Let’s start this with some memories of your growing up days. Share with us the most interesting memories of your youthful days especially the ones that tilt towards your musical career.
I started music in the year 1991 in secondary school. When I started miming, writing my own lyrics and by 1994, I had time for myself. I left school, then I started writing songs and poems, and I was opportune to have a brother like Baba Dee, he and my parents were very supportive. I started following Baba Dee to shows, started recording with him, so the experience gave me a push, and in the year 2000, I released my first single after winning different talent hunts, which was what was the in-thing then.
So many constraints, financial constraints. People not believing in you because they don’t know what you are made of. You just try to convince them with word of mouth; it’s your word against theirs. For us, at that time, the music industry had not gotten the kind of acceptance it has now, so we had extra work to do to push it to the level of believability it now enjoys. Well now, we thank God that people have started believing in us and started spending money on the artistes and their music.
A lot seems to have changed, especially the content of music from artistes these days, what’s your take on this?
It’s not just in Nigeria. Real music is going extinct. It’s the world over, and it’s what the world is turning to. I have understood Nigerian music and the consumers. We need to understand the fact that Nigeria is a developing country under hardship and everybody wants to escape through music. They don’t want music that will remind them of the hardship they’ve been through for five days, and now they just want to get down on weekends, party and feel stupid, which is why they keep yearning for (demonstrates) jangbala jangbala music. That’s what I think is the reason for that kind of music in Nigeria. And in the world over, I think the youths are growing faster. Youths are growing faster and adults are dying faster, so nowadays, you have more youth listening to and demanding music, most of them want those tip tap, form your dance, bop your head kind of lyrics.
You’re an artiste who has managed to carve a niche for yourself as a lyrically conscious artiste. Was that a conscious decision or a thing of luck?
I would say it’s because I base my inspiration on so many things I have been through, both bad and good. That’s what life is about, so I just try to depict it in my music. Some people actually thought I was trying to be like Fela, but I wasn’t. I am my own man. I don’t believe in all that, I just believe you should make positive music. Music can be a wonderful thing and at the same time can be the most devilish thing in the world, so it’s left for you to know how to use the medium right.
Do you see yourself doing more carefree and danceable songs anytime soon?
Music is universal. It is a language, and if I can make you dance, it doesn’t mean I still can’t send messages across. Instrumentals are what make people move, and the words are what make people think. I did Bush Meat and they played it in the club. When you listen to the lyrics, you know you will take home something, so regardless of the fact that you want people to dance to your song, you wanna make sense. I am just that kind of person that enjoys his fans and my fans enjoy me. They understand my person and my personality but I don’t see myself fully crossing over.
Do you think that’s detrimental to your career?
What I have been able to do in the industry [gives me] a little bit of foundation, you can’t be an island. You have to blend it all. You have to be in it to win it. If you come into the thick of it all, you bring your realness. If that is what is in demand, then you have to be smart, so you can sell and feed your family, but in the end still be able to do what you believe in.
What statement were you then trying to make then with your collaborations with Banky W on VGBG and on a song like Orobo?
Well, you know, after 12 years in the game, there must be something you are doing to keep yourself afloat in the industry. You just have to re-invent yourself and avoid being predictable. You have to understand that it gets boring when people can guess what you are coming up with next, so you have to be just like the movies and provide action, romance, thriller or other types of movies. When I am doing my collabos, I try to take a pinch out of everybody’s fan base and mix with mine and then we have one big party.
Still on your writing skills, it was reported that you wrote your part of Wyclef’s Proud to be African song in less than ten minutes.
How long does it take you to write a song?
It depends. Sometimes you listen to a beat and you just jump on it, but the fastest I have done with a song is like 20 minutes and I finished the song, but no be me, na God o.
You were one of the few Nigerian artistes that met and recorded a song with Wyclef Jean. What was that experience like?
Wyclef Jean is a legend. Sometimes, when you listen to the way he does his music and the way he comes up with his lyrics, you go just lose hope sometimes sef, but we thank God that we’ve been able to keep in contact since 2004 till date, now I am dropping my new video with Wyclef Jean in August by God’s grace. Apart from being friends in the studio, I have been to his house in Jersey, he’s been to mine. That kind of relationship is more than professional. He’s just a call away.
Tell us more about the video
It’s the remix of a song titled People Bad.. Wyclef did his remix and he free styled with names of everybody around while we were doing the song, and it was crazy. He free styled with Dbanj’s name, 2face’s name, Ikechukwu and so many. It was shot right here in Nigeria, nobody knew he came in. Nobaga knew he came in. I repeat no baga.
Away from that, your alias, Naija Ninja seems to be more than a name. Tell us about it.
Naija Ninja is my record label, my franchise, my fashion outfit. It’s the name me and my brother came up with to represent what we believe in, and what we believe in definitely has to represent what we do for a living. It’s not just a name I call when I am singing, it is my work. Naija is my country and the Ninja has to do with the military mind-set that you should have. The Ninjas are the soldiers of the society and they fight for good, so we urge the youth with their youthful exuberance to use their energy for positive things to help themselves. Take Baba Dee and myself for example, we tried as youths to make something for ourselves and now we are making our money and representing the country positively.
Could the military mind have been the inspiration for the 2010 song?
Yes, 2010 is a song that clearly defines my country with the power and the power. I am working on a book that will be titled Power and the Power…
When is that coming out?
Don’t worry. I don’t know yet, later later.
Still on the 2010 song, what was your intention when it was released?
Well, it was just to buttress the point of what to me is a ‘winking in the dark’ kind of thing called Light Up Nigeria, the movement. They were doing it on social networks and it wasn’t coming out the way it was supposed to. Musicians tweet stuff and they don’t say it in their music, so what is it all about? So I said I was going to take it a notch higher [and] would go all out and put it in my song and let everybody hear. When I sang the song, I dropped my CD and took it to Aso Rock and made sure it got to the highest office.
Back to the Naija Ninja. How many people are on the label?
Right now, there is Karma, rapper of the clique, Shawn, Lady Grace and a reggae artiste called Blacka, and we have Baba Dee, the Don Dada, the Ninja-in-charge and Sound Sultan.
With teams like Choc Boiz, MAVIN and the EME, what efforts are you putting in place to compete side by side with these teams?
No. There is no competition here. We are trying to create our own on another platform entirely. Me, being somebody that a lot of artistes have passed through, when I say a lot, I mean a lot. I don’t put money first in some things, other people try to do, but I just believe that’s why I am here for now. When you exhale into somebody else, you are inhaling more, so for me to reach out to other people is what has helped my longevity. Working with live bands and real music form the foundation, so our own outlook is probably different from what is going on.
Having released five albums, what growth you have experienced since the release of the first to the last?
I will count myself lucky. God has been grateful to me, seeing us through, travelling everywhere. I’ve been able to understand music in Nigeria; I understanding the demand, the market and the consumers. Reach out to them and understand why they want what they really want. You have to pursue more to please them. For harsh messages, you have to put humour and for me, it’s not hard for me since I am a very funny person. People will laugh ‘ah this guy dey crase o (gesticulates) Go buy candle, go buy candle’ but they are talking about real life issues. There is a way you have to go about it, don’t make it too harsh.
Since your announcement as UN Peace ambassador, what has been your activity so far?
The UN peace ambassador thing is an office that expects you to first clean up your image, make sure your image is synonymous with the position and that is the first thing. Again, I have loads of things for the calendar. Next year, I am working with a wonderful UN envoy. His name is Ayo Israel, a guy that I look up to in the area of World Peace.
What other plans do you have?
We have our own initiative as Naija Ninja, we have a movement that is called Be the Light and it’s a way of talking to Nigerians. I’ve been talking to the government for a while, [asking them to] let me talk to the people because the people don’t seem to understand that we are the society and what we do collectively is going to amount to how great Nigeria will be or otherwise. In essence, if you can be the light in the whole darkness, you would realise that the light we have always wanted will be. We do not understand that we ourselves can make the difference by not doing all those things, [like] taking one way, climbing this place, bribing that person. Just re-advise yourself every time; you want to ‘yab’ the government, but you don’t know you are the one making it hard for the government to do well. (Gesticulates) Nobody is coming, let me quickly climb this, only you and eventually the road is blocked. It’s not hard funny enough, Nigerians are too indisciplined.
Alright, tell us about your experience with Kennis music
KENNIS Music is like a family. I like Baba Keke’s spirit. He teaches you to be humble; the guy is a humble man. My contract expired and i felt it was time to combine all my talents and abilities together, but we are still together and I still have my boys there working.
As a devout muslim, how do you juggle your job and your religion?
People don’t seem to understand what religion is. Now in the world over, religion is just a distraction fo a lot of people. Distraction for the fact that they already have a divide. There is a divide (acts) hello sir, whats your name? Abdul Khalif. Hmmm…no throw bomb here o. Each time an issue like religion comes up, it’s trying to demarcate one person from the other, so right now, a lot of people are getting it all wrong, the religion thing. They say, I dey go church, I dey go mosque, religion is in you not where you go to, so I have been able to cultivate the religion living in me. Islam is a way of life, not just how some people have hijacked it to be. It’s very easy for me to pray five times a day and avoid drinking alcohol and avoid every other thing I should.
You just mentioned alcohol, but you were part of a tour sponsored by an alcohol brewing company.
If I am going to say no to everything that comes my way, you go hungry o. It’s not just alcohol; there are many other things that you can find a root to it that should not be done. Even if they call me for independence day thing, I can tell you that this is a corrupt system and I am not supposed to play for the government, that one sef dey part of am, but you have to do what you have to do, but with wisdom.
If you get an offer to campaign for a political party like D’banj did, what would be your reaction?
Campaign? I don’t campaign. I have gotten many offers, millions of naira wey I don miss. A lot of them [asked me] but I didn’t do and I felt good, but at the end of the day when that person does not do it well…what do you do?
Since you got married, what are the things that have changed about you?
Well, I have been able to be around my children, and I go out less.
So how do you cope with female fans?
They know. E be like say all of dem don do meeting. They give me arm’s length.
Tell us about your family.
What are you up to at the moment?
At the moment, I am working on my sixth album, working on a Naija Ninja compilation with Spinlet. Working on the new video with Wyclef. Working on my new video that I shot in the U.S. Working on my 12 years on stage anniversary, rehearsing every other day of the wk, stressful. All of them are happening soon. September is here now, and my video is dropping next week.
Tell us about the Gud Girl video. How much it cost, who shot it and other details.
I don’t talk about money that way. You should know me by now, I don’t talk, I just believe. I shot it in Brooklyn, New York and it was okay.
When is your next album coming out?
By God’s grace, in October, we’ve done the album cover and are all just waiting to use this event to launch it.
What is the title going to be?
I am not going to say it.
What efforts are you making to ensure your 12 year anniversary and the album are unforgettable?
Trust me, this has never been done before. Its a musical, kind of. We are turning into something, it’s not just me. The crown troupe dance troupe are interpreting the music, its more like the Fela on Broadway thing.
Having spent over 10 years in the industry and with your wide knowledge, would you say that the crop of artistes nowadays can survive and be relevant in ten years’ time?
The ones that do themselves, you have to do you. People push you to be shaky and you will not last long, if you get advice like ‘this is how it is o, try to quickly change o’ then people see you as a style and creativity whore and the followership reduces. Whenever you want to promote an album, make sure it’s that one they know you for.
What are the changes you would say have taken place in the music industry in Nigeria over time?
(sings) More money, more money, more money. A lot of money is going around. I’m telling you, the likes of Daddy Showkey making a lot of money back then is not comparable to this one now. Trust me, there is money in music now.
Twelve years after you started, would you say you have achieved all you planned to?
Yes, by God’s grace. I don’t judge myself with other people’s achievements, I judge myself with what I have been able to do. My music was very well accepted during the subsidy thing, they wanted me to come and perform it and I told them I have done this before, go and play my song.
When you started out, who were the artistes you hoped to work with?
I longed to work with Wyclef jean and I have.
Who do you wish to work with now?
Probably Shade, that would be a jam.
What are you are planning to add to the Nija Ninja team to ensure it lasts?
I am one of the Ninja’s so trust me, if Nija Ninjas won’t stay, I won’t set it up. They are very good. I use a live band to test them, and I believe if they can play with live band without a problem, you don’t have a problem.
Is W4 part of the Ninjas?
W4 is a friend of Naija Ninja and of course, he’s like a brother to me, but he is not.
Finally, what is your advice for upcoming artistes?
Upcoming artistes; Just stay yourself, don’t let anybody change your style for you. Get your inspiration from natural sources and be true to yourself.