NET, talking about the state of the music industry in Nigeria and interestingly how he plans to resurrect his former band.
What have you been up to lately?
I have been busy as always doing what I love to do best. Not with the force of people pushing me to do it, but with the agreement that this is what I’d be doing forever and that’s why I’m still doing it
At the time you guys started this thing did you think it would be this big?
Yeah, God told me about it. He said to me, my son, stand up and go to Lagos. Go to your brother Dr. Fresh. Give him the needed support and make the hip-hop thing come to pass. I listened to God and came to Lagos. I saw Dr. Fresh, met Tony, met Eddy, and it came to pass, the birth of hip-hop in Nigeria. So, with that happening, God made me an elder-state’s person in the business, a revolutionary and one of the people that made the industry happen. I’ve been very grateful to Allah because he’s the reason why I’m still here.
Looking at the state of hip-hop in Nigeria, do you think it’s still towing that dream you had for it or has it gone off-track?
No, what you see today is boys coming out of the streets, and following a trend because that trend is bringing in money. And the reason why they have been able to do that is because we created that platform, but that’s not what we created the platform for. We created the platform to use music as a tool to add value to the society and to create employment like we have done. Most of these boys, their parents used to insult us back then saying,’look at these OPPs that don’t have future’, but today, the same parents are the ones sending their children to go to the studio to record, shooting videos for them and paying big money for promos because they found out music has now become very lucrative. ‘Food don done, everybody carry spoon, na your mama cook the food, abi na your papa cook the food?’
We made it possible for the multinationals to respect Nigerian artistes. They didn’t treat Nigerian artistes with respect, but we made it happen. Take music out of the radio for one day and see what will happen. What you see today, is just boys singing about women and other irrelevant subjects. These boys that are coming in, doing music now, most of these dudes would have been carrying guns. We are grateful that we have been able to create employment for the so-called rappers on behalf of the Federal Government.
You have managed to remain consistent through the years. How have you been able to do that?
One, because I have a strong faith with God. If you grew up from the North and you are a Muslim, you won’t be scared of anybody but God. I believe that if you have God in everything you do, God’s favour and grace would always be with you. Number two, my songs are not just songs to make you dance, or tell you a story about a girl you have never met before. They talk about ills in the society, education, politics, science, streets, unemployment, electricity for the people and a lot of things. People can relate to that, and that’s why I’m still consistent, and I’m not changing at all. My shoe size has been there, none of them can wear it. I’m a social crusader. I talk about what is happening in the society and that’s why I’ll always be relevant.
You have often referred to yourself as a social crusader and even went head-to-head with a one-time president of this country. Were there times you were afraid for your life?
I grew up in Kano, and we were taught in the Quran that Allah is the greatest. You’re not supposed to be scared of anybody but Allah. So, I already made up my mind what I wanted to do from the beginning. Because the truth is bitter, many people would never like it. We all can’t be the same, so I chose to speak on behalf of the people and to be the voice of the voiceless, and I’m happy.
I remember when I sang the song ‘Jagajaga’, about 23 million Nigerian youths voted me to raise the Olympic torch. Raising the Olympic torch is bigger than winning the Grammy awards. The Olympic is talking about peace and love all over the world, and it’s enough for me. My responsibility is never to disappoint the people and to always speak for the people. Obasanjo said my papa and my mama ‘Jagajaga’. I was so happy that my message got to the president. The president couldn’t hide it. He came on National TV and promoted me. Secondly, he’s my mugu because he made me a super star, there is no song of mine that I won’t put Obasanjo’s name. So, Obasanjo is part of my mugu and I go dey take am chop. Thirdly, I’m doing this to speak for the people, and that’s why people will always relate to me.
Do you see changes in the society so far?
Yes. Changes from state governors who have like minds, and are radical like me. An example is the Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomole. There was no good coming out of Edo State for eight years when Lucky Igbenedion was there. Oshiomole has made it happen, and there are a few governors out there that are doing the same thing. So there are changes, and the revolution is on.
What are your thoughts on the state of the music industry?
You see, when the top is messed up, you don’t expect the bottom to be any better. What the politicians have taught Nigerians is corruption. Our music industry is not regulated. What are the responsibilities of PMAN? Musicians are not united because some of them feel that they have arrived, and they fail to understand that they wouldn’t have arrived if not for people like us who paved the way for them. Until they get into trouble that’s when they would be looking for friends. Then they would now think to themselves and say, ‘oh, wait a minute, Is this how the game is? So it’s all about politics? Damn! I should have played it well’.
NCC is one of the biggest problems we have in this industry. I’m talking about giving space for multiple collecting society. You can’t monopolise the industry. You can’t just bring somebody that is your friend, and schooled in America and basically studied Accounting or Economics to come and head the Nigerian Copyrights Commission. He doesn’t know anything about music, copyrights and royalties. He shouldn’t be there. Secondly, the so called COSON don’t even know what they are doing. The Attorney General has given license to COSON to be the only collecting society, meanwhile COSON does not have the international right as a collecting society. It’s only MCSN that has the right. There has to be room for multiple collecting societies in the country.
The musicians themselves should also be educated about this issue. It’s not just the shows that you should depend on to earn revenue. Is it when your song is no longer on the radio that you want to start knowing what copyright is all about? Thank God the matter is currently in House of Assembly and the House has heard from both sides. We are waiting for the House to make the final decision. In America and in the UK, they have multiple collecting society, so, why can’t we have the same?
How was growing up for you?
I grew up with a mum. I never had a dad. I lost my dad when I was two. She is my hero, she is my everything. She saw me through life. I looked at myself and thought, if a mother could do all these to bring me to where I am today and I didn’t go astray without a father, then God has a reason in my life. I attended Army Day nursery, primary and secondary schools. I then moved to the Nigeria Military School (NMS). I was in the military school for about two years, and I saw myself becoming somebody in the future that would hurt a lot of people with guns. So, I said to myself, this is not the kind of life I want to live. I left the military school, and I became a table-tennis player. I represented Nigeria at the All African Games in 1985. Yinka Majekodunmi, Funke Oshunaike, Biola Odunmosun, Bose Kaffour, Atanda Musa, Hakeem Hassan, Yomi Bankole, these are my people. At the age of 14, I was collecting my salary as a Sport Council employee. But still, as a table tennis champion that I was then, I still felt that this is not were God wants me to be, and I was so happy the day God revealed to me that it’s the microphone he wants me to carry. The microphone can speak what millions of people won’t be able to speak for themselves.
Your former partners, Eddy Montana and Tony Tetuila, how often do you guys see or hangout?
Eddy is fine, Tony is fine, we see often. Eddy is in Delta State. Working on a lot of other stuff and still doing music too. Together as Remedies, we have been recording an album ‘The Promised Nigeria’ that we will drop soon. Remedies will be back.
Many believe you have lost your relevance, how do these comments make you feel?
I don’t react; I just set it straight the way it is because I’ve gone through a lot. If the president could actually fight me and I’m still here and still standing, then whose opinion will now bring me down? I’ve been there, done that and you’re not going to get anything out of trying to bring me down. Most importantly, when it has to do with women that you try and blackmail me with, it’s not possible, because my marriage is already 14 years, and they said it was going to end in three months.
There’s a rumour that you have kidney problems, how true is that?
That’s totally untrue. If I have kidney problems will I be doing this (drinking and smoking)?
Your wife is hardly in the media, is it like a home rule for her to avoid the spotlight?
I thank God that I’m enjoying a blissful marriage. There’s simply no need for her to be out there in the media. I have managed to keep my family private. Remember many said we were not going to last, but here we are. We have two wonderful sons and Allah has been faithful to us.