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Saturday, October 16, 2021

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From Lagos with love—and the god of fire

From Lagos with love—and the god of fire

Nigerian-born, SF-based musician, DJ, and activist Bisi is just getting started on his quest to 'birth more.'

Bisi is more than a stage name for the 29-year-old Nigerian singer-songwriter who’s called San Francisco home for the last decade. It’s also a career strategy.

“Bisi means to birth more,” the singer, born Adebisi Obateru, told 48 Hills. “I think about it like a cactus. You only need to cut a piece of it and plant it and that basically replicates and creates the whole plant. I’m like that.“

In other words, every single by the Lagos-born world-fusion artist, who got his start performing on the streets of San Francisco before teaming up with his Bisi & The Moonwalker bandmate Joshua Smith, helped to lay the groundwork for his long-anticipated debut solo album, expected to drop early next year.

Each of Bisi’s existing tracks — “Remember San Francisco,” “Not Today,” “Love’s Infection,” “Home,” and “Every Night” — exudes the softness of Bob Marley, the rhythmic energy of Michael Jackson, and the colorful poetry, rap, and storytelling of seminal Nigerian singer Lagbaja.

Bisi’s heartfelt lyrics are a testament to the freedom that the singer-songwriter, who came of age amid Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha‘s oppressive military regime, has felt to express himself — after moving to the US at 17 to study at American River College outside of Sacramento and later at San Francisco State University.

I spoke to Bisi — who’s set to perform with The Moonwalker at PianoFight on Wed/27 and under his DJ moniker AfroBisi at the next installment of his monthly dance party at Little Baobab early next month — about the inspiration behind his locally inspired hit, why his heart’s in San Francisco, and how he maintains a connection to his native Nigeria from almost eight thousand miles away.

48 HILLS How did growing up in Nigeria influence the artist that you are today?

BISI I grew up in Nigeria at a time when we couldn’t talk about what was going on during the military regime of Sani Abacha. But when I moved to the US, I realized how much music was a tool to get the message across and the power of music to change the status quo and continue to speak to the status quo in a way that I can bring people together to make a change.

48 HILLS  When did you start making music?

BISI I started in late 2011. That semester I was very involved with the International Education Exchange Council. That summer, doing a road trip from San Francisco to New York, there was a lot of songwriting and jam sessions going on with the music committee. Being nostalgic about all those experiences, when I moved to a place in the Outer Richmond, we had enough rooms to where the idea of having a studio was getting exciting, so this rough idea started out of that.

48 HILLS Your love letter to The City by the Bay,  “Remember San Francisco” seems to be inspired by warm memories of your early experiences here. Can you tell me about them?

BISI It’s the culmination of that experience and that energy of when I first moved to San Francisco. We ran the International Education Exchange Council and met all these unique people. We had a Thursday night social where we curated experiences for all our members, whether it was to eat somewhere or support a concert venue. So it was a new space for all of us. We’re in a new city and we’re exploring the city together and going to different places. But ultimately it was the joy of experiencing a new city together that was nostalgic for all of us.

48 HILLS What’s your relationship like with Nigeria today?

BISI I’m still connected to that place. It’s my community and I do whatever I can to give back and support musicians there, too. It’s harder for them there, so when I worked for Notes for Notes, we did some work sending some gear back to help set up a few studios there. So I’m always looking for opportunities to help and support people there.

48 HILLS What’s coming up next for you?

BISI I’m about to release an album and I’m excited about all the new music that I have lined up to release in the next few months leading up to the album.

I’m really excited to work with [Director of Photography] Nate Gold on a film based on another film that really touched me as a kid, which told the story of creation from the Yoruba people. It’s the story of Shango, the god of fire. I want to change it to a love story because he falls in love with the shape-shifting goddess of rain, Oshun.

So I’m really excited to make this film to my next album because I’m bringing this story of the Yoruba people to the West. A lot of people growing up in Nigeria watched this film and it was an attempt to tell a truly Yoruba story. It was the first time we had our own superhero, where I felt, ‘Wow, that is so cool — the god of fire.’ So I thought about that this year and got really excited to co-create that film and bring a little bit more of my culture to people that know me and my music.

Wed/27 5:30 pm, $10
PianoFight, SF.
More info here.

Thu/5 10 pm, Free
Little Baobab, SF.
More info here.

Joshua Rotter
Joshua Rotter is a contributing writer for 48 Hills. He’s also written for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, SF Weekly, SF Examiner, SF Chronicle, and CNET.
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