Leaving the Benin Republic in 2014 for Lagos after initially emigrating to Cotonou with his family in 2000, MMZY’s target had been to work out his incursion into Nigeria’s thriving music industry. Now, he busies himself with the creative side of the business while a label procures funds and the requisite tech expertise for his songs.
As a man who doubled as a first child to his parents — of course with much responsibility ahead of his siblings — convincing his business-savvy Igbo father that music is the choice for him was one thing. Funding this option and bruising his knuckles in days of back-breaking work became another hard nut to crack and indeed proved to have been a major test for his confidence and perseverance.
Saying it was tough, for him, would only point out the obvious. MMZY knew his roots and where he was headed. Yet, as he embarked on that one-way route from Cotonou to the University of Lagos (UNILAG) for his four-year college degree — oblivious of the grand breakthrough that awaited him in the end — all he felt were the goosebumps of uncertainty and the cold shivers of fear running down his spine.
“I was always in Lagos for auditions and shows. Mum and dad wanted me to go to school but they never wanted me to do music. They wanted me to school in the Benin Republic so they could keep an eye on me. But I had to come to Lagos because if I had opted for the Benin Republic with the love I had for music, I might have dropped out,” MMZY tells TheCable Lifestyle in an interview.
How about starting with you giving us insight into your background? Who is MMZY?
Akachukwu Emmanuel Uche is my real name. I was born on December 26, 1992, and I hail from the Bende LGA of Abia state. I’m from a family of three children, being the first son and first child. I started out as an innocent young guy who was passionate about music but had little or no support. I just kept pushing hard and believed my fortune would find me in due time. Well, it very much did. For me, the journey to success has only just begun. My stage name was derived from my real name, Emmanuel. Back then in secondary school, we had this a lot of these nicknames, most of which had the ending ‘-zy’. I’ve since been MMZY and I take the name to mean the virtues of love, peace.
For the record, can you give us a rundown of the projects you’ve worked on over the years, the artistes you’ve had to work with, and how fans received your works?
My first song, albeit, not under my current label, is ‘Amoreaux’, which is a French word that means to fall in love. I shot the video and recorded the song over there in the Benin Republic. Then, I did my underground promotion but there was a shortage of the required financial resources to push the song into the Nigerian music scene. And the song really did well. I later dropped ‘Something to Show’ when I was at the University of Lagos (UNILAG). I would later land a record deal.
In 2019, I recorded ‘Miracle Lover’ and shot the video. It was TG Omori I worked with. The video is doing fine on YouTube. Streaming numbers are still rising. I had ‘Social Distance‘ recorded during the lockdown. We were just in the studio and we decided to make up something. I ended up featuring City Boy; Aboki Ibile. We all came together to create the sound and make it happen. I just dropped ‘Wilding’ and it’s really doing great. We’re still shooting the video; it’s going to be dope.
Fiokee, TG Omori… tell us more. What was the experience working with them? What conversations did you all have towards making a befitting ‘Wonderful Love’ video?
It was really great working with these two. I call them supermen in the industry because they’re good. I was in the studio, playing ‘Miracle Lover’. My manager came in. He was like, ‘I think we should bring Fiokee to play some guitar because parts of the song are still vacant.’ That was how we brought Fiokee in. After like two-three days, he sent us the guitar for it. It transformed the song from good to great. For TG Omori, I chose him after looking up his works. I thought he was in the best position to shoot it. We contacted him; he listened and came up with the dope treatment.
Can you speak more about the experiences you had making each of the singles you’ve released so far? What did those teach you towards defining your own unique style?
I’m a versatile artiste. Sometimes you’ll hear me sing in French and other times in English. I do Afro and even dancehall. I’m not this one-direction artiste. I can switch if I realize an alternative genre is what’s making my fans happy; what they want to hear. I sing with the direction of the spirit. Back when I recorded ‘Amoreaux’, I went through a lot because I sponsored, got the studio money all by myself. It’s now different because you have a label and a studio. You don’t stress yourself anymore running around to get money for recording. The producer comes and you work together. All you have to do is put in your effort. Of course, I have plans to create my own unique sound with a name of its own but we can still call it Afrobeats. That’s the hub for African sounds.
On that, you find that music listeners often aren’t aware of the experiences singers had to go through to break out as musicians. Can you share your story in this regard?
Man, that story is a long one. You know that moment when you’re from a family where your parents are neither too rich nor poor. And again, you’re the first son of the family. Then, you have a passion for music, believing music is the only thing you know you can do too well. I left home, you know, and started working back then in the Benin Republic because that was where I was staying with my parents. Sometimes, I skipped school because you had to earn your tuition before deciding you’re up for school. Dad didn’t have a bag of money he was stashing away. Sometimes even when I go, I get kicked out of school. I would pick my bag and make for home, having thoughts about how my colleagues were in class that morning, studying. Those things experiences still drive me today.
Anytime I think about them, you know, having to go back home only for you to tell your dad you were ejected from school and see that pain in his eyes… But he can’t do anything, having had to struggle for rent and other bills. I remember back then, the school had known me as someone who would often pay tuition in instalments. My tuition could be 35k and I’ll pay 5k. They’ll write it up for me, “30k remaining.” That was how I kept going until I started working in a warehouse, earning some cash, saving up. That was how I shot my first video with my money. Coming to Lagos, I hustled on the streets, selling office wears and later worked in a fuel station as an attendant. I sold fuel while working towards my JAMB exams. I tried UNN the first time but later placed UNILAG for the second. I stopped working as a fuel seller; went to college to study while pushing my music.
At what point did you realize music was the thing you wanted for yourself?
It was back in 2012 I took it seriously. I started recording my songs, working towards videos, tried to go for auditions. I could travel all the way from the Benin Republic to Lagos without having anywhere to stay or knowing anyone over here. I’d just see an online audition and enter Lagos for it. At the end of the day, you would figure out how many of those opportunities are scams. I know how many times I registered for that kind of thing. All those things nearly discouraged me; I know how many of my guys that gave up because of it. I used to tell people who indulge in those things, “Creatives are like small gods.” It could have repercussions. I was frustrated that year; as money-starved as I was back then, I would travel all the way to Lagos after registering online. A deluge of upcoming artistes are everywhere and you later figure out those thing are fake. It’s not humane. Going through these experiences helped me realize a lot about myself. But we only keep moving.
What artist are you currently working with and which do you still look to work with?
Yeah! About that, it’s going to be both home and away. I’m going to be working with many names I can’t mention at the moment. Only my management can say when I’m allowed to make that info public. I will love to work with top global artistes as well, most especially the likes of Drake, Nicki Minaj, Beyonce, Burna Boy. I wish I can have a session with Burna Boy one of these days. I love his vibe and music. I’ll also love to work with Simi. These people are, no doubt, incredibly talented.
We understand you used to teach. How come you ended up a musician? How were you able to transition from teaching to music and what prompted the decision?
Yeah, the music itself is a teacher. Because you find that whatever we practice as musicians is what fans learn. Whatever we wear becomes fashion trends. As artistes, we’re all teachers. Take for example my lyrics in ‘Miracle Lover’. I spoke French and people were like, “What’s he saying?” So I never really stopped teaching. As an artiste, I will say I’m still teaching at a higher level. I’m not getting paid for it, yet, I teach millions through my songs. So it’s not always about the classroom.
What exactly were those existential realities that first took you to the Benin Republic?
Na my papa o! I was born in Aba. We stayed there for a while. As a businessman, my dad used to import Okrika (second-hand clothing). The business thrives over there in Benin Republic, Togo, and Ghana. So he decided that it was time to have his family join him there. It was in the year 2000 that I left Abia state for the Benin Republic with my mum and brother. My sister was born there.
About Burna Boy, there’s been this argument on claiming no one paved way for him in music success. What’s your thought about the whole development? Do you agree there’s any such thing as paving way between pre-existing artistes and new talents?
I respect Burna a lot. One thing I’ll say on this issue is that it’s all about grace. Burna had it and so did Wizkid and Davido. There’s also P-Square and D’banj. But another factor that is also at play is time. Fela had his time. It’s not as if there weren’t other artistes existing during his days. He had his time and he used it well. In fact, everyone has their time. When it’s right, you’ll reign over the odds. It’s Burna’s time; we should allow him to enjoy it. Let’s not argue with him, he’s a senior man.
It’s not easy to get there. On paving way, I don’t think there’s anything like that. You could pave way for someone so to speak and they don’t make it. In the end, it’s about grace and of course the artiste’s hard work in creativity and brand management. It takes more than the collective successes that have been recorded by previous singers for subsequent ones to hit the limelight. Of course, Burna Boy isn’t the first to reach the Grammys and all. We had Femi Kuti and others. We should consider these other cases and their predecessors before making such claims about paving the way.
How was growing up for you as a child and what influences did you have such as to develop a keen interest in music-making? Were there artistes that inspired you?
Back then, I used to listen to the songs of P-Square: ‘Ifunanya’, ‘Temptation’, and the likes. I also had Akon, D’banj. I was a die-hard fan. They had great sounds I listened to then and I got inspired.
How would you describe your style of music? Do you also rap? What’s that thing that sets you aside from the many singers that Nigeria currently has in entertainment?
I sing; I don’t rap, although I started out as a rapper. Back then, we would always rap the songs of Lil Wayne (scoffs). One thing that makes me different is the linguistic advantage I have. I add French to my songs. If you’re listening, you will always get to that part where I add French to spice it up. Coupled with other languages, it gives me an edge in terms of having diverse music audiences.
You’re under a record label. What was your journey to getting signed in October 2018? What did the struggle teach you about the industry and emerging artistes?
It’s a miracle, man. I used to pray for such an opportunity even before I got into UNILAG. I saw my friends getting signed. We could all be together only to hear that one of our colleagues had been signed. 100, 200, 300 level went by and I was yet to get such an opportunity. In 400, I started questioning myself. The reason why I came down to UNILAG from the Benin Republic had been to pursue my music career. I didn’t want to leave school and get back to where I started, struggling, and looking for record deals. Before the end of 400, however, a family friend introduced me to an opportunity, which I gave a shot. I was asked to get my lawyer, the deal went smoothly. Here I’m recording music. I ended up not doing my 400 level while living in the school hostel. It was my personal driver that took me to and fro the label house until I completed the university degree.
Nigeria’s music industry as a whole is tough, I must say. There’s a lot of competition. But that alone is hardly enough to stop me. One just has to keep working hard, try to be one’s self. Don’t copy anyone. Artistes are in abundance but each still manages to come up with their own unique sound. Just be you; do you because that’s the only way to survive. I’ve traveled to other countries and seen what obtains there. We have a very wide music market here. If anything blows here, it becomes a big deal in other music industries around the world. I’m so happy to be a Nigerian because it’s a great country, only that the system of governance is messing everything up. If we realize a leader that will change things for good and we as individuals imbibe positive values, our country is going to be like the number destination in Africa and we’ll all become proud of our identity as Nigerians.
There’s this picture suggesting you’ve had links to Phyno. Was he a mentor to you?
Phyno is like a brother to me. I love his songs and he’s a good adviser. The day we met, I had gone to see Lary Gaga at his studio. He was like, “Boy, what are doing here?” He’s a nice man. That day, he was just like, “Hold Larry well o! Na senior man.” You know that big brother talk. Actually, they had a studio session. He came to get Larry so they could go together. We didn’t have much time to talk but he advised me on my music, charging me to keep it up and adding that he likes what I do.
You studied French at UNILAG. Why did you make this move even as music was that thing you had a passion for? How did you juggle college life with music-making?
Yeah, I studied French. Mum and dad wanted me to go to school but they never wanted me to do music. They wanted me to school there in the Benin Republic so they could keep an eye on me. But I had to come to Lagos because if I had opted for the Benin Republic with the love I had for music, I might have dropped out. I was always in Lagos for auditions and shows. I chose to study French as the course is something that wasn’t going to stress me enough to keep me from pursuing music. I had the knowledge of the language already. In exams, even without reading due to my schedules, I would always have something to write about. It’s unlike opting for engineering that need formulas and other technicalities one would always have to brace up for. It helped me a lot because anytime I traveled to any French country; I did radio tours where I spoke completely in French. It was a plus.
Language is integral to music-making. You’re multilingual and speak French, Igbo, English, and even Pidgin. How do you look to balance this out in your music and what was the idea behind you speaking lots of French in your first single ‘Amoureux’?
Even in a country, I think the president should speak more than three languages so, even if you go out to represent your country in another, you won’t have to hire an interpreter who might end up misinterpreting your thoughts. It’s helping me a lot. I did a lot of French in Amoureux because I was there in the country at the time. I wanted to give them something that they would understand. The idea was to build my fan base from there since it was my first kick. My EP is going to drop soon. We have all the songs ready, back to back. We’re just waiting for the right time to release it.
What do you have to say to your fans at this point?
To my fans and people who are buying, streaming, and downloading my music, I’m really grateful. I’ll appreciate you all even more if you follow me up across my social media handles including my Instagram and Twitter. I’m always open to conversations; hearing from fans about my music.
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