My life is about women

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Before he got the popular name, MC Basket Mouth, Ernest Essien was previously known as Spencer. People who admire his deep sense of humour gave these names to him. Essien, who described himself as a barracks boy, explained that although he started comedy in the barracks, his love for music enables him to criticise Nigerian women.

Essentially, Essien’s criticism is to counsel the womenfolk. Because of this, he has an album; Nigerian Girl, that would soon be released. Having launched himself into the entertainment industry, with music and comedy, Essien said he draws inspiration from other artistes, like Ali Baba, John Chukwu, Dede Mabiaku, Bisi Olatilo.

My name is Ernest Essien. I hail from Akwa Ibom State, but was born in Port Harcourt. I grew up and had my education in Jos, Plateau State. I grew up in the barracks, because my father was a soldier. So I am a barracks boy. My mother was a seamstress. That is what they call fashion designing today. I am married to Precious who is into costume and make-up in the movie industry. We have a beautiful daughter we named Angel.

Barracks boy
There is nothing really behind that. It is just that my father was a military man, we lived and grew up in the barracks. It is just that barracks is a place where everybody speaks one language. But I understand Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa as well as my language very well.

How I started
It all started when I was small. I was born into a family where both parents sang as choristers. In fact, my father was a choirmaster. I started in the choir at a very tender age. My father loved and played every music - reggae, highlife, disco and blues. I learnt virtually all, as the musicians sang. When I went to Jos, I was in the school choir and band. Later, I joined a band called Inner Vision in Jos. This was in the 1980s. The comedy thing started at a tender age too. My father was a very funny person. He joked much and we always laughed. Above all, barracks is a place where people crack jokes a lot. It is a place where people ‘yab’ one another.

Seriousness with music
For quite sometime, I was not serious. But when we moved to Uyo as Akwa Ibom State was created, I became serious with music. I was working with an electrical engineering company. I joined a band called Revolution Band. That was when I started music professionally. Within a short time, I started playing musical instruments. Comedy became dormant as I was concentrating on music. In 1993, I moved to Lagos. In between my music I insert jokes. I joined another band called Jahanson and the Frontliners. I was with them for five years and later became the band leader. I did some back-ups for Christiana Essien. I also played second base for Dede Mabiaku.

Each time I went to Golden Mother in Surulere, I sat with Ali Baba and other comedians. I listened to their jokes and used them to polish my own. Then, whenever I watch Ali Baba, Patrick Doyle, Bisi Olatilo on television, I always laugh at them, wondering what is wrong with the guys. Don’t they know that comedy cannot sell in Nigeria? But the way the whole thing turned out, I give kudos to Ali Baba, because he made us realise that we can actually earn a living from jokes. I respect people like late John Chukwu, Wee Wee and Baba Sala. I came into comedy fully in 1996.
Night of a thousand laugh

It was Night of a thousand laugh produced by Opa Williams that brought corporate sponsorship into comedy. It really made people realise the use of comedians in their events. Before, they can manage with any master of ceremony. I must say this is a good concept. I salute the courage of those who planned it - Opa Williams, Okey Bakassi, Yibo Koko and Sam Dede.

They have really inspired many comedians. It is like the Apolo in America. An upcoming artiste in America who has not performed at the Apolo cannot be accepted anywhere. So if you want to be a comedian in Nigeria, and you have not featured in Night of a Thousand Laugh, you cannot be recognised.

Why Basket Mouth?
I did not give myself Basket Mouth. When I was in school, I used to answer Spencer, because people said I was always as comic as Frank Spencer who was always doing stupid things. Of course, comedy is all about doing stupid things as a clown but in a more constructive way. Normally, if we finish playing music in our band, I would pick the microphone and start 'yabbing' people. One day somebody 'yabbed' me and said I yab like Fela, asking whether I was Basket Mouth. From there, people started calling me by that name.

Nigerian Girls
Along the line, I met Albert Kalu, a musician who did a song, Oh! Sister Caro. I was coordinating his band whenever he was not around. From there, I got the inspiration for my music Nigerian Girl.

I have been virtually in all parts of Nigeria to present jokes and sometimes for musical concert. I have been to Abuja, Sokoto, Jos, Owerri, Port-Harcourt, Aba, Enugu, Ife and Ibadan. I have performed for the big and the low in this country.

My band
Because my entertainment company is Talk Loud, my band is Talk Loud Entertainment Band. I gave the name because I believe that comedy is all about talking aloud to express oneself. In musicomedy, I criticise girls over certain things they do. I equally advise them with my loud voice.

Igbo and Delta girls
I highlight what girls in various ethnic groups do, like Igbo girls only need to look at your pocket and tell you the exact amount of money you have and it must be correct. This is to caution them on their attitude towards money. Then Delta girls are very harsh and always in love with Ogogoro. Talking about Benin girls, I criticise them for prostitution.

Opinions are different. Most people may listen to my music and think it is offensive. Some will see it as a good message. But all I am trying to say is for people to be themselves. If there are things you do that affect those around you, then you should stop it. I am for positive change in the society.