For someone who wanted to be one of the “cool” kids, Ademola Daniel Babafemi might have picked the wrong instrument.
Growing up in Nigeria, he wound up playing the violin because his older brother was playing the piano at a nearby church. And, of course, there were laughs about his musical instrument from his friends in what he described as the slums where he grew up in Lagos.
“My friends were making fun of me,” he said in a recent phone call from Houston. “‘They were like, ‘Yo, Demola is playing that small guitar, that wood guitar, that stuff doesn’t make sense,’ and they were laughing.”
That was until he started playing along to songs on the radio, eventually working his way up to playing at block parties. He said friends snatched a microphone from the DJ and put it on his violin during an Afrobeat song that he only knew the string intro and a part of the chorus.
“And I played it, and I became so popular in the ‘hood and all the girls liked me,” he said with a laugh.
Now years later, he’s known as Demola the Violinist, becoming a viral sensation on TikTok with his joyous videos playing along to pop songs ranging from Ed Sheeran to Bob Marley to Justin Bieber. He also performs as a singer, and he’ll do both in a sold-out show on Oct. 8 at City Winery Pittsburgh, with his music fusing Afrobeat with classical, reggae, rock, rap, jazz and more.
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After spending time in Nigeria’s national orchestra, he traveled to Europe with other musicians to perform in classical music festivals and orchestras. He fully expected to stay in London for graduate school, but a trip to the U.S. in 2014 led to a change in plans.
“(My friends) were like, how about you come down to Houston? You always come here and just leave after you’re done performing. How about you stay for a month and see what it feels like, you know, experience America? America is really dope,’” he said. “I really loved America, but I did not think that, because of jazz music, because of instrumental music, because of Afrobeat, it wasn’t big here.”
So he attended grad school in Houston instead. “After a while, I was like, you know what, I’ll stay one more year,” he said with a laugh.
Then, in 2016, he started his solo career as Demola the Violist. “Since then, I’ve never looked back,” he said.
Those social media clips have boosted his career, with more than 1.1 million followers on TikTok, more than a million on Facebook and almost 400,000 on Instagram.
Besides the violin, he’s also added singing to his repertoire, something he’s always wanted to do.
”I mean, I was always singing,” he said. “(But) I was no Usher, Chris Brown or Luther Vandross or whatever. … Singing has always been part of me. I write songs, I make beats, I produce, I do all of that.”
His musical dexterity extends beyond the violin, too, as he also plays the conga, djembe, guitar, keyboard, mandolin, piano, ukulele and viola.
And he’s working on adding another instrument for next year, spending an hour a day teaching himself. But he also wanted the instrument to be a surprise.
Once he hits 90 hours of practice, “I’ll unveil it to the world. I’ll be like, ‘Yes, I play the (redacted instrument) now! … I will bust it out with so much pride.”
Mike Palm is a Tribune-Review digital producer. You can contact Mike at 412-380-5674 or [email protected].