Sunny Neji is undoubtedly one of Nigeria’s finest musicians who dominated the entertainment scene in the 1990s and early 2000s. The Afropop, Highlife, and R&B crooner has laid a strong foundation in the music industry with hit songs like ‘Oruka,’ ‘Mr Fantastic’, ‘Ikebe Go Put You For Wahala’ and ‘Tolotolo’, which convey messages on love, peace, and unity. He also won a plethora of awards and recognitions for his craft. In this interview with THECABLE LIFESTYLE’S DEBORAH BODUNDE, the Ogoja-born singer talks about Afrobeats’ global domination, the issues bedeviling Nigeria, the forthcoming presidential election, and his upcoming music projects.
TheCable Lifestyle: You have been off the music scene for a while now. What projects are you currently working on or are you done with music?
Sunny Neji: I have been quite occupied with my office as vice-president of PMAN, which is the Performing Musicians Employers Association of Nigeria. I am the first vice president and that office has been taking a whole lot of my time but of course, I have also been recording. I’ve recorded quite a number of songs. Just a couple of weeks ago we put out a single from the recordings I’m doing, this is like a build-up of an album eventually that we’re going to release. The single is out it’s on all streaming platforms, on Boomplay, on Apple Music and it’s titled ‘Who Send Me’. So I have actually been very busy and very very engaged.
TheCable Lifestyle: What are your challenges as an ace singer in this current music industry?
Sunny Neji: Challenges are normal, there’s nothing happening that is not normal. Imagine a world without challenges, there will be no breakthroughs, there will be no discoveries, we won’t have new things, and everything will just grow old and fade away. So challenges help us to break new ground, and discover new things. We’re still working, we’re still recording, and there’s nothing happening right now that hasn’t been happening. That’s how I look at life, people see challenges, and they see difficulties as setbacks but I see them as normal things. I want to record a song, it’s a challenge to record a song but for me to get that song recorded I need to overcome the challenge. Even what is happening with my office as the first vice president of PMAN has been very challenging but of course, these are normal things for us to grow.
TheCable Lifestyle: What is your mandate for PMAN as the vice president?
Sunny Neji: We are basically trying to reposition the industry. We have a team in place and our focus is to reposition PMAN in such a way that the union will begin to add value to the lives of artistes. You know it’s a union like every other union, every other sector has a union. There’s the Nigerian Union of Teachers, and Nigerian Union of Journalists, lawyers have their union, and engineers have their union. So this is a union for our sector, we’re trying to see how we can make life better for our members. It has been very interesting going on that road, trying to encourage young artistes to get on board. I know that for a long time, they have been fighting in PMAN, and lots of things were not organized but with these new executives, we’re trying to position PMAN in such a way that it will be attractive to the younger artistes to get on board because unless we’re all on board, it will be very difficult for us to get anywhere.
TheCable Lifestyle: Have you ever thought of changing your music style to fit current trends?
Sunny Neji: I think the current trend came to me, Sunny Neji because this is what I have always been doing. It’s Afrobeat, so I don’t think I have been far away or too far away. My music remains trendy. Like someone said to me some years ago that my music seems to be ahead of a lot of what was happening at that time. So if you look at what is happening now, it’s not far from the music I make, the music I’ve been playing, the music I’ve been making. I don’t see why I should change like that. It is not a change, with me it’s always improving, making better music, getting it to sound better not changing but just making it more interesting, making it more relevant today. That’s how we create, nobody creates in isolation, we all create from what is happening around us today. If you listen to ‘Who Send Me’, it has all the elements of what is happening around me. So it is not like a drastic change, I have always been in tune with the times.
TheCable Lifestyle: Do you still receive royalties?
Sunny Neji: Oh yes! We have a collective management organization called MCSN, so they are in charge of that and I’m still getting my royalties.
TheCable Lifestyle: What else do you do besides music?
Sunny Neji: Music, that’s what I do. Music and acting go hand in hand, that’s why you find musicians every now and then in movies. Of course, when I have a role in a movie I try to find time and interpret it the best way I can. I’m not a professional actor but I’m a professional musician. I act every now and then when there is an occasion for me to do so.
TheCable Lifestyle: Who are your favorite young artistes?
Sunny Neji: One good thing happening to us right now is that we have lots of extremely young artistes out there. The ones you know and the ones you do not know. Some extremely young talented artistes like our current Grammy award winner Tems. She’s awesome. I like Flavor too, and then there’s Phyno, there’s Tuface. I can go on and on. I think they are all making great music because of their efforts. All of a sudden Afrobeat is a global phenomenon because we have more people now doing this. The entire world wants to be a part of what is happening here in Nigeria. It is great.
TheCable Lifestyle: What do you think about the recognition Afrobeats is gaining in the global space?
Sunny Neji: It’s awesome, I guess this is our time. Once upon a time, it used to be reggae music from Jamaica that had the center stage, and then once upon a time, it was Makosa from our African brothers. Now it’s our moments. It’s our time so we have to seize it. The way Afrobeats is affecting the entire world is something that we haven’t seen before. It’s a great thing to be alive at this point in time.
TheCable Lifestyle: What are your takes on the current state of the nation; fuel and new naira notes scarcity?
Sunny Neji: It is heartbreaking really, I think it’s because we don’t love each other, we don’t love ourselves in this country. We have lots of mean people wicked people who are in positions of power. Unfortunately, they are in positions where they’re supposed to affect things positively and make life better for Nigerians but they are very selfish, and self-centered. They just seek only what benefits them. They do not care about the rest of the people.
How does a nation grow with people like that? What is wrong with us in Nigeria? In Nigeria, even if you give someone a contract to do a very few kilometers of road, they will pocket maybe 99 percent of the money and use 1 percent to do nonsense and rubbish for us. Nigerians do not love Nigerians and they do not love Nigeria. It is a sad situation. Look at what is happening now, we are inflicting pain on ourselves. There’s a change of currency and people are hoarding the money, they’re hoarding the money forcing people to spend Naira to buy Naira. It is unthinkable the things we do. Look at the fuel queues everywhere, it is a sad situation, it is very heartbreaking.
TheCable Lifestyle: Who are you endorsing for president?
Sunny Neji: I’m not going to say that but know that my head is properly screwed on so I’m going to vote for someone that I know I can tell I can see that loves Nigeria. Someone I know who cares about the future of this country. Someone that is going to move us from where we are now; a nation that just consumes and consumes to a nation that is going to begin to produce, to generate, to bring in money into the country. I’m going to be looking at someone who cares about my sector, the entertainment sector, someone I know that can see the potential and is willing to invest to make sure that our sector is well catered for, knowing fully well that this sector, if properly harnessed, can generate a lot to the GDP of this nation. I’m going to be voting for someone who is thinking about little children, who is thinking about the education of our children. Someone who is thinking about women and how to get them more involved in nation-building. I am going to be voting for someone who is thinking of how to get farmers back to the farms, and who understands that a nation that cannot feed itself will die. I’m going to be voting for someone who doesn’t think that everything begins and ends with oil. I’m going to be voting for someone who loves Nigerians, who loves Nigeria. I’m going to be voting for someone who is going to be saving for us and not killing us with debts and more debts and more debts. So that’s the person I’m going to be voting for.
TheCable Lifestyle: What is your take on celebrities endorsing presidential candidates?
Sunny Neji: I have my reasons why I don’t want to talk about who I’m endorsing. People are free to endorse whoever they choose based on their own reasons. If they want to come out openly to support a candidate, they are free to do that. But will it sway people their way? I do not know how much effect that will have but I know that there’s nobody who is a fool in this country anymore. The pain that one person is going through, several other persons are going through it. You might say you can afford it, but what about hundreds of thousands of other people who cannot afford it, who are probably related to you? Your brothers, your sisters, your cousins, your uncles, your friends, your other relatives – so no one is isolated, no one is in a cocoon, and everybody is feeling the pain. So I do not think you can just come and say some nice things and think that you can sway people, everybody can see everybody is feeling the pain and I know people know exactly who they believe can help relieve this pain that they are going through. It doesn’t matter who any celebrity support, celebrities can support anybody for whatever reason but the masses know who they’re going with as far as this election is concerned.
TheCable Lifestyle: Do you think the EndSARS movement in 2020 will influence the votes of youths?
Sunny Neji: The youths want a better country, the youths see what is happening in Europe in America in Asia, they want their country to be like Dubai, they want their country to be like South Korea, they want a better country and they know that it is possible. So what is going to influence them is someone they see, they believe in that can help bring these things to reality or at least start the process of bringing these things into reality. That was the spirit of the EndSARS, they wanted certain things to end, they wanted positive things to begin to happen, and they were tired of stagnation, and retrogression. So the youths are going to rally around that person that gives them that hope that yes a better Nigeria is possible.
TheCable Lifestyle: Do you plan to venture into politics – maybe vie for governorship, house of reps, or senatorial positions – someday?
Sunny Neji: I do not have that calling. Politicians are special breeds of people. I don’t have that calling.
TheCable Lifestyle: You are known to always keep your family away from the public eye. Do you mind explaining why?
Sunny Neji: There is a reason why there’s a word like private. I try to keep my private life private as much as I can because it is my private life. What’s the point of putting your private life out there everywhere? Where’s the privacy? We all need to have privacy, it’s important. So that’s why I deliberately try to do that as best as I can, as best as I can.
TheCable Lifestyle: What inspired ‘Oruka’ and is it true that the hit song is for your wife?
Sunny Neji: The hit song was made for my wife and for every other couple out there who appreciate and respect the institution of marriage, who desire to get married, who feel that to be alone is not good – that you need to have a partner, a life partner. The song was made for anyone out there who is dreaming or planning to get married one day, someday, who is already married, and who wants to celebrate their marriage every now and then. It wasn’t recorded just for my wife but for every couple out there and people who are planning to settle down someday.
TheCable Lifestyle: What’s your advice to young singers looking up to you?
Sunny Neji: Wow! I don’t think anybody should look up to anybody. The person anyone should look up to is God Almighty and respect the gift that God has given to you. Work hard on that gift, challenge yourself, push yourself, and never get to a place where you feel like you know it all or have it all. Always be willing enough to learn, be humble enough to learn, grow, and adapt. I have been around for a while now and I just told you that I released a single a few weeks ago, why? Because I’m able to adapt. Things change, new ideas new technology, and your ability to adapt is what will sustain you. Be sincere and truthful to your gifts and your talents.
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