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Big Ideas: One man showFebruary 12, 2018

Nonso Amadi, Afro R&B singer songwriter and McMaster grad is turning heads and hearts in Canada. And he’s doing it his way.

A man walks through the busy streets of downtown Hamilton to deliver a letter. He can spot the bright red Canada Post box a few blocks away. It stands out like a beacon, reminding him of someone who misses him back home.

On the way he admires colourful graffiti on aging brick walls. He catches a lonely figure’s gaze on a street corner and offers a smile.

He places the letter carefully into the slot. When she opens the letter she will see a list of Canadian radio stations that play his songs. He hopes that when she hears his voice, she will feel closer to him.  

Nonso Amadi’s song, “Radio” paints this love story. The song is one of many that are resonating with people across Canada and internationally.

“My songs share life experiences that relate to the heart,” he explains.

With over 2M streams of his latest hit, “Tonight” on Spotify, 1.7M YouTube video views for the same song and 30K followers on Instagram, this Hamilton-based singer-songwriter, producer and McMaster Engineering graduate is a rising Canadian pop star.

The growing attention Amadi has received within the past two years is overwhelming for him at times, but the inspiring messages he receives from fans affirms he is following the right path.

Following the release of the song, “Tonight” in 2016, he received an outpouring of messages from fans. One fan told him his music helped her through a difficult time in her life. “Seeing how I was actually changing someone’s life by doing what I love. It made me feel like I need to be, you know, doing this for life. I need to be doing this forever.”

A style that sticks

Nonso started teaching himself how to make Afrobeat music at age 15 in his hometown of Lagos, Nigeria. He grew up in an environment with a strict focus on education so he quietly crafted music on the side. It wasn’t until he moved to Swansea, Wales at age 18 that things started to change.

“I saw Nigerian kids who came from the same background and were making music, and doing what they loved and just having fun with it. That shifted my mind and I started making music that was a lot different than what I was making in Lagos. It had a softer, R&B feel.”

Amadi attended Swansea University where he received his undergraduate degree in chemical engineering in 2014. He moved to Canada in 2016 to pursue graduate studies.

“Coming to Canada helped me gain an understanding of my style of music by watching the top artists here like the The Weeknd and Drake. I never had that style prior to coming to Canada because I didn't know how to stick to something. Since coming here, my music has more exposure. It’s a blend of everything.”

Carving an independent path

Hundreds of fans surround a bright, white stage, singing in unison with Amadi to his hit song, “Tonight” at his first concert in Lagos, Nigeria this past December. A video clip that captured the moment received over 23K views and 139 comments on his Instagram page.

He posts content regularly to his social media channels, something he does independently in addition to songwriting, performing, recording and booking shows.

Amadi self-released his first EP, Alone in 2016 and will drop his second EP in July. Record labels have tried to tempt him into signing a record deal but he’s cautious. He’s holding out for something bigger.

“I am willing to commit to label only when the business terms are right from all angles. I wish to start my own label when I am accomplished enough to help other artists in my position. That could happen soon.”

Amadi credits the Master in Engineering Design program at the W Booth School of Engineering Practice and Technology for arming him with the professional skills to be his own boss.

“It's not just come and read textbooks and, you know, pour out what you've read. It's life lessons you can take with you. I remember doing two to three presentations a week. When I put together a presentation for a meeting I had recently I used what I learned at McMaster and it blew my mind because I didn't know that was going to happen. Don't ever underestimate the things you can learn at university.”

Amadi performed the challenging balancing act of pursuing a music career while completing his degree. The support he received from W Booth staff, faculty and fellow classmates encouraged him to keep going.

“They could see I was doing music, and they were actually listening to my songs. They understood I had that balance. So, I'm really glad that that worked out for both sides.”

Giving back his blessings

Lately, you might find Amadi strolling into your local Hamilton coffee joint, waiting to feel that spark inspiration for his next hit song. He calls the city home as he anticipates more opportunities for success in Canada in 2018.

“I am trying to widen my reach here. This year I hope to have a lot more shows and interviews – a lot more of everything.”

Despite his recent whirlwind of success and a schedule that’s quickly filling up with shows and recording sessions, Amadi makes sure to dedicate his time to another important area of his life. He challenged himself to help at least 5,000 people over 10 years.

“There's only so much you can take, and then when you're gone, you can't take it with you. So, I believe while I’m in this moment of receiving blessings, I should reciprocate those blessings by giving back to others.”

“I don't just want to give someone money and say I've helped them. That's not right. What I really want to do is help someone get to a level where they can cope on their own. I could help someone find a job or help them learn a new skill. That's the kind of help I mean. Something that's sustainable.” 

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