Ah, lockdown- the mother of reinvention. For many, the opportunity to reintroduce oneself to the world took shape in a dodgy mullet or a knock-kneed embrace of roller skating.
For Anita Ikharo, it was the unveiling of a whole new name: EFÉ. “It was the perfect time to make a change,” she says of the decision. “I didn’t really want to go as Anita because there’s artists that are named Anita, or Anita Baker, like, actual legends.
“I’m not trying to compete so lemme just go and do my own thing! I was like ‘what do I do?’ because I still wanted whatever my stage name would be to relate to me.”
Table For Two
After a brief stint stylising her name as ‘Anxta’ (“I knew it was low-key cringe.”), she found a fit in EFÉ, a Nigerian nickname with an Irish twist. “My middle name is Efeilomo, I was like, ‘Let me bring my Irishness into this and put a fada there. It works because that’s how it would be pronounced anyway- but people don’t know how to pronounce it right.” (It’s pronounced ‘Eff-ay’, FYI.)
A lot has happened in the meantime. On the back of self-releasing her first EP ‘What Should We Do This Summer?’, the 21-year-old was picked up by Apple-owned London-based distributor Platoon, played her first festival at Dot to Dot, was announced as support for the European leg of Still Woozy’s tour, and her second EP (as-of-yet untitled) is in the works; all while in final year of Environmental Science at Trinity College.
“I hope I pull through and try to focus on college stuff so I don’t have to think of trying to juggle all of these things. I hope it’s gonna be fine but we’ll see.” Planning ahead, she chose extra classes earlier in the year to alleviate pressure over the next few months. “Fingers crossed that works for me.”
Self-described as “bedroom pop with a bit of indie pop, with experimental elements”, the names of Rex Orange County, Clairo and Zack Villere pop up as influences. “It’s an amalgamation of sounds, you can probably find something in my music. There’s been a lot of different artists.”
"Now I find that I still bring that whole online personality on stage, being very goofy, it's almost like a character I bring on stage."
Long before she became EFÉ, she was drawn to the appeal of bedroom pop. “I think originally I just wanted to make music videos, and the artists at the time, it was very DIY, you can do it yourself, and that kind of aesthetic was really cool to me.” she explains.
“I started making my songs and putting them out on my Instagram. It was more of the look and the aesthetic and the vision I can bring, rather than I want to perform live. It was more the presence and the aesthetic that I wanted to bring.”
And what kind of aesthetic is it exactly? “I love nature, I love pastel colours, and I don’t know how to explain. People call it ‘IndieGirl’- something that just looks cool!”
“Even without realising it, I was forming this following, before music.” EFÉ’s internet shenanigans had an unexpected beginning back in 2017 under the moniker RichTea, releasing “really stupid raps” like Gucci and Too Much Money on YouTube and Soundcloud. “I think that gave me a really nice foundation to release music, even though I had to steer away from doing things that were too goofy in case people didn’t take me seriously.”
EFÉ is worlds away from RichTea, under the latter she released skits like Gucci where she brags, ‘when I see you rocking Penney’s/ I’mma punch you and run’. Nevertheless it is this online presence that directly impacts the EFÉ of today. Enlisting the help of photographer boyfriend Adam Kelleher for visuals, those refreshingly goofy elements still linger in her content, and in particular, her on-stage persona.
“I feel like it really helped me in live stuff just making sure I’m myself on stage. Now I find that I still bring that whole online personality on stage, being very goofy, it’s almost like a character I bring on stage. I remember when I was rehearsing for the festivals, during rehearsal I was like ‘Oh my stage presence is terrible.
I can’t even speak. I dunno what to say between songs,’ but then on stage it just came out naturally, very outgoing, saying crazy stuff. People were laughing, I felt like a little comedian. I think having that online presence has helped just to know what to say, or how to be entertaining or how to fill the air.”
For EFÉ and her band – bassist Osazee and guitarist John Mullarkey – live performances have been few and far between. When we spoke, EFÉ’s last gig took place in between restrictions at The Workman’s Cellar alongside Negro Impacto, Bricknasty, and previous Plec Pick Shiv.
It was the unearthing of a 10-day-old email in EFÉ’s mailbox that led to their next big opportunity to perform to a larger and live crowd. One big scramble later – along with a weekend of nail biting – and they were confirmed as support for the European leg of Still Woozy’s If This Isn’t Nice Tour.
“Is this real, what is happening? We were shitting it, we did not know what was going on.” Even after making a public announcement, she still reacts with disbelief. “I don’t know how things are happening, even this happening, I’ve given nothing out to y’all this year.”
"It's about being sad but romanticising your life and things that make you feel down."
It’s just her luck so that the tour appears to align with her next release. Pushing for more details, she doesn’t want to give too much away. “I’m still working on how I can make the EP feel like a whole thing – just working on that to solidify it, then the rollout starts.”
What EFÉ can tell us is to expect more refined cuts. “There’s a bit of a budget now, it’s definitely going to be more elevated. I didn’t have that many music videos before, but I really want that to be the strong point of my releases, as well as the music. I feel like the music is already really cool so it’s just to make everything come together: the visual aspect needs to be really cool. I need to look cool and just feel cool!”
The pursuit of coolness is a noble one, but so is personal growth – both of which are expected to be abundant on the lo-fi artist’s future offering. “In terms of lyrics I think it’s more open, it’s more honest. I know my last EP was based on experiences, and I think I still carry that into the new EP where it’s talking about experiences, and just being very honest, and things I think people can relate to.”
Before Sunset is one such song, inspired by sadness and, of all things, fellow Trinity alum Moya Mawhinney‘s vlog on living and studying in Dublin’s fair city. “I was slacking last year during college. I started watching this YouTuber who also went to college and she was really romanticising her life, and for some reason it was like ‘OMG I’m going to college, I’m going to do what she’s doing. I went back to college and I was really into it, because of her and how she romanticized that college experience. It’s about being sad but romanticising your life and things that make you feel down.”
A pattern emerges when the names of two other tracks are revealed: Kiwi and Lime make EFÉ’s favourite colour startlingly obvious, when paired with the leafy backdrop while talking over Zoom, along with what seems like a lifelong grá for wearing green.
“The thing is they’re both green fruits, so I hope people don’t get confused. I might change Lime. But Kiwi is- hmm, what is that one about?” she pauses, “I kinda don’t know, I’m not gonna lie. It’s a very fun song, I think it shows a lot of my personality in it, and my ‘wittiness’ in a way,” she makes air quotes with her fingers, “It was a very fun song. It’s one of the upbeat songs too, it’s pretty cool, I hope.”
Since getting on board with Platoon, EFÉ has struggled to shake off her DIY mentality. What happens when you take the bedroom out of bedroom pop?
“First time I went to the studio I was trying to record and the studio is very nice, but maybe it’s a bit too nice. I was like ‘nun-uh, I wanna go home and do it in my bedroom by myself.’ I recorded there and I was just like ‘no, this isn’t it. I don’t think this is it.’ As soon as I got back home I recorded and was like ‘yup, perfect!’. Comfortability is key for making my music.”
For those that value ‘comfortability’, bedroom pop has been a safe haven. Having found her footing in a movement that prides itself on independence, it makes sense that she grapples with what many of her contemporaries have. She’s learning to trust both the people and the process, slowly but surely.
“The biggest thing has been trusting people, and not micromanaging everything. Since I released the EP by myself, I kinda knew the ins and outs of how things worked, so it took me a while to step back and let them do their job, rather than ‘Oh no, I don’t want this, I don’t want that da-da-da-da-da’. What I’ve had to really learn is that it’s a team effort, you guys know as much as I do and yeah. It’s a process.”
“At the end of the day it’s actually about the music and making sure that what you want- you’re working towards that. And you have people you can trust to go towards that direction rather than oh this person’s like ‘I can do this for you I can do that for you’ but they don’t live up to that. I had to learn that very early, it’s not always about the money, and ultimately it’s about the music that’s being made.
“I can’t just hit up Ariana Grande and be like ‘Hey, do you think this person is sketchy, or?’”, she laughs, “Beyoncé, this person – is what they’re saying true?’ You just have to go through it and hope.”