Cobhams Asuquo has transcended the times to become one of the leading lights of the Nigerian music industry. Recently, his ‘One Hit’ single, performed at the AMVCA got lots of accolades. In this interview with SAMUEL ABULUDE, the talented recording artiste speaks about how he got to where he is and what he wishes for himself from now on.
Many people haven’t stop talking about your AMVCA performance and the remix where you practically called who is who in Nollywood. Was it planned?
It had to have been. I couldn’t have free styled. I could have but I didn’t want to take that much of a chance. I was nervous enough flipping the song on its head before whatever it was had to be planned and that was it.
What is the inspiration behind your recent album ‘Star Light’?
It is a tribute to lovers. I came down for breakfast one morning and was just drawn to my piano and I started to play what would become the intro to the song. I just had to hum the melody, it’s a pretty simple song, nothing earth changing or life shattering. It was a regular normal day and the song just came to me from the heavens.
Should we expect more?
Certainly! I am writing a lot more and trying to put out more music and I am very excited to be doing this. I have been putting out music for people for so many years and glad to be putting mine out there now. Let’s go back in time to how your love for music started, was it what you’d always wanted to do?
I always wanted to be a lawyer and work with the international court of justice and that was not to be. But I am thankful I am doing what I am doing now. Music has always being a part of me. As a six year old, I would play the blues and whistle and a piano or a radio would always excite me. So music has always being a part of me.
What then was the push? Because sometimes, so many producers start out producing and much later reveal their artiste side?
I think it probably comes from being comfortable enough to do it feeling like you don’t hate your voice. For example, I hated my voice for years and still don’t know if I can call myself a fan of my voice. But at least, I am comfortable enough to use it. I think it comes also from the fact that this is what you’ve always wanted to do and have been procrastinating and now you are at the point where you absolutely have to do it. Recognising that you have a message to share and a voice to contribute to the world and you just do it, I think it’s all that.
You said you’ve always hated your voice, why is that?
No particular reason. Maybe it’s because I was used to it or wanted it to sound a certain way. I think it comes from knowing yourself too much and I have come to find out that a lot of musicians are not crazy about their voice. That might not be a good thing but I am also happy that I can take out time and put my voice to good use.
How would you describe your sound?
I would say my sound is honest. I make music because I want to make music and I love it. It can be reggae today, country tomorrow, I think it’s honest and it is always saying something. I think my voice is always present, it’s always sorrowful and moving.
What are some of the lessons you’ve learnt as an artiste?
I have learnt a lot. I have learnt that talent is not enough and that music is show business. The business is as important as the show side of things. I have learnt that I have to be intentional, that my voice is for me to say something strong at every given point in time. I have learnt that you can’t build a legacy without building a structure. I run a business without the pre-requisite structure and we have also hemorrhaged money, that is, we have made tons of money, but we have also lost it and we have seen how that has gone. I have learnt that I am part of a big picture and I am contributing to building this environment, this industry, this society that I am also a part of. I have learnt the importance of variety and how I fit in and I don’t necessarily have to conform because I have a space, a pace that I am setting pretty much. I have learnt to defend what I believe in and continue to seek for knowledge. I have learnt to do things on time because that is pretty much the best gift you can give to yourself. You should do things when you should because a lot of people lose opportunities when they don’t do things on time.
How have you managed to successfully strike a balance between married life and showbiz?
Number one, my wife is a very private person and I respect her privacy. Secondly, it’s just common sense and it depends on what social media is to you. Social media is a tool for me to connect with people I genuinely care about. Social media is not a place for me to pester people with how well my life is going or how well my family is doing. I feel I have a real relationship on social media when I am either connecting with people on the latest thing I am working on. I don’t feel the pressure to impress or create an impression on social media that is not my focus or goal.
I am a family person, a lover, I have always been. My family allows me do this with ease and I don’t feel I have to necessarily share. I only share what is necessary. The goal for me is to pass across a strong message. The important thing to consider is why you do what you do. For me, if the motive is love, you will know how to put things forward from a place of love.
So you don’t get to face the challenges some other artistes face with the opposite sex?
I don’t really consider this because the nature of my work means I am around the same set of people for a long period of time and when I do have interaction with other people, the interaction is heavily limited and watched. If I am at a show, I probably have people from my management team with me so it is very difficult to show up unannounced in my hotel room because I have people and they would ask questions and it’s their responsibility to protect me, keep me grounded, and they do a good job.
Have there been times you wished you had your sight?
Not as such! Sight is a gift, not that I won’t like to have a gift that is mine but I don’t sit down feeling sad and wishing I had my sight, that just doesn’t happen with me. But I know sight is a good gift and it would be interesting to experience what sight is like, I guess.
How would you assess the growth in the music industry and critical areas in need of intervention?
I would say the music industry is growing and I can say it can potentially be Nigeria’s biggest export if we manage it properly. I think some areas we need to pay attention to include being a little more intentional. I think some things are happening just like that. A lot of things are talent and culture driven but it should be driven from a business and sustainability angle. We connect the dots business wise and try to figure out how to sustain what we have because if it happened upon us, it can happen away from us. We have come to a point where we are sort of taking centre stage in a sense as far as entertainment is concerned. But I don’t know if we are taking time to try to understand the science of how we got here and how to sustain it. I feel like the Caribbean have not been able to do it with reggae music (more with reggae than calypso). And with the likes of Bob Marley who literally built an industry around the genre. We had the same opportunity with Fela and Afro-beat, but don’t know if we really made the most of it and I feel the opportunity is really presenting itself.Another area is connecting the dots from a financial stand point and how we are able to connect musicians with the finances to push their projects, to build infrastructure and get the projects to reach their audience. We don’t have enough statistics to convince investors to invest in the music industry. We need to build more data and place more value on our music. We need to have more data on how many people consume our music and how potentially we can become an industry because these numbers can translate into dollars and cents. We also need to have conversations which engage the players, those who actually see the value of this music and how it can translate to money, as well as how we can build a sustainable industry.
How grounded do you think budding artistes should be considering the fact that most are only crazy about being famous and having hits?
I think they really need to be as grounded as possible. The business of music is a business and has the attributes of any form of business. The transactions involve contractual agreements and you need to talk about the numbers as an artiste and how much sense the numbers make. That means that we need to be knowledgeable in these areas before we are able to manage your portfolio and business. We really need to have a serious business conversations and be well grounded to manage a sustainable music industry. Talent is great but talent is not enough but only scratching the surface.
Talent is what makes you live from hand to mouth while understanding the methodology of sustaining a business is what helps you build a lasting legacy. Poverty has done a lot of damage in our space and a lot of people are concerned with the basic necessities of life but it goes beyond that because people are able to build cities and businesses based on proper business principles and managing and exploiting talents. I think that it is a serious conversation that needs to be heard and we need to understand the value of proper talent management. That is why I said people from legal and human resources, need to get more involved in music. We need to have a holistic view of the talent industry and sort of position people so that it can become a perfectly oiled machine that runs smoothly.
Musicians have their role to play in understanding the process and value of the business, fame won’t do that for you. When you talk about a lot of people being interested in fame, it is because fame is what you see and fame is what you want. There is a general assumption that fame will bring you money, which can be true for some. But understanding the inner workings of the industry is what pretty much helps everyone position themselves appropriately.
Why do you think legal tussle between artistes and their record labels is rampant?
I think this is partly because we haven’t instituted the right structures to manage labels and artistes, we are ignorant and make it up as we go and with that, there is bound to be errors. There is desperation, there is poverty because what you see is what will help you get out of your financial situation and you forget that someone’s money goes into making you what you are today. Suddenly, it doesn’t matter to you because you are now at par with your label or on some level you are not taking the necessary steps to protect yourself because you are ignorant of the clauses of your contract that bind you in a certain way and you have not had a lawyer look at your document. On the part of the label, you are entering into this business where you don’t have the right pre- requisites, the right financial muscle and in time, you notice you are running out of steam and your artiste is becoming frustrated and bad blood begins to build. Or you don’t have the manpower or the schedule to sort of manage the process the way an artiste will want to be managed or you don’t understand the process of managing talents because talents can be quite expressive and erratic sometimes.
All these issues just crop up and, I mean, there are varying components it takes to put a label or artiste to work with a label together and a lot of times, these things are missing. As a country, we need to have the infrastructure to support labels as a business because distribution is key and we don’t have distribution. We only have it in pockets and where there is distribution through digital outlets like iTunes and the likes, we don’t build the right strategy around it.
Which has been the most remarkable highlights of your career?
I will have to think about that because I have been asked this question a couple of times and haven’t been able to place an actual answer. Quite a number of things have happened to me sometimes it’s meeting a certain person or people.
When I met Chiamanda, I thought that was one of the major highlights of my career. I absolutely love her and have read all her works. Another highlight was meeting Professor Wole Soyinka. It was like he came out of my dreams and into my reality. I felt the same way when I met Marcus Miller, Nathan East – these are bass players. I felt the same way when I performed with Don Moen. I felt the same way when I met Bono. It happens to me a lot when I meet people and collaborate with people. I can’t point out just one person. It’s just meeting people just like Richard Branson and having conversations with them, it’s awe inspiring for me.
Which of your songs or albums was the most challenging producing it?
I can’t really say I have a particular one. When I approach a project, I think of them individually, uniquely, I don’t lock them together. Even when I think of artiste album, I think of them as a collection of singles individually important to me.
What other music works or projects should we expect from you?
I am putting out a lot of new music. I have two new ones coming out before the end of the year and I am really excited about those and live performances. I am having a concert and it is going to be headlined by me and a major international artiste.
Should we expect a Christmas album from you?
That is an interesting idea now that you have mentioned it. But I think my friend, Timi Dakolo, is going to put out a Christmas single but let’s see. I don’t really know.