It’s a scorching hot afternoon in the middle of June. I’ve just made my way to an establishment in the heart of Lekki, Lagos to meet up with Janas for our preplanned interview. After numerous phone calls, messages and a location change, we’re finally settled and ready to go. Sat directly opposite me, Janas appears unassuming yet very enthusiastic about our conversation. He’s a couple of days removed from the release of his first single of the year – “Do your thing” so I understand the eagerness to get into the conversation
“I’ve only done this type of interview once before and it was over Zoom,” he says, further buttressing why he’s very keen on our conversation.
Born Ayowole Olofinjana In Lagos Island but now known professionally as ‘Janas’, he got his start in music as an instrumentalist in Church. To date, he still plays at one of Lagos’ foremost mega-churches!
“Lagos Island is a volatile place, if you’re not careful you could easily end up in the wrong place and get in trouble,” I remarked as we got into the conversation about his upbringing. Lagos Island or “Isale Eko” is perhaps one of the most accurate representations of the city of Lagos as a whole. It’s an extremely busy place filled with the hustle and bustle of the city that never sleeps. This is where Janas was born and raised.
He alludes to an understanding of the volatile nature of the city but makes it clear that from an early age, he had a good head on his shoulders, thus he was able to avoid being drawn into it. Till today, you can see the evidence of that in how he answers every question with a measured approach but still gives enough detail to give you a holistic perspective. A trait that is also pretty evident in his music.
Most artists tend to be heavily influenced by the things in their immediate surroundings. Janas is not left out. Growing up in Lagos Island meant that Janas was exposed very early to the sound of Fuji Music blasting loud on street corners. “I hated Fuji,” he says, but now he understands how hearing that music as a youngster may have influenced him subconsciously.
A graduate of the University of Lagos, Janas went through school with one main objective; getting the best grades. Despite Unilag being one of the foremost hubs for creatives in Lagos, Janas did not necessarily immerse himself in that culture. ‘A lot of my time was spent in the library’ he says with immense conviction, which passes across the message that he would not change a single thing if he had to do it all over again.
However, by his admission even while in the library it was challenging to get away from creativity completely. He spent a lot of his time off campus frequenting a studio in Yaba with a bunch of his friends. The time spent in that studio was essential to his formation as an artist and a producer. Along with his friends and some other artists, they created a collective of creatives including artists and producers.
At this point Janas was a keen observer and not an active participant; being in studio sessions with so many creatives and soaking up ‘game’ provided him with invaluable experience for the future to come.
In primary school, Janas picked up the recorder and the trajectory of his life changed forever. As most instrumentalists do, he moved gradually from one instrument to the other, picking up the Saxophone along the way and eventually settling with the guitar which is now his bread and butter.
From my experience of talking to instrumentalists within the industry, there is often discontent with being relegated to the background for the artist’s sake. This isn’t something Janas can relate to. For him, he is keen on simply putting out music as a solo artist and performing as an instrumentalist for other artists. In fact, he excitedly tells me about a gig he played over the weekend for another artist right after the release of his own song. He positions himself as a pure artist first and foremost. One who lives, breathes and eats music, with everything else that comes with it as secondary.
While many instrumentalists, turned singers have to transition from one to the other, Janas is simply just doing what he has always done, there was no transition. He started writing music early, so perhaps this gives him an advantage that many of his contemporaries lack.
As far as the sound of his music goes, Janas is in a unique position. Being an instrumentalist allows him to perceive music in a way that most artists do not. His disposition is akin to that of American Singer and Saxophonist – Masego who he lists as an influence. Fela, Rema, and Sarz are a couple of names that roll off his tongue when I enquire about artists he is inspired by. A trio that you’ll probably never hear listed together. This speaks to the uniqueness of Janas’ ear and ultimately translates into the music he makes.
Janas is cautious about how he describes his music. He’s not a big fan of the use of ‘Afro’ as a prefix to qualify a genre as in ‘Afrobeats’ By his definition, his music can simply be defined as ‘Fusion’.
The core of everything he does has African sounds as the bedrock, but the beauty is in that he has no limitations to build whatever world he decides to through music. Recently, Janas says he’s been working on creating House and Jazz music; the man has a sonic palette and appetite like non-other. We all should be excited about the music Ayo Olifinjana has coming.
DO YOUR THING
On his latest release Janas channels this fusion through production by taking inspiration from Brazilian funk! After immersing himself in that genre for a short while, the infectious nature of its sound persuaded him to create. For him, this particular sound is most likely going to be a one-off as he doesn’t see himself revisiting it soon. However, while it’s here, everyone must listen! “Do your thing” is a song primarily about freedom. He posits that people should be able to express themselves in the best way that they deem worthy. It also tells the tale of a potential lover, who is independent. Janas praises her for her autonomy. “Do your thing” is the perfect example of a healthy marriage between sonics and message. It makes for an easy listen while passing across an extremely timely message. Janas is joined by Dopsy Flow, who delivers an immaculate second verse to complement Janas’ flow.
In the same vein, the accompanying music video passes across the simplistic nature of the song to a tee. You should definitely check it out here. It’s the best 3 Minutes and 15 seconds you’ll spend today. With the release of this song, Janas is definitely on his way up. His general disposition and understanding of sounds are the ingredients needed to be around for a very long time. The world is his stencil. I’m curious to see what kind of portraits he will be painting over the next couple of years and you should be curious too!