I WAS BORN BLIND - COBHAMS ASUQUO
Cobhams Asuquo's name rings a bell when it comes to ability in disability. He is a musician, songwriter, producer of some outstanding talents in the Nigerian music industry, and the Chief Executive Officer of CAMP (Cobhams Asuquo Music Production). In this interview, Cobhams speaks on himself, career and marriage with Samuel Olatunji and Oge Okonkwo. Excerpts…
It's obvious you are really into music, isn't it?
(Laughs) Yeah, my life is counting, and if I am not into it, then I am wasting my time.
Is that a description of your feeling - 'wasting your time'?
If I am not really into what I am doing and my life card is reading, that means I am wasting my time. Because I am into it that is why it's not a time waste for me at all. This is my passion and this is me. I feel like I am doing what I love to do.
I am fortunate doing what I am doing because if you are not into something and that is what you are doing, it is just a waste of time. I don't know if it is the same for everybody because there are a lot of bankers or people who do other businesses, who would rather do music. I like music and I'm doing it. I don't take it for granted.
When exactly did this love for music start and have you always been in the choir?
It started as a child. I don't remember when, but I had always known that I love music. I have been in and out of choir and I never really sang solo because singing was never my thing. And when I joined the choir, it was as an organist or something else and I only sang when it was necessary.
You do have a good voice but why don't you sing often?
Thanks, but I don't know about that. All I know is that I can express myself with my voice. Whether it is good or not, I'm not sure if that is my decision to make, but those who hear me.
How does it feel settling down as a married man?
It is a relief, joy and happiness because, for marriage, one may never really know how beautiful it is until one gets into it. For me, it has been amazing and beautiful. It is such a rewarding experience, especially when married to the right person. I found strength, support, hope and just the reason to be grateful for being married.
I have a fantastic wife and I try as much as possible to be a fantastic husband to her too, because I think she only deserves the best and so much love for someone who gives as much as she does. The truth is that in marriage even if the other person doesn't give as much, they still deserve to be loved because it's a commitment to be kept for the rest of one's life; how much more when you get this much goodness. It's been good and made me more responsible. The stakes are certainly higher but I love it all the way.
How did you know she was the right person?
I guess you just know. You have to be sensitive and look out for certain elements. We had been friends for about a decade even though we only started dating few years ago. I guess throughout that period of friendship it was a good enough time for us to take in who we are. I know and also have many good people, but she is just an exceptional, amazing person.
What makes her exceptional?
The love in her heart isn't just for one person (me), but she loves people. She isn't just kind to me, but to people. She is a straightforward, honest person. I think the fact that she cares about people in general is a major attraction. Often people judge love by how it is shown to them. It's easy to love me, but how easy can you love the people around me? I am a people's person and she is such an amazing person who hasn't just accepted me but the people around me also. She loves God and people. Everything else we can work along the way, because once there is love for God, people and humility, it is easy to take to correction and want to be better person.
Do you in anyway feel unworthy of her?
Sometimes I do. When she quit her job in one of the leading telecommunications company in the country to come and join her business, I just thought she had made a major sacrifice. I know I deserve good things as a human being, but sometimes when I look at her, her person and the things she had done, it is nothing short of amazing and I am grateful to God.
It's quite an amazing work you have done, but who is Cobhams Asuquo?
I think I am just like everybody else. I am a simple guy on my life's path, making my own mistakes, striving to achieve greatness, staking up my own achievements, dreaming my own dreams and working hard to make my dreams come true. I am just living my life basically. I am a guy that is conscious of the legacy he wants to leave behind; who believes there is more to life than passing through it. I believe that life is beautiful and I can make the most out of it. There are opportunities and possibilities and I don't understand why I should let them pass by. I believe in the cup being half full rather than half empty, I think that is who I am.
I see myself as an ordinary guy trying to make the most out of my life. Whatever I have the opportunity to do, I try to give it my best. My major competition is myself and I try to raise my own bar; break my own record and even when other people are satisfied with it and I realize it is not my best I still want to give it more.
You talk like a motivational speaker
No, I am only just sharing what is on my mind. That is how I look at life and who I think I am. Those are some of the thoughts that define me.
You talked about making mistakes, what are they?
I don't know of any human being who doesn't make mistakes. What I learnt from an advice I got way back: 'throw away your old bank statements; keep your old love letters.' And what that means to me is that you should learn lessons that are not your best from your past and throw them away, while you keep to the good things that continually inspire you. So, I don't walk around carrying my bag of mistakes. I recognize and take responsibilities for them. And with the lesson learnt, it makes me a better person, while I move on.
How would you describe your career journey?
I think it has been intriguing and interesting with its ups and downs. It's been beautiful and amazing so far. It is obviously a rosebush with thorns, but fewer than many things in life that are interesting. I started out just doing this for fun but now it is paying my bills. From my early days with Faze and the group, Maintain, before they split up, these are some of the people that took the risk of having me work with them. I remember some key moments like the first time I actually sat down to make music at New Wave Production (Charly Boy's studio).
The experience was simply amazing. Although I had been in the studio before, I found myself doing what I had always dreamt of doing and I was just about 16 then. I continued afterwards, making music and meeting people. I was introduced to Faze by his brother, who was my senior in secondary school (King's College) and later I met Maintain's manager in the studio. They took a chance with me and it just began to happen from there. It literally exploded.
What does 'they took a chance working with me' mean?
That is, they didn't have to, because I was just a young kid who just strolled out of secondary school. I was a rookie, who goes in and out of the studio to work on commercials, jingles and other kinds of stuff. If they didn't believe in me and taken the chance to work with me, I don't know if anyone would have known me right now. And it is something I don't take for granted.
At some point you were studying Law but later delved into music. Why?
I like Law and I am fascinated by its academics and practice, but I guess music had a better grip as far as my lifestyle and direction is concerned. But there is no telling whether or not I might take Law seriously later. Music had always been there and I think it was time for me to face facts and ask myself if I was ready to be doing litigation in wig and gown or not. Five years from that time, I didn't see myself doing that. Moreover the demand for my skill, musically, was building and it only made sense to take music seriously at that point in time, which I did.
What were your parents' reaction then?
I have the most amazing family ever, and they had always believed in me. My mother always said to me, 'I know you will become someone great in life.' So, for her, I was on the path of becoming that great person she had always imagined. Also, I had an interesting academic record. So when I opted for music, they knew it was out of passion and not because I was failing as far as academics were concerned. I guessed they had seen me going in that direction and were just waiting to see me come around myself. They gave their support so long I felt it was the right decision for me. They literally threw their weight behind me and that is why I am where I am today.
What part of your childhood prepared you for your present career?
Every bit of it; waking up in the morning, before and after breakfast, I would drum on the dining table, on barrels of water or whatever I could lay my hands on. I made music with my hands on everything they came in contact with – my chest or stomach. I even puff my cheeks and made music with it. I also listened to the radio a lot with my parents playing music in the house.
Why do you write songs more than you sing, and would you still sing if you had the chance?
I started off not being too confident in my singing ability (voice). I wanted to express music but then I realized that I could express music through other people and so I gave more to writing and producing. I think I have grown more confident and I am learning to accept and love my voice now. So, yes, I will sing.
You mean you didn't have confidence then?
I don't think I had the confidence; I couldn't handle the stage. Stage fright was and is still an issue and I couldn't handle that. I just didn't feel I could work my voice to the point that I could put it to that kind of use. But I have come to accept and love my voice now, and I realize that with practice I could do just about anything. So, it is in the offing somewhere and I'm seriously thinking about my own effort in terms of singing right now, even though I have been singing for a while. I already have CDs.
How do you derive inspiration?
God is the source of my inspiration. He inspires me through the things and people around me. I could wake up in the morning and the inspiration to write a song hits me and I get right to it. I would probably grab the closest recording device near me like my phone and put down my ideas.
What have you been up to lately?
I have been working on a project, an album for one of our artistes by name Bez, which we just put out. He is an amazing phenomenon, a sensational artiste; one of his kinds to come out of this space. His style of music is in a sense uncommon because it's so in touch with everything. It took a while because we had to find a sound that is uniquely Bez's and come up with songs that complemented the sound as well as working on other projects and tidying up the business end of things.
Sure you didn't learn all these from school?
No, I guess it is experience garnered over the years from working with different people; from making mistakes and learning from them as well as understanding music, the technicality of the work, which is another skill needed for the job, and making music out of it.
If you had the chance, what would you love to do differently?
I am not sure. I would like to have known something earlier than I got to know them, because I sometimes think that when we learn from experience, it takes longer time. I think that sometimes some things you can simply be, it is better to be told rather than go through the process.
What else would you rather be?
Honestly, I don't know, and I'm not sure if that is my question to answer, because so far I am walking my life's path. I am what God would have me be. Whatever else I would have been, for me, that would have been being able to reach out to people, to be a blessing and to be useful with it, which is what music has afforded me the opportunity to be.
Do you sometimes feel limited because of your visual impairment?
I don't feel limited in anyway because I have great people around me, who are very encouraging. And so whatever might appear as a limitation, I believe there is always a way. Whatever I might not be able to do, just knowing and having the kind of people I have around me gives me the power to surmount those hurdles.
How did you learn music production?
I literally stumbled into it. I had always imagined there would be an interface where one person would be able to sit down and create all these different instruments, store them and have them played back. And I discovered years back after that thought had crossed my mind that there are keyboards that could help one to do that. I had thought about it even though I hadn't experienced it, and I didn't know it existed. So when I found keyboards that could do it, it was like a dream come true. So, it was very easy for me to enter into my element, because I had already seen it in my mind's eye.
Let's talk about family life. How are you coping?
I think family life is beautiful, and it is an amazing place to be because I am inspired by its daily affairs. It is an opportunity to give, to be responsible, to be loved and cared for, and I get a lot of that. So, I would say that family life is beautiful and it gets better as the days go by.
Does your wife stay with you most of the time?
My wife and I work together in the same business – Cobhams Asuquo Music Productions – where she acts as our business head after she resigned her appointment in a telecommunication company. It has been an amazing experience just getting to relate with her on a different front rather than the home; just getting to bounce ideas and helping the company grow. It brings even more value to the table as far as the two of us are concerned.
You have become the most expensive brand, yet you get good patronage
I think I have always been expensive anyway. I don't think I am cheap because I don't do cheap work. At the end of the day, money is just an element for representing value. What is important is the value I bring to whatever it is that I do, and because I give my best, it's worth something. And when translated into money, it becomes whatever figure you hear.
How many staff do you have?
That is a very interesting question. Averagely about 10.
I ask because so many people who can do everything cannot afford to pay themselves much more somebody else, not to talk of somebody paying 10 people?
My staff get paid because they work and add value to what I do. The Cobhams you see is not just the result of me or what I do, but the total of the product of the love, hard work and sacrifice of the different people I come in contact with, who impact on me positively one way or the other and vice versa. I am the product of many hands. So obviously, they have to be rewarded for their contributions and so they get paid.
When are you adding to the population of Nigeria?
That would be when God allows.
For the sake of those who don't know your story, how did you become visually impaired?
I was born blind.
Did you or your parents try to something abuot it?
I am sure they did, but I am sure also that with time, realizing there is so much potentially that could happen with me regardless, I am sure they must have eased on trying.
What were your challenges at that time and what did you hope you were going to be ?
I belong to a school of thought that believes in throwing away your old bank statements and keeping your old love letters. I grew up as a normal child and did everything I was big and bad enough to do, from jumping steps to rolling tyres on the streets to playing all kinds of games with my friends, beating my friends up and allowing myself to be beaten up a couple of times.
I think I lived a fairly normal life and I don't think my blindness got in the way at all for it to be considered a challenge. If there was one thing I didn't do, there were probably 10 substitutes that I could do, and in life there is always something for whatever reason a person can't do. For instance, I am sure you don't play golf? If you don't play golf and I don't then we both don't miss it. So, in general, it is not a question of whether you are blind or not, but a question of interest. I think I can do the things I have interest in doing. And that just about makes life complete.
Do you do normal romantic stuff?
Of course, I am a die-hard romantic and I love my wife very much because affection is a language any woman would respond to and it is something any man should be proud to give. So, I am affectionate, caring and loving to the best of my ability.
Before you married your wife, were there women seeking your attention?
I don't know, but I would say yes, why not? There were people who sought my attention and that is not to say I didn't seek someone's attention, too. That was how I met my wife. I think it happened both ways.
Were there times you were turned down?
I grew up a very adventurous individual. In my younger days, I sought attention and got it. But as I grew older and understood the importance of seeking and getting attention, I decided to seek attention in a more strategic, specific and critical way. Some worked and some didn't, as with everybody else.
Did you have any heartbreak?
I don't know. You considered things based on your level. I may have had things I considered to be heartbreaks at that point in time, but I don't know if I think about them right now. Honestly, I don't. I have learnt to throw away the bad side of life and move on. So, if I had any heartbreak, I don't remember. I must have had a brand new heart at some point.
Looking at gospel music now, does it make you sad that there isn't really a strong presence of hip hop or some other genre of music except one or two known voices in the gospel music industry? It seems the gospel music genre is fading?
I don't think the concentration of the church should be to compete with hip hop. Rather it is to do what God has called it to do. I think the church needs to get out of its walls because church music is in a safe place and is created for church people.
I think church music needs to be created more for people who are not in the church, because that is what the church has been called to do. The church has not been called to save itself, because it is already saved or, at least, will be. But it has been called to save the world. I think the church is speaking the language the world can understand. It is only when the church begins to do that and when music that comes out of the church begins to operate on that level that it can achieve what it was created to achieve.
If you don't see your wife, how would you appreciate her beauty?
First of all, I think we need to look past the misconception that beauty is only outwards. A person is not just beautiful because she looks beautiful. There are a lot of people who look beautiful but who are troubled inside. And the truth is that by the time you deal with their drama, the facial beauty would mean nothing to you after all. I was and I am still attracted to her because of her inward beauty, even though that now she is my wife and obviously within the bounds of marriage there is a certain level of contact and exposure of one to another we are permitted, which helps me even more to appreciate her outward beauty.
Because touch is an amazing thing, and there is so much you can appreciate, there is so much outward beauty you can appreciate with sight that touch gives you a better sense of. So, I appreciate my wife because I am the closest person to her; I am close enough to know when she has just made her hair or when her hair is not combed; close enough to know how she smells and how she feels.
I think what is more important even to a woman is being close and appreciative enough to know how they feel. I think there are a lot of things more important than outward beauty even though outward beauty is important. It is not whether my wife wears a smile or a frown, but I can connect with her to know whether inwardly she is happy or sad because looks can be deceptive.
But physical intimacy is important?
Blindness has nothing to do with physical intimacy. You don't make love with your lights turned on, do you?