After clinching the Best West African Male Artiste KORA award in South Africa recently, one would expect that Sunny Neji's joy would know no bounds.That, however, is not the case. The self-styled Mr. Fantastic, who is reputed to be one of Nigeria's best male vocalists is sad that he has won so many awards outside the country but has never won the Nigeria Music Awards.
“What's the point winning the KORA when there are no national awards. It is really sad that our Nigeria Music Awards was rested and remains rested even till now.
I am hoping that by God's grace, the NMA would be resuscitated.”
Meanwhile, the artiste who for more than one decade dumped his Higher National Diploma (HND) certificate in Fashion Design to pursue a career in music, believes that with the award, God has rewarded him for his dedication, commitment and hardwork. He sees the award as an impetus that would ginger him to reach for greater heights. Neji also spoke on the award-winning album Oruka; why he does not design his clothes in spite of his training as a fashion designer, the crisis in PMAN and his most prized profession.
My name is Sunny Neji. I am an from Ogoja in Cross Rivers State. I was born in the mid sixties. I am the last child in a family of five children. My father used to be a soldier, so I was born in the barracks. We were in Lagos at a time. Since I was the last child, he retired soon I was born and returned to the village. So, I grew up there in my hometown.
I came back to Lagos after I completed my primary school and attended Government College, Ikorodu. Later I proceeded to Yaba College of Technology where I studied Fashion Design.
I have always been in music. While I was in the village, because my grandfather was the leader of several traditional dance troupes, we had a lot of traditional musical instruments around us. We were always rehearsing in the evenings and dancing. So, it has always been there. But I was exposed to contemporary music when I came back to Lagos to attend secondary school and I lived with my elder brother who was a music lover.
I remember he used to buy a record every month. So, I had so many records to listen to. So, my love for music began to grow because of the exposure I had.
I decided to sing sometimes mid-eighties, that was when I started making effort to record a demo. My effort resulted in my first album, Captain, that was released on EMI label in 1991.Well, the album did not do too well but its failure did not deter me.
Later, I joined a band called Colours Band and there I started recording Mr. Fantastic. I left Colours Band.
The album was well received in the market and it set the pace for everything that followed. After Mr. Fantastic in 1997, I released Roforofo in 2000. In 2003, I released Unchained. So far, Unchained is my biggest album.
Between 1991 and 1997, I did TV and radio productions, commercials and jingles. All these activities prepared me for the release of Mr. Fantastic. When Mr. Fantastic came out, I knew that I have come of age.
I am toying with a few ideas. I am not done yet with Unchained. I am trying to add a few things here and there before I release my follow-up album. I intend to do that before the end-of-the-year.
I was nominated for the award last year and in December, we went to South Africa to collect the awards. I was nominated as the best African Male Artiste category and I won.
The award is like a reward for hardwork, commitment and dedication. The KORA award at the moment happens to be the biggest award in Africa. And if you get a nomination and go ahead to win, then you should be very happy and feel very well rewarded.
I feel very happy because my fans out there really supported me. That particular category was open to voting and most of my fans voted for me. And I am grateful.
The award really has challenged me because it is not easy or stay on top. So this award has challenged me to work harder to strive to do more so I can win more KORA awards and by the grace of God, the Grammy.
PMAN and Nigerian Music Awards
We have other awards outside the Nigerian Music Awards and I have won some of them too. But it is really sad that our Nigerian Music Awards was rested and it still remains rested even now. But the Kora award is a continental award which is bigger than the N MA. Other countries have their awards. Even in Ghana, there's the Ghana Music Awards.
It is really very sad because I am sure the Nigerian Music Awards started before theirs. It's so unfortunate it went under. I am hoping that by God's grace, the NMA will be revived. That is one thing PMAN ought to do but right now, PMAN is not in order and it is really sad.
The crisis in PMAN
There is bickering and in-fighting in PMAN. The body needs to be strengthened. If they could not work together, it would be difficult to achieve anything. When we used to have the Nigerian Music Awards, that was when PMAN was PMAN. It would be nice if PMAN could go back to the way it used to be. I remember those days that people in government used to scramble to get invitations to the event. It was so well respected and everyone wanted to associate with it. It is a sad thing that we find ourselves right now unable to revive the award.
The problem is that PMAN has refused to put its house in order. People are basically interested in their selfish interest instead of common interest.
The only thing that can change PMAN is if the leadership change their mindset. If you go to PMAN, you know that you are going there to serve, you go there for the betterment of the entire industry not just for your pocket. Right now PMAN is divided against itself and they say that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” We need to harmonise these things so that we can move forward. If we can lay aside our petty differences and have the general good as our focus, things will begin to fall in place. We are complaining of piracy. How can we fight pirates when musicians' body is not speaking with one voice? There are so many problems and it is because PMAN is not operating as a union that is there for the common good of musicians.
The way forward for PMAN
The way forward is for everybody to come to a round table to sit down and talk. Let us talk because we really want a change in the industry, let us talk because we want to move forward. Not because of one person's selfish interest, not because of how much is going to enter your account but because the industry has come to a level that it either changes or go out of existence. And the only way is to agree to move the union forward. If the union moves forward, the entire industry is going to move forward. The industry is not at the level where anyone of us is happy and proud of it. Other countries that came after us are all doing so well because of simple organisation and that is what is lacking here.
They need to come together and understand that we must work for the common good of everybody.
Why I'm not a fashion designer
I guess everyone was created for a purpose. Everyone is here for a reason. I discovered that the reason why I am here is to play music. So, I had to let go of fashion but it does not mean that tomorrow, I might not start a clothing line. Of course, everyone knows that my first love is music. Yes, I practised fashion designing for a while but not for myself, it was during my industrial attachment. Later music took over and that is how it has been.
Well, I have a few designers who make my clothes. Why I don't design my clothes is because music is taking all my time. To create, you need to think. You need to be in a proper frame of mind to create, design but music has taken all that.
I would have loved to see myself in my designs but where is the time? That is the problem. I also love to see myself in other people's designs. I am creating something, so somebody else should create something for me.
My most prized possession
Right now, my most prized possession is the Kora Award because it is the biggest award I have won so far in my career. I have invested a lot and I feel I am being rewarded, so I value it so much.
Me and OJEZ Music
Yes, OJEZ is my recording company. I released my album Unchained on their label. I have a cordial relationship with them.
Artistes and recording labels
Basically, when artistes start feeling disatisfied with a record label and the record label starts feeling the same way for the artiste, they are bound to quarrel. But it is okay to disagree since we are all human beings, but sometimes the disagreement might take a turn for the worse where all the parties refuse to agree. Where there is distrust, there are bound to be disagreements.
Advice for upcoming artistes
It is very difficult to advise them because right now, we don't have an ideal situation in Nigeria. We don't have recording labels with solid infrastructure on ground. We don't have labels with all the various departments that should be there. What we have is that, everybody is just trying to make some sense out of the chaotic situation. If we had record companies like EMI or Polygram like in the past, I would have been in a better position to advise them.Right now, people are just cutting all kinds of agreements just to release their album.
It is reallydifficult and that is why we want PMAN to put its house in order.