ROADSIDE COBBLER TURNS AFRICA'S BEST REGGAE ARTISTE
In Nigeria many talented artistes have been forced to bury their idea for want of sponsor, but Austin Peter popularly known as King Wadada refused to kill his.
He became a musician from birth as the mother confessed that the only way to calm King Wadada down was to play reggae tunes to him as a baby. Unfortunately when he came to the world, he was welcomed by very harsh conditions as his parents struggled to provide for him.
When the parents died, Austin resorted to farming but later found his way to Lagos in the late 80s where he became a cobbler to raise money to produce his first album.
King Wadada did not only produce the album, he was rewarded as he won an award every musician would always dream of. Recently, he clinched the Kora 2010 Best Reggae artiste award in Africa.
He told Saturday Sun the story of his life as a cobbler under the prominent motor bridge at the Ikeja downtown in Lagos from where he raised money come rain or shine to bring his dream album to fruition. Today, that album has given him the leverage of his life and is his turning point.
Never in their wildest dreams did the Peters bargain that they would have a son who would finally grow to carry dreadlocks. King Wadada's father travelled to Ethiopia to do farming where she met a beautiful lady, Mercy. What attracted him was the fact that she was hardworking and was always seen with her parents on their way to farm.
He approached the family and Mercy got attracted and they married. That union gave birth to a boy who never allowed her mother to sleep except when music was playing. 'I got my inspiration right from the womb as my mother told me that when I was in the womb that whenever I got restless, if she played music I would immediately calm down. Years later we had to relocate to Nigeria, where my father continued with farming. Then I had started grooming my hair into dreadlocks to portray the vision God gave me. Life was a lot easy with my mum till she died. Being her only child I had to survive knowing full well that life can never be the same with another woman.'
Years later, King Wadada's father died and King Wadada who was in his final year in secondary school decided to tow his father's line. 'After the death of my father, I discovered that if I could survive, I had to fend for myself. The only alternative was farming, so I engaged in full-scale farming. Meanwhile I knew that if I were to make anything from my calling to preach the gospel through singing, I needed to travel to Lagos. In my days in farming, I cultivated cassava, maize and yam and when harvested I would take the produce to our local market for sale.
I did that for years till I was able to save some cash that enabled me to travel to Lagos. I was told that the dream of any artiste would be fulfilled as the street was filled with gold.'
With the money he saved, Austin boarded a bus to Lagos with the hope that the little money he made through farming was enough to actualize his dream of producing his first album.
'When I got to Lagos, I discovered that life was very difficult. Nobody, even one's village people were ready to assist much. With the little money I had, I lodged in a hotel where the money quickly burnt out. That was when reality dawned on me that I had to do something to survive. It was obvious that I can no longer go into farming and I wasn't ready to work in an office as it was against my belief. I can't work in the office as a dreadlock man. A dreadlock man does not work with Babylonians (hypocrites in the name of Christians). They don't reason the same way a dreadlock man does, Babylonians reason in an artificial way but we reason normal.
I had to carve my own work as I would not do artificial job. I noticed that most of the people in Lagos are too busy that they wear dirty shoes. I decided to help them to clean their shoes. That was how I happened on cobbling as last resort.'
Now homeless, King Wadada joined other homeless boys to sleep under the bridge. 'I slept under the bridge at night, worked as a cobbler in the day. I opened a mini shop right under the bridge. I was the first person that started cobbling under the Ikeja Bridge around 1990 and sustained it till 1992. When I got some money, I rented a house.'
Excited that he had got enough money, King Wadada got himself an accommodation and moved to Fela's shrine. 'I was determined not to lose the reason I came to Lagos, that encouraged me to save as much as I can, so in less than a year I was able to secure a room. When I got the room, I went to late Fela's shrine and begged to be allowed to serve him so that I can acquire experience in music. I started working with him as one who helps to pack the equipment after every show.
While I did that, I also tried my hands on the instruments, when he discovered my talents he demanded that I should sing. I used the process to preach to him but I didn't have the guts to preach the word of God to him. I always sang 'Praise God hallelujah to him'. Initially he wanted me to play for him but he discovered that I was not that kind of person. His line of music was not my vision as a spiritual man. When I gathered enough musical experience and discovered that life was not okay for me at the shrine, I left. Fela played afrobeat and he was the king. He was a goodman but my vision was not the same as his.'
Back to cobbling
Despite the wealth of experience he got at Fela's shrine, King Wadada discovered that he was penniless and had no money to foot the bill needed to produce his album. 'I immediately went back to the cobbling business, but this time I relocated to the local airport. For some years, I did cobbling and was able to raise money to put my album Holy! Holy! Holy! together. It was in the year 2000 that I finally released the music. The day I touched the CD, I was crazy. I couldn't believe that my dream has finally come to pass. I wondered whether it was Austin who played locally at the streets, in Edo State that had come that far. My happiest day was the day I realized my dream album. God improved my lyrics as he gave me more directly from Him.'
Alaba market impetus
Although King Wadada does not believe in challenges as he takes life the way he sees it, he blamed the woes of some artistes on the fact that there seem to be no good label. 'The one that seems to be doing well would demand outrageous amount to sign an artiste. The last time I met one of the top shots in music industry, he asked me to bring N10m to listen to me. He can never sign any artist without a sponsor. That is why young artistes prefer to patronize those at Alaba. If you go to Alaba, you will pay them to copy your music, that is the way you can be heard as nobody knows you and if you don't take that option, you will die with your dreams. It is a fact that Nigerian music does not have a good label, which is why Alaba marketers get the chance to pirate music. We don't have good label except now that Miracle Day Music Label arrived. I would not fail to appreciate Uzoma Omenka, the CEO, Miracle Day Music who took it up to ensure that I remain on top without demanding a dime from me.'
Dedicating his recent Kora Award to all believers of the gospel all over the world, King Wadada told Saturday Sun that he was ordained right from his mother's womb to live righteous life. 'I started singing from creation. My parents were not Christians but idol worshippers. I was ordained from birth. I am a mystic from creation. I don't do drugs as I am a natural mystic, and the Holy Spirit charges me. That is why I dedicated the award to all the believers of the gospel all over the world. For them it is their duty to obey God. The greatest award is to have Jesus.'
With the strong hope that he would clinch a Grammy some day, King Wadada called on young ones who have the dream of being great artistes to realize that they do not have to wait for a great sponsor to hit the market. 'I made it through cobbling and staying focused. Today I am building a place where my fans will be coming to visit and listen to good music. I also hope to groom young artistes in future. I never indulged in drugs as the Holy Spirit charges me whenever I want to mount the stage. For those who do drug, I believe that it is vain and they just want to enjoy themselves. They did not choose to do it that right way. Some of them cultivate the bad habit. They should simply stay away from drugs. They should be natural.'
My wife, my eve
Among all the good things in King Wadada's life, his wife, Evelyn is prime.
'I was a vegetarian, I never mingled with women. I didn't eat food cooked by women for years. My wife was the first woman I was tempted to fall for. I have the most beautiful wife in the world whose name is Evelyn. She was a back up singer for late Sunny Okosun. I met her in a show in Ghana before I released my album.
There were well- celebrated artistes in the show. I was just invited because of my relationship with some of the reggae artistes. While they were arguing about who is to feature first, the organizers asked me to take the stage. I stole the show that day as the audience kept asking for more. It was then that I sang my maiden album hit track, Holy Holy Holy. I believe that was when she fell in love with me. I didn't know because I do not toast women nor do I eat food prepared by a woman.
There were many women rushing into my room for my autograph but in the lot I chose to fall for her. I decided to test the other side of life. She came with the excuse that she wanted to be my back up singer but then I knew what she was looking for.
'Surprisingly, that decision got her into trouble as she got pregnant. Initially, I was confused, contemplating whether I should abort the child or not. It was then that I realized that the Lord wanted to test me. She is a good woman, now we have three kids.'
Dreadlocks are spiritual
'If you want to know if I am into drugs, I'm not. Nigerians have this mentality; once they see someone with dreadlocks, they just conclude that such must be on drugs or smoke ganja. Dreadlocks are spiritual and Reggae music is a spiritual thing too. Although some musicians get involved in the use of drugs, and those are the ones that are not destined to reach out to the world.
I was not born with dreadlocks but I'm under a vow. Until the whole world repent from their sins and accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and saviour, I will not cut the locks. So, I'm out to preach God's consciousness. When people se–e me the way I am, they may think I smoke ganja but I don't. I was nominated for the category of the Best Reggae Artiste in Africa alongside other artistes from Uganda, Burkina Faso, and one other African countries. I was the only one nominated from Nigeria. To the glory of God I won the award.'
Reggae not Rastafarianism
'I'm not a Rastafarian. I'm a Christian. You are not necessarily a Rastafarian because you play Reggae music. You can dreadlocks and be a journalist, or in any other profession. That you are wearing dreadlocks doesn't make you a Rastafarian. Rastafarianism is a doctrine just like Christianity and Islam. Rastafarians worship God through Haile Sellassie just like Muslims worship God through Prophet Mohammed while the Christians do that through our Lord Jesus Christ.'