Within the music industry the name Laolu Akins is big. He was for very many years a big musician of international standard. He has also been a music producer of note who has produced hit songs for all the big names in the 70s, 80s and 90s. And the big news is that Uncle Laolu is not slowing down a bit. He still goes to his Ikeja Studio where he still produces for select acts.
The amazing thing is how this pencil slim music producer has been able to keep looking refreshingly young. Many don’t know he is 70. Though he turned 70 several months back he does not look it at all.And he is still his athletic self.
Last week, City People Publisher SEYE KEHINDE and Music Reporter DAN EMMANUEL spent some quality time with Uncle Laolu at his Ikeja studios. For those who don’t know, he was born in the mid-forties to an Egba father and an Egbado mother. He happens to be one of the few Nigerians to commercialize music production with albums of platinum sales like Shina Peters’ Ace and Shinamania as well as Adewale Ayuba’s Bubble to his credit. He started his career four decades ago and he has travelled to many parts of the world like United Kingdom, Germany, The Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, United States, Canada and most parts of Africa to perform and to acquire skills in his profession; music production. He is a father of 3. Welcome to the world of Olaoluwa Oluwole Akintobi a.k.a Laolu Akins as he regaled us with how he started his music career, the secret behind his success, his take on young music artistes and producers and his desire for the music industry. Enjoy
What has kept you going all these years?
Let’s just say that anything that one does that he doesn’t have a feeling or passion for it is not worth ones while. For me, even though it wasn’t what I planned at the beginning of my life but it then took preeminent at a certain time in my life and since that time I have found out that I feel joy every time I take a step towards that path and nothing comes as discouragement or regret ever since I followed it through. One thing stands, for every job one undertakes, there are challenges; positive challenges that try to make you better and assist or lend support to a better cause.
For how many years now have you taken this path?
To be precise, I didn’t become a musician per-say until about 1970/1971. That was when I began to get serious about it. That was the point in time the opportunity started rolling in. That was the period Ginger Baker came to Nigeria and wanted to form an African group and he chose me, the Lijinadu sisters, Becky Jones, Tunde Kuboye and quite a number of us. I got engaged fully and I began to learn more and expand in the music area of my life.
How did music really start for you? At what point, did you know it was the path to follow?
When I was very young, even during my elementary school days, we used to have festive period carnivals and both young and old would gather together and play different instruments. That was how it all began for me and it was basically fun for me then but as I grew older, the urge just didn’t stop. When I came to Lagos to stay with my uncle who worked at John Holt at the time, we would sit and watch musicians on Television and I started developing the urge to be a musician intensely. We lived around Alagomeji then and there was a Youth Club there which was then funded by the Ministry of Information. I always stole time to go the youth club on Saturdays. They provided musical instruments and games for the youth to get involved. I found the avenue to get involved, it was fun for me and it created an opportunity for me to develop myself. I had the privilege to the drum-set and that was my very first contact with real musical instruments. This was around 1961/1962.
From Lagos, my uncle was transferred to Port Harcourt and I moved with and luckily, he was transferred back to Lagos and we still lived around the Alagomeji area.
During this era, there were music groups in high schools and there was a group called the Clusters situated in Noble street Yaba. Bob Komo was the drummer of the group. One day the drummer, Bob Komo wasn’t available and I told them I could drum if they allowed me to play. They looked me funny at first but allowed me play and after my performance that day, they were pleased and that was how I joined the clusters. Things grew from there.
Ginger Bakers formation of the African Group took me to another level. We toured countries in Europe and wide and were managed at the highest level.
My mom once asked me if it was music that I wanted to do, I told her it doesn’t stop me from doing other things and the day I find out that it wasn’t worth my while I would abandon it, and she never asked me about it till she passed away. That is how I have immersed myself mainly into music.
After I found myself taking music very seriously, I decided to further my knowledge about it and after the Ginger Baker group, we formed the BLO in October 1972 and 2 years later we were sent abroad to be managed by a company in UK and we spent some good years there, that gave me the opportunity to learn and go into music production.
The time the group BLO was returning back to Nigeria in 1981, we had decided to comeback and set up an outfit that would help grow the Nigerian music industry, so we formed the BLO Productions and brought it back to Nigeria. That was the beginning of another era for us as we started producing so many big names in the industry now, people like Chris Essien-Mbokwe, King Sunny Ade, Chris Okotie, Onyeka Nwenu and so on
How did it make you feel knowing that you were the hottest in Music production as at that time?
It felt so good because we devoted time to music and it yielded results. I tell young acts today who are in a haste to make money and fame don’t devote so much time to their career. The time we devoted and invested in our music career gave us the experience, knowledge, exposure and so much more. We worked with people in high places, we toured with top groups like Santana, Phil Collins and so on When you see the level at which those foreign groups practice, you can’t but want to learn and expand. We had all the instruments readily available for us, we didn’t have to pay for transport or stress ourselves over one orthodox thing or the other, all we needed was provided, all we had to do was sing and play as a band. These are factors that contributed to our success. It felt so good and we brought this back to Nigeria to grow the industry and we were able to do a bit of that, if not completely we did set the pace.
How old is Laolu Kings?
On the 18th of November, I turned 70.
How did you celebrate it?
First thing I did was to go to Church and thank God, then I spent time with my families and friends. I got 2 big cakes from COSON and AFRIMA. I thank God for my life, I have come so far and a lot of people don’t believe my age. By the Grace of God I have been blessed. I got honoured by City People, some people wrote lovely tributes on my birthday and so on.
How did you come about the name Akins?
That was given to me by the media. My surname is Akintobi. In the early years, one of our mentors in the Clusters, Eddy Adeyokun gave me the name Akins when they were looking for a funky name to give me and that went to the media and that was how it did spread and came about.
How have you been able to balance your private life and your music life?
Like I said before, I am blessed. My wife who is from another music family, The Oyesiku, met me at a gig many years ago, It was a martini event. We were just friends for about 5 years before we started dating and then got married. She is a wonderful woman. I am happy I married my friend of 5 years, dated her for 6 years and then married her. She is understanding, God Given and God fearing. I am pleased to have peace at home and peace at work. My wife knows me well, I go where ever I want to go and I am thankful to God.
Are your children involved with music?
No, they are not. They wouldn’t go into music but my 2 daughters sing very well. They even got recognized in their school in the states for their music and leadership of the African music. One of my girls is in the media, she works with a very popular Television company and the other girl is into HR. The last child who is a boy is into Insurance.
How do you see the new generation artistes?
Well, if you remember in the 80s, it was when the likes of Onyeka Nwenu, Chris Okotie, Felix Liberty and so on were making waves. That was the beginning of the development of new music in Nigeria. It was a new development and all that went into the years of Mike Okri, Shina Peters, Dele Taiwo and so on. We had started to develop made in Nigerian music and we were happy about it. The transistion happened and today we have the new generation acts. It’s all a development and the world itself is a cycle. The cycle we started in the 70s gave way to the ones of the 80s and then the 90s and so on to this generation. The development came from us in BLO, as far back as when we returned and we wanted to carve a new niche for ourselves in Nigeria. We would just play and rehearse until one day we found that new style and pattern and it stuck. And that has transitioned through the cycle to this generation. The young ones of today has taken from the previous generations and tried to blend it into the new school, again the society has a part in that. The music that you give to a society and is accepted by the society is termed good for them. So when you hear a music that is centered on some sort of influences and accepted as hits or good music then the society played a huge role in it. I have said this so many times that the transition would come and fade away for another cycle to begin and some of the artistes who have sang untidy songs would look back and reflect on why they did it and vice versa.
You are very much still active as a producer; do you produce for any of the new generation artistes?
At the point that I actually left Sony many years ago, I was involved in some developmental projects and one of them was with MTN which brought out P-Square. I was involved in their very first album as well. At a point, I looked at the industry and lost interest in involvement. My credentials show that I don’t do music that have no content, message, melody, rhythm and so on. So, I decided to lay back a little until I found a young artist who is very talented and we have recorded some numbers, printed the jackets and so on. I would be introducing him very soon, he is a complete artist. That shows that I work better with talents who know music and not just the conventional new generation who are always in a haste to get their music out.
At the same time, I am not totally quiet, I have and is still involved in mentoring talents in the industry.
Whats your say on the new technology and method of production?
A lot of the artistes today are either singers or rappers. I don’t know if it is deliberate but musicians are not really involved. This generation has taken down the playing of live instruments and have been overthrown by the digital introductions. Anybody who is conversant with a production program on his laptop or computer can just take samples from existing sounds and make a beat from it and then record a track using a plugged-in microphone and then you have a new song out. And a lot of them have been successful with it, but the thing his, using live instruments would help you last longer. Lot of new generation acts don’t last because they depend on themselves only to write and make music. A band benefit from each other thereby bringing in new ideas that becomes good music. I am happy to say that a lot of the new acts like 2Face iIdibia, Darey Art Alade and so on are embracing bands and it has made them successful.
Any plans for retirement?
First of all, there is no retirement from music, it’s a gift and it is how you develop and expand in it that matters. You have to seek more knowledge and learn more. You live with your God given talent forever. I am so happy and blessed that the gift that God has given me, I can share it with others.
What Messages do you give to young artistes?
I love to grab any and every opportunity to address young acts in the industry when the chance shows itself. At the City People Music Concert where I was honoured, I gave a speech to the new acts advising them on how to go about their music business and loopholes to avoid. A lot of young ones see different pictures and are misled. How can you sing about having so much dollars during recession? That’s not inspiring and the content is off. Another point is that artistes need to work together and follow certain guidelines. Everyone is just doing what they believe. That’s why I keep hammering that they should make PMAN work. It is a body that can gather every act under one umbrella and nurture each other through a dedicated guideline. I will spend as much time as I can to counsel artist and help them through the path that would push them through their career. The stage that I am at right now makes it necessary that I counsel artists because if I don’t, then I wouldn’t be giving back to the society.