One of Abuja’s most consistent musicians, Jazz artiste, Shola Emmanuel, had no interest in music whatever, until he happened upon a trumpet in his grandparent’s home in Lagos in 2009. That ‘divine orchestration’ crossed his path with that of a Jazz trumpeter as his music instructor, and birthed his music career. Now a keen saxophonist, Emmanuel speaks to LEADERSHIP Books & Arts about his music style, starting out with little or no direct mentorship, and being prepared for opportunities. He also speaks on his long-awaited upcoming album.
How did you get started as a fledgling jazz artiste to prepare yourself for opportunities to play professionally?
By being true to myself. That’s the foundation, next to indirect mentorship. It is true Nigeria is not culturally a jazz environment, so I looked beyond, overseas for mentorship. I never knew personally any of my mentors. I learnt about them through research, CDs for practice, while my local contemporaries were busy mimicking those others. I guess it worked out for me.
You have created a name for yourself, collaborating and playing in several noteworthy clientele and platforms at home and abroad. How did you create such opportunities for yourself?
It was more a matter of being prepared when opportunities located me. Many Africans who travel abroad seek African food and other elements during such trips, likewise foreigners who come to Africa. They seek their food, music and anything that makes them feel at home. My style of music ability to play good Jazz music was just one of those things.
Your performance was once described as “a creative blend of music that is traditional African rhythm, while maintaining style, class and Shola Emmanuel’s unique sound”. What is your unique sound? And does this description encapsulate your music and its purpose?
My sound is drawn 50 per cent from my personality, and 50 per cent from finding a way to satisfy my fans and music lovers. My style comes from understanding what Africans don’t like about jazz, then making the change to suit my style while still playing jazz. I eliminated swing from my drumming to enable my people tap and dance to the music even if they don’t understand what my saxophone is saying. That is what the ‘creative blend’ in the aforementioned description of my performance means.
Jazz is widely known to derive its root from Africa. What is contemporary Africa’s contribution to Jazz presently that distinguishes it from jazz sounds one might hear in the Americas or Europe?
It’s in contrast with the complexity of western Jazz over the years to something more rhythmic, light toned, groovier and so on.
Many African Americans jazz artistes are worried that whites in the bid of staking a claim to Jazz, since they didn’t create it, conspire to water it down, thus, elevating and mainstreaming white artistes, over hardworking black artistes who practice core jazz. What are your thoughts or experience on this?
Music is hereditary, it can’t be watered down, not Jazz, not Highlife, not Sukus, or Reggae. Literarily, one can’t end what one can’t create.
Your performance repertoire often comprises some western jazz, an original composition of yours, jazzified gospel songs and a popular Nigerian song. I wonder, is this a way of playing safe, for your Nigerian audience who are not necessarily hardcore jazz fans?
Absolutely! What is the point of playing music and the audience can’t relate? Jazz tunes are either songs or theoretical based compositions, which is not different from how our folk songs, gospel songs and familiar tunes are written. The approach and element are what makes jazz. I may not have played a straight-ahead jazz but a core jazz fan can relate to my approach and other elements aside the melody.
Over the five years, we have known each other, you have only one album, Biowe. In fact, I know of that Modupe, and the Independence Day song. Is it the busy tours that prolong your song and album production or is it the art form itself?
The enthusiasm to maintain my style, class and still appeal to many is the reason behind my long-awaited music album. It is no news that Fela Kuti’s music has lived on after him, likewise Bob Marley and a host of others. Earlier, I spoke about vision, goals and objectives. I have recorded and trashed two musical recordings in the last three years because they didn’t meet the objective. I finally got something close and have decided to publish it by June 2019. I hope when my music is finally out, media outfits, journalists and other professionals like you will be encouraged to promote the “body of work” among other commercialised dance beats.
Describe your creative process?
My creative process varies. With my song “story story”, I started with a bass line; everything else was created around a single bass line, time signature, vocals, chord, brass, strings, drums. Biowe was inspired by a series of African proverbs I was collating in preparation for a workshop. Another song started with the thought of wooing a woman. The first and last song are in my upcoming album.
Have you considered other avenues of collaboration in Jazz, with other performing arts, besides live band performance?
I’m open to collaborating when some of the artistes start to see the need to collaborate with artists like me.
Are you saying they don’t appreciate your genre enough to realise its capacity for collaboration expansion?
They are appreciative of it. It is just that most artistes today are in it for the money. They are more drawn to collaborations that are financially promising. Unknown to them, Jazz is also financially lucrative and more durable, if you understand the market. When you understand the market, you stand a chance to stay around longer and profit from the music-making business. A good illustration is Femi Kuti and King Sunny Ade. None of the younger Nigerian artists have been around as long as the latter, who is still touring till date. Their net worth may be more than his, but they equate with Ade’s long music career and influence. Who, among the young pop artistes, rolling that roll from bed to fame can accomplish such?
What do you deem as success in your professional career?
Success in music comes from focusing on time more than the money. Focusing on time makes one stay authentic and consistent in the game. It is a game because you just might be one of the lucky ones. And if you are, be quick to diversify your money. Authenticity and consistency can also mean you will always be relevant in the industry at large, a good example is Quincy Jones. Earlier, I mentioned being true to oneself, the young professional Quincy Jones was true to himself as a jazz trumpet player and its still paying off at age 86 years.
What are your plans for 2019?
A new music album, touring, collaborating with more African artistes if they wish among other good things.
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