Tolü Makay: ‘I listen to anything that makes me feel good... You need to get up and dance’

Soundtrack of My Life: The singer on music that has helped her through the pandemic

Tolü Makay Tolü Makay: At boarding school she was  called ‘by my middle name, Elizabeth, instead of my first name. It taught me that I didn’t have a voice’

Tolü Makay Tolü Makay: At boarding school she was called ‘by my middle name, Elizabeth, instead of my first name. It taught me that I didn’t have a voice’


The lockdown has been difficult in terms of not being able to perform, but it has brought many rewards, like being able to go back to basics, and learn how to record songs without needing to go to the studio. Myself and my producer basically built a fort in order to soundproof my kitchen when we were recording Used to Be.

Over lockdown the new-found attention I’ve received, especially since working on N17 with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, has been great, but you can’t necessarily see it on a physical plane. I was recently walking on the street and three kids recognised me from Facebook, and small things like that are cute. Hopefully, when things return to normal, it will be nice to see the magnitude of the impact.

In 2020 I wasn’t listening to songs a lot, but when I did I was trying to learn how to do things differently, and the importance of references to create something amazing. I’ve learned how to pinpoint aspects of a track that I like, and understand what makes it a good song, so hopefully I can transfer that into my own music someday.

This time has made me listen to bodies of work of artists that I love. An example is Tiwa Savage. I’ve listened to her for over 10 years, and there’s always been something missing, but with her latest album, Celia, it feels like she’s arrived, like she’s finally unlocked her sound. I’m glad I was able to pick up on that, because people ask me what my style is, and I have to say that I don’t know yet. I’m experimenting, and I look forward to being at a point where I have work where people don’t have to ask what genre it is – they just know that’s Tolü Makay.

My music taste is a bit of everything. I listen to anything that makes me feel good, or just feel. I could listen to classical music, I fall in love with traditional Irish songs, and I always come back to gospel music. But with this playlist I went crazy with Afrobeat, because that’s what I’ve been listening to recently. Overall, the playlist is fun, energetic and hopeful. It’s one of those playlists where you need to get up and dance.

I don’t know how old Konko Below by Lagbaja is, but if you go to any Nigerian party or wedding, everyone goes crazy for it. It’s a huge part of my culture growing up. The singer covers his face, so for years no one knew what he looked like – he was just a person that created amazing music; to me he’s up there with Fela Kuti. The song features a talking drum, which seems like it talks because you can press it down to make the sound of how a word would be formed. This song is part of my appreciation for those that came before me, and who find their style without being put into a box.

Trust It Music is an Afrobeat artist here in Ireland. I’ve been stuck on Show U for maybe two years now, and I want to get in with them to do a remix. It’s such a striking, powerful song that’s been given space to breathe. It’s a classic, deep song with a pop vibe, and it’s nice to see that coming out from Ireland.

I chose Freedom by Beyoncé, but the entire Homecoming album, recorded at Coachella, is phenomenal. Some mixing and mastery went into that after, but for that to be the quality of a live performance is incredible. That particular song grips me and makes me feel like a total badass that you can conquer anything and that you are free. I actually use that as a reference for my track You Are Enough.

Asa is a French-Nigerian artist who I’d love to collaborate with too. She has a composed and elite style, and the message behind her music is amazing. It’s impactful, and brings you into her head. Again, you can tell that’s Asa because she’s created a style that’s uniquely hers.

While lockdown has given me time to listen to music, and taught me that there’s so much that I can do at home if I want to try and find the right sound, I’m keen to get back into the studio. It’s preferable to be in that environment, and get all of the songs done in a more timely fashion. My next release will be a single, in May, and I think it’s something people wouldn’t expect from me. – As told to Shilpa Ganatra

Tolü Makay features on the line up for Ómós: Michael D @ 80, on TG4 at 9.30pm on Sunday, April 18th