MEET: Uche Uba
words Aleksandra Georgieva
photography Antonio Abrego
An unexpected change in Uche Uba's life and career aspirations brought an entirely different journey for this young singer/songwriter. Visiting over 19 countries with just a single backpack after graduation and full of expectations to go to a medical school, surprisingly resulted in moving to LA, California in 2016. Uche Uba describes the experience as ‘a breath of fresh air’. With some modelling experience in his background, he started an acting career where the competition was fierce. Yet, Uche Uba found his passion and his life hasn’t been the same since. His single Let The Good Times Roll is now on Spotify, mixing up “a new age African sound with a unique blend of pop, funk and West African roots.” This is how Uche Uba talks about his life and career exclusively for the readers of Stark Magazine:
You travelled the world for over 4 months after you graduated from Stanford University. What was the experience like for you? What were your most and least favourite parts of the journey and how did it change you as an artist?
I’ve always had an Indiana Jones adventure side that craves new and exciting journeys. The film 80 Days Around the World, starring Jackie Chan, was sort of my inspiration to plan the trip. My least favourite part was getting food poisoning in Thailand and the occasional sleepovers at freezing airports, but my favourite part of the journey was seeing cultures that cultivated individuals who were so happy with so little. It really inspired me to look introspectively and find where my real happiness lays, and it is way beyond material possessions. Eventually, I got to a point where I thought that I could totally just live in the Philippines ( the 2nd favourite country on earth, only to Spain) and be completely happy as a fisherman. Essentially, I gained new lenses from travelling and honestly, it’s played a huge part in my abilities as an artist. As an actor and musician, one must continuously channel a variety of energies during a performance that they want the audience to feel. Whether I play an aspirational kid from the Bronx or play a melancholic melody for a crowd of people, I have to be able to emit different characters and perspectives. Travelling and knowing so many different types of people is what allowed me to have a portfolio of energies and characters to draw from.
Your parents immigrated to the United States from Nigeria. How did this influence you and what were the cultural differences between your home country and Oregon?
My morals, values and ethical foundation stem majorly from my Nigerian roots which is a blend of discipline, a strong and loving family dynamic and an aim for excellence in whatever one does. However, culturally speaking, it was a blend of the two countries. From America, I derive a unique sense of freedom and liberty as an artist, and from Nigeria I adopted its amorphous spirit. My people hail from the southeastern region of the nation. The LGBO culture is a blend of archaic norms and fashion with an eclectic and colourful evolution due to the adoption of new age concepts. Nigerians, and specifically LGBO people, are the ultimate hustlers. They will have seven jobs in just to keep food on the table and this is really an ode to the unconfined creative potential of the mind.
Going from a medical career path to one in the entertainment industry is a big change. How did you make this decision and what challenges did you face along the way?
When I was growing up I loved taking care of sick family members. Nursing them with chicken noodle soup and cheering them up at their bedside. Naturally, I was great at academics so decided to blend my human compassion with my alacrity for the science. I was in college when I realised that I wasn’t in love with the idea of working in a hospital for the next 60 years of my life and it really shocked me. I toyed with the idea of being a fabulous sports medicine doctor with my own clinic, who would be able to travel constantly, but as I came towards my graduation, my medical aspirations were slowly uprooted. I wrote a series of new philosophies while travelling and comparing foreign people and cultures to my own. There was a time when I was really trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life when I got back to the States and whether I would go to medical school. I asked myself why, why, why? Why do I want to be a doctor? Why do I want to help people? Eventually, I realised the raw fact that I love nurturing people and showing them how they can be holistically healthier and happier within their mind, body and spirit. I had tackled this from a medical angle and it took me ‘till that moment to realise I can show compassion, teach empathy and make the world a better place in so many ways. Honestly, I wanted to be a doctor for the same reason, I became an artist. I want to use my art to reinvent minds and my platform to change the fabric of institutions. Eventually, I would like to run a non-profit as well.
You have an experience in music, acting and modelling. Is music the biggest priority in your life and how do you manage to combine everything together?
I think each comes in its own wave. I started out modelling when I was 14 and that was my number one until I started focusing on acting during the last couple years. At the moment, music is my priority. It’s the field where I have the most to learn and the roughest edges to refine. I’m constantly sharpening myself into a diamond so I never really put either one on the back-burner but I just devote more mental energy to one. They all seamlessly flow together though. For instance, singing has opened more acting and commercial opportunities for me. The industry is beginning to recognise Uche Uba and provide print modelling opportunities for myself as a musician versus as a model.
You started off by writing your own lyrics. Do you still do that and to what extent are you involved in the process of creating your music?
I still write all of my music but I’m not opposed to collaborations. There are so many talented songwriters with different perspectives and I want to keep learning, and not shut myself off from influences that can amplify my sound in a positive way. I’m generally inspired to create a song from chord progressions. I’ll immediately hear the melodies and I really feel like that’s the most important part. The melodies provide the framework for the synergistic rhythm of the song like the speed of the train. The chords are the train tracks and then the lyrics come last. Lyrics are like the view from the window. I generally create the skeleton chord progression in logic that embodies the soul of the song. Then I work with my producer to fill in the rest of the beat. After I record the vocals, I re-mold the beat around my melodies and lyrics and then polish, polish, polish…
Do you think you would have gotten involved in the music industry, if your friends and the current A&R management at Interscope Records, Evan Schoenbrun, didn’t encourage you to do it when you played your first songs to them?
Music is without a doubt part of my destiny. I would have eventually entered my career path as an entertainer but it honestly would’ve taken me longer to do that without a spark. It could’ve been a month or even a year later in self-reflection. I think we all have a moment when the switch is flicked and for me, that was the support of my immediate artist community.
You’ve said that Frank Ocean, Bob Marley, Daft Punk, The Weeknd and Duke Dumont have the biggest influence on your sound. How do you wish to influence people through your music and what messages do you aim to send to your fans?
My goal is to be 110% honest with my music and lyrics. I want to show my struggles but also my good times to let fans know that life is a journey. There are ups and there are downs but there is also beauty. We are moulded by our experiences and regardless of what has happened to each one of us we should feel liberated in how unique we are. I want my fans to become more confident, loving and open-minded through my music. By giving them a window into my world I’m hoping they can ride the wave of my perspective on life.
You’ve shared that the ocean, nighttime and your relationships inspire you to create music, but with so many mainstream musicians, how do you manage to successfully mix the New Age African roots with funk and pop sounds?
My Dad LOVES MUSIC. I was raised on Nigerian classics from Fela Kuti to P-Square so I literally have a West African rhythm in my DNA from the way I move my body to the beats that I like. I naturally gravitate towards tribal drums, shakers and other West African instruments and their derivatives. When you take these sounds and combine them with modern ones, like guitars and synths, you get a rhythmic new age feel almost as if you’re in New York City but simultaneously in the Caribbean. That’s what I’m going for. I want my fans to feel like they’re coasting on a spaceship to Saturn while feeling that vibe of a 14th century West African tribal band.
Do you ever fear that your audience wouldn’t like the music you release and what do you keep in mind when creating it?
I create music as an expression of my soul and with any expression comes critique. Not everyone’s gonna like my shit and I’m cool with that. I thank God I already got a thick skin from the modelling industry but nonetheless, if my music can hit just 10 people in a room of 1000 my job is done.
Your single “Let the Good Times Roll” is now on Spotify. How long did it take you to record it and what is the inspiration behind the text and the melody?
It’s crazy, I started writing the lyrics in November. I was out in Malibu at my best friend’s house on a cliff overlooking a beautiful beach that stretches from Point Dume. The energy in Malibu is lower than in Hollywood because there are fewer people and the town is more relaxed so it really lets me calm down and navigate the waters of songwriting much better. I was feeling some Sean Paul vibes but also the brooding energy of Lana Del Rey in the beat. After 8 hours, I had finished the lyrics and I hit the Pacific Coast Highway heading back to Hollywood. The sun was setting, the stars were beginning to glow then I passed a lounge with an electric neon blue sign that read Moonshadows. Behind it hung a gaping crescent moon and a surge of melodies and rhythms immediately came over me. I turned on my voice memo recorder and belted out all the new words and feelings that came over me. They were all rooted in the idea of millennial love and how trivial it can be. People work so hard to have the upper hand in texting and not show that they care while holding back their insecurities but in the end, we all want to stop ‘playing the game’, break loose and let the good times roll [hopefully some great sex too ;) ]. This all came to me within ten minutes of seeing the venue I refer to as the “Moonshadow dark blue lounge”. I threw away the old lyrics, ran with it and here we are 5 months later!
You’ve been modelling since you were 14 and have been the face of campaigns for brands like Hugo Boss and Nike. What is modelling to you and is there anything in the industry you would like to change if you could?
I came from such a small town that I would see a campaign or a magazine and not even be able to comprehend the idea of modelling as a career or that there was a whole industry behind the picture that lay before me. For me, modelling started as a way to learn more about the world and to express myself in a new way. Through editorials, you can showcase trends and ideas through really cool narratives. I do love modelling. The landscape is really starting to shift but I wish the industry was more open to a variety of colours and sizes. I’ve experienced my fair share of racism and discrimination especially being a young black model. I learned how to defend myself against 40-year-old agents trying to screw me over or creepy photographers but I have a very optimistic view of the industry. As a storyteller, however, I must say I much more prefer music and acting as my vehicle. I think they’re mediums that provide a full-on sensory experience which hits much harder and provides a deeper engagement with my fans.
What is your favourite side of acting? Which of the films you’ve been part of so far was the hardest one to shoot and why?
My favourite part of acting is not judging the character. The audience will say things like “Wow, she is soooo bitchy” but the character doing those things does not think she is bitchy AT ALL. She literally is just acting within the constructs of her personality, experiences and what she believes is the right way to go about things. I never judge my characters and it allows me to be a much more empathetic person. It also forms me into the objective man I strive to be. I recently did a short film out in Long Beach, California called 1.20.17 that covers the feeling many minority groups in America felt on inauguration day. A feeling of the unknown. A feeling of fear and abstract danger. The difficulty lied in it being shot in a single take so I had to have all my lines, cues, and position in time while remaining spontaneous and natural. Single takes are really cool because they draw the viewer in, but it was a definitely new and challenging.
The cover of your album is quite artistic. Were you involved in its creation and to what extent do you think the artwork represents you as an artist and an individual?
I made it up myself! I have a lot of Photoshop experience from growing up in the industry. I didn’t have any references but in retrospect, it draws upon pieces like Chance the Rappers’ Acid Rap and Azealia Banks’ Broke With Expensive Taste. I was going for cut and paste collage aesthetic with the universe, wavelengths and energy as my main sources of raw inspiration as an artist. If you notice closely there’s a dragon lying by my head which is my spirit animal. I have several dragon rings I wear on me all the time and the dragon symbolises my most confident, empowered and tenacious self.
What are your future career aspirations in the modelling, acting and music aspect?
I will always be modelling for brands and doing PR as an actor and musician so I don’t really have supermodel goals. As an actor, I can’t wait to be a recurring character on a TV show and star in my first feature film. And as a musician, my next moves are to continue releasing great music, build out my team that will help my sound fly and eventually start going on tour so I can share it with a greater audience!
What have you learned as an artist that you would never forget and perhaps would wish to share with others?
Be YOU and be you RELENTLESSLY. You are enough. You were formed on Earth at a specific point in time and space where the distance between you and millions of planets, stars and galaxies and their effect on you was completely unique. There is no one else like you and that is your greatest weapon. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men and women with talent. So find a passion that you would do for free and go after it ‘till you execute it with excellence. Getting paid for that passion is just icing on the cake.
To stay up to date with Uche's career, following him on Instagram @UcheUba. This article was exclusively produced for Stark Magazine Chapter - Se7en, which can be purchased in Digital and Print from our shop here!