From a young British-Nigerian boy raised mostly in South London to an international artist mesmerizing fans worldwide, Maleek Shoyebi, stage name Maleek Berry, is driving the afropop wave into the future. As a producer working with the likes of Davido and Wizkid, Maleek’s sound was already distinguishable, and has only become more identifiable now that he has made the transition to a solo recording artist.

Maleek’s latest EP, First Daze of Winter follows the runaway global success of his Last Daze of Summer EP and showcases his unique and addictive sound which sublimely fuse R&B, afropop, reggae and hip-hop influences. Maleek Berry represents the finest of 21st century musical diasporas. He’s able to remain plural and has pioneered a sound that honors that complexity.

We caught up with Maleek to discuss his transition to a career as a recording artist, the art of navigating the music industry across continents, and the power of timing music around the seasons.

Could you tell me a little bit about your background and upbringing?

I grew up in South London and I listened to anything as a kid. I have a church background, so my mum used to play a lot of gospel in the house as well as reggae and African music. I used to sit in front of the telly with mum every weekend and watch music videos on MTV, that was our routine. As a kid I was watching Michael Jackson and paying attention to all the music awards, so I started falling in love with music even more. It wasn't until I was thirteen that my friends and I started a group in church, which led me to getting into production and songwriting and stuff.

How did you decide to go into afropop, what drove you to that genre specifically?

Growing up in London, it wasn't exactly cool to be African back in the day. People used to make fun of us all the time and would call us names. It wasn't until I got to college at age sixteen that being African was starting to become ‘cool’ and we had bands coming out of Nigeria, like 2Face and Mo'hits. They started making African music that actually became cool. These guys were coming from Nigeria but they were fresh, wearing all these diamonds and driving the same cars that the Americans that we grew up watching were driving. That was the shift. During college I started listening to a lot more African music because there was more of that coming out of West Africa with afro beats and all. Around 2010 I got introduced to Davido and he was putting out videos that were getting 4,000 views at the time. Me and him sparked up conversation and we started talking about where we wanted to see the industry in the next couple of years. What drew everyone to me was the fact that I had this blend of sounds because of my upbringing, from the Fela Kuti, the gospel, the R&B, the grime and the garage influences from London. So essentially I had all these influences in my musical vocabulary, as I like to call it.

When I started working with Davido, I began to notice these sounds with African inspired drums and grooves. That's what drew the attention of other afro beats artists like Wizkid and so many of the big stars. Everyone kept telling me, "Yo, you need to develop that sound, it's unique, it's different, it doesn't sound like the typical thing coming out of the culture". I decided to pay attention to that and that's when I really started developing my own sound.

You started off producing for other artists then decided to go on your solo recording artist journey. What made you want to make that switch and be in the spotlight, so to speak?

The good thing is that I had had a little bit of a taste of that spotlight from when I had the group in church. We were performing in front of big crowds of around 500 people; some churches had 1,000 people in it. So I was already used to performing in front of an audience and being on stage, but it's different when you're much older and people aren’t seeing you as a little kid anymore. Everyone has an opinion so it's a lot more nerve wracking. I had reached a stage where back home I had produced for pretty much everyone I wanted to produce for in the afro beats industry and I wanted to kind of expand a bit. I thought to myself, "What's the best way for me to showcase my skills as a songwriter and as a producer? I might as well start putting out my own songs so that it can spread faster, as opposed to waiting for other artists to jump on my music. I have a studio in my bedroom in which I can record whenever I want, I mix and master and produce everything myself so I don't need to wait for anyone". And on the flip side, I also wanted to take on a new challenge and that's literally why I did it. I had so much opposition at first, everyone was saying, “Here goes another producer trying to be an artist”... I got a lot of that. So it took me a while to build up the courage to put out my own music. But I finally did it!

How has that been? Has anything surprised you about the transition?

It's been insane. I've done so much. When I put out my debut EP in 2016, I never knew what it was gonna do. I just thought, "Let me put out music that represents me, let me put out music that tells stories but that still has this African groove that everybody can dance to and enjoy". I never really expected it to do anything, I just thought, “Cool, I've built up a little fan base as a producer, those pockets of people are gonna like it”. The way the fan base has expanded has been wild, though. I've had all kinds of people hit me up about my EP telling me that they loved it. People like Ty$ Dolla Sign, Kelly Rowland, even T-Pain tweeted the first EP a month ago and I was super excited because that's one of my favourite artists ever! So we toured all around America last year, we did Jay-Z's “Made in America” festival, the list goes on... I never expected the music to take me on this journey at all. Now I'm finally waking up from this dream and I’ve started grinding again, but yeah man, it's a blessing to just have people accept the music.

What were you going through while working on First Daze of Winter and what did you hope listeners would take away from it?

I wanted to show people a different side of me and delve a little deeper into the songwriting. I wanted to throw a lot more shade on this project! I just wanted to expand especially on the production front. Songs like "What If", a lot of people probably didn't think I could make R&B like that. I wanted to show a little bit of diversity. And create moments. I feel like we're at a time where people want to have moments in time, whether it's from music or movies, moments in culture. And that's why the projects are timed around seasons; people want to hear music that they can listen back to. Music from the winter that they can listen back to in the summer and be like, "Oh man, this reminds me of that one time I was driving down this road in December and I was crying, this song got me through this". Giving fans music that they can relate to and at the same time me telling stories that I've been through as well. While making it danceable and having worldly drums, that was important to me.

How would you describe your process of creating?

Because I'm a producer first, it definitely starts with the beat and then I sort of come up with a melody, because melodies are so important to me. So if I have a beat and I have a melody idea on it, most of the time, 90% of the time, the melody already tells the story, I can already hear the lyrics. So that gives me an idea of the concept, then I start putting words to the melodies. That's basically my songwriting process.

Have you noticed any differences in how the music industry operates in Nigeria, the U.K. and the U.S.?

One thing I can say about the music industry in Nigeria is the rate at which artists are putting out music and new artists are popping up every day is ridiculous. Artists are literally in the studio every day; every other month artists are putting out a new single or a new video. So it's a lot more fast-paced. I think Nigeria is very similar to the American music industry. The U.K. is a lot more relaxed, things are a lot more calm. But in Nigeria you have to keep up with everyone. I'm grateful that I can exist in these different worlds. I can be in the States and adapt, I can be in the U.K. and adapt, I can be anywhere in Africa and adapt because I've had experiences working in these different territories.

Catch Maleek Berry performing live on his UK/European tour, starting at London’s KOKO on Feb 1st. Listen to First Daze of Winter here.