Nonzo Bassey’s Songs of Heartbreak

On his debut album Diary of a Loverboy, the Nigerian singer and actor channels frustration, anger, and love.
Nonzo Bassey's Songs of Heartbreak

Nonzo Bassey wrote his album from "the honeymoon fantasy, pandemic loneliness, and heartbreaking end" of a relationship. Image supplied.

Nonzo Bassey’s Songs of Heartbreak

For Nonzo Bassey, life took a sharp turn three years ago, when his mother died. He then suffered a severe romantic heartbreak and financial turmoil. Everything, he felt, was crashing down on him. “Life was showing me sege,” he told me. The pain became a spur for introspection and deliberate decision-making, and he pushed all of that frustration and anger into the five songs that became Diary of a Loverboy, his debut album as an independent artiste, which was released last December.

Bassey gained notability as a contestant on The Voice Nigeria in 2016, where his intense, swaggering cover of Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose” earned a four-chair turn from the superstar judges: Waje, Timi Dakolo, TuFace, and Patoranking. He signed to Universal Music Group Nigeria and released two well-received singles, “411” and “For You.” The singer Ric Hassani praised his voice in a tweet:

“If you’re talking about vocal range, n don’t call Nonso Bassey, Wade Coal, then you have no idea what you’re talking about. . . .”

In 2021, he made his film debut in Mildred Okwo’s La Femme Anjola, as a young stockbroker and trumpeter who falls in love with his band’s lead singer, played by Rita Dominic. His performance was widely praised. Zikoko named it the best Nollywood acting performance of the year. In his Open Country Mag review, Kanyinsola Olorunnisola wrote:

Bassey, in his big screen debut, is saddled with the task of going toe-to-toe with arguably the best actor in Nollywood. He does that with great success: he gives Dejare a boyish charm, cool, and charisma that make him magnetic. It is one of the best male performances in recent memory.

Later that year, he received an Africa Movie Academy Award (AMAAs) nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

Nonzo Bassey - Diary of a Loverboy

Nonzo wrote Diary of a Loverboy from 2019 to 2022, after leaving his music label. His plan was to chronicle his last relationship: “the honeymoon fantasy, pandemic loneliness, and the heartbreaking end.” The lead single “Toyo,” sung in his native Ibibio, came from a place of anger.

It was also as a result of his mother’s passing that he decided to rebrand from Nonso Bassey to Nonzo Bassey, the “z” a homage to his mother’s fondness for his other name, Anozuma.

Here, the singer, actor, dancer, model, and TV and event host shares a bit about his life, the making of Diary of a Loverboy, the intersection of his talents, and the future.

What inspired your change of name from Nonso Bassey to Nonzo Bassey? Your X handle spells it out: “Nonzo with a Z.”

Thank you, Orji Victor, for this chat. What’s different about Nonzo? You see, I have three names: Chukwunonso, Bassey, and Anozuma. These names kinda represent different aspects of my artistic persona: Nonso is the singer, Bassey the actor, and Anozuma the mysterious dancer. (The latter is also my mother’s favourite name for me).

But I became shy about my dancing when I moved to Lagos in 2012. After my mom died in 2021, I decided to honour her by living more fully and intentionally. So I took the z from Anozuma and replaced the s in Nonso with it. And Nonzo Bassey was born: the onstage persona, triple threat trifecta: singer, actor, and dancer.

Congratulations on releasing Diary of a Loverboy. It is beautiful. What inspired it?

Thank you. The simple answer is, I have always had the habit of keeping journals. And in writing this album about my life and relationship from 2019 till 2022, the ups, the downs, the honeymoon fantasy, pandemic loneliness, and the heartbreaking end, it made sense to give it that name.

You’ve said that you wrote the lead single, “Toyo,” in a period of personal and professional darkness; you said: “I experienced so much loss and desperation from 2019 to 2021; relationships, career opportunities, my car, and then my mom.” What does “remembering” — which is the English translation — these losses mean to you currently?

I wrote “Toyo” because I was angry. Life was showing me shege, personally and professionally. I was broke, motherless, and recently single. But I’m not angry anymore. Now I just want to be ridiculously happy. I will always remember where I come from and what I’ve been through, because it keeps me grounded and focused, present and enjoying every moment of life. People look at me and think I’m a player. But they don’t know that I’m loyal. I try to learn from all my experiences. 

What inspired the vibe of “Romance”?

“Romance” is a true story of a time when I was still desperate to “blow.” I met one sweet mommy who offered to sponsor my musical career in exchange for sex. Could I do it? Hmmm. Anyway, musically, I was inspired by sounds from my childhood in Calabar, where I was surrounded by Efik and Igbo melodies, highlife and native South-South music, as well as classic rock, jazz, pop, R&B, reggae, and gospel. With “Romance,” I wanted the album to reflect a bit of that rich memory.

What would you say finishing as a top eight finalist on The Voice Nigeria did for you as an artist?

Being on The Voice Nigeria definitely gave me a grand introduction to the spotlight, one I will always be grateful for, especially as a performing artiste. I got to go to South Africa, meet Tuface Idibia, Waje, Timi Dakolo, and my guy Pato! Our season was fire. Chike and I dazzled. Brenda. Cornell. DNA Twins. Dewé. Vicky Gomoti with the beautiful voice. I will forever look back on that era with fondness and gratitude.

Who are your musical influences?

Some of my general influences are P-Square, Aaliyah, Flavor, Janet Jackson, Fally Ipupa, and Awilo Logomba, among others. But I listened to a lot of different sounds growing up. As a praise leader in church, both in Calabar and at Covenant University, I had Kirk Franklin, Mary Mary, and Cece Winans as my favourite gospel influences, especially for expressing soul and learning vocal techniques. [Princess Njideka’s] Akanchawa album was like my crack. I also remember that Kate Henshaw had an album of gospel songs around the 2000s. That was my jam. The secular acts did it for me when it comes to artistry, stage presence, and songwriting.

You’re a singer, an actor, and a dancer. How do the three intersect in your life? Which do you find yourself most drawn to? Does any of them teach you something about the other?

Yes, all these disciplines feed into each other for me. At the core, I love to create and perform. Music taught me to manipulate words and sounds to create a feeling or effect in people. Acting taught me how to communicate with truth and conviction using my face, voice, and body. Dancing teaches me discipline and how to use movement to convey and communicate meaning without saying a word.

I started singing and acting in church and school. I definitely had more practice as a singer because I am a trained and anointed minister. Weekly Sunday services, choir rehearsals. I put in more time, love, practice, and confidence as a singer. I also wrote songs and stories, joined my secondary school dance group, ran in my school’s track and field team, and also led the debate club. I honestly didn’t think I would start acting professionally until my 40s or 50s, but life happens in unexpected ways.

La Femme Anjola was your breakout role. You are currently starring in African Magic Showcase’s Unscripted. Could you provide insight into the format of Unscripted?

Basically, Unscripted is a 13-part series that parodies the popular reality TV show Big Brother. I play the host Frank Priye Douglas, our own “Ebuka Obi-Uchendu of Big Brother Naija.” LOL. In Season 1, all the contestants come together for the first reunion show. There is delicious chaos, jaw-dropping drama, panic, and pandemonium.

What coming projects are you most excited about?

I don’t know what tomorrow brings. I just know that I will meet it with faith, excitement, and gratitude. I used to be such an anxious planner, but I’ve been learning to breathe, to trust God, meditate, enjoy the process, and not stress about things beyond my control. I am not here because I’m the richest, most connected, or most special. God has been good to me. I released my first album. I am excited to promote it. It’s gotten me divine meetings. Having beautiful chats like this one. Up next, I work with more artists, producers, and writers to expand my sound and make more bangers for the market. These dollars need to be made, period! ♦

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In writing this album about my life and relationship, the ups, the downs, the honeymoon fantasy, pandemic loneliness, and the heartbreaking end, it made sense to give it that name.

...

I was surrounded by Efik and Igbo melodies, highlife and native South-South music, as well as classic rock, jazz, pop, R&B, reggae, and gospel. I wanted the album to reflect a bit of that rich memory.

Victor Ebubechukwu Orji

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