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In Conversation with Bikôkô
Creating music and bonds

In honor of Women’s History Month, aeyde is celebrating female voices. For International Women’s Day, London-based emerging vocalist Neï Lydia held a special performance on our IG Live and shared a female-led playlist with us. Artistically known as Bikôkô, the rising singer hailing from Barcelona is making waves with her latest EP, Aura Aura, a self-produced album that offers an intimate glimpse into the musical moods coloring her daily life. We spoke to Neï about growing up in an artistic environment, the inspiring women who have influenced her, and what motivates her to make music. Meet Bikôkô.

Words: Charmaine Li
"The women I have the closest in my day-to-day life are my mother and two grandmothers—they've been my biggest role models."
aeyde: How did you know you wanted to pursue music as a career? Was there a key moment when you just knew that this was what you’d do with your life?

Bikôkô: Growing up, I was a very shy kid and for a long time, I only sang alone in my bedroom, like in the corner so no one could hear me. My dad's a musician, so I've always been very in touch with music, and my mom's an actress—so from a young age, I’ve seen that it was possible to make a living from just art. My parents were always encouraging me to explore my creative sides, but I didn't like being exposed like that. When I was 13 or 14, I started becoming more interested in music and I thought that I wanted to go on like The X Factor, or something [laughs], but then I realized that wasn't for me. After a while of considering other things, I just couldn't see myself doing anything else other than music, so I thought, 'At least I'm going to try it because if I don't, I'm going to regret it.'

a: It sounds like you grew up in a very artistic environment. How do you think this upbringing influenced your work?

B: I don't know if it shaped my art because I don't really control the music that I make. I think whatever comes out, comes out. I've definitely been influenced by music that my dad or mom played around the house, which was a vast variety, but the main way it influenced me is that I've never felt pressured to do anything else. I have friends that wanted to pursue music, but their parents told them, 'Oh, it's risky. Maybe you should go to university and then once you've done something else you can do music on the side.' My parents were always like, 'If you know it's what you're going to do and you're sure, you go ahead.' I'm very grateful for that. Not a lot of artists have unconditional support from their families. I know that if something goes wrong, I can go back home, and start over—I have food and I have a roof over my head. It's allowed me to be creative in all aspects of my life without any restrictions.

a: What are some of your earliest memories of music that have impacted your life – personally or professionally?

B: I listened to a mix of different kinds of music around the house like my dad played anything from classical music to Miles Davis and John Coltrane while my mother used to love Cuban music. And yes, I liked the music that was being played and used to sing along with my parents but what really made me become in touch with music more than anything else was playing with my dad. We used to always make up songs, the silliest songs. I would make up a song about my cat doing weird stuff or about food that I liked. One of my earliest memories is being with my dad while he's strumming on the guitar. He was just playing and finding random chords that went with what I was singing. At one moment, I remember thinking, 'How does he know what chords to play next?' He was probably strumming something basic that goes a bit with everything but I remember wanting to know how to do that. So I think the little things about my dad playing, or about people around me playing, made me curious about music.
"After a while of considering other things, I just couldn't see myself doing anything else other than music, so I thought, 'At least I'm going to try it because if I don't, I'm going to regret it.'"
a: You’re artistically known as Bikôkô, what is the story behind that name?

B: So, it's my last name. My dad's side of the family is from Cameroon and the tradition in our family is that every male child gets a different last name. People in the family usually attribute a different last name to every male descendent so when they grow up and have their own individual families, their families will be known with that name. The name they're given often symbolizes something that is defined by their personality. For example, my dad is the youngest of seven siblings and Bikôkô means sunset. They gave him that name because the sunset kind of symbolizes the end of the day and my dad was like the ‘end of the children’. Since I’m a woman, I don't get a name because according to tradition when I get married, I would get my husband's name. I can really relate to my dad's name because I'm also the youngest out of my siblings and feel very connected with him since we both make music. I decided I wanted my artistic name to be something separate from Neï which is my name—and the name that my family and friends call me.

a: You released your first EP, Aura Aura, in January this year. What did it feel like to release such a personal project into the world?

B: It was scary but such a relief. I was so happy after I released it because I had been working on it for over a year and almost only by myself. I had shown the songs to my parents and like one friend but no one had really listened to it because I'm very picky and also insecure about showing my music when it's not done. I spent a lot of time just listening to songs over and over again, up to a point where I didn't even know if I liked them anymore. It was stressful but the moment I released it, a part of me was sad because it's kind of like my baby and now it's out in the world. It felt kind of scary, but after people listened to it and I got such amazing responses, it’s become one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had.

a: The idea of the project first came to you in September 2019. How did you find the process of working on it, especially since you produced it yourself? Can you talk a bit about some of the highs and lows of creating this EP?

B: Now that I look back on it, I'm very happy I decided to produce it by myself—I learned a lot. As a vocalist and artist, knowing how to produce is important because if I want to work with a producer later on, I can be more precise about what I want. I can also produce my own demos, which is useful. At the same time, producing my own stuff meant I had complete creative control and didn't have to adapt to what anyone else wanted, which was very good. Obviously, it was also challenging because I spent a lot of time alone in my bedroom just listening to songs over and over again—to a point where it became very tiring. As in every creative process, there were highs, there were lows, and there were days where I was more inspired and other days where I wasn't.

It was very challenging to stay motivated and to finish it. That's where my friends, family, and support system really played out their role in helping me. By sharing what I was doing and talking to them about how I was struggling, they helped me see that keeping up with what I was doing and not abandoning the project would be good for me in the end. I'm very grateful that I had them to support me through that.
"In every creative process, there were highs, there were lows, and there were days where I was more inspired and other days where I wasn't."
a: Zooming out a bit, can you talk about what you hope people take away from your music? What motivates you to create music?

B: I've been thinking a lot about that recently because, at first, if I do music, I'd say like most artists, it's a way to express myself. It's a means to say something that maybe I wouldn't say to anyone else but would still like to say, kind of like a diary. Of course, with a diary, you keep it to yourself and don't give it to other people to read, but with music, you do share it. So, you also have to take the listener into account. After releasing my first work, I got messages from people saying, 'I listened to your album before going to sleep—I have trouble going to sleep—and it's helped me so much.' I think it’s so magical that something I created out of a means to express myself can also help other people. I didn’t really plan much for this EP but for my next projects, especially when I'm able to do live performances, I'd love to include my audience in some way. Whether it's asking random people to record and send their vocals to me or picking someone from the public to sing with me during a performance, I'd love to create a bond and connect with my audience as much as possible.

a: For International Women’s Day, you did a special performance on aeyde’s IG Live and curated a playlist. Who are the inspiring women that have influenced your life and work?

B: The women I have the closest in my day-to-day life are my mother and two grandmothers—they've been my biggest role models. My dad used to tour a lot so when I was little my mom would take care of us, almost by herself. My mom would do everything. I used to look up to her like a superhero. My mother and all the women in my family have always been very encouraging and cultivated a healthy sense of community that made me feel like I could do anything and would always be welcome. I'm very grateful for that and for all that the women in my family have sacrificed. My grandmother was born in Cameroon and she moved with her seven children alone to France to give them a new life. My dad was then able to meet my mom and I have been able to live and grow up in Barcelona and have everything that I have. I will forever be grateful for what the women in my life have done for me.

At an artistic level, there are a lot of female artists that have influenced my work, many of which are in the playlist I made. Most of the music I listened to, especially when I was younger, was by women. Seeing my favorite artists perform also made me want to be like them. When I saw Erykah Badu performing to an audience with her pregnant belly, I was just like, ‘That's all I want in life.’

a: What are some of the characteristics that you most admire in the strong women in your life?

B: First and foremost, individuality. All the women in my life, as strong and powerful and independent as they are, are all very different. For example, my grandmother from my mom's side and my grandmother from my father's side are completely different. They grew up in very different environments and with different values and have different opinions on things, but they're able to embrace these differences and find common ground and build upon that. I find that very inspiring. I think, indirectly, this has influenced the way I approach conflict and solve problems in my day-to-day life. So I'm very grateful for that. I'd also say resilience. I see the women in my life as incredibly strong for everything that they've put up with and have sacrificed—and I really admire them for that.

Watch Bikôkô’s captivating live performance on @thisisaeyde and check out the playlist on our Spotify channel.
Six Perspectives “Qualities of Life”
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