International Nigerian star Mr Eazi, real names Oluwatosin Oluwole Ajibade, was in Nairobi with Guilty beats, his producer from Ghana, to do the global launch of his emPawa Africa initiative. He sat down with THOMAS RAJULA to talk about the music incubator and his recently released mixed tape
In December 2015, still an unknown artiste, I managed to save up $1,000 to shoot “Banku Life”. Seeing what shooting that video did to propel my career, I have had a passion to fund videos for emerging artistes. I had been doing this expressly in Nigeria and Ghana but then my team and I decided to organise it properly and make it open to anyone from across Africa. We were lucky to get support from Bet Pawa to help me fund 100 artistes’ videos for up to $300, 000. It fitted with their slogan “Bet small, win big”, comparing what it takes to shoot a video of yourself singing then winning $3, 000 to shoot a professional one. I have committed to three years of doing this project.
Sometime last year I put out a Tweet saying, “If you’re an up-and-coming artiste send me your video to the email address below”. In 45 minutes I had received thousands of emails. However, a 20-year-old artiste from Ghana called Joeboy sent me an Instagram link to a video of him doing “Shape of You” by Ed Sheeran cover. I fell in love with it and told him I would give him $5,000. He said, more than the money, he would rather I teach him to become an entertainment entrepreneur because he might squander it. Not only did he get funded to shoot a video, I have featured on his songs and had him work with producer E Kelly – who produced “Leg Over” for me. Joeboy had less than 5,000 followers on all his social media handles, which would have made it hard for him to get to me, but that process made it possible for him to get through.
Through a similar process, artistes can put up videos of themselves on Instagram with #empawaafrica. There’s no barrier to entry. What is beautiful about this is that I have fellow musicians, deejays, radio personalities and promoters from across Africa who are going to look at these videos and help me judge within their localities. Kenyan videos will be judged by Blinky Bill and Tim Adeka. Fans can also help by commenting on the videos. The top 10 overall, will come with me to South Africa to meet up with Diplo, Raye, Maleek Berry and others to help them produce good music as well as lawyers and business men to help them in contracts and making commercial brands of themselves. Imagine being an artiste who can employ people and export Kenyan culture to the world.
I am pleased to have also launched my mixtape "Lagos to London" on November 9. In Kenya people love my song “Keys to the City” because of the line that goes “Lamba lolo, lolo lamba”. I will not go into what it means in sheng but in the streets of Nigeria “lamba” mainly means “sweet stories”. One can say, “My friend is giving me lamba”; although its meaning can also change depending on the context of what you’re talking about.
I had producers from all over the world working on this mixtape: Diplo from the US, Dice Ailes from France, Da Beat Freakz from England, Guilty Beatz from Ghana to Simba Tagz from Zimbabwe. Banku beat is a product fusion. My spirit is nomadic so everywhere I go I pick up the vibes and this makes the style a steady journey that continues to evolve; Accra to Lagos, Lagos to London, you never know where next. Fans in Kenya inspired me to use “lamba lolo” while from Zambia I got “ye ye ye ye”.
Before I put out a project, my team and I sits down and we look at whether it is worth pursuing. In Africa we like to consume music fast, so singles do better. When you put out a body of work, you have to make it stick in the minds of the fans; go beyond the music and bring them into your mind. I worked with artistes to bring each track to life visually by creating art pieces to signify each track. I drew inspiration from how Fela Kuti used to be so detailed in creating his art works. Global superstars know how serious it is to pay close attention to their videos, it’s not random.
I thank God that my music is going global. A report last year said my song is listened to in 61 countries; I can’t name that many countries. As an African, I want to ensure what I’m doing to connect with the outside world also connects with Africa, to stay in touch with my roots. That’s why I’m promoting the album in Africa first before the rest of the world. I look at Mr Eazi as a bridge that connects. I prefer to be seen as a curator rather than the best; it’s a blessing.
I like talking about emerging artistes to those who have already made it. The emerging Kenyan artiste I’m now working with is Rosa (Rosalie Akinyi). She was one of those who responded to the Tweet I had put out. When I came for the Nairobi concert in April, she came with her producer to my hotel and we set up the studio. We worked together on a song, including the song-writing, and my producers worked with her too. I feel that her energy is a factor that could make her blow up.
Designing is a new territory for me, still experimenting, but I feel like it’s part of my artistry. I want to be the best I can be; I designed jerseys for African Masters football team in Kanu Cup to support the Kanu Heart Foundation by Nwankwo Kanu. I also play a part in designing my merchandise with my team. Ideally, I want to design the slickest sneakers yet. This is the first time I’m saying this. As a child my mum gave me these sneakers that had bright colours and were very light. I would play soccer with them, go to parties in them; I want to give that happy-boy feeling to anyone who wears my multi-purpose shoes.