Born in the United Kingdom, Ingenious Folklore/Retro musician, simply known as Ibejii; who describes himself as a reflection of circumstances, has been making waves internationally and locally with his multi-musical approach to the art of music. In this interview with ADEYEMI TOSIN, he delves into his background, style of music, hopes for acting roles, and a bigger Nigerian fanbase.
HOW did your family react to your career choice?
My father supports it, but my mother at first didn’t, but now she does. She’s a typical African woman, in the sense of ‘what will people say? You should be a lawyer or a doctor’. But now having come to a couple of my shows, I think she’s proud of me.
Would you describe your songs as locally or internationally appealing?
It has international appeal and growing local appeal. Up until the end of the last 8-10 years there was very small or hardly any alternative music market.
The last three years have seen a significant leap forward in that space, Nigerians are expanding their love of music from what you might call just a Afro pop and Afro beat and sort of pushing the barriers a little bit. They give people like Ibejii a chance to express, so it’s a growing space; it’s an international music that is now finding expression in this market.
The Ibejii sound has been described as folkloric, why is that?
There is a song that is coming on scattered elements album, it’s called Ilu-Ilu (the drum of the town); in a metaphoric sort of sense it represents how Ibejii sees himself.
As creatives, we owe the world the duty that God shines on all of us which is to help dig out the beauty of our culture, the beauty in our ways, the beauty in our knowing and to craft them into music.
How accessible is the Nigerian music industry to Retro artiste like you?
It’s a growing space First and foremost, it’s a massive industry. The number of producers, particularly young producers, is incredible. It’s expanding all the time and I don’t know if it’s a complexity of Afro beat or Afro pop but you find out that many of the service providers within the Afro beat and Afro pop space are able to support, whether it is participial beat, whether it is jazz or modern instrumentation or whatever it is there is just an amazing talent in the production of things here. So, from technical perspective, the access is that there is an ulterior to support artistes like us and from a market prospective, it’s a growing market.
When I first came out three years ago, the people I know that got support were acts like Brymo and Asa, both of whom had very alternative music but have also come out from somewhat commercial history. Now there are so many artistes that are showing up, pushing the alternative message and getting audiences; it’s a growing audience.
Explain the Ibejii fashion and hairstyle?
To be honest, it’s just a style, it could have been anything. Sometimes it can be of a bother to carry so much hair. But because my music is axed back to an earlier time, and because we are marrying older tunes with modern lines to harken to which is somewhat of an early 70s kind of look, it has worked for Ibejii.
Can you give us a recap on your previous projects?
Green white Dope 001 is an Afro-beat kind of sound; it’s an aesthetics mix of Fuji, Juju and Afro-beat.
All Ibejii music sits on international pole-tine lines. The second one(Green White Dope) was more of world music, so it’s about mood and temperature and feel and so on. The third project(Tribal Marks) was almost entirely Afro-beat and Afro-jazz. This one(Music saved my life) we are dropping at the moment is actually just an experimental project. It’s a true definition of Ibejii, it’s just something that Ibejii tried out; it’s mid to high temple dance music. The idea is to expand the Ibejii franchise and hope that through this project, a lot of people will get to see what Ibejii does.
Talking about love, is Ibejii in love with someone?
I have a song called Euphoria. Euphoria is about a girl called Euphoriana; she is a babe, gorgeous, you look at her from top to bottom, it’s just pure beauty. You see her in Oshodi, you find her in Lekki; it’s all about the beauty of this creature. But the creature is music. So we all can consume the being of this person called music. That’s who Ibejii is in love with.
So, Ibejii has three albums already?
Yes, and he will be dropping his fourth album on the June 12th.
You tend to be quiet about your personal life, why is that?
Ibejii’s principle aspiration is to drive music, so it’s not about fame or fortune; it is about getting the world out through musical form. Ibejii has never wanted the personality behind the alter ego to become an interruption.
Let the music speak for itself, so let the person stay behind so that when you see him what you see is music. The hope is that what you get is someone whose private life to the extent that it’s not relevant for his music. It’s not a part of it, let the performance, let his message carry independence of him, so that there is no assessment that ‘oh it’s because he’s so poor. Or it’s because he’s so rich’, “or it’s because he’s so fortunate, it’s because he’s so unfortunate’; none of that, it’s just a platform through which to push music. At the end of the day, I can write a book with no one knowing who the book writer is because the book speaks for itself. Nobody asks who invented Mercedes Benz; it’s a car, you drive the car.
Music, for Ibejii, is a tool for pushing out the message, not about himself. It is not a vanity trip, and it is a musical trip.
Tell us about your recent ‘Ibejii Day’ concert; what was the idea behind it?
For years, you would have people ask what it means to be Ibejii and how it has affected this artist work. The truth is, if you are Yoruba man, you will understand when I say that being an Ibejii is both a curse and a blessing because as an Ibejii in a Yoruba home, you are treated like a deity; you can’t fall ill, so many things that you are not allowed to do because if you do it people will start panicking. It is as if you want to pop off. I grew up not liking that much. I wanted to be treated like a normal child, not like this odd creature but I found out over the years that many people who shared my works and who as twins experienced a similar sort of thing. So what most non twins see is the positive side. ‘O, there’s two of you’ yeah it’s good sometimes, but sometimes you just want to be an individual. So Ibejii day is a chance to give Ibejii’s (twins) a chance to express themselves. Just a truth of their whole journey and works and hope that others around us can get a peek into the world of twins. I have a lot of songs that I have written that are centrally focused on this issue of twinning, and Ibejii Day gives us a chance to push it out.
Is it your decision to be multi-genre just to fit in or as a result of your multiple talents?
I am not actually multi genre; we are multi musical. Let me tell you what I mean by that, for instance, for us we are not driven by genre we are driven by our love of music. So, as I said earlier, growing up, we grew up in an environment that you listen to something in the morning, a different sort of music in the afternoon and a compeletely different thing in the evening. They are very few people who are just Fuji lovers who can’t listen to anything else. As Africans, we do soul, jazz, rap, juju, fuji. Highlife, Brymo, Fela, Asa, Teddy Pendergrass, Beyonce and so on, that is true of Ibeji, so Ibejii refuses to be locked down in one genre. Now haven said that vocally and intellectually you will find out there is a commonality in my works whether am doing Jazz or whatever it is, you will see that there is a body that encapsulates the entirety of our project but it’s still about saying we can express in different forms, we are afro musicians.
Your music is not for commercial purpose, what is your drive?
Sharing, sharing my journey, sharing my love of life and some of the better greater things about our collective journey. Music gives me a chance to express that. I also write by the way. But you know using the creative space to push my beliefs and my values is an invaluable opportunity. I am very grateful to have the chance to do this. I am very grateful I have people who care enough to listen and so I am determined to continue to use this platform.
I noticed credits were given to you on the ‘Chief Daddy’ movie?
Ibejii supported Chief Daddy with a number of songs. I believe we have 4-5 songs on the movie. We are very proud to be associated with Ebonylife. They have done some amazing films, they have brought the cinema world back to life and it’s great to be associated with that. It’s our second movie. As a matter of fact, our first movie was called Catcher. We have a song on Catcher Lagos which we have actually not released but we are very proud of our association with Chief Daddy. We are working on another movie as I speak to you right now.
Any plans of taking up acting roles?
Yes we were supposed to be on ‘The Bling Lagosians’ by Bolanle Austin Peters, but we were tied up in a show in Europe during the filming season and therefore couldn’t make it, and I am very pained by that. Please if you have any roles, Ibejii is desperate to act.
What prompted your move back to Nigeria?
Ibejii is a big lover of his roots. Much of what Ibejii is today is defined by his place of origin. Our cultures, our ways, our folk-lore, our use of language, everything defines Ibejii; so he never really left here.
Is Ibejii married?
Ibejii is married to his music, he’s in love with music, he’s married to his friends; people who love his style and his journey. So, yes, he is married to the world of music.
What the weirdest thing a fan has done to you?
I tend to get a lot of ‘can I touch your hair, can I feel your hair?’ I have someone who came to see me in Ikeja two weeks ago Brymo was performing at a show in GRA and I attended that and this chap comes to me and says you are my hero and I saw his face he had hair a bit full, except that he cut the side and I said ‘you have all these hair?’ He said ‘yeah, just like you. I love hair; growing up my parents were like ‘you can’t carry this around you look like a zoo animal, and one day I saw you picture and you are successful so I went to my parents and said look at this, some people can be successful with a lot of hair and they left me alone so because of you that’s why I can carry a lot of hair.’