- Speaks On His 27 Yrs In Music
Sunny Nneji is a big music star, whose music has rocked the music scene in the last few years. Since the release of his Mr Fantastik hit album a few years back that shot him to the limelight, his songs have become a household staple across the country. And over the years, he has released several other hit tracks like Oruka, among others.
Where has this talented singer been all this while? What has been happening to him? City People went in search of the Cross River State singer a few days back, and both hooked up for a drink at the swimming pool side of Sheraton Hotel in Lagos. And for about 2 hours, Sunny spoke about his life and music. Noticeably, not much has changed about him. In a few weeks, he will be 53.
He was born on October 24, 1965, in Lagos to Mr and Mrs Raymond Neji. Sunny is the youngest of 5 kids made up of 3 boys, 2 girls. He had his primary education between 1972 and 1978 in Ogoja, Cross River State, his hometown.
He completed his secondary education at Government, College, Ikorodu, Lagos in 1984 and proceeded to Yaba College of Technology where he obtained a Diploma in Fashion Designing.
Sunny Nneji’s involvement in music began at an early age. His parents’ love for music and his father’s collection of classic records provided the initial tonic. As a boy, he participated in cultural performances and steadily developed the talent through the course of his formal education. By 1987, he took one step further and ventured into the recording. 1991 marked the release of his debut album, Captain, on EMI.
He joined Colours Band with which he performed as Lead Singer for 5 years and inched his way further into mainstream music. He made a grand return to the recording circuit in ’97 with the release of his second album, Mr Fantastik on GM Intercontinental Records That album made him a star. He blew. The album sold many copies and won numerous awards.
His third album, Roforofo, came in October 2000, on the same label, GM Intercontinental and it easily picked up from where Mr Fantastik left off. It consolidated Sunny’s position as a contemporary highlife music act.
In 2002, Sunny Nneji lent a hand and voice to Now Muzik’s Touch of Genius: Tribute Album to the Legendary Sir, Victor Uwaifo project and again scored with his re-interpretation of the classic Joromi.
After narrowly escaping January 27, 2002, Ikeja bomb blast disaster, Sunny Neji raised his golden voice in a piercing call for support for victims by releasing a single, Victim of Circumstance and holding the massive benefit concert at the Lagos Television ground to mark the first anniversary of the sad event. The project opened a new chapter in his career. It marked his involvement with O’Jez Music, the company that came all out to support the Victim of Circumstance Project. He also recorded a single, Wake Up! in 2003 to challenge Nigerians to vote right in the general elections. These special projects set the tune for his 4th album, Unchained, recorded in Ghana, released on O’Jez Music. Oruka and Face Me, the pre-release singles, needed only a few days to completely dominate the airwaves and assure everyone that another big hit has dropped..
These days Sunny Neji, spends a great deal of his time writing, playing, performing and recording music. His major pre-occupation is making music. Below are excerpts of his interview.
What have you been up to all these while?
I have been researching, planning and recording. Over the last few years, a whole lot has been happening and very quickly too. It kind of took some of us by surprise. We didn’t know it was going to last this long, but apparently, the change in the system and the way that music is being appreciated has come to stay. The way music is being circulated and distributed the currently has changed and it has come to stay. So, whilst I was recording and researching I was taking my time. I had to plan my next move. I needed to understand the new terrain we are faced with my plan is to relaunch the brand back again. And that’s basically what I have been doing. I have been working quietly, keeping materials down, doing some new stuff.
In fact coming back now, I am coming back to see how I can introduce new sounds. There is a Sunny Nneji sound that people are familiar with. There will still be that. But I am coming with a new sound. So, I am thinking of the best wait to introduce it into the market.
Sunny Nneji has come a long way. How does your generation of musicians take the changes rocking the music scene?
I think the challenge really is understanding the new way of doing things. It’s not in the Creativity. As far as creativity is concerned, I still have it. A lot of artistes of my generation still have it. But it is this new way of getting to distribute and promote your music that we need to understand a little more. The moment we have a hang of that, I am sure it will be a smooth sail. Because basically, music is Art and if your art is timeless, it will move from one generation to another. They will appreciate it. But you need to get it across to them. They need to hear it. That’s actually the big challenge we have because we didn’t drop into the internet to understand it quickly and see how we could leverage on it. We thought that the internet was just a new fad that will go away after a while. But the truth is that it has come to stay. The entire world has gone online. So we just have to understand it and see how we can leverage on it. And that is what I am planning to do now with my music.
You’ve been in music for a while now. Like how many years have you put in?
I have been in music professionally since 1991. So, I have been around for a while. But my big break came in 1997 when I did the Mr Fantastik album. That was the turning point. That actually came and opened the door and turned everything around for me.
How did you decide that music was the way to go professionally?
I caught the bug and I was inspired by a whole lot of people. Then, I used to listen to a whole variety of people. I grew up listening to a lot of people. My music appreciation was broad then. I use to listen to Fuji, Juju, Apala to Highlife to Pop, Funk, Jazz, Calypso, Reggae, Country Music. That is why if you listen to me, my music appreciation will show that I am eclectic. I had a lot of people I appreciated, people that I idolised, people that inspired me. From the likes of Kollington to Obey to King Sunny, to Fela to Bob Marley, to Lionel Richie to Michael Jackson, to Don Williams, Kenny Rogers, Oriental Brothers, Warrior. I listened to all these people. They formed the basis of everything I built.
How were you able to come up with your own brand of music that is peculiarly Sunny Nneji?
I think it evolved over time. I joined a band called Colours Band. In that band, we played everything, every kind of music we were like the perfect cover band for any event. We were so very popular across the country, Lagos, Abuja, Calabar. So, in the process, my own style started evolving. Because as we went to the event, as we entertained people, I started noting what people were jumping more too, what people were loving. That’s how my own style eventually evolved.
How many albums have you done? And how do you package the songs therein?
I have done 7 albums. Every album actually evolves on its own, depending on the mood of the time, the mood I am in, when I am creating. My very first album was called Captain. It was released in 1991. I wasn’t sure them, that was like the beginning. I hadn’t really evolved at that time. If you listen to the album speaks of everything I was going throughout that time, all the challenges I faced, all the down moments. All the time I said, is this going to happen or not, all the time I was trying to fight to become a man, all the emotional challenges I was having in relationships, all those were captured in that album. It was like that, from album to album, then to Mr Fantastik, from there to roforofo to Unchained album that songs like ORUKA, Kiss me, Tolotolo to Off The Hook, to Timeless. Every song has its own story based on what it was that I was going through at that point in time, what it was that was happening around me, at that point in time, whether in my personal life, or the lives of people around me or in the larger society, or in the lives of people I knew. Every album had influences like that.
When you look back at your career in music? How does it make you feel especially how the country has evolved over time.
It is very interesting. My music has evolved. The world has evolved. Music, Marketing and Distribution has also evolved and that is what we have been trying to catch up with because it is also very important to evolve as things are evolving, because if you do not evolve as things are evolving you will be left in the lurch. You will be referred to like something in the past. You will become History. so we have to try to evolve. Evolution is not an easy process. Most times we kick against it because we are used to doing things in a certain way and then something new comes and initially we try to resist it. And it happens and everybody decides.
For most artistes of my generation, when music went digital, we resisted it. We wanted to keep it analogue, because we feel analogue was where the warmth was, was where the depth was. Eventually, we had to understand that this thing has evolved ooo. It is not going to go back. So, we all had to fall in. That’s what has been happening. Everything has been evolving. And we are here also struggling to evolve with the times.
Each time you talk to the younger ones what advice do you give them?
The most important advice I give them as far as I am concerned is for them to stay original. If you look at me for instance, I have been around since 1991 and I am not relenting. Look at me still thinking of cooking music to fit into what is happening currently. That is because I believe I have something that is original, something that is unique to me. It is not a copy. That is the advice I give to them. You have to be an original because if you are a copy you will always be a 2nd best. There is a sound that is my sound. It is my sound. It is very important to discover who you are especially if you want to be in this for the long term.
That is why I do not compromise easily. You need to define who you are. Find yourself in what you do. If you do not do that, it is likely that you might not go far. You might not be around for a very long time. If you check out all the great names like Fela, KSA, Obey, Barrister, Oriental Brothers, they all have that originality. It is very very important. Originality is key. Take Tuface for instance. Tuface is original. You have to find that thing that is unique to you and not be a copy.