- Daniel Otuonye is gradually building a cult following in faraway Ukraine where he passionately follows his heart’s true desire
- The 21-year-old Ukrainian singer with Nigerian roots is currently enjoying massive success as his song has been used in over 102k TikTok clips and he has over 1.2m video likes
- In this interview with Legit.ng’s Adeyinka Odutuyo, the rising star of Ukraine sheds light on his journey and plans for the future
Many years ago, two ambitious Nigerians set out to further their education in Ukraine and ultimately have a chance at creating a better future for themselves.
These two would eventually find love and start a family that is now close to producing a 21-year-old superstar that confidently holds his place in Ukraine’s music industry.
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“My mum is Igbo, and my parents met when they came to study in Ukraine. They got married and started a family here” Otuonye shares as we kicked off our chat.
Otuonye's birth and childhood
The 21-year-old musician born in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, has only known that part of the world for most of his life and hasn’t really touched back with his African roots.
“I’m not very deep in my African roots but I visited Nigeria when I was four,” he adds as we tried to navigate his childhood.
Otuonye attended kindergarten, primary and university schools in Ukraine and all of these experiences he says shape his person and perception of life—despite being born to Nigerian parents.
“I was raised as a Ukrainian. I attended kindergarten, primary schools, and university in Ukraine. I’ve got a lot of Ukrainian culture in my personality, even down to the way I act…”
For the singer, being black in the country had little or no negative effect on him in any way.
“I’m a Christian and also have a Christian family. I was raised with good parenting; good fundamentals and it never really affected me if I was black or white in Ukraine. I just didn’t care about it.”
What drives Otuonye's music
Like painters who draw inspiration for their art from their surrounding environment, musicians equally draw from happenings in their immediate society to make meaningful music.
For example, when Grammy-winning singer Damini Ogulu aka Burna Boy released 20-10-20, it wasn’t just music made for the purpose of entertainment. It was Ogulu’s way of preserving a time in history and etching the events of Lekki Toll gate into the hems of history’s garment.
Otuonye says whether he was born in Nigeria or Ukraine, it wouldn’t have had any direct impact on what he chooses to sing about.
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For the Tasteless Honey hitmaker, his artistry is driven by the things he likes and loves.
“I don’t think it would have affected me that much if I was born in Nigeria. I’m just doing stuff that I like…stuff that I love. For instance, I’ve played in the basketball league here in Ukraine. I played professionally, so I’ll say I’m just doing the things that I like.”
The singer, who is from a family of three, adds that his brother contributed to his love for music.
“My brother put a lot in me and influenced my love for art. I always looked to him and mostly repeated everything that he did. When he started playing the guitar and started going into music, I was just repeating it.”
Otuonye, however, maintains that being raised by Nigerian parents has given him an African mentality of sorts.
“I was born in Ukraine but I also have this African mindset—I think so. My parents are from Nigeria and I looked up to them a lot when I was younger. So I’ll say there are times when I didn’t act like Ukrainians.”
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Music was a hobby for me at the beginning
In the past, a good number of artistes have come out to say that music started as a hobby or just a recreational activity that was picked up when they were much younger. It’s not a different case for Otuonye who goes by the stage name To Eternity.
"At the beginning music was just a hobby for me. I was just playing the guitar and this was about five years ago. However, I started to get more and more into music and about two years ago, I started to take it really seriously.
“One year ago, I released my first single and I’ll say I’m now trying to make it professionally as an artiste. I know it’s not going to be easy but I’ll try my best to reach the stars and not give up.”
At the moment, music is all Otuonye knows even though he plans to eventually complete his university education.
“For now, it’s just music for me but I’m planning to finish my university. Two years ago when I was just starting to take music seriously, I knew that I needed to make priorities.”
I didn’t envisage the success
A visit to Otuonye’s official TikTok page shows that he now has more than 60 thousand followers on the social media platform. This wasn’t always the case for the singer who has far less than 8000 followers on his official Instagram page.
Earlier in June, Otuonye had taken to his TikTok page with a teaser of his single, Tasteless Honey, and asked members of the platform if it should be added to his debut album.
To his utter surprise, the song was received with open arms from TikTokers who have now made over 80,000 videos to the sound and viewed it more than two million times.
“I didn’t know it will just pop out like this and I was really, really happy about that. I was shocked,” Otunonye said while responding to a question about the track.
“It started getting more and more views, and celebrities were also starting to record videos with my sound. I was just so excited for what would happen next and I’m so thankful to God that it happened. Tiktok is not a stable place. Your stuff can pop out or not. No one really knows what will be in trend or what wouldn’t.”
It’s not my fault that every time you’re feeling so bad
I’m sorry I couldn’t buy you a bouquet of flowers as a gift,
I was hoping for at least a kiss.
Beloved, I’m sorry (x2)
As one may have rightly guessed, Tasteless Honey tells the story of a toxic relationship and this is an experience that is all too familiar to Otuonye.
“It was like a personal thing. The song is about toxic relationships and I’ve had experiences in that. So I thought, ‘why should I write about it?” But it was a long time ago. The main thing is, everyone, can take something from the song.”
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Even with the staggering success of the track that has now made him a favourite of sorts for people in Ukraine, it isn’t the singer’s best.
"My best song personally is the first one I recorded and that’s Priority. The song Priority is about my life. It was a new chapter for me in my life when I was recording it, so I’ll say it takes a special place in my heart."
With his last visit to Nigeria being about 17 years ago, the country’s leading afrobeat genre doesn’t occupy a big spot in Otuonye's heart.
“Some of my friends send me afrobeats track, but I wouldn’t say I really listen to them every day.”
He, however, had a word for his potential fans in Nigeria.
“I just want to say you guys don’t need to be worried. There’ll be songs in English…”
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In a similar story, Legit.ng previously gathered the report of another Ukrainian with Nigerian roots identified as Myroslav Kuvaldin.
Like Daniel Otuonye who is pursuing music with his heart, Myroslav has also become a voice synonymous with music lovers in Ukraine.
His music style is inspired by his deep roots in Africa and he has managed to grown quite an impressive media career in the country.
"I will tell you a secret: Ukraine in general is very similar to Nigeria. When I first came to Nigeria in 2004, I realized that we have very similar people, and similar aspirations - to live well," he said in a chat wit Legit.ng.