Courtesy of Bloody Civilian
For all of its notoriety as a charmingly extroverted city, Lagos has turned Bloody Civilian into an introvert. In Abuja, the hilly, verdant capital city of Nigeria where the Afropop artist grew up, Bloody was considerably outgoing. On any given day, she could get in her car and drive for hours on the city’s wide, traffic-jam-free roads to see friends, ride horses, and hang at the park.
“I don't think you want to get involved in the Lagos version of that, cos you'll be stuck in traffic for hours,” she tells Teen Vogue over Zoom, her voice calm but slightly disaffected, straddling a gentle drawl.
Abuja’s serenity made it easy to enjoy quiet moments with her friends. In this way, the Grammy-nominated Nigerian producer and singer grew up cocooned in the softness of a strong community, a social quality that’s hard to come by in Lagos's fast-paced spectacle. Many of the activities that were once within arms reach back home, now require immense commitment to actualize due to Lagos’s disarming chaos.
But that hasn’t deterred Bloody from a career standpoint, if anything it is a source she now draws from. “People in Lagos are very driven and they have a hunger for the things that they want to accomplish, and that can be quite inspiring,” she admits. At 25, Bloody Civilian has quickly become one of the fastest-rising acts out of the Nigerian music industry, coming up alongside stars like Brazy and Ayra Starr who are challenging and introducing new soundscapes to the scene.
While many might assume that Bloody Civilian (born Emoseh Angela Khamofu) only began to blow up when she moved to Lagos two years ago, she has been making music since she was 12. Her supportive creative community in Abuja nurtured a free-spiritedness within her, as well as an approach to music making that she has described as wondrously “childlike.” “The support [I had from my] Abuja people was when my music sounded like trash,” she says, chuckling. “Lagos waits for you to be refined. In Abuja, we were climbing the stage and singing with not a single note hit.”
Bloody Civilian’s career has been helmed by auspicious timing, an indisputable sense of self — her online persona oscillates between parodic trolling, and occasional social commentary all undergirded by a sharp sense of humor — and a propensity towards reclamation of what has hurt her. The memories and experiences that have caused her pain often find themselves, sharpened, reframed, and held in her hands as alternatively weapon and shield.
Take her stage name Bloody Civilian, for example. The term is typically used by Nigerian military officials to address everyday Nigerians in a derogatory manner. It was also a prevalent term in the Northern Nigerian state of Taraba where she was born. At the time, Taraba was troubled with unrest and terrorism, forcing Bloody’s family to flee to Abuja. She chose that term as her artist name to strip it of its insinuations. Her thinking being that if people can come to associate the term with something less derogatory, it could shift how it is generally engaged with and used, which is typically to regard everyday Nigerians as less than.
Growing up, Bloody remembers fond memories of her father taking the family swimming every Sunday, a snapshot of a childhood she describes as “very beautiful,” yet slightly soured by the traumatic experiences her parents couldn’t shield her away from. “As a kid, I experienced sexual assault, verbal abuse, physical abuse, and that all came from people that were entrusted with my care,” she says.
These experiences, she says, combined with the grueling reality of being a young woman in Nigeria and the normalization of this kind of abuse, as well as the misogynistic practices in the country, needed an outlet to be expressed. And while it was poetry at first, which turned to music lyrics, all of her creative pursuits have led towards making music. Bloody remembers graduating high school with a book filled with almost a thousand songs she had written; songs that trap specific moments in her life.
Bloody’s work is enriched by her keen attention to the tasking and confusing business of being young and Nigerian. Her first two songs, “How To Kill A Man,” and “I Don’t Like You,” are both bouncy, Afropop tracks she produced herself; they appear lighthearted and playful from their beats but house an intense, sometimes dark, but ultimately reflective gaze towards matters of friendships and love.
Excellent at delivering sharp, biting lyrics, Bloody leaves little doubt that she has something to say and that she knows exactly how she wants it delivered. It’s a skill that is tricky to pull off when discussing issues as mundane as a nosy aunty stifling your freedom and individuality — a theme she deftly tackles alongside religion and family dynamics in the song “Family Meeting,” off her debut EP Anger Management. As a child, Bloody read books by African authors and now cites the Nigerian R&B and indie pop singer Asa as musical inspiration. Put together, it makes sense where she gets her knack for immersive storytelling from. Bloody Civilian’s songs are often replete with imagistic details and a slightly gossipy quality that makes them hard to pull away from. Asa, who is also a master at this, often uses seemingly humdrum stories of burning mountains or an unclaimed pregnancy to excavate socio-cultural concerns.
Before Bloody even released a debut single, or her EP Anger Management in 2023 and its remixed version, Anger Management: At Least We Tried, later that year, she produced and was featured as an artist on the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever film soundtrack, which earned her a Grammy nomination. “I never thought I could be a part of anything like this,” she says about her nomination. “And when I found out I was nominated I was definitely super shocked but very excited and very hopeful for the future.” Her song “Wake Up” on the soundtrack features Rema and finds her silky yet nearly deep voice motivating herself over a minimalist, Afro-pop beat.
“I don’t think Bloody has counterparts,” says Seni Saraki, Bloody’s manager and the co-founder of Native Records. “She is an incredibly unique artist, she sounds like herself and that’s the most difficult thing to do in music.”
Saraki, alongside Ludwig Göransson, worked on the Black Panther soundtrack with Bloody Civilian. As a producer, Saraki calls Bloody a producer’s producer. “She’s very intentional about having a particular soundscape,” he says.
With many feats already under her belt in such a short time in her career, Bloody Civilian is still focusing on the work. She’s currently making a project that she says taps deeper into a well of rawness, far deeper than anything she has produced so far. “I’ll honestly just like to be way more stripped back and honest and raw,” she says. “I want to get some realness and rawness in, it feels like everyone is numb right now with how the world is. It feels like there’s loss of lives, and I really just want something that can reflect how the times feel.”
This sentiment also fits into the phase of life that she is in now. With so much more in store for Bloody, having established a sound of her own and a work that shifts form and defies thematic rules, Bloody is sure that anything could happen at any moment.
She’s braced herself for it. “This phase of my life feels quite interesting,” she says. “It feels different, sometimes uncomfortable but I’m making the most of every moment.”
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue
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