me to my first concert at age 8 or 9; it was a Funmi Adams concert. So, there are different things in my childhood that prepared me for where I am now.

Why I Pitched My Tent In The Music Industry
I stumbled on the Nigerian music industry at an early age through a talent hunt I did, and I just somehow found myself delving deeper and becoming more grounded. I had the likes of Sound Sultan, Faze, Paul play and many more encouraging me to forge ahead

Staying Relevant Since 2000
It’s a tricky one, but I honestly think that the fact that we are doing this interview in 2021 is an answer in itself. I think I have somehow managed to; I don’t know how, but I am grateful to God.

My Acting Debut In Kunle Afolayan’s Movie Swallow
It’s one of those experiences that will forever be a milestone. It’s new; it’s different, and a learning curve, which I am so intrigued by. I have always been a fan of Kunle Afolayan; I never dreamt that I would one day star as a lead in one of his works. It’s particularly interesting and significant for me because everything about Swallow is authentically Nigerian! The writer, Sefi Atta, wrote the story.

It’s the perfect film for anyone to find out what Lagos and Nigeria truly was like in the 80s, and that could explain a lot about certain belief systems and behavioural patterns in our society today
Playing ‘Tolani’ In The Movie

Too many to mention, but it’s the age-old ‘To thyself be true.’ At the end of it all, it’s important to know oneself and always do what works for oneself and not bow to peer pressure, because the grass seems greener on the other side.

Plans For The Movie Industry
Anything is possible. I am open to exploring anything that helps me express myself, so, I am open to it. Yes!

My Music Career And The Next Phase
I have been working on music mostly for film and other artistes, so you will probably find music I have performed on like King Of Boys and Swallow. There are two others coming soon, which I am not sure I am allowed to mention

I will be releasing Niyola music at some point. I wish I could say when, but I honestly can’t for now, as I am not quite there yet; I am working on it though

Challenges As An Entertainer
Hmmm, I think about having so many ideas and choosing the ones that best express what I am feeling and intend to share in that moment. Sometimes, how you feel months ago when you wrote a song or four isn’t the same as when you’re done with it. Most times, it’s important for me to share what I feel, so I move to what I am feeling and it could be an endless cycle.

That’s why we have teams that help us because we can’t separate our emotions from it. Also, the fact that everyone has an opinion about what’s best for you or feel that you’re made of stone and don’t have feelings; it’s hilarious and can be frustrating.

Three Women Who Inspire Me To Be Better And Why
Too many, but I will try to narrow it down and bring it home.

First-person is Chimamanda Adichie; She is so intelligent and unapologetically herself. She inspires me to wear my Africaness

Secondly, Kemi Adetiba is a good friend of mine and that woman is forever trying to do the impossible, and it’s all so selfless because it’s never for herself. She’s also not afraid to be vulnerable and I think that’s a huge strength in itself; that’s inspiring for me.

Finally, Sarah Jakes Roberts; I love anyone who loves God. She wears it boldly and she shows that knowing and serving doesn’t make you any less cool, it’s in fact a superpower. She inspires me to draw closer to God

Being A Woman Of Rubies
Being a woman at all, and getting where I am, despite the odds stacked against women in Nigeria and in the industry I work in.

Other Projects And Activities Aside From Movies And Music
There’s definitely more of me that I would like to share in due time, until then, please watch Swallow, stream the music and thank you so much for your continued unwavering support; I do not take it for granted.