Thanks to Fredericton, this Nigerian musician and rapper is singing again
Chijioke Okorie, who performs as JTK, blends influences from New Brunswick and Nigeria
Inspired by Fredericton's folk sounds and Nigeria's rich cultural heritage, rising hip hop musician and rapper Chijioke Okorie is on a journey to share his talent with nothing less than the world.
A decade after he moved to Canada to pursue studies in engineering, Okorie — whose stage name is JTK — credits living in Fredericton with giving him the confidence to make a radical change in career, and to lean into his musical talents.
"If you're here in Fredericton and you have an ambition regardless of what it is, there are opportunities," he said.
"You can take every experience that you've had and make something beautiful out of it. That's my message."
When he was just eight, Okorie joined a children's choir in a local church. He grew up wanting to express his emotions by rhyming words, and he dreamed of taking his music far beyond the borders of Nigeria.
Many young upcoming artists in Nigeria often move to Lagos, the largest city in the country and indeed Africa, to find opportunities. Okorie, who had been living in the capital city, Abuja, made a bold move to head to Canada — although music was taking a back seat to practical career plans.
Pausing music to study engineering
Okorie arrived in Charlottetown, where he pursued a diploma in engineering from the University of Prince Edward Island. Later, he transferred to the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton to study electrical engineering.
He found more than a new place to study.
"When I decided to come to Canada, music was not really the first thing that I planned to do," Okorie told CBC News.
The diverse cultural backgrounds that enrich the Fredericton community were very welcoming. At a gathering with other students, he began to feel more confident in himself, and felt a strong desire to entertain them with a rap song about his background and experiences.
Okorie said living in Fredericton has taught him everything he knows about music — as well as related skills, including marketing, advertising and how to work with a crowd.
"Quick performance, public speaking … I learned a lot of from school in Fredericton, because you do that often," he said.
An inspiration to sing again
Inspired to start putting his emotions into words, he found a new world of music, and developed the skills he needs in a performance.
"The turning point for my style of music was realizing that I could still connect with the people here," he said. "Regardless of my origin and based on my skill."
He said the culture, people, weather and music have all played a part in his musical inspiration.
His style of music is influenced by a diverse range of genres, including rap, R&B, pop, Afrobeat, rock and folk.
JTK stands for "Josh the Killer" — a persona he stresses that is not violent. Instead, he uses the word "killer" to mean someone who overwhelms the audience with emotions.
He defines his sound as a unique blend of the dialects, melodies, sounds and experiences from both Fredericton and Nigeria.
To make music that could connect with all kinds of people, he took elective music courses, including one in code-switching, which allows him to sing with various accents. He learned studio skills so he can manipulate sounds for his tracks.
"I had resources that I could use, and things started to make sense for me," he said.
His musical journey has been marked by several breakthrough moments. Local performances at intimate venues, such as coffee shops, open mic nights, tours and a debut EP, have all come together to help building a following.
Okorie plans to continue sharing his experiences with people in Fredericton and beyond.
He also hopes his story will encourage other newcomers coming to Fredericton. He says his goal is to make music that can connect people on a personal level.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.