Written by furtune News Jan 23, 2010
Rotimi Etumudon-Martins, a.k.a Alariwo of Africa, has made his mark on the Nigerian music scene. He tells CHUX OHAI why he is coming back to music after a long break.
You have been away from the music scene for a long time. What have you been doing?
I have been busy. I‘ve been busy in the studio working on my new project. I am almost done; the title of the album is ‘Back on Track‘. It is a 16-track album. When the time comes, people will understand why I have been away.
You recorded your first music album in 1998. Why has it taken so long to come back to the scene?
I released my second album titled ‘Boju Boju‘ in 2002 and since 2002, I have not another album. Now I am releasing my third album in 2010, eight years after, the noisemaker is back. I wanted to take my time and I have been busy all the while. I have been anchoring events as an MC and I am into event packaging. I run a music studio of my own and I am equally a broadcaster. I have been making noise here and there and positively too. Music is my calling and I felt I should take my time as the industry has become more competitive. I love competition and the competition is getting annoying, hence I have to do it right.
What do you mean by the competition getting annoying?
It is getting annoying in the sense that it is getting more interesting. Some people are playing trash, but they are selling. I think these days it is about singing nonsense to make money. That is not the kind of music I want to do, I am too mature for that. I would say with confidence and without apology that I am a veteran in this industry, in my own little way. I have to take my time to come up with something very creative and that is exactly what I am doing.
If some of your colleagues, I suppose younger colleagues, have been singing trash and smiling to the banks, don‘t you think you should toe the same line?
I am a godfather in the industry. I don‘t need to sing trash because people are singing trash and smiling to the banks. And I can tell you that 85 percent of them are doing well, it is only 15 percent that are singing trash. Most of them however are very creative and making sense with their music. I don‘t have to imitate them. When I released ‘Yawa go gaz‘, most of them were either in primary school or secondary school. I wanted to take my time; I didn‘t want to rush anything. When the time is right people will decide, I am a matured artist so I have to play mature music.
Since the Nigerian audience now appreciate trash, what do you think has happened to the psyche of the average Nigerian music lover?
Nigerians are mature music fans; we have the eccentric, classy and timid. It actually depends on the kind of music you make. You can make songs for different kinds of people. So my kind of music is a crossover. It appeals to the timid, primitive, childish, matured, elderly and classy audiences. It cuts across every class, the one you appreciate you listen to. I am a teacher when I sing my songs. I talk about the injustice in society. That is exactly what I am doing. I am not going to change it. There are some party tracks however for dance lovers, but I will not change my overall style. It is different from the others.
When you say your kind of music is crossover, what exactly do you mean?
Crossover is the fusion of different brands of music, with a little emphasis on African traditional rhythm. In my album I have Fuji, Afro Beat, highlife and other different kinds of music, as long as it is soothing to the soul. My friend Sunny Nneji said let‘s play music and let people appreciate it. When I first met Biodun Kupoluyi, he asked what I meant by crossing over. Was I crossing over to the wrong direction in music? I told him I was crossing over to make reasonable music and right now people are beginning to appreciate it. Apart from that, I act in the movies, anchor and do a bit of stand-up comedy. I am the cross over king. I didn‘t give myself the title. It was given to me 11 years ago and I have been doing it perfectly well.
Who gave you the title?
During an event I attended at the University of Lagos, the MC didn‘t show up and I was around as a guest artiste. I had to anchor the event. Two reggae and one high life artistes were invited. They couldn‘t make it. I did virtually everything and the award was given to me three weeks later as a cross over King for being able to handle different roles perfectly.
What year was this?
This was in 1996.
Before 1996, what were you doing?
I was a broadcaster, I was with Eko 89.75fm. I hung around them for a while until I was encouraged to learn broadcasting by Lekan Ogunbanwo. Tokunbo Ojekunle trained me in radio broadcasting; he is now with TV Continental and Radio Continental. While that was going on, I started a programme at the FRCN training school and have a diploma from the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations. I am not really a graduate but I am educated in my own little way.
There was a very strong element of Afrobeat in ‘Yawa go gaz‘.
‘Yawa go gaz‘ was afro-beat. I was just mimicking Fela then. My producer Nelson Brown made a beat and said that I should listen to it. Immediately I heard the beat, I was flowing with lyrics. That was how ‘Yawa go gaz‘ came up.
If Yawa go gas was afro beat, then you didn‘t have a crossover.
Yawa go gas was the only afrobeat song in the album. There were 3 reggae tracks on the album, 3 high life tracks and one gospel track. It is a still a crossover.
What was it like growing up?
Growing up was interesting and inspiring. My dad is a strict disciplinarian. I was born 41 years ago in Fadeyi. My dad was a perfectionist; he wanted everything to be done properly. If you didn‘t get things done right, you were in trouble. He gave us the best education possible. I attended the same school with Sunday Oliseh and Eucharia Anunobi. Sunday was a goal keeper back then, not a footballer, and Eucharia had always had a flair for acting. We all grew up together in Ojota. I have always loved singing from birth. It was only my mum that encouraged me. My dad felt I should get the basics academically and I got the little I could before I quit for music. My mum gave me her blessing. She called me recently to say that my middle name had been changed. I am now Rotimi Chukwugoziem Martins, it is now my time to reap. Whatever my mum tells me is what I listen to.
You mean your dad never encouraged your music career?
No he didn‘t. But he indirectly introduced music to me. When he wakes in the morning, he would play Jim Reeves, Don Williams and some other African artistes like Osadebey. He didn‘t know he was inspiring me. Now he is so proud of me and I give God the glory. The only thing is one needs support from people from one‘s immediate vicinity. When you don‘t get that support, then you need to move further to another angle to seek assistance.
I have noticed that your younger brothers have also caught the bug. Is it that music runs in the family?
Yes and No. Yes, in the sense, that our father infused music in us. No, in the sense that they felt they could do music and when they experimented it was a big success for them. If you are not talented don‘t do music. For now, they are on a break. They want to study the industry and do the right thing. They are both coming back, they are called two one and am already working on their album right now with my producer. That is exactly what we are doing. I asked them to give me time to finish their album so I could concentrate on theirs and I am almost done with mine.
For a while, ‘Yawa go gaz‘ was the rave of the dance floors. Did you make money from the album?
I only made a name and not money. Till today, and by God‘s grace, it is still a national anthem. I was at a place with my manager and the DJ asked for the CD. I didn‘t have it on me then. When I brought it and played it, everybody stood up. In an interview with Kenny and D1, they asked for the CD too. I have given it to them. They even asked for the remix. It is a classic. The problem now that is Don Jazzy had asked to do the remix and I am still waiting on him. He heard the album when he was back in UK then.
Although you call your kind of music Crossover, your style and carriage suggests that you might be quite passionate about Afrobeat music.
If you listen to lyric of ‘Yawa go gaz‘ carefully, you will notice that I said, ‘We don come again; Afrobeat family and the original noise maker‘. I didn‘t say ‘All the Afrobeat musicians‘. Femi Kuti is playing Afrobeat and Lagbaja is playing Afrobeat. Lagbaja is even playing higher life music. Now between 80 percent and 90 percent of the present-day Nigerian music artistes are playing Afrobeat, but they don‘t want to admit it. I am defining the kind of music that I am playing. So I will tell you that I‘m playing what I call crossover music. Fela is the tree and we are the branches. I am using the present tense for Fela because his music still lives in our hearts and our souls. If he is the tree and we are the branches, it means that we can never do it the way he did. Even his own sons cannot do it better than he did.
But most of the new generation music artistes claim that they are playing hip hop. How do we tell the difference?
It is simple. They call it Afro hip hop. Now what is the ‘Afro‘ there all about? It is either it is African or it is Nigerian in content. The Nigerian character of the kind of music that they play is a fusion of highlife, juju, or some other local idiom. But they know that they are playing Afrobeat.
How would you describe the kind of music that is in vogue now?
The kind of music that rules now is dancehall, which consists of a fusion of Afrobeat and highlife. But they are serving it in bits. It is like they are offering music lovers the opportunity to cut one slice each from a giant loaf of bread and to decide if they want to eat the bread with butter or with stew. Like I said, they are honest about what they are doing. They are being mischievous and selfish. They are using a dancehall beat and singing in Pidgin English. What do you call that? Of course, it is dancehall music. I guess they are doing this because they want to penetrate the night clubs and make people dance.
So much time has passed between 1998 and 2010. Now how would you describe the changes that have occurred on the Nigerian music scene?
We are the change. We started the revolution. We struggled for the change to take place. For exampple, I am the first person in Nigeria to play Afrobeat with a touch of hip hop. Till this day, people tell me that they like ‘Yawa go gaz‘ because it was hip hop-oriented Afrobeat music. Back then, we set a standard and the people appreciated it. Right now, younger artistes are coming and they are experimenting on what people like me have created. Before now, our own experimentation was based on what the likes of Fela, Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey and others created. So music is about experiments and sharing of ideas. Also before now, nobody appreciated Yoruba music until 9ice came from nowhere and started singing hip hop with a traditional African beat and people started listening and buying his music. They call him the Kongo aso exponent, but I call him Mr. Proverbs. Could you believe that he won the MOBO awards with songs rendered in an African language? That is an innovation, I tell you. So you see that music has to evolve. Without change, noting works in this world.
A few years ago, you vied for the position of chairman of the Lagos State chapter of the Performing Musicians‘ Association of Nigeria and failed. What happened?
It was obvious that some people didn‘t want good people to handle the affairs of Lagos PMAN. The political theatre is filled with miscreants and criminals and politics is not meant for good people who have something good to offer the society. In the case of Lagos PMAN, I told them what I planned to do if I became the chairman. But Charly Boy collected money form somebody and made him the chairman of the chapter. The man is late now. His name was Disu. Before then I had worked very hard to make sure that Charly oy was elected national presdent of PMAN. If it were possible to evaluate my contribution, I would say that I contributed about 65 percent to his success. I know what myself and several other people did to put him at the helm of the affairs of the association. But because he felt I was a radical like him and he knew I was intelleigent enough to spot wrong-doing on his part and to tell him to his face that it was wrong, he moved against me. He did that to Bolaji Rosiji and Tee Mac. At the end of the day they clashed with him and they left. We battled Charly Boy to ensure that Dele Abiodun emerged president of PMAN. I don‘t like to talk about PMAN because it is not moving forward. It needs young and vibrant crusaders like me to move forward. But since most of the mebers do not want that, Charly Boy has been able to play a few pranks and after siphoning all the money belonging to PMAN, he has moved from Lagos to Abuja. He has been trying to make a name for himself, but a thief will always remain a thief. He knows that I will say it to his face anytime. I am waiting for the day he will sue me in court. If he does, a lot of people will stand by me. But he knows he cannot do that. Everbody knows that exploied PMAN to his selfish advantage.
How come you did not speak out against Charly Boy‘s excesses when he was in charge?
That is a very good question. You want to speak out when the person that you want to talk to hardly gives you a chance to confront him and anytime you want to see him, his aides tell you he is not available and gives excuses. Then what do you do? If only Charly Boy will agree to sit down for a few minutes and let me ask him a few questions. But he cannot do that. We know he is a criminal and he siphoned monies belonging to PMAN. Also we know that he went to Alaba International Market once and set fire to fake CDs and collected a lot of money from the traders. There was a time he almost ganged up with a bunch of idiots and they tried to beat up one Alaba big boy because he requested money from him and tha latter refused. I was the person that saved the boy. The boy is still alive.
Now that Alariwo of Africa is back on the music scene, what should your fans expect from you?
They should expect positive results. I am back on track and for good. I am a winner and my best is yet to come.