Toyin Sokefun-Bello, popularly known as TY Bello, is a singer, songwriter and photographer. Born in Ogun State, she obtained a degree in Economics from the University of Lagos, and briefly practised journalism before taking photography as a career. Prior to pursuing a solo career, she was a member of the now defunct gospel band, Kinetically Ushering Salvation into Hearts and Homes (KUSH). TY Bello is also a member of the Nigerian photography collective, Depth of Field. She is best known for her singles, ‘Greenland’, ‘Ekundayo’, ‘This Man’, ‘Freedom’ and ‘Funmise’.
She started photography when her band disbanded, a time when photography was not taught as a profession. She went on to create an enabling environment and platforms for upcoming photographers to showcase their work. TY Bello, who has photographed three sitting presidents, was official photographer for former President Goodluck Jonathan. In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, she shares her passion for photography and her latest album.
What is your take on the appreciation of photography and its art?
What’s exciting is that in Nigeria it is good to know that we are in the season where creativity is rising in a new way. It is no longer like an option. Before, when I started and became a photographer, creativity was always a second option. But realising that for the future, creativity is the way to go, everything else has been made a second option. It is good to see that photography is a language that everybody speaks now. Without owning a camera, just your phone and you are a photographer. And it’s beautiful to see this because Nigerians are people that reach for the highest, by nature. It feels good to see that the average Nigerian is beginning to understand visual languages better. It has now become part of our culture. So, I’m really excited.
At what point did you decide you wanted to do music?
It was at the same time. I think both my photography and my music careers started in 2000 at exactly the same time. It was like I was working on two things at once. And I’ve been looking for a way to juggle between the two. It is very hard but that has been my life.
What inspires your kind of music?
For me, singing is like talking, and a lot of the music that I make is just sincere. I try to make sure that the words that come out of my mouth, everything that I feel inside me, comes out naturally. It’s not me necessarily trying to be emotional. I just try to be sincere.
How do you define your style?
I don’t think I’ve defined my style. I’m just rolling. I guess I’m comfortable. I try to keep it comfortable and easy, and I don’t like to think about what I wear too much. I keep it very simple so that it’s not another thing I have to think about.
You have this signature eyebrow that you wear comfortably. What informed it?
I think everybody should respect his or her brows. If God gives you a little, rock it. If God gives you a lot, enjoy it. I think the most important thing is that I found out that we do very well when we don’t over augment what’s already on our faces. So I just try to stay comfortable with what I have. My brows don’t do very well when you shave them, they just grow right back, so I stopped bothering with it, a long time ago.
How is motherhood treating you?
It’s just wonderful.
How would you describe yourself?
I guess I’m just living life, loving God and finding my way.
I remember your time with KUSH. How would you say you have evolved?
Daily. Like I always say, I’m always finding my way. I find out that life is a gift, and we don’t know anything. We learn as we go along with each day. So I keep my mind open and I follow my heart.
What else should we be expecting from you?
More work on music and photography. I came out with a new album recently. It is titled ‘We Are Fire’ and it’s a session that I had with some really creative and young musicians and I’m excited that we could share our hearts. I also do a lot of collaborations with other people including Tope Alabi.
Most of your music in recent times is spiritual in nature. Are you a pastor?
No. I’m not. I just love God.
What’s your message to young photographers looking up to you?
I say keep pushing, the world is your audience. When you do good work, it’s not just your neighbours or your friends watching, it’s the entire world. So keep pushing, you never know what will happen.