Her name implies a certain sugary kindness, but don't misunderstand: Swt Valli Hi thrives on an unconditionally fiery personal power. The L.A. artist's sweetness is based in the "extension of love" she outspokenly offers, and in a vulnerability that encourages listeners to find strength in their own openness — and that includes being open to the emotions and experiences of others. While Swt Valli Hi aims to make music that's relatable, she isn't budging to accommodate anyone.
Today, Swt Valli Hi premieres "Red Hot," a track delivered with a soulful flow that serves as a humanitarian alert. It's about the climate of the world, she says, "and what's going on with humanity right now, and all the talk between what is selfish and what is fair." Its heated refrain is like a steady rolling boil: "Baby, it's a red hot, red hot, red hot, red hot world," she sings, with live percussion bubbling and electronic manipulation melting her vocals ever-so-subtly at the edges.
Having split her childhood between Nigeria, where her father is from, and L.A, where she was born Val Okolu, channeling the sounds of her upbringing are paramount: Fela Kuti, Okolu says, is a major influence. That's evident not only in her use of dynamic live instrumentation, but also the messages she conveys.
"[Nigeria is] not some shithole; I'm not a shithole country," she says. "It's very important to me. I'm not ashamed of my origins, and I eat fufu, and so this the music, the vibe. I'm just trying to convey that everyone can enjoy the music, the sound, the message."
"Red Hot" is the third cut from the forthcoming Act I, the first in a three-EP series that will unfold beginning in April and carrying on into 2019. Okulo has only recently started releasing her work as Swt Valli Hi, debuting less than two weeks ago with "Walk the Line Johnny," an empowering breakup anthem.
Binding contracts from her behind-the-scenes industry work, she says, are what kept Swt Valli Hi from developing — until now, when she can finally step into her own artistic power, and nothing's going to hold her back.
"The major system can follow me," she says, "but I'm not gonna follow the major system. That's not cute anymore."