For an overzealous reporter that subjects could’ve dubbed me, I had mingled with my broadcast colleagues as we preoccupied ourselves with the frenzy of activities that is typical of red carpet sessions. But I had a listicle of notable figures I looked to catch. As Timi Dakolo and Busola, his wife, sauntered into view, I would swing into action.
Camera flashlights went haywire as the duo momentarily struck poses for photos at the entrance that would lead to the VIP lounge. In no time, they were on the move; making for the pathway into which media personnel wasn’t allowed. Yet, we all stuck out our midgets for a shot at getting a few words out of their mouth as Busola’s rape case against COZA’s Fatoyinbo was already in motion.
Many months later, talks pertaining to rape allegations would later resurface, even more, with a large-scale hunt for alleged fraudsters indigenous to Nigeria in an operation for which the UAE police authorities found a fancy name, ‘Fox Hunt 2‘. Timi Dakolo, who is known for his hit songs, joins TheCable Lifestyle to discuss, cyberscams, rape claims, and his experiences in the music space.
Showbiz has been hit by the pandemic, upturning schedules for concerts, and forcing creatives to rethink monetization strategies. How have Nigeria’s realities affected your work and how did you pull through in terms of finances and staying creative?
I think the whole COVID-19 scenario has given us, as artistes, a lot of things to think about. It has caused us to rethink a lot of things. Of, course we’re in a digital age; we have an internet community wherein you don’t have to be physically present somewhere to have an effect on a thing. That’s why there are things like streaming, video calls, and everything aiding the creative space. Physical presence isn’t necessarily more effective but people still like live concerts, shows, and all that.
But, one way or the other, it will improve the way creative work is appreciated. As much as it affected what we do, it also opened a door for what could be; how it could be done, not what’s being done. I think artistes will now need an increased presence on streaming and social media platforms. And we have to do lots of rethinks. And financially, it’s not like it used to be. But there are a lot of us that actually put a lot of mechanisms in place. Not that we expected these things to happen but for precautionary reasons. In the pandemic, I’ve done some few events with physical distancing.
Revenue for Nigerian artistes hinge more on concerts than digital purchases and this made singers decry the downside of the recent restrictions on social gatherings. How do you see the pandemic changing the business model in the music industry?
Of course, the pandemic has greatly affected our revenue because we have like these kinds of ways like shows and events to generate funds. But it has also forced a lot of us to kind of go back into strategy and planning. It has prompted a compulsory rethink among most of us, like, “Okay we’re here now. What do we do next? How do we adjust to the new realities?” It’s going to test a lot of us.
It’s forcing us to question ourselves. Are you really a creative; were you really using your wits to do what you were doing. I think the drive-in concerts can be one way. But another way is having a platform on which to host a live concert. People can watch from their homes, pay per subscription for everyone that gets invited into the space. You can have as many people as you can on your site.
There you can do your concert, release your music, sell it, and all that. Basically, that’s another way to look at it. Because, when you talk about drive-in concerts, not everyone has a car and many more people would like to watch a concert and enjoy themselves. Sticking to that will shut them all out.
Like many artistes who hit limelight through contests/reality TV, you won during the Idols West Africa, in 2007. What was your experience with the Sony BMG record deal and how did those prepare you for then-emerging trends in the global music scene?
Well, I wouldn’t say I had much of an experience with Sony BMG. After the whole thing, there wasn’t really a contract-contract like that. Everything I learned, I did through repetition over time, asking the right questions, reading books. I believe the music scene is going to be like a small village now. We’re going to vie for people’s attention; compete for fans because the internet space is going to be crowded, unlike during shows. It will be more like a let-the-best-man-win kind of thing.
In ‘Let It Shine’, a track off ‘Beautiful Noise’, you talked about how your family was an inspiration and how it was tough growing up. How did you pull through the definitive moments of Idols West Africa despite the news that your grandmother had passed on?
It was quite difficult. But, you know those moments when you put your mind to doing a thing, you end up finding strength. At that point, I had asked myself what she would have wanted. Would she have wanted me to pull out or more like see this thing through and make her proud? That’s how I came through. It was a very difficult moment for me but it did happen. So, ‘Let it Shine’ again.
I had grown up in the city of Port Harcourt. It was a normal kind of growing up, albeit, with an old woman; my grandma kind of setting. We were here and there. I had difficult times and cool times alike. There were happy moments, lots of not-so-happy moments, no-school-fees moments; no-food moments; selling petty things like oranges, waterproofs. It was worth the whole experience.
People assume that, since you pieced together your style as young as a 12-year-old church singer, you would do more gospel songs. How did you escape that stereotype to explore genres like soul and R&B alongside themes spanning love and nationhood?
I don’t see myself as any kind of musician. I don’t box up myself. I do the music as it comes and as I feel it. It was never at any point in my mind that I would be a gospel musician. This is because you don’t force creativity. It comes when it comes. That’s why I don’t engage a lot of producers. I go to people that can interpret the music the way I hear it. Sometimes I could feel like, “Oh, let’s spread love.” Other times, dancing to a married song is more like it. That’s what I do and it’s not to say I can’t create a gospel album. I simply avoid putting myself in a box, like “This is what I’m.” Nah!
It is believed that you credited your aunt Susan Larry, under the tutelage of who you were many years ago, for building your interest in music. At what point did you come about the idea of carving out a career for yourself as a professional musician?
Yes, my auntie’s husband and herself had this turntable that played a lot of music including Ras Kimono, Majek Fashek, Gruber Ivy, just to mention a few. That was quite an encounter with these artistes. You know how they get to play music for you. You don’t write it down but they stick to your memory due to lots of repetition. That was the case for me and that’s how I came about this music thing. I didn’t think about music as a career for myself until I won the West African Idols (scoffs).
Like, it wasn’t in the plan. I was just doing it for fun. I enjoyed doing it and I could do it effortlessly. While growing up, I listened to lots of reggae music including those of Burning Spear, Gregory Isaacs, Bob Marley, and the likes. We used to have this videotape, VCR festival. I think they used to call it Reggae Song Splash somewhere in Jamaica. I used to watch it back then and be wowed. Like, you see a lot of people seated and they have this thing they call the Soweto Blues.
During this festival, we used to watch it and it used to inspire me. There were Miriam Makeba, Paul Simon, Hugh Masekela, Ladysmith & the Black Mambazos, and the likes of them. We used to just listen and admire the way they sang so well. They were so passionate about what they did. And then I came in contact with some Michael Bolten cassettes. Craig David now released his album ‘Born To Do It’ that spiced it all up for me back then. I was like, “Wow! So there’s another side to music!”
Discussing with a north-based artiste recently and he argued that not many Nigerians are really song ‘listeners’ and that a great deal of the country’s music audience often wants something they can dance to. You seem to prioritize your lyrics. How have you juxtaposed the need to dish out quality messages with such market demands?
Well, I think this person is getting it wrong. People listen to music. Whether or not they pay intensive attention to music, they do listen. That’s why they remember the lyrics to it. Music is the sound of our emotions, that’s how I define it. It’s the sound of our emotions at every point in time. Being elated beat after beat. It’s the sound of emotion and we can’t take anything away from that.
Majek Fashek had a brawl with you and Charles Novia over the remake of his ‘Send Down the Rain’ but he suddenly dropped the case. How did his copyright claims and lawsuit threat later pan out between you two? Why did you remake his hit song?
I know about this business and how this thing works. What happened was that I grew up listening to that song and I loved it so much. I had told myself that if there’s one song I would like to remake, it would be ‘Send Down the Rain’. So I asked who had the right to it. And I didn’t even pay in half. I paid, I think it was about N2 million. I can’t remember. I gave the whole money and did the song.
I so much loved it. I don’t know what happened after that. I actually met Majek again and he said it wasn’t me but Charles Novia they were talking about. And that was it. There was no going to court or anything that had to do with me. When I saw that thing on paper, I had to go back and bring my statement of account, how I paid, and even posted it at some point in time. (Laughs) I’m not crazy now! How would I just carry somebody’s song and go and sing? I wouldn’t like the aftermath of it.
You signed a deal with Virgin EMI in the UK but we didn’t get to hear from you as regards the terms of the agreement and what fans are to expect. What has been the experience so far? Are projects underway? What prospects do you see for yourself?
Yeah, I have got a four-album deal with EMI. I did a Christmas album. I’m supposed to start recording a love album. But this whole COVID thing, I can’t wait for it to be over. Can’t wait to do this thing the right way and have tours and all that (sighs). In showbiz, I see a future for myself anywhere possible. From music, composition, and theme score to writing. I just have to streamline it after a while. I’m still recording and would release new tracks too. And fans should be expectant.
Discussing recently with a record producer, the creative noted that the structure of Nigeria’s music industry isn’t healthy for emerging talents, some of whom are being taken advantage of. What’s your thought about measures that can be implemented to improve the quality of music and create opportunities for these young artistes?
When people talk structure, I say there’s nothing like that in Nigeria’s music industry. Everyone is just doing their thing. If you strike good, then it’s what it is. If you don’t, then you simply didn’t. About structure, I don’t think there’s anything like it, talk more of them is inadequate. I don’t think so. We’ve not erected a structure that works for everybody. We’re just going as we’re going. There’s no one thing that unifies and controls everything. It’s like a war front. So, for anyone that wants to come in, they have to ask themselves if they really have the strength to face it. I think one of the best things to do is that young talents and emerging artistes should know the music. They need to get grounded in basics so that they can build on it. Don’t leave it to chance or just talent.
What challenges have you faced, yourself, in music-making overtime? How about a piece of advice for many out there looking to make their music industry incursion?
One of the biggest challenges I had while coming to this industry is creating myself. Not that I didn’t love the music but it was difficult to determine what I should dish out as music to people. For those looking to foray into music in Nigeria, I say they should have a lot of determination because talent without discipline quite frankly doesn’t take you anywhere. Know what you up against; have knowledge of what music is. Know the laws that govern music so you can do whatever it is you want with it. Don’t just dive in and leave all the decisions for someone else to make them. You’ll drown; it’s overwhelming. It’s a war zone. It’s a survival of the fittest thing. You have to come prepared.
Issues pertaining to sexual abuse have dominated Nigeria’s discourse in recent times. What’s your say on a few allegations that have involved entertainers in the industry?
These things have been happening, brother; it’s just that no one is bringing it to the limelight. We have people covering these things up for different selfish reasons. It has to be addressed because we’re going to birth women and daughters and they’re not going to be with us forever. We can’t always say we’re in the place to protect them. People should know that, when these things happen, we need to address it at once and as quickly as we can so that disciplinary actions can be taken.
The government should put mechanisms in place. There should be a swift judicial process, not drag it. This will put a lot of people on their toes. Both cases from the past and those that are intending to do it in the future can be tackled. As we speak, somebody is going to get raped today. Somebody is ready to cover it all up. Somebody is going to oppress somebody. And it’s not supposed to be so.
Your wife is among the prominent persons fueling the fight against the deplorable realities of sexual abuse in Nigeria. But she recently noted there had been efforts to silence her case and that you had both prepared for a long-haul. Can you address it?
I don’t really like speaking about it. But one thing I’ve learned about the whole experience is that people in this situation need a lot of support. That’s what I gave my wife. I always feel like, if my wife and I were a nobody, our case would’ve died on arrival. That’s all I can say. We withstood the emotional side of the legal struggle standing by each and protecting each other. That’s what love is.
Nigerians were portrayed negatively due to the hunt for indigenous cyber-criminals. This makes it difficult for genuine business people to engage foreign clients. What’s your say to recent developments and how do you think this vice should be addressed?
I must say it’s really a sad situation. And it’s now being put in our faces like Nigerians are… There are lots of other countries that do this thing but it doesn’t have to be us. We’re now looking at it as a norm. Fraud remains fraud but some people are even giving justification for it. I saw on Twitter the other day somebody saying, “Are politicians not stealing?” In whatever form it comes, it is fraud.
We should stop this. It’s difficult right now being Nigerian. Adding these things on top of it makes it unbearable. If you watch, you need to see how we’re being treated when we go to other airports. It’s really scary and tiring. It has an effect too. If you leave Nigeria and just show your green passport, there’s this funny way they always look at you. They question how legit what you’re coming to do is.
A lot of people are picking up on this and it’s terrible the image that people have of Nigerians. If you travel out of this country, you’ll know better. To the youth, I will say stay out of crime and trouble. Do your thing legit. Work smart and you’ll be fine. You don’t have to rip-off anybody to look good. You don’t have to go into fraud to impress people. Please, everyone should stay safe in these times.
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