You cannot possibly write the story of the music industry in Nigeria, from the early 90s till late 2000, and not engrave in gold the name, African China. He hit the music scene like a storm and left us all gasping for breath and asking for more. No show, no concert was complete with African China topping the bill. He was not just one of the leading A-list singers at the time, he was also one of the artists who was hitting the industry with hit after hit, most of which became street anthems. A lot of those songs rose to the top of every major music chart in the country and even beyond. And till this very moment, many of his songs still enjoy airplay as they are deemed to still be relevant even after 18 years down the line. A couple of weeks back, the legendary artiste whose real name is Chinagorom Onuoha, breezed into the City People office and had an engaging time with City People Senior Editor, WALE LAWAL (08037209290). He spoke candidly about why he’s been off the music scene and what he thinks of the new generation of artistes.
Firstly, what really has been happening with African China, why the disappearing act and leaving the younger ones to take over the industry?
Well, African China as a person just chose to allow the younger ones to showcase what they have to offer so that we can be able to tell them, whether they got it right here or wrong there. That way, we can be able to see if there are any lapses in the industry. The young generation came into the industry and took it to greater height and there is no doubt about that. In the case of management, we have better managers managing the artistes, quality video shooting, stage management, sound production, even though to a large extent they did not bring out the sound quality as we have it now, rather what they did is to upgrade and that really has helped the industry a lot.
What’s your take on the content of our music today?
Interestingly, today, most artistes first listen to the beat of a song or a track and just jump on it, without doing a well detailed analysis of the composition of what the song entails. If you were to listen to most songs of today and you do a very good lyrical analysis, you would find out from the beginning of a song, that the artist is talking about a girl, in the middle, he’s talking about poverty, while close to the chorus, you’re hearing about alcohol, drugs and towards the end you hear about sex and how he’s spending money.
Really, at that point you now start wondering where is the song going to? What is the message? In the end, you just find out it has good melody, but no message really.
Would it be right to say, from the time of the Mandators, down to you (African China), of course with the late legend himself, Fela Anikulapokuti, there has been a drought of artists who gave us quality songs with strong messages?
Three years ago, some group of white individuals came all the way from the UK wanting to do a study about African China. They said that they saw him as an activist, and that they had listened to his songs.
It really touched me. And I wondered, if those outside the shores of our country could understand the message and what we did with our music way back then, then how come our people can’t appreciate the message? Then also, just last year, another set of group came from Europe to interview me, and they said that African China’s music is being used as a form of understudy in their schools, back in Europe. At that point, really, what else can you say? Nothing beats a good song with a powerful message.
For the record, why did African China stop recording or performing?
Ok, I did not really take a break, I took a break if you would call it that, around 2007, 2008, because I was often travelling in and out of the shores of Nigeria. I was not fully based then in Nigeria, I was out of the country sorting out my family and also other things that African China was into, which was business. I had to get that business part cleared, so that I eventually would have one or two things to fall back to. I wanted to guarantee my future and be sure that by the time I returned, I would have no need to be begging anyone for anything.
Eighteen years after you released Mr. President, every word in that song still resonates till this very day, how do you feel about it?
It gladdens my heart, really. Like I said, if you were to listen to our artistes of today, if they manage to do a very good song, it only rains for a couple of months, at the end of the day it’s forgotten. But like I said, because I had taken my time to do a comprehensive song, it is still relevant even till date, to the effect that some politicians sometime use the song at their rallies if they are not from the ruling party. In fact, I have sometimes been tagged along with some of the posting of the use of the song by some groups for electoral campaign.
This is when you really begin to appreciate, a good work, so much that, regardless of however they may want to suppress your work or shut it down whether via television, radio or whatever, what is good will always stand the test of time. That begins to explain why Fela built the African shrine, so that, in his quest to speak the truth at all time through his songs, no matter how they try to shut him down, his die- hard fans, could always easily come down to the shrine and still get full dose of him there.
With the event of today in which one would take one’s songs to both radio and TV stations, and they would say to you that they would want to screen the production of the song before considering playing my song, I simply tell them to go ahead but that if they expect that I would give anyone anything so they can play my songs, it won’t happen.
I have several new songs and I always tell my fans to go to my youtube channel to check out all of my new songs. If truth be told, if we had taken this music industry with the sort of attitude the younger ones are bringing to it, I’m talking about people like myself, 2baba, Sound Sultan, honestly it would have been very difficult for them, the new acts, to break into it. There is a process, you don’t just wake up one morning and you just want to blow, it takes time. I served several people to get to where I am today. I served big names like Ras Kimono, Prince Isaac Black, I even served Daniel Wilson, while Fela remains my mentor.
Apart from Fela being your biggest inspiration, who are the other people you can mention that also inspired you?
Well, others would include Alpha Blondy, Buju, Marley, Lucky Dube, Peter Tosh and so many others. Truly, life is a process. You just don’t wake up and just want to blow, in fact, I have had several artistes that have come to me wanting to remix my songs and I have come out straight, restricting any artiste from doing so. Leave the song as it is, rather, I have often asked such artist to come and let’s do new songs, that I would prefer new songs for this time, that would also become relevant in the future as well.
So can we say that African China does not drink or smoke?
Laughs! I don’t smoke, but I drink occasionally.
How did African China get his break musically?
Well, for me, my opportunity came after I had finished serving several of this greats, I decided to go out there to try things out for myself. I started going to competitions, some I would simply learn from, some I came 3rd.. It was until I got into Nigeria song festival, same competition that Sound Sultan had also won, I remember Asa was also in that competition. I won that edition of the competition and still, no one wanted to sign me so I started working with Tequila Event. I was working with them as an MC and also as a DJ.
They were then promoting Gold Circle condom, so I worked with them for some time, raised some money, then went to the studio and recorded my first single political crisis. Then, I met this marketer who was really interested in some artistes friends of mine and interestingly, one of the artistes they were interested is told them to go hook up with me, that I was much hotter than they were. And from 1999 till date, I still have a good relationship with this same marketer. That was how I got my break.
Should we be expecting something new from you anytime soon?
Currently I have a single I’m pushing, titled Letter to Mr. President, and I’m working on another song. Though, I have the verses to the song ready, but I’m still working on the chorus for the song, I’m looking for something strong for the chorus. So, definitely, something new would soon be coming out from my end.
We will be having our music Awards coming up soon, what should we be expecting from you?
Well, City People have always been family to me and you can be rest assured I would be there and supporting all the way.