Dec 21, 2010

Interview with Dede Mabiaku (Nigeria, 2009)

The interview

Dede Mabiaku is the reporter’s delight any day. And just like his late mentor and Afro beat legend, Fela Anikulapo- Kuti, his word leaves a delightful echo in the ear. Twelve years after the Fela, otherwise known as Abami Eda, (The man with death in his pouch) passed on, the Warri, Delta State born musician is yet to release his debut album.

But you’ve not been playing for long.

The moment you get married, it is a different scene entirely. With my band, yes. It’s been long. But like I said, I was away. I had been living in Ghana, not in Nigeria. So, I put the band on break.

What were you doing in Ghana?

Actually, I went there for arts related business in music. I’m into different things in the arts world. Music alone has its own time. We must know that people learn different things in life as they progress. Well, I was in Ghana. And it was another education for me, understanding what production was all about.

Learning musical production?

Yes, musical production. I was into studio technology and the rest of them and then I was also performing. But in all, I went to Ghana to catch some rest. I needed it.

You were learning production in Ghana. Aren’t there good studios in Nigeria?

No, I said there are good studios. The scene in Ghana was very convenient for me to study, to learn what I wanted to learn. There was much to learn and the shows I had in Ghana with my band were different. I recorded in different places. I recorded in Ghana in 2000, in 1998 first, as a matter of fact. I recorded with a friend of mine in 2002. I recorded in Nigeria also. So, I understand the patience level of the Ghanian studio. It is different from the patience level of the Nigerian studio. The business schedule of the Ghanian studio is different from that of the Nigerian studio. I found my better option in Ghana.

Afrobeat. Which country is better- Ghana or Nigeria?

Nigeria, because that’s the source. Ghana has an understanding of Afrobeat from their direct contact with Fela when he went to Ghana. And so they are in love with Afro-beat based on that. But not as much as Nigerians. Well, you physically dress to adapt to your style of music, though I wouldn’t want to call it Afro-beat anymore. Yeah, Afro-beat is a serious education of comparative high life.

Are we looking at the Oni dodo and the Koola Lobito level of those days?

No, I thought back to one time when Fela used to gist with me. He would say, ‘Dede, look there is one thing I want you to do. Go and listen to those high life days of old…. When you listen to them, then you will begin to understand the ingredients of a true African music. You must go back and start to listen to these things. And then go and start listening to reggae…rhythm and blues. You need to educate yourself and improve based on the knowledge you gain. After a few years, I decided to study properly.

The years of sacrifice, moving from one country to another playing music. One would have expected that you’ve learnt enough to tell Nigeria, this is what I learnt from the master. I think you’re missing the point because Nigerians are already knowing and feeling what I learnt from the master. It’s simply wrong if you say I have not done anything within these periods. Then, that’s not putting it in the right context. As far as music is concerned, nobody can say I’m not delivering the way I need to.

Then, why haven’t you produced an album?

If you’re talking about releasing an album, that’s a different cup of tea, and I have my reasons for not wanting to do that yet. This is because I discovered certain things we have to do.

What were those things?

It got to a stage where some powers said that we cannot even play music; that we should just step away from it; we should not even attempt it. I didn’t think that was the case. I thought very strongly that if the source had to be in existence and in these present time of ours, then without the foundation, we are nothing. I had to make sure that these things that we are doing will gain more essence. So I sacrificed all to make sure that the original unit that is Fela’s Egypt 80 band was standing firm. Secondly, I had to make sure also that the top of that unit stands solid and is able to carry on where it needs to carry on. So ultimately, until that was done, then I can start doing the remaining things that I need to do.

And what were the remaining things that you needed to do?

You know them now, at least by now you see say the band don strong. I remember many years back, we brought the whole band to sit here and start to structure how Fela used to do his music itself. Seun was in school, in Liverpool then, and it was me with the team. They (Egypt 80 band) will give you the story and details of what happened. I left every thing undone, sacrificed for the band because it was important. I had to do all these because I knew Seun had a lot to offer because he is the last of the origin. Remember Fela handed him over to me. Today, they are doing very well all over the world and I’m happy and proud.

But somebody at that time said the reason you didn’t want to release an album was because you were scared of being judged?

I know that many years ago, you heard some songs from my album The green and white one. That was part of what we were pushing forward at that time. The reason why we stopped that was because we knew within ourselves that it had to be stopped.
But for me, spiritually, that happened because it had to stop for me to concentrate on what I needed to do ultimately because if I had taken my focus from what was happening with the band, it wouldn’t have been good for all of us. Can you be more specific. Now that you are back in

Nigeria, what are we expecting from Dede?

We are starting performances fully now. Thank God it’s home first and we are going to Warri.

This is your first show in how many years in Nigeria?

We did a show in December in Calabar for the carnival. It was the jazz fiesta. It featured Hugh Masakela, Asha and my band. The music was well taken in Calabar. But after that performance, I sent the band on break pending my return to Nigeria fully. I am happy they understood and also happy the guys stood by me. They know there is something to offer. That’s why we are back on track. Let’s talk about your personal life. Someone said the reason you went to Ghana was because of a woman. Before I met the woman I married, I had been going to Ghana. I have been going to Ghana since 1995. Usually, I’d spend about two weeks, just to rest and come back so that they don’t take you on a wrong drive.

In later years (2000) when I went to Ghana, I stayed for three months. So it’s not true that a woman made me settle in Ghana. I stayed there myself intentionally and when I went back in 2002, I stayed for four months. But you didn’t meet her in your first few years in Ghana.

I met her when I turned 40. In my life, I had seen it all and I felt there was nothing left but to get married. Besides, I liked her. So, I thought I should just get married, after all it’s not a crime. I went into it to feel and experience what marriage was all about.

I have heard that your ex- girl, Bimbo is back. No, Bimbo and I are just friends and we remained friends, even when I got married. So, what is between us today is just purely friendship, like a brother and sister thing. It is very deep and nothing can change that.

But sometimes, I ask myself why real friends can’t get married and still remain friends?

The point is that the moment you get married, it is a different scene entirely. The ownership clause comes in and that becomes the major problem because she wants to own her own sector and the man wants to dominant his domain. And when that happens, you must compromise. But when it’s not working the right way, it’s stupid to continue to break your head. It is better you remain friends and have peace of mind.

Now that you have tested marriage, would you like to test it again?

No, I won’t get married again. I don’t need it. I have children.

How would your dad feel knowing that his first son is not married?

You are getting the whole picture wrong. Marriage is different from companionship.

Do you have sisters and brothers?

Plenty. You can’t even count. My family members are calm and very reserved. They don’t like publicity. But I am different for I am the only one in the eye of the public. I am very happy with the profession I chose. Recently, some group of persons gathered and said they were embarking on hunger strike to protest against piracy.

What’s your take on this?

That time when Fela was talking about piracy, he did it alone without anybody. Other musicians didn’t support him. Some went behind his back and paid radio stations to play their music. And Fela at that point was saying the reverse should be the case, they should pay the musicians.

Fela was exposed to the people abroad. He was receiving royalty from those units and he believed that the same system should start to function here in Nigeria. Because nobody supported his campaign, today we are going back to the same old story. Right now, I think we are going about it the wrong way. Let’s be realistic. When we talk of piracy, I ask, ‘ have we been able to identify how piracy came in the first place?’ We need to identify them because there was a hollow in the music industry.

The market unit collapsed, the artiste and repertoire unit collapsed, the management of artiste themselves collapsed, the recording company, many of them folded up. So, ultimately what happened was that it became an all comers affair.

These people you call pirates, are they not human beings? Since dem no be spirits, they have addresses where they operate from. And the people know who sell for them. Instead of fighting these people, get the data base of all of them, identify their marketing units, legitimize them and lecture them on what they stand to gain if they become the real marketing outlets. But if you are not interested in following the part of peace and you want to kill their units directly, then go directly and destroy their companies.

Blow them up but that’s not what you want to do. The issue of piracy started here because there was no structures on ground. Some people had to do something to keep the music industry breathing. So, what you need to do now is make them understand what it would take for them to be credible and legitimate.

So, when are we expecting your new album?

To pin a date on it now won’t be proper. There is a team working on a package locally and internationally and that team is what I am working with now. I am going by what they have laid down. They want to do proper management structuring and I’m ready for them. They were here recently and they came in from Paris. We spent time together with the band and they were very happy with what they saw on ground. We’ve started the ball rolling. So, let’s give Dede the support now because he is back on stage live. Let’s have fun men.


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