Africa’s pop king Innocent Ujah Idibia recently met with journalists at TheNetng where he spoke on sundry issues,his many kids,career,his relationship with former band mates and who Nigerians should vote for in 2015. Excerpts…
*How would you describe the success of your last album, ‘Away and Beyond’?
#‘Away and Beyond’ has done quite well. A couple of the songs have topped the charts. I just got nominated for the BET Awards. ‘Plenty things don happen’. A lot has come off the ‘Away and Beyond’ rave. I think it has done pretty well.
*Compared to your other albums, where do you place ‘Away and Beyond’?
#I think I will place Away and Beyond as my second most successful album.
*Which is your favourite album?
#My favourite album. That’s a hard one. As I speak to you I can’t say which one. Maybe it’s ‘Away and Beyond‘.
*You finally got Hypertek Records rolling on a major scale, with artistes Rocksteady and Dammy Krane. What is it like handling a record label from the managerial aspect to making executive decisions for these artistes as well as yourself?
#I am more of an artiste than an administrative person. It is not easy. It is not something that anybody can just pick up and start doing. That’s why all this while I really wanted to get some right people in place before going all out to do it. Now I have gotten a couple of them in place and I am ready to do it. Record label owners in Nigeria get really criticized more often than being praised. Why I say so is many times the artistes always feel that they are ripping them off. But many times, you find out that the record labels are losing and they are not making anything back. At the end of the day, it sometimes feels like a charity organization.
*Talking about artistes and record labels, recently there’s been a lot of fall out between record label owners and their artistes, what is your opinion about this trend?
#I think the problem is both ways. Why I say both ways is that I don’t know the story behind whoever left his label or which label dropped who, so I can’t pin-point where exactly the problem is. On the artiste’s part, he may be listening to advice from outsiders without really settling down to really cross-check to know the kind of work the label is actually putting into his career. And then, sometimes, the labels actually just make promises to the artistes and they don’t actually keep it. So, it depends on the scenario.
*As a veteran artiste, how would you rate the growth of the Nigerian Entertainment Industry?
#Over the last couple of years, I have seen at least some progress in some areas. A lot of people are becoming more interested in the industry now, in terms of artiste managers, PR people, entertainment lawyers, A&R people and all those ‘know-hows’ that many people did not care about before. Also, in terms of quality of the music, and quality of the videos, those areas have really improved. In terms of piracy and the regulation of the music laws and intellectual property laws and all that, it is still a serious problem.
*So you have bagged another BET award nomination, having been there before, do you feel ecstatic about it?
#I appreciate it, but I want more. I want to be able to collect my award on the stage not behind the scene.
*In other words, you want Africans to be more respected and all that?
*When you won, you won side by side with D’Banj; when Wizkid won, he won side by side with Sarkodie. Do you think they should stop sharing the awards and should just give it to one person?
#Exactly, you understand what I am saying.
*You won one of your first International awards in 2005 in Portugal as the Best African Act at the MTV Europe Music Awards, do you think it had any remarkable impact on your career as a pop-artist as at that time.
#Definitely, it opened many doors. It wasn’t an easy thing at the time.
*I remember seeing you on the cover of the Guardian in Nigeria then, it was the first time any contemporary artist will be on the cover of a newspaper. Do you think these awards still have that kind of impact?
#Yes. I mean, if somebody gets it now, he will still have the impact. It depends on how the artist manages it. It will still be a big deal but my thought is that, if you are nominating us for your awards and you invite us, then you should award us properly and let us feel the glory as you do your own artistes.
*Do you think awards should determine the respect an artiste gets or that artists should take awards as seriously as they do?
#Nah, I don’t think they should take it as seriously as they do, but you know in saying that, it is two things; awards don’t determine the artist but they command respect, appreciation and recognition. Some of the most successful artists in the world have not collected awards as much as others. In as much as awards are good for recognition and all, it shouldn’t be what will let you down if you don’t win. You should not live for awards.
*Have you ever been in a situation that you were at an award show, expecting to win a particular award and they mention the winner and it’s not you?
#Yes, I think I have been in one or two awards that I didn’t win
*Is there any notable one?
#I remember the MTV Awards in Abuja. I wasn’t there actually, and I didn’t win any award. Even the one in Kenya, there were some categories that my name was mentioned but I didn’t win. There were also some instances at the Channel O awards and others.
*When you remember the days when you didn’t have money, food or a roof over your head and all that, what comes to your mind?
#Back then, we were on the ground already so there was no fear of losing anything so what we were doing was hoping that it will work out. There was no fear of ‘what if e no work out. Nothing dey work out already so we no fear whether something no dey work out’. ‘It was ahead-ahead, we go follow this thing up, if e click, fine; if e no click, we go look for another work do’. But for me, I had never ever at any point in my life thought of doing anything else so it was no going back. This is me, this is my life, this is what I want to do. I never ever dreamt of anything else in my life. So, back then, it was just about doing it to the end.
*In the contemporary times, you are unarguably the only one that we can describe as a pop icon. When you left IMT (Institute of Managment Technology), did you think that one day you were going to blow up and achieve this iconic status?
#I hoped for it, tried to work towards it. I’m still working towards it (laughs)
*At what point in your own books do you think you would have achieved an iconic status if you don’t think you have achieved that now?
#That would be the time when I would wake up and not need to work again (laughs). That time wey I fit just fall into China go charge phone.
*I remember when we got to Barbados in 2007, they were either playing African Queen or True love on the radio. At what point do you think that breakthrough happened for you and what do you think was responsible for it?
#I think when my first solo album came out, the combination of me, my talent and Kennis Music at that time was explosive. So once that album came out, there was no going back. It was just explosive. Then after the MTV Europe Music Awards and the arrival of MTV in Africa, plus a lot of other factors, I think it just skyrocketed.
*The style and the crossover ability of your music, there is this depth that people don’t expect from pop music. What exactly inspires your lyrics?
#It’s everyday realities of life. It might be fictional, it might have happened to me or somebody that I know but it’s everyday realities of life. I like to just have a little bit of sense, a little humour inside seriousness and then put it in a way that people will be able to relate to it and they will be like, how e take think to talk this same thing wey I go like to talk but see the way wey e take talk am, people go just laugh. I like to be creative in the way I place my lyrics.
*What kind of creative support do you have? Do you have a creative team?
#Right now, it’s me. I write most of my materials myself but a couple of times, you know, like the Plantashun Boiz, Blackface, we used to write most of the songs together. Over the years, if I am working with anybody, we write together. Sometimes, if I and Efe Omorogbe are in the studio, and he sees that I’m trying to write something and it’s not okay, he will just give me some point and one will just click like, yes that’s what I want.
*At the first ever Nigerian Entertainment Conference we honoured a familiar friend, Nelson Brown who of course produced your album when you were with Plantashaun Boiz and signed Plantashaun Boiz to Dove Records. What’s your relationship with Nelson Brown now?
#We’re not as close as we used to be but every once in a while we call up and say hi, he was at my wedding in Akwa Ibom but we’re not as close as we used to be.
*Would you ever work with him in the nearest future if you’re dropping a few other albums?
#Yes, there’s something I’m doing with him now.
*Are you on a new album or just a single?
#No, I’m on a new project.
*Talking about other old friends like Blackface and Faze, do you keep in touch with them also?
#Yes, once in a while we meet, but we’re not always together the way we used to be before but at least we still dey ‘how you dey, what’s up’.
*At the launch of this year’s Star Trek Concert, on stage you said marriage hasn’t changed you. Hasn’t marriage changed 2face?
#Actually it’s the aspect of me being a jolly good fellow that I meant by marriage hasn’t changed me but at least it changed me in the way that now I get to be more responsible, because it is a serious business, it’s not when I was a bachelor that I could just decide after a show to just chill in an hotel and sleep. There was one time that I even made up my mind that I wasn’t getting married.
*So what brought about the change of mind?
#I realise say I dey mumu myself (laughs). If you see the person you no fit run from am you go like am die so why you dey run.
*So how often do you keep in touch with your other baby mamas?
#As often as necessary.
*But you love children, right?
#I often wish it didn’t happen this way, but I can’t regret or make myself feel bad for what has happened. I wish it was different, and I wish I could wake up every morning and see all of them but that’s not the case right now. It’s not easy shuffling here and there to see them. Sometimes for weeks or months I don’t see them. Its not easy but as you lay your bed, so you will lie on it.
*Do you still find yourself in that situation of having to be responsible to a lot of people so much that you cant even afford to keep your stuff without it getting used by other people, are you still under that kind pressure that there are times you just want to shut out everything but its seems like you cant even exist in your own place?
#Now it’s different. When I was a bachelor, it was like that but now at least I get you to understand that my space has to be respected. Before I got married, it was a different baggage. There are times that you just want to fence yourself and you say no phone calls or people, there are plenty times like that.
*Your wedding was probably the biggest wedding that happened in the last decade or two, did you plan this right from the very go?
#The funny thing is, that was the total opposite of what I planned to do. My wife and I actually wanted a quiet and peaceful wedding but unfortunately for Innocent Idibia, 2Face interfered (laughs). 2face and Annie Macaulay now interfered in Innocent and Uwana’s wedding. So, unfortunately when they say we no fit hide, yes we no fit hide. I actually thought I was going to succeed in making it quiet and doing my thing peacefully but as it turned out the people no send me for that matter.
*So when all that noise was happening, what was your biggest concern?
#My biggest concern was that this was a serious occasion for me and I hope nobody is going to come and trivialise it and try to turn it into a bad thing, you understand. Marriage is a joyous thing but some people could turn it into topic of the day that people will then insult you saying different things. That was my biggest concern, for people to just respect it and know it’s a serious occasion for me and my wife, and not turn it into any debate society topic.
*A lot of people said that Annie was the one behind it that she wanted a grand wedding after you had a little one?
#They will always say that about the woman. Naturally, they decide everything and so it is natural for people to assume that. It definitely wasn’t going to be a tiny wedding but something not too grand. If they say Annie wanted it to be grand, it’s not true because we already had our plan, budget and the number of people we were going to invite. It just happened that the number quadrupled, I mean even ten times the amount of people we prepared for.
I* see you wearing your wedding band. How does that feel?
#(Laughs) o boy, you know how many times I don forget am for house? Dem go con carry am come meet me bros see your wedding ring. Sometimes I’m somewhere and I don’t even think about it and then someone makes a comment about and I realise I’m wearing it. It feels good honestly especially if it’s with somebody that you actually know and understand. Somebody that you are comfortable being around.
*Concerning your former relationships with the other women, what was the most important advice that your parents gave you?
#The most important advice they gave me were just two words; ‘be careful’. Be careful in all aspects, be careful not to impregnate anyone, be careful not to mislead anyone that will now turn to a bone in your neck. So many ‘be carefuls’, and that covers all. They also told me; search deep inside your heart to know the one that truly is right for you and when you do that, go for that person and don’t let the person slip away again.
*Before, you used to wake up as a bachelor, but now it is with someone beside you. How do you work around everything with your daughter Isabella having to go to school. Do you drive her to school or help her with her homework and also help out in the kitchen?
#Like I said earlier I wish I had more time and opportunities to hang out with my kids. I really do wish I had more time but unfortunately you know because of what I do it’s not always easy, but I try as much as possible to make out time. When I’m around I try as much as possible to be in that part of her life.
*How was the feeling like when you went back for parental approval?
#It was excitement but excitement with no surprise. They were excited that we had finally decided to make it official, but they were not surprised because they knew we had been together for a long time although we frequently broke-up and made-up. So, it was excitement without surprise.
*How will your marriage or marital status affect you in making a new record?
#Well, it’s not going to affect it in any way and if the word affect is even going to come up, we’ll have an avenue splits that it will affect it positively.
*What should we look forward to?
#More mature music. I’m going very spiritual this time around. It’s not like I’m not going to keep maintaining the pop appeal in the music but this is going to be the deepest that I have ever gone.
*You know Snoop changes from Snoop Dogg to Snoop Lion, but you’re a reggae artist at art so is this going to be a reggae album?
#The ‘reggaeness’ will come out more.
*If you had a choice or if the industry permitted, would you be pop artist or a reggae artist.
*I’ll be a reggae artist but I have never been all the way reggae. Even though that was my major influence in music when I was growing up, I have never been totally reggae but if I have to chose, it would have to be reggae.
*Do you think that ‘international break’ and mainstream America or UK has eluded you, if so, why and do you still look forward to it?
#Okay I’m not going to go into all the details of it, there was a time when I had it, it was out there but somehow that I can’t even start to explain how that window passed. While I want to become big in America and Europe I don’t want to sell myself short or any slave trade kind of deal because I want to work in America or become popular there. I do want something that I will still maintain most of my right, creative right and the likes. In as much as I want to do all that, I still want to be very careful not to just sign my life away. I want to do it in a way that I will just blend.
*Who owns the rights to Plantashaun Boiz music?
#Plantashaun Boiz. All the publishing belongs to Plantashaun Entertainment.
*And you’re all cool stakeholders?
#Yes and for the people that wrote the song they have their full publishing , for the musical work itself Dove Entertainment because that’s the way the label owns the musical work but the publishing and copyright belongs to the individual so all those song belong to Plantashaun Boiz.
*If I come to you and say I want to make it in music, what are the key things you’re going to tell me?
#I’ll tell you first and foremost Music is serious business. You have to know that you can’t know everything so you’ll have to get one or two people that have things that can cover the aspects that you have shortcomings. You have to be able to work with people so to speak and you have to be able to allow the people you bring in do the work. Very important is, respecting people and God.
*You were robbed twice?
#Yes, both years, and 2007 and 2008 (laughs)
*I know that aside from those ones that were not publicised, there were other robbery incidents. Was there a point where you thought you were targeted and that these were inside jobs and scared for your life especially when you were shot in 2007?
#Yes, I think after I was shot, I became scared. So I moved with some Mobile police for a couple of months but I wasn’t comfortable. I began to feel like the presence of the mopol will make robbers shoot at me. I got scared but I never ever thought it was a set-up or anything. I never thought it was any pre-meditated action. It was just that period, maybe something just attracted them to me and because of who I am, it will become news. There are so many people that have had so many encounters but nobody hears about it. There was even a time in FESTAC that we were asked to lie down and were being robbed, and then one of my guys told them that’s 2face you are robbing. When they realised that it was me, they gave me back my watch and my phone and asked me to go. One of the guys asked if he could keep my cap, so as to remember me with it.
*Do you miss your privacy?
#I don’t even have time to miss it again because it’s gone.
*But if you were to live again, will you do a ‘Lagbaja‘ on us?
#How you take know wetin I wan talk sef? That’s probably exactly what I will do. Lagbaja, Allah! Cos the wahala plenty. But there’s a price for everything, and so that’s the price of fame. I’m the kind of person that would have loved to go to a local joint to eat amala.
*Do you eat in that ‘amala’ place in Festac?
#I can’t go there anymore. Imagine the attention that that will generate, so much that I might not be able to eat the food anymore because people will bring their food to my table and pull out cameras to start snapping. I tried it a couple of times, but it became a hopeless case.
*So you can’t even go to church?
#The last time I went to church, there were these brothers that were chasing me after the service. They said they wanted to share the word of God with me and I asked them, didn’t we all just listened to the pastor share the word? They started talking about a bible school that I needed to attend, but when I told them that I need to leave because of an appointment, one of the guys jut said, 2face, you don’t have to be running away from the word of God. I told him, I have to go, please don’t be offended. As I was walking away, the guy just said, Jesus said that if you deny me in front of men, I will deny you before my father in heaven (laughs) I just turn back and looked at the guy and his crew and told them ‘una know wetin go happen now, make una feel free to go heaven, make una no worry. See me see wahala oh! Wetin warrant for you to tell me that word? How I take deny am, no be church I come so? Since that time, going to church has been difficult. I’ll rather just stay in my house and communicate with my God peacefully rather than to go and distract honest church-goers.
*Finally, 2015, who do you think Nigerians should vote for?
#For me, the main issue now is not even who to vote for. Majority of Nigerians know this truth and the truth is that we have too many criminals in government. The number of criminals in government far outnumbers the number of people that are there to do genuine work ,and in a democratic setting, it is by votes. So if 98 criminals vote against two, what can the two do. It’s not only the people in government, even some private and business people because of their selfish interest, they sabotage what government is supposed to do for the masses.
*Will someone like you someday consider public office?
#Right now my mind is not going towards that direction. I might change my mind tomorrow. Apart from pointing accusing fingers all the time, I think the youths should get more involved in party politics. Youths that have intellectual know-how, because most of the youths that are involved in party politics are just thugs. They are just footsoldiers, They don’t even have any actual say in the party . The youth should get more involved.
*Are you a member of any party?
#Right now I am not. That’s the problem
*Which party would you like to join if you consider?
#Have you seen the manifestoes of all of these parties?
*But you campaigned for Fashola a few years ago, was it based on what he had done or what you think he was going to do?
#Based on the man. So if any party want wants my support, they must show me a good manifesto.
*‘For instance’ and ‘Bushmeat’ were as bold as it could get. You meet these guys all the time. Have you ever had confrontations?
#Yes. When I did that ‘I dedicate this one to all the shady politicians’ there was one Senator who met me on the flight from Abuja to Lagos. And we were seating next to each other and he was like ‘2face, you this small boy , so na you get mind come dey talk shady politicians, you dey yab us abi?. I said sir, are you among the shady ones (laughing)? And he said, no, I’m not among the shady ones. And I said, then, I wasn’t talking to you sir, I’m talking to the shady ones. The ones that know that they are not there for the job the ones that are corrupt and are just there to syphon people of their money, those are the ones I’m talking about.The way it is now, there’s no dignity anymore, many of this men don’t have one single dignity. They know that people will not carry guns and chase them out, that’s why they do whatever they like.
*Do you think Music can solve Nigeria’s problem?
#Music cannot, it’s gone beyond music, these people even invite musician to come and perform for them when they win a contract while millions are hungry. Religion is one of our major problems. Religion has made people timid and naïve. It covers a veil over their eyes and prevents them from seeing the realities of life. Religion is more of a problem than even tribalism.
*Would you keep making politically, relevant music?
#I will definitely do that. When Fela was talking about all these things, I don’t know if he had proof or it was just sheer bravery knowing the facts that this thing is going on, but he said it regardless. I’m not going to say what I’m not sure of, but one thing I know is that there is absolute corruption and nobody can pretend that its not there. They say they are fighting, they’re not fighting anything. If they are, you will see the effect.
*You witnessed OCCUPY NIGERIA in 2012, do you think Nigerians had the chance to have a revolution?
#Yes, I think that was a window of opportunity that came but it was weakened by labour. The moment labour succumbed, they weakened the process. You know the hard truth is that there is acute corruption in Nigerian and that the number of corrupt people in office, not just in the government even in private sectors, have outnumbered the good people and that is why we have this system failure and breakdown. It’s not going to be done automatically but once corruption is tackled with genuine seriousness, corruption will be brought down to a reasonable level.
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