By CrossRiverWatch Admin
“Nigeria on the march again, looking for Mr. President. MKO, is our man o…” This iconic tune was on the lips of every man, woman, and child back in 1993. It was the official campaign song for Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, the presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the annulled June 12, 1993 elections. While many knew the song, not many know the man behind the song. He is Ogoja Cross River born, Sunny Neji of the Oruka fame; Nigeria’s favourite wedding song. On June 12, 2019, Nigeria’s now official Democracy Day in honor of the late MKO, TOMI FALADE of Daily Independent, spoke with the veteran music artiste Neji, and here’s what he had to say.
Not many people know how long you have been making music. As children, most of us pick our professions; acting, engineering, fashion designing… was it the same for you, was that your story?
Yes. I guess it has always been music for me. Let me say specifically that it has always been the entertainment industry. Initially, I was thinking I would end up being an actor, but as I grew older, it was clear that I would end up being a musician. Incidentally, I did MKO Abiola’s campaign song, ‘On The March Again’, and it is good that he is being recognised today. That’s a great one.
How long ago did you write your first ever song?
Ha! I’m not sure I can remember that. But I think it was around 1983, or even farther back than that. I think I was still in secondary school when I wrote my first song.
Since then, if you were to guess, how many songs would you say you have written so far?
I have lost count because I am still writing songs.
Of all the songs you have ever written, both the known and the unknown, which is your favourite?
You know all my songs talk about different things; they all treat different subject matters. So as long as I have released it and I am talking about something important in it, then it is my favourite. It is just that some people might think that the all-time favourite is a song like ‘Oruka’ because it is treating a very important subject matter. But I think all the songs serve their purpose because they treat different subject matters.
Most new songwriters are trying to blow and their focus sometimes isn’t on the message, but music that would get the fans jumping. What for you is the most important in making music, is it making a hit song that becomes a rave, or passing a message?
I think it depends on the artiste really. People come into this business for different reasons. For some people, it is a calling, and to some, it is simply for want of something else to do. Others see the industry as a place they can come and make quick money and get quick fame. People come into the industry for different reasons, just like any other vocation. Those who have a calling though will tell you that the message is very important because there is something they want to say and communicate to people. They want people to see things from a perspective that they probably weren’t looking at, or something they want to change about people’s belief system. They just want to leave that mark even when they are gone, and for some, their music is still there speaking for them. We have the likes of Bob Marley of blessed memory, the likes of Fela Anikulapo Kuti of blessed memory, and all the rest of them. So I think it depends on who the artiste is and what he or she really came into the industry for. For me, the message is very important. Let me give you an example. When I worked on ‘Oruka’, I saw the need to have a wedding song. At that time there wasn’t any viable wedding song. I realised that it would be nice if we could have a wedding song, something that would outlast me, that would be there from generation to generation. So the message is very important to me. It is not as if I am not interested in the beat though; the beat is very good, but message is key.
As a veteran in the Nigerian music industry, what would you say is the importance of a record label and an artiste manager to the artiste, or do you believe artistes should manage the business aspect of their music?
In Nigeria, our industry doesn’t have the structures to allow you to just be an artiste and allow other people to manage your business for you. So you will discover that most times the artiste is an artiste and he or she struggles with management, and he has to sometimes get involved with what management is doing because some managers are not very professional. The structures are really not there to help define everybody’s role, and then everyone is settled into what they are doing and they are comfortable. Ordinarily, an artiste would just want to concentrate on making music, rehearsing and playing his concerts, while the manager would focus on the business side of it, managing the artiste and getting business. The record company focuses on production, releasing, distributing and marketing the music; that is how it is supposed to be defined. But because it is not so structured, everything is muddled up – in some cases, the record companies are also the artiste managers, it is really difficult to separate them. Those structures do not exist anymore in our industry. I use the word industry with caution because I know some people believe we do not have an industry, and that is not an argument I want to go into today. But as it is, we are hoping that in the near future, we have proper investments that would determine these structures. When that happens, everyone’s role would be better defined. When that happens, it will be better for everyone, the artiste, the manager, and the record company.
If not entertainment, what else would you have done if you were to choose a different career?
I have never really thought of it. Some people just come into the world single-eyed. And what they do gives them joy, gives them satisfaction. At the end of the day, when you leave this earth, you want to say ‘I came here and I did what I love doing and I left a mark.’ That should be the most important thing for every human being. You came with a talent, traded with it and left a mark.
You said earlier that you thought you would be an actor. But having come into the entertainment industry through music, did you ever think about going into Nollywood, or using music as a stepping stone to acting? Do you get movie offers often?
Movie making is very demanding, so even if you get approached, you still need to find the time because it is not all about you. You have a lot of other actors and you can’t hold everyone to ransom. So you must find the time before you commit yourself.
Are you saying music is not as demanding as movies?
No. When you are doing music, you are in total control. But when you are doing movies, you are not in total control because you have lots of actors on that set. So everyone cannot structure their time to fit into yours. You have to take everyone into consideration. If there is a call time, you have to respect that call time because it is about everyone else that will be part of that production. So if you do not have the time, don’t bother to commit or you will make it difficult for everyone else. That is why I said movie making is very demanding. Having said that, I think I am going to be doing some more movies as time goes on. I did ‘Locked’, a great movie with a fantastic storyline and fantastic actors like Hilda Dokubo and the rest of them. It was quite an experience, so I’m sure I’ll be doing quite a number of movies as time goes on. That doesn’t mean that I am abandoning music for movies, it is just that I will be doing quite a number of movies.
You are working towards a show, can you tell us about it?
The show is called Timeless. The reason we chose that is because we are trying to give it a particular class, something that will eventually challenge everyone to be a part of. It’ll encourage everyone to up their game. It’ll be good for the industry because that is what we are all looking for. I don’t think that there’s anyone who thinks there is no room for them to learn anymore. Timeless is a challenge to everyone to keep striving to do better and more so that we can be named timeless artistes. It is to encourage people to make music beyond this moment. By God’s grace, we will be doing this once every year. We haven’t concretised the date yet, but i t ‘ s going to be between October and November at Eko Le Meridian.
How would you describe your music?
Some people have said my music is eclectic, but so that we do not argue about this, I will use a term that people can easily relate and connect with, Afropop. It is African music and popular music, meaning Afropop.
Since You Are Here, Support Good Journalism
CrossRiverWatch was founded on the ideals of deploying tech tools to report in an ethical manner, news, views and analysis with a narrative that ensures transparency in governance, a good society and an accountable democracy.
Everyone appreciates good journalism but it costs a lot of money. Nonetheless, it cannot be sacrificed on the altar of news commercialisation.
Consider making a modest contribution to support CrossRiverWatch's journalism of credibility and integrity in order to ensure that all have continuous free access to our noble endeavor.