We need a new Musicians’ union — Sunny Neji
Speak of a man that is convinced about his onions and unshaken enough to experiment commercially even in the face of stiff musical competition with fiery young talents emerging daily and who you have is Suny Neji.
In spite of this generation's unhidden bias for hip hop making this genre of music the pop of the millennium, Sunny has creatively remained relevant with his golden voice, having stayed true to his revised version of the high-life music, though experimenting from time to time with others.
Very few people know that Sunny Neji's golden voice was and is the same that sang the popular HOPE '93 jingle for the Social Democratic Party (SDP) presidential candidate, Chief MKO Abiola. With his recently released new single, Obokun, currently undergoing repackaging, the 'Mr Fantastic' and 'Oruka' exponent honestly admits the problems confronting Nigerian musicians in organising themselves, yet humbly confesses that although he is not the messiah, he would like a more liberal organising body.
What is it about Obokun and which record label are you working with?
Obokun is a single in my album. I'm with Impact Records and it's owned by myself. I am the first artiste on the label. They decided to use it to first create awareness on my forthcoming album.
Why is it that every artiste now wants to own his/her own record label?
Right now in the country, we do not really have record companies anymore, we just have labels and you begin to ask yourself, what a label is really doing for you because at the end of the day, they still have to go to Alaba to market it. So if you are around, it will do you more good to just record your music yourself. It also makes the work easier.
As a recording artist, don't you think marketing your work yourself is a distraction from your primary duty?
I must admit that it is distracting but if you have the machinery in place, you can actually do it without being the one running up and down. You're just the owner and that's all.
How easy is it distributing considering the fact that Alaba marketers have always had a wider reach?
I'm not doing the marketing myself. All we do is finish the work and bargain with them to market it and they tell us what it takes to do that. For now, we will keep going to Alaba unless there is an alternative.
The song, Obokun, has a style different from what many expected and that includes the dance. How did you come about that?
Most times I don't like doing what is expected. I like to start with the unexpected and then gradually move on to the expected because sometimes it is only when you do the unexpected that you get people's attention and they begin to criticize the song and make suggestions and that is good for my music.
This is about the second or third time you are experimenting on the unexpected, why?
Yes, experimenting is good for an artiste like me and I will keep doing it as long as it takes. If you don't experiment, you will run out of your skill very soon. People who are not very creative may not, but by God's grace, I'm gifted to do different things so I need to experiment but in a constructive way.
Was that what informed Off the hook?
Yes. Off the hook was like a breath of fresh air. I had to take sometime off and I'm back again. I did it to distract people for a while.
Sometimes when you experiment, it's like an expensive joke...
Yes, jokes are meant to be laughed at but it doesn't bother me because I know that I can always pick up the pieces and put them together again.
Considering the money you made from the launch of Obokun, would you say the single is starting out very successfully?
Well, success is relative. I will say it was, but I'm not going to compare it with Oruka or Mr Fantastic. The truth remains that what I wanted to achieve, I think I achieved it. The work is being repackaged and has another title with two other songs called Rock steady which is already in the market.
I'm very happy I achieved my aim. I got people longing for what next I would produce and I came up with something different which is good. I did it to distract people.
Don't you fear that your experimenting can cost you some of your first fans?
No, I don't think so. Because, even though we have so many artistes in this country, no one can repeat or replace the other.
There is only one Sunny Neji. I don't see anybody coming to take what belongs to me because just like I cannot replace any other person, nobody can replace me. I wasn't bothered because I know that my fans are still there and what I have is what God has given to me.
Is it true that your R & B songs are directed at the ladies?
I did Obokun for everybody because that was how the inspiration came. There are love songs and I've been doing them before now although the interpretation I gave to it this time was different. I don't like thinking about inspiration, so as it comes, I go with it. Talking about the ladies, I can assure you that even Unchained got me more attention to ladies than my last two albums.
Do ladies make passes at you?
No, I don't think any lady has made a pass at me and I don't want them to.
Do you get embarrassed sometimes when the ladies walk up to you?
No, it doesn't bother me because I see it as people trying to appreciate what I do and I know I'm affecting their lives positively and there's no need to get embarrassed.
Have you had any embarrassing moment when you're with your wife and the ladies just walk up to you without knowing her?
No, I have not because my wife already knew what she was getting into before she married me. It doesn't bother her, she understands it very well.
As an artist, have you ever been embarrassed on stage?
The only time I've been very embarrassed on stage was in a wedding, the instrumentals suddenly went off and every member of the band started sweating but we tried to put it in order while the wedding continued.
What do you think about people who sing R&B songs in Pidgin English, is it right?
I don't know about that but I think music is the same thing everywhere. As far I'm concerned, music has no language barrier at all whether English, Pidgin or our local languages so long as it is sending the message across. In this country, we have some music/songs that are really good but because they are not exposed properly, they don't get the right attention.
If you say that music is music anywhere in the world, then why is it difficult for Nigerians in diaspora to break grounds there only to come home and become superstars?
It is because they did not get the right exposure there. If they had the right exposure and connection, they would have made it there. For instance, if you bring musicians with Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa or Calabar accent to come and sing together, I assure you that if their song is given the right promotion, it may turn out to be the biggest thing happening in Europe.
All you need is work with the right people, label, promotion, and resources pushing you, anything can happen.
Despite the music industry's remarkable growth, there still exists lapses when it comes to musicians organising themselves. What do you think can be done to remedy the situation in the country?
I think we need another union that will not have all the problems that PMAN has. A union that will represent the artistes' interest and not their own personal interest; a union that will work out well. We need people who will be there for the success of the artiste.
Our association (PMAN) is like Nigeria, all the problems we have in the larger society are in PMAN.
There are people in that union who have refused to see that it benefits everybody and until PMAN begins to function as it will benefit everybody, there will be no progress. Maybe the only solution is that we should have another union that will be more liberal and industry-centred.
Do you think you can make the change?
No. It's not everybody that is politically-minded. I'm not a politician but I will encourage anybody that is ready to go there and really work for the benefit of the industry.
Don't you think the younger generation of musicians should go in and take over?
No. I don't think any of us has time for the kind of politics involved there. For me, the solution will be to start another body. I may not be the one to take charge because I don't want to go into any form of politics but I will get involved to see there is a change. Some other people are of the same opinion because every other thing has been tied to the success of that union.
Are you saying that artistes have not benefitted from the union?
I don't care about personal benefits. If we cannot be proud of that union, then we have not benefitted anything.