Teniola Apata, better known as Teni, is an ultra-talented singer/songwriter with an eclectic and energetic style that makes her stand out among her contemporaries. Incorporating Afrobeats, R&B, pop, and hip-hop, the Nigerian native’s star is shining bright as she continues to push the boundaries of her artistry.
Born in Lagos State, she later moved to America along with her sister Niniola, an acclaimed artist in her own right. She attended the University of Georgia and later graduated from American InterContinental University with a degree in business administration. While she fulfilled her parent’s dream of getting a college degree, Teni’s true passion has always been music.
After honing her musical talents, Teni began to be recognized as an artist with enormous potential in 2017 after penning “Like Dat" for Davido and releasing her single “Fargin,” which addressed rape and sexual exploitation. Her debut EP, Billionaire, was released in 2019, and in 2021, she released her debut critically acclaimed album Wondalandin 2021. Garnering acclaim for her work, she was nominated for a BET Award for “Best New International Act” and an MTV Europe Music Award for “Best African Act.”
In November, she released her highly-anticipated Tears of the Sun with production from Blaisebeats, Rymez, Debonair Dessy, Kukbeat, Yung Willis, Extremebet, and many more.
Speaking with BET.com for #Unboxed Vol. 32, Teni reflected on her expansive musical journey and shared how she always wanted to be a musician since childhood.
“I fell in love with music when I was in the school band at two years old playing the drums,” Teni said. “The sounds and the melody just resonated with me. I used to catch myself in class just humming melodies and just being interested in music at a very young age for me.”
Known for her one-of-kind- style, when asked how she would describe her music, Teni said her musical approach encompasses the totality of her experiences. In other words, her music is a direct reflection of her life.
“I would say my music is fun but it’s also about real life. everyday struggle, pain, joy, everything else,” Teni said. “It's human emotion. It's how I feel. It’s about the things I go through. My ups and downs.”
“Music is what I love to do. It's not just my profession, it's my hobby. I enjoy music. I love making and writing music,” she continued. “I love coming up with melodies on the piano, you know? It comes so easy to me. I can do it in my sleep.”
Afrobeats is arguably one of the most popular genres in the world of music. Originating in Nigeria during the late 1960s and was popularized by the legendary Fela Kuti, Teni’s contributions to the growth of Afrobeats is undeniable, and she believes that the genre is for the world because it emerged from the reality of a special people.
“The growth of Afrobeats was been bound to happen. I think Afrobeats is a show music. It’s cultural,” Teni explained. “It's the music of the people who have made something out of nothing after enduring so much. There’s joy and pain. It's “Jollof.” It's just a mix of everything. That's why the music is really rich. From the production to the melodies, in one song, you can hear Pidgin, Yoruba, and English. It has all kinds of stuff.”
One of the key aspects of Teni’s creative process is the cultivation of her vibe. She said that she’s learned that she’s at her best when she creates a state of joy.
“My happiness it's very important to me, because we really don’t own anything. Everything is temporary. The house we have and the money we have is temporary. Happiness is important and so is pain because pain is also a catalyst for happiness,” Teni noted. “How do you enjoy and appreciate happiness if you don't experience pain? How do you appreciate the sun if you haven't felt the rain? Or how do you appreciate the rain if you haven't felt the sun? So for me, it's just the things that make me who I am.
Teni understands the duality of life in a personal way after going through some serious health challenges. In July, she was diagnosed with a life-threatening infection and advised to have emergency surgery to save her voice. Thankfully, Teni recovered without undergoing any surgical procedure and her new album Tears of the Sun is a testament to her resilience. Her health scare not only compelled her to take her overall health more seriously (She lost more than 150 lbs) but to honor the God-given gift of her voice.
“When I almost lost my voice, it made me realize that I didn’t appreciate it enough. This voice is what was given me so I pledge allegiance to my voice to take care of it and to appreciate it. I won’t do anything destructive to it because if you want to play this game, it's a marathon. It's not a sprint. Especially for someone like me because music is my livelihood,” Teni said.
“Going through that made me realize that I had to take better care of myself because that's what's important,” she continued. “Everything else is going to change. Friend change, family change, and management may change but this body's gonna be with you to the last day.”
Tears of the Sun spans 16 tracks of Teni revealing her vulnerabilities and standing in her truth. The album is also the first release from her newly-formed record label, Sugar Mummy Records. After going through a personal transformation, the title of the album has deep significance to Teni
“A lot of people also go through struggles and I had a lot of growing up to do and a lot of changing,” Teni noted. “Change is very painful. I was trying to lose weight and I was looking for a new sound to come out of my comfort zone. So that's why I named the album Tears of the Sun.”
Leading up to the release of the album, Teni dropped “No Days Off,” in May 2023. The up-tempo banger was recorded in Lagos, LA, and Cape Town. Teni followed up with two more singles, “Lanke” and “Malaika,” which increased the anticipation for the full project.
With Tears of the Sun, Teni hopes that fans will receive her new music direction and her authenticity as a human being.
“I’ve gone through heartbreak and I've gone through betrayal. And I just wanted to make a project where I was vulnerable and not this happy Teni that everyone knows,” she said. “I've experienced success and the success has also caused a lot of confusion, pain, ups, and downs. This album is my truth after releasing, ‘Okay. I’m alone in this.”
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