Posted by News Express | 10 December 2017 | 2,544 times
In the 1990s, Ukeleke Onwubuya, popularly known as Ras Kimono’s debut album, ‘Under Pressure’ was a big hit in the Nigerian music scene. The veteran reggae maestro takes us down memory lane as he shares his musical journey with Sunday Telegraph’s EDWIN USOBOH and ABIOLA ALABA PETERS
Question: It’s been long your fans heard from you; what should your fans be expecting from you?
Ras Kimono: They should always expect the best from me lyrically and rhythm-wise. I have been working behind closed doors; my last album was in 2012, ‘Game Politician’. I’m currently working on a new thing called, ‘Senseless Killing’ and ‘Blessed Africa’. I am seriously working behind the scene, Jah willing, after the festival period I will shoot the video.
How was music like while growing up?
It was good men! I mean, when I was growing, I knew I was going to be a musician and as I grew up, I picked it up and got no problem with my parents supporting me. Ya man!
Looking back from yesteryears and now, what would you say has changed musically in Nigeria?
The changes are numerous from when we started music. There is a lot of money now, glamour, glitz, etc. but content wise I think we have lost it, even though everybody seems to be jumping and dancing. We don’t want to play some of today’s music for your children to listen to. The disadvantage in all of this is that as a musician, if you don’t play serious tune, your time is limited. In our days, our music was evergreen; the youths of nowadays are not thinking of tomorrow, they are only concerned with what is happening now, how they can go through the fast lane and make money.
In our days, we had all the record companies and it was organised. Everything had a structure. You don’t just go on radio and play your compact disc (CD) like that. There is a way the record company will make sure your music is aired, but right now, it’s like anything goes. People just walk up and tell you they are musicians. All they do is to record their songs in a CD and go to a radio station and ask the presenters to play their song on air.
This is also why most of them do not have a record label a legitimate contract in place. I still have a legitimate contract in place till today; I’m still collecting my money, my royalty.
How many of today’s artiste will boost tomorrow to collect royalty from his work? I give some of them five to ten years, they will be as broke as church rat and nothing to fall back on and then they will be crying. So, there are a lot of lapses in today’s music world.
At a point you left the shores of this country to look for greener pastures somewhere else. How successful was that journey and what prompted that move?
At that time, this country was under pressure; that was during Abacha’s time. Nigeria was in chaos, everybody was crying for basic amenities. There was no food, no money etc. Some of us who were playing music at the time were not selling; to sell cassette of N50 then was a big problem. That was why we needed to escape and search for greener pastures elsewhere for some time and when the country was calm, most of us returned back.
When the economy is bad, the first set of people affected are the musicians, nobody can play music with empty stomach, no artiste can get inspiration with empty stomach, you need education, accommodation and food. When reality hits you and those things are not working, what do you do?
Your song, ‘Natty Get Jail’, was without a doubt one of your greatest hits. What inspired the music and the amazing dance step that went viral at the time?
To be honest with you, a lot of people ask me that. Like I revealed some time ago in Kalakuta Shrine when Fela was locked up, I wrote that song strictly for Fela but before I could release the tune, he was bailed so I reversed it to ‘Natty Get Jail’, so originally it was a song written for Fela to be bailed.
And for the dance step, you know back in the day, there was something called the twist dance. I tried to bring twist dance back and so that’s why I did that.
Can you recall precisely the first year you made your money in music and how much was it?
I can’t remember how much it was then. I dropped my first album in 1988. I got some money from my company on that but before then I was into DJ. So, I have been attending shows, traveling and making money. I remember I had travelled to Cairo (Egypt) before dropping my first album.
Tell us your grass to grace story, were you born with silver spoon?
Every African youth have a story to tell likewise me. It was recently you have the likes of Davido were born in America with a silver spoon; but before now, every African youth came from the ghetto. I was never born with silver spoon; I was born with a wooden spoon. I don’t want to look back because I am a Rasta man; forward ever, backward never. I give thanks to the most high that I am what I am today.
How much influence would you say the ghetto life had in your music career?
Yes of course my upbringing and ghetto life helped the way I see life and the way I live with my fellow citizen. Maybe, most people would expect Ras Kimono to be wearing tie, driving big cars everywhere. But no, I know the suffering in the ghetto that is why I don’t live in a highbrow area like Ajah, Lekki, and VGC. I prefer to live with my people on mainland where I can still relate with them and can help them in my little way. If I don’t see my people I cannot compose; they are my inspiration. I pass through the ghetto every day of my life; I can feel the way they live, that helped me to tell the story musically.
You’re highly regarded as a legend; does that make you feel old fashioned?
Well, I don’t know about the Legend Rasta. When I hear they call these artistes legends, I ask them, do they know the meaning of legend? They should look up in their dictionary and know the meaning of legend.
If you’re calling me legend, then what will you call Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey who are alive? The ones that are dead, Sunny Okosun, Oliver De Coke, Osadebe, what will you call them? Icons?
But nowadays everybody is saying he is a legend and that word is pissing me off. So, at the end of the day, people don’t even know the worth of a legend. When people call me a legend I’m indifferent about it.
Are we going to see Ras Kimono flowing with the new trend in the music industry?
Why should I change or flow with the new trend? I have been established already as Ras Kimono. My fans should expect the old me musically, I can never change my trade mark.
Any plans to collaborate with younger artistes?
What I can say is this: there are few artists that I appreciate because they don’t want to go the way everybody is going. What I would say is that I would do collaboration with an artist that come for me, not me going after any artiste, they must be sure of what they are doing. I would not do collaboration with you because you are reigning, or so I would be carried along with your fans. I would do it because you are talented and we can bring our talents together and play good music.
There’s a new trend of artistes taking drugs to get inspiration. In your days was this trend rampant?
I’ve never taken drinks or smoke before. I’ve been a vegetarian for 36 years. If you are called to do something, you don’t need anything to get high, if the talent and hard work is there, you need no substance to get high.
I don’t want to mention names, almost every hip-hop artiste takes one substance or the other, they are all on drugs; they drink to stupor.
What do you have to say to artistes that show case their wealth on social media?
It is stupidity and foolishness. You know when you are poor and you eventually see money, you can go crazy if you don’t have the right people around you to help you manage that money. They don’t know what they are doing.
Away from music, can you describe your fashion style?
I am a Rasta man! I don’t care for the so-called designers. I’m more of an artist that is down to earth, so I wear what I think works for me and that is as far as it goes. I never wear coat and tie, that doesn’t make me less human. With my jeans and t-shirt, I can attend any occasion.
Over 30 years on stage and the energy is still there, what is the secret?
Like I said, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I am a vegetarian and I mind what I eat and drink. I play games with my kids at home; I play table tennis and snooker. Aside the energy I use on stage, maybe the other room with my woman.
What is your take on the new crop of Reggae artists in Nigeria? Would you say they are living up to expectations of legends like you?
As far as I am concerned, I don’t think we have a crop of reggae artistes. What we have nowadays is dancehall artist. Most of them are purely dance hall not proper reggae music. Reggae music, you have to deal with truth and right, you have to speak about the evils and the society.
Nobody wants to talk about it because if you talk about it, it’s either you get locked up or nobody plays your music and you’re poor. A lot of reggae musicians like us were not rich because we don’t sing what they want us to sing.
So, the youth of nowadays, who do you want to call a reggae artist? Is it Patoranking? He is not a reggae artist or Cynthia Morgan? They are good but they are dancehall artistes. Dancehall artist is different from reggae artistes.
Reggae artistes are Ras Kimono, Majek Fashek; apart from that, other youths are dance hall artistes. They just want to have fun and make money. But reggae, you have to deal with truth and wrong and face the government squarely.
Are any of your children taking after you?
Yes, my first daughter is doing dance hall. I know it is because of that youthful exuberance; I believe as time goes on, she will do reggae music because dancehall came out of reggae.
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