I was babysitting in America – Ras Kimono
Before he left for America when the going got tough in Nigerian music industry, Ras Kimono was on top of his career with hit albums like Whaz Gwan, Rufi Cover, among others. Though, he has since returned to mother land, Kimono, as he is fondly called by fans insists in this interviewe with Deputy Editor, Charles Okogene, that it is easier for the head of a bull to pass through the eye of a needle than for a Nigeria musician to breakthrough in American music scene. He also talked about his latest single and all that he did right there in Uncle Sam's country.
So Kimono whatz gwan? What have you invited us here for?
Well I called you my friends to let you know that I just dropped my single. I have been accused that since I came back two years ago, I haven't done anything. They never knew I did the recording in America intending to come back to Nigeria and release it but the whole strategy with the marketing and recording companies are not right. I have to follow trend and the trend is to say, 'hey! Put single on the radio, dealers hear, marketers hear it, companies hear it, dem are call you.' But it's not guaranteed because I have met a lot of artistes who have done videos with over N1 million recording in South Africa and up till date, nobody ask them what's up? But still, I say everybody's luck is not the same maybe my luck might be different let me follow the trend and release a single on radio and in the streets including promotional copies and give it out to people. That is why I call my close friends to let them know.
What is the title of this single and how long has it been on air?
Just two tracks, 'Veteran and Wicked Politicians. It has been on air for about a week now.
So what has been the response?
Well, I have been to two stations already, Classic and Wazobia FMs all based in Lagos, and they have been doing justice to it. Anytime I drop album, I go to every radio station, I have got a lot of friends; I tell them say 'please I just drop this. We in the music business we know how it goes.' Normally, back in the days, when an artiste releases, the company goes to promotional tours with the artiste and they handle the expenses. But right now, because I don't have company, nobody is doing it, that's why I am doing it one-on-one. And I thank God, most top-ranking people in the media are my friends so it is easier for me to be with them one-on-one.
Apart from the radio stations that you have been to what other promotional strategy do you have off your sleeves?
I have met with the association of people who play sound system in the streets. I met with their association chairman and they asked me to get X amount of money and a lot of CDs so that they can give to their members. I am talking of hawkers who play music on wheelbarrow. I haven't done videos; normally, it is not my culture to do videos immediately. I wait for the music to catch up on radio before I do a video. But if I do the video that means I am doing everything.
You talk so much about not having a record company to push your album.
What happened to your deal with Premier Music?
My deal expired before I left Nigeria for America. The last record, Still I Rise was my last deal with them but I still have a cordial relationship with them. We are good but they don't have the manpower now to release and push any album now. I wanted to give them this but I wanted them to assure me that they can do the promotion. They don't even have the money right now to say, 'take, N2 million go for promo'.
What made you leave the country because then you were still on top of your game?
Thank goodness you are asking this question. The music business in
Nigeria was nose-diving. The economy of was bad and if the economy bad, the first thing that is hit is music because now you think of shelter, food and medication. If you don't have these three things you don't even listen to music. You don't listen to music on an empty stomach. It was around 2004 that music started picking its pieces again. Before I left, I had a large band, and I couldn't play three concerts in a year. And I lived on concerts not even from royalties from recording companies. Now if an artiste cannot play five concerts in a year how do you feed? A lot of people say, 'you people killed reggae music; you ran away, Majek Fashek ran away' but nobody knew how we were living. I am a Rasta man and I don't want to fool myself. Some other artistes were like a flash in the pan; when they collect money they go and buy suit and live good but behind they are crying. Thank goodness, I am not an extravagant artiste that put suit and tie. I was living normal life according to Jah's plan for me. So when I knew that 'men, this is getting too hard for me, I can't take it any more I just say okay let me run fi cover.' Thank goodness before I came back everything has started looking good again. Maybe if I came back three years ago maybe I would have gotten some goodies out of it. But Jah time is the best and I am not complaining. It was the right time for me to come back. Before I came out with my first album it was like rough too, eventually I came out and made impact. So, maybe this is the right time for me to come back.
It appears reggae music more or less ended in Nigeria with your generation of musicians, because there are no young people coming up in that genre. Is it that you did not bring up people to take over from you?
Well, reggae music is like Rasta, we don't go preaching it, the deaf, the dumb and the blind have heard about reggae music. It is not me holding reggae music key, it is not Bob Marley, he died 20 something years ago and we still continue. I think what happened with the Nigerian youth is pure laziness. Initially, they think reggae is just one key. But trust me, I have been in this country and gone to every club which plays live music, they never played my music the way it is.
You say it is so simple, play it, you can't play it. I have employed a lot of singers and tell them 'come and sing arumba stylee', very simple but they can't sing it. Dem lazy, dem are not playing reggae music the way dem should. Money is not much in reggae music because reggae music is a conscious music. Some youth, when I came back they tell me say 'Alaba is this, is that; they give you N1 or N2 million you buy a car and get a house but if you stay with company you stay there 10 years they never give you N58,000.' That is penny wise, pounds foolish. I give you another five years all these new artistes they will cry, because they think they are having a ball now, collecting millions and selling their souls for money in the next five years this music will phase out and they will remember, 'this man cheated me, I did not get any royalty and Kimono is still collecting royalty from recording company that released him 25 years ago.' So that is why a lot of people don't come into reggae.
Reggae is about truth and right and a lot of people are afraid to say the truth; they want to belong, sing about sex, gangsterism, bling! Bling! and make quick money. Reggae is not like that and that is why a lot of people are afraid to handle it.
What actually were you doing in America?
I was just home nursing my kids in America. I was babysitting. If show comes once in a while I do a show. That is what I did, rejuvenating, relaxing, when song come I put it down. I have a midget, Charles you made me to buy a midget back in the days. I was looking after my kids, growing with them, taking them to playground, school back and forth. When show comes once in a while I go do my show if not I stay house and keep praying for better days. I think I am the only Nigerian artiste, Majek and I, that never really worked in America, we focused on our music.
Would it be right for me to say that you regret the years you were in America?
I don't regret it; it is a blessing in disguise. If I were in Nigeria you never know what would have happened to me. I would probably end up selling garri or doing '419'. Some of my colleagues I left behind here are no longer active in music, so because of money they have diverted and I wouldn't have love to divert my career so I think it is a blessing in disguise for me. Since I came back, maybe because they did not see me for a couple of years I am hotter now than I was here 15 years ago. Every where I go now I am celebrated, I am just like a new artiste. So to me, there is no regret.
By now you are supposed to be living off your royalties?
Artistes don't really live much on the record company royalties. Artistes live more on the royalties from airplay and mechanical rights. Since I came back to Nigeria over one year ago, I have gotten over N1 million from Premier Music. Anytime I am broke, I say 'Oga Toju, how much I have there?' He would say 'Ras Kimono we have some money for you' and I will say okay, 'write me some cheques.' And my contract with them has elapsed but I was smart enough I signed 15 years. Every other artiste signed 25 years; after your contract expires they will use your work for 25 years. I got a good lawyer then and I did 15 years. I own most of my work now, so I can go there and say give me my work. But if I take it where am I going to sell it? So I just say let me leave it in their hands. Once in a while, they sell one copy but they still give me my royalties.
You have played in Nigeria and in America. How do you see the music industry in the two countries?
Some of my brethren in the music say dance a yard before you dance abroad. If you don't dance a yard well you can't dance abroad. There is no comparison. Also, you can compare because home here is the best when it comes to music and acceptance. Sometimes we get carried away because we are big here so any where I go I rock it. But that is not so. You can be big here and one thing again, a lot of slang that our new generation of Nigerian musician speak will really not help us to cross international. A lot of slang they speak myself who is a Lagos boy don't know it. So if you are speaking slang Ras Kimono does not understand do you think Americans can understand. The only music that hit the international scene like 'Sweet Mother' is Tuface's 'African Queen'. Because he didn't speak pidgin in the song, he spoke proper English. I met Jamaican boys who sing it from A to Z and I said 'damn! Me wey be Naija boy self I no fit sing this song'. So, if he had used pidgin or some slang he would not get there. I keep saying to these artistes, if you want to use Yoruba use it, if you want to use Igbo, use Igbo, but some stupid slang that have no meaning which only Ajegunle or Mushin people know, it won't take you nowhere. Because Sunny Ade speaks only Yoruba but he is the only number one musician in this Nigeria who has gone far and wide. Sunny Ade, was the first Nigerian artiste to sign on Island Records. And where he has toured I don't think any other African artiste, even Bob Marley never toured where Sunny Ade has toured.
The impression we got from what you have said is that it is all gloom out there. If so, how come likes of Victor Essiet of the Mandators and Alex Zitto, are said to be doing well out there?
Anybody can be doing well but in what aspect, music? My brethren Alex Zitto is doing well. My recording was done in Alex Zitto's studio. That is one of the best studios in Minnesota. But believe me everybody in America who is doing music is just struggling here and there. You can't break it because if you are over 20 years as an African, forget it. America grooms artistes between 17 And 25. if P Diddy and Jay Z don't have their money forget it, no company will sign them on.