UK gospel music fans were in for a surprise when BET Sunday Best returned for its tenth season, with industry favourite Niiella as one of the show’s frontrunners. Niiella won over viewers and judges with her version of His Eye is on the Sparrow, and became the only international act to make it into the Top 10. Akosua Dwomo-Fokuo caught up with Niiella to talk about her musical journey and experience on BET Sunday Best.
Akosua Dwomo-Fokuo (ADF): For those who don’t know you, tell us a little bit about yourself. Who is Niiella?
Niiella: I am Niiella Dankwah-Coffie, a British-Ghanaian singer/songwriter, worshipper and overall lover of Jesus. This is how I like to describe myself in a nutshell.
ADF: How did you get started in the music industry?
Niiella: I’m from a very musical family. My parents are pastors, and I’ve been in church my whole life, so this is where the musical influence comes from. I started my music journey officially in Ghana. I got ‘shipped’ to Ghana by my mum for spiralling out of control. I was acting up, because I was searching for purpose. Whilst in Ghana, I auditioned for a reality TV competition called ‘Stars of the Future’. The competition enabled me to identify my purpose, and I decided to embark on a music career. My first single dropped in 2012 in Ghana and, as the saying goes, the rest is history.
ADF: That must have been an ‘interesting’ season in your life, to say the least! After your stint on the mainstream show, ‘Stars of the Future’, you decided to focus on gospel music. I daresay that several mainstream opportunities have come your way. What has kept you from snatching up any of them?
Niiella: My faith in God has kept me from going mainstream and, dare I say, my stubbornness has also played a major role. I don’t like people telling me I can’t do something, and so the more people tried to discourage me from doing gospel, the more I wanted to do it. Even though I grew up in church, I had to make the decision for myself as to whether I even believed in God. I had battled with low self-esteem, shyness, depression and even suicidal thoughts at one point. I remember praying one night in Ghana, and asking God to help me because I couldn’t help myself. I felt like I was at my wits’ end. A year later, I was standing in a church and had a flashback of myself going through high school, college, break-ups, family issues, etc. Then suddenly, I was back in the church and I was happy, and I had changed. I don’t know how it happened or the specific time when it happened, but I knew God had touched me, and I had become a new person. As a ‘Thank You’ to God, I vowed not to do any other genre but Christian/gospel.
ADF: It sounds like you had a real encounter with God. It’s so reassuring to know that we are never too far gone for Him to reach out for us. I pray that your testimony stirs hope in the heart of someone reading this. OK, so fast-forward from ‘Stars of the Future’ Ghana to BET Sunday Best in Atlanta, Georgia. You were the only international Top 10 finalist in Season 10 this year.
Tell us a bit about your experience.
Niiella: The Sunday Best experience was an interesting one. I almost didn’t go through with it at one point, because it seemed like the odds were against me.
The timeline wasn’t favourable; however, I just felt like God was showing me signs that indicated I needed to be there, so I went ahead and did my best to meet the deadline. I was the last contestant to arrive in Atlanta and, at that point, everything was already in motion. We dived straight in. I got to meet Kirk (Franklin) and audition for the judges, which was an experience I will never forget. Live shows were the part I enjoyed the most. Having the crowd interaction was great for boosting morale, and being able to work with the band and switch up songs and put a twist on them that nobody expected was exciting.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic we had to return home, and the live shows continued virtually. I think the virtual shows were quite challenging; however, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.
ADF: You won the respect of several gospel artists, and I reckon a collaboration could happen one sweet day… Am I allowed to prophesy? [laughs]
Niiella: Sure, why not? We are encouraged to ‘call the things that are not, as though they are’! [laughs]
ADF: So if you could record with any artist, who would that be?
Niiella: I would love to collaborate with quite a few people, but if I had to pick one right now it would have to be Kierra Sheard.
ADF: Never say never! Let’s have a few fun questions, shall we? Who are the top five artists in your playlist?
Niiella: I’m super eclectic with my music taste, but currently I’m listening to Jonathan Traylor, Kobby Mantey from Ghana, Mali Music and myself…. yeah, that’s just four. But that’s it. You never know with me, I could be completely engulfed by CCM next month!
ADF: And what’s your current favourite song?
Niiella: Mo’Lo by Mali Music.
ADF: Hmm, interesting choice. I guess the question on everyone’s lips is: what is next for Niiella?
Niiella: This question is always difficult for me to answer, because to some extent, I don’t know. I have a frame of what I’d like to happen next, which includes releasing new music, some videos, some more worship sessions, etc. However, I genuinely don’t like to think of my plans as concrete, because I like to leave room for God to shift things around. After all, He’s the Captain of this ship.