Tony Tetuila thrills America, Ladies in skimpy dresses scream as he plays
He's in the United States on one major mission: to shoot a few videos for his latest album entitled Free Soldier. But Afro-hip-hop sensation, Anthony Olanrewaju Awotoye, known by all as Tony Tetuila, could as well have tagged his trip 'American Tour 2006'. Since he breezed into the country in February, the yellow-haired 'My Car' crooner has had no respite from die-hard male and female fans craving his music.
From city to city and state to state, Tetuila has found himself mounting the stage. From Boston to Baltimore, from Brooklyn, New York to Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, Tetuila has performed at sold-out concerts and private ceremonies filled with both the young and the not-so-young, male and female, with a steady stream of screaming ladies in skimpy wears unabashedly wanting a little more than music from the handsome star.
"It's been overwhelming", Tony tells this reporter. "It's a unique experience for me. I mean, I've been traveling to Europe and a lot of other places. But this trip is just whao! And to think that I'm not even on a playing tour."
The watch reads 7.02 as the reporter's companion, Rufus, presses the bell at the door of the elegant, white-coated house on Dupont Avenue this beautiful Easter Sunday in the spring. The sun retires slowly, nestling amidst an aesthetic hue of red even as three excited kids gleefully bike down the street. An excited raccoon, a squirrel-like creature seemingly enjoying the springy air, suddenly darts across the street, away from the deadly touch of a bike's tyres.
Two cute Dodge Durango trucks sit smugly in the garage. Inside, the landlord, Tetuila's elder brother, Francis Awotoye, quickly summons the singer upstairs. Ninety-three seconds later, the artiste breezes into the living room looking casual in a light white sports vest and a pair of blue denim trousers. A couple of rings adorn his fingers while two silver earrings dangle from both ears. "This face looks familiar", he says, tilting his head back, trying to recollect where and when. You remind him you met once or twice a couple of years back in Lagos. And as the elder Awotoye and Rufus busy themselves watching a game on the big TV screen, Tony and the reporter retire to a corner.
So how has his trip been so far? "Quite interesting", he tells you, a grin playing around his lips. "Since we hit America, it's been fun all the way. I said we because I came with my manager, Mr Emmanuel Odoli, CEO of Outreach Entertainment, which is my management company. I came in on February 11 and since then I've visited and performed in New York, Atlanta, New Jersey, Rhodes Island, Boston Massachusetts and Minnesota, even though this is not a playing tour. I actually came to do some videos for my new album. Already, I've done two videos and I've had the re-mastering of my work done since I want the songs to be of international standard. I came to Minnesota to see my brothers. I have two elder brothers living in Minnesota. The elder is the one sitting right there while the other has just gone to Florida. I still plan to visit Chicago but I don't know if I will be able to do that now because I have to go back to Lagos to release the work."
In America, February is usually a cold month, with everyone decked up in multiple jackets to escape the wrath of the harsh winter. How did Tony cope?
"Yeah it was really cold when I came," he says. "And they said it's not been snowing very much. But the very first night that I came, it snowed really hard. I had slept soon after my arrival, because I wasn't yet used to the new time difference.
By the time I woke up in the night here, I looked outside, and everywhere was white. I was excited. I quickly grabbed my camera and ran outside to play in the snow. I started snapping away on my camera even though it was really cold. You know, I've been longing to experience the snow. I've been to London, Italy, Amsterdam, Belgium and other places in Europe and I didn't see the snow. But I had the experience on my first night in America. Again, I've been treated very nicely by the Nigerians in America. They held a party for me in New York, in Atlanta, in Minnesota. I feel very relaxed here. America is a place one just has to visit. It's not enough to be told. And it's lovely to know that people here appreciate what we've been doing and we are welcome anytime."
To him, there's a world of difference between life in America and other places, including Europe. The artiste has been to several cities in America, and has touched a couple of clubs, savouring the night life here. "Big places like Escape, Blue Nile, Infinity, Gabby's. These are big clubs that you can't even find in Nigeria. So I've had much fun in America and I think I have to start packing my things now to go back to Nigeria," he says, laughing.
Tetuila, who started showbiz while studying Business Admin during his days at the Kwara Polytechnic later hooked up with Eedris Abdulkareem and Eddie Montana to form The Remedies. He eventually quit the group and went solo, prompting some intense controversy between Tony and his erstwhile friends. He says, however, that all the bickering is over and his relationship with both Eedris and Eddie is now cordial. "Yeah for real," he says, reading the doubt on your face. "I called Eedris just before I came and I've even called him even from here in Minnesota. I do go to his house in Lagos. He's married now with a kid. We are even thinking of doing a song together. So there's no problem between us because everybody is growing and there's no reason for any problems."
Tetuila's song, "My Car", became an instant hit and according to him, "actually put me into the limelight." That song, he says, came out of an experience he had when his car was hit twice at a time he was broke. "On the second occasion, I couldn't just let the guy walk away because I was really broke. So we had to share the cost. While driving home, I started thinking of the experience and I remembered Chief Ebenezer Obey had done something like that before. So I kind of built on it and wrote another song out of it. Then I added the Tinubu angle so that the whole event can have a happy ending. So if you call Obey's song an invention which I now built upon to make my own song, you won't be wrong. But it was an experience that I had."
There were rumours that Lagos State Governor, Bola Tinubu, rewarded Tony with a million dollar gift for that song. How true is that report? He laughs loud and long.
"There was nothing like that," he says eventually, his left hand stroking his mustache. "No doubt that song brought me very close to Tinubu's family. And that's the song that took me to Aso Rock to meet with President Obasanjo. I have met people I never knew I was going to meet in my life. Now I can walk into Tinubu's house anytime and I will be welcome. I got something good from him, though. He assisted me. But it's not money."
For the multiple award-winning star, music has been in the blood right from childhood. His mum, having discovered her son's potentials early in life, encouraged him with musical toys and the like. As he grew a little older, he started writing songs and by the time he got to the Kwara Polytechnic, he was sure of where his destiny lay: in music.
"I thank God for my mum," he tells you, a finger pointing at a frame hanging by the wall above a couch in the living room. "That's my mum's picture over there. She's really been there for me all this while all through my time with The Remedies and even now that I've gone solo." He pauses a while, and nods reflectively. "You know in life, you just have to be grateful to God for whatever happens to you. If I am still with the Remedies, I'm not sure I would have gotten to the level that I am today. That's why I always thank my God. My going solo has given me an opportunity to express myself to my fans in a way I was unable to before."
Is it true that things have fallen apart between him and Kennis music? "How did you know that?" he asks, and knowing you wouldn't answer his query, continues. "Well I read in the Encomium magazine where Kenny said that he was through with Eedris, Rasqie, Azadus and I, and that any recording company was free to throw a contract at us. I called Kenny and he was trying to defend himself on the phone. He asked me to come and see him in the office but since then I've not gone. I just decided that since he had said that publicly, there's no point in forcing myself on them. I'm talking to some recording companies right now who like the work and are willing to work with me." He pauses, adjusts his seat and continues.
"I think the problem with Kennis music came when I refused their request to be managing me, so that they would also be entitled to 20 per cent of whatever I make at shows. But that's not done anywhere. So I decided to go my way. Maybe God said we've had enough time together and I should go elsewhere. I give them maximum respect, especially for the massive promotion they gave me and others. So it's true that I'm no longer with them but there are no ill feelings whatsoever."
Artistes always complain of being short-changed by recording companies. Did Tony at anytime feel cheated by Kennis music? "Well, I can't answer that question," he smiles. "My music will answer that question for me."
Kenny Ogungbe said in a recent interview that his outfit puts food on artiste's table. How much of Kennis' food has Tetuila consumed?
"The fact is that without an artiste, a recording company can never be a recording company. That's what I know. I will continue to respect Kennis music for the promotion they give their artistes. But you can never promote an artiste if he's not good. There have been artistes they've promoted who can't get nowhere because their stuff is not good. And again, Kennis does not pay artistes upfront, not to talk of sign-on fees. These are the things we've been keeping to ourselves. I've done three albums with Kenny, Omode Meta Nsere, My Car and E Go Better. They are all hits. But I can't account for two million naira in royalties for the three albums. These are things you can't even say out. But I thank God that they tried for the promotion.
They really did and I appreciate that. But all they kept saying was piracy, piracy. But I thank God for letting me know them, for giving me an opportunity to do some good works for them, and I thank God for using them to promote the good works that I did. Because they really tried in that regard. But I don't see why they should say they put food on artistes' table. All we have is the name, no money. We only make money from shows. Well, God dey! But there's no food! If I can't make money from my albums and I have to depend on shows to survive, then they haven't put food on my table".
Tony is presently floating a recording label which he says will be mostly devoted to discovering and nurturing new but talented artistes. "Initially it was going to be He's Alive Records. He's Alive is our slogan. You know, Jesus is alive, and Tetuila is alive. Then we were pushed away, thinking we couldn't do it, and now we are doing it big. So Tetuila is alive. That goes with Christ being alive. I am a God-fearing person. I pray a lot because God has been good to me. Without God, I won't be where I am today. But now we have Tony Tetuila Records and I'm not focusing on my works. I have two young artistes on the label. Tony Robinson and Ketcha. We have producers working on their stuff, and they are featuring in my new album. By the time the videos are out, people will know them."
Tetuila says he's modifying his music a bit, adding more percussions to the beat, so the music will be more African. "We can't keep singing like Americans because we can't beat these people at their known game. In fact, they will be more interested in your music if it comes in another style. So I'm adding more of hip-life to my music, which is like highlife in Nigeria. That is why I sing in English, pidgin and Yoruba so everybody can have a feel."
How does he cope with the bevy of ladies swarming around him like ants around a sugar cube? "Well, it's not been easy. You know it's meant to happen that way. So long as you are a microphone man, you are a star and you are known, ladies will always be around you. But there's always a diplomatic way of discouraging them. I don't let them weigh me down. Women are dangerous. You have to be careful the way you deal with them, because women can lift you up and if you are not careful, they will pull you down."
There's a thing Tetuila dearly wishes he had acquired long before becoming a star. "I wish I had gotten my own wife, my real woman," he says, slowly. "By now, you don't know who really loves you for who you are or who loves you for what you have. That's the only thing I wish I had done." But he says he's no longer searching for true love. "Now I have found someone I really love and who loves me too. And that's the lady I'm going to marry."
May we know the lucky lady?
"No, no," laughs Tetuila. "She knows herself."
So when will the wedding be?
"Not too long from now, I hope. It's not planned yet, but very soon, by God's grace."
If he wasn't an artiste, where would he have ended up today? "Maybe as a bank manager somewhere," he says. "Or maybe as GM of my mum's business."
Like many others, Tetuila believes there's not been any Nigerian musician like Fela, dead or alive. "For now, nobody has ever been like Fela," he says. "Fela is a legend."
Was his music in any way influenced by Fela?
"Oh yes, in some ways. Like singing in pidgin." And maybe a little bit of marijuana smoking? "Oh no", Tetuila says. "I don't even smoke cigarettes. I drink responsibly, but that's all. I don't need anything to make me high. That is not my style. Seeing my fans hailing me as I'm coming for a show is enough to make me high."
There are other artistes who Tetuila believes have also done a lot for Nigerian music, people like King Sunny Ade, Femi Kuti, Lagbaja and some others that have carried the Nigerian music into other lands.
In another five years, where does Tetuila hope to be? "By the grace of God, I hope to be the CEO of my recording label, and have several young and talented artistes under me. Then to be at the top of the game in what I do. To keep waxing stronger in the kind of music that I play. And of course, to be a better human being."