My music was my rebellious trick - Danny Wilson
In the early eighties, when you hear the song, Mr. Ragamuffin or abortion, your mind runs straight to no one else but Danny Wilson. Many... years have gone by and Mr. Ragamuffin has not produced another album. He told Funmi Salome Johnson, in this interview, what he has been doing since then. Excerpts:
Looks like you have been shying away from the public. Why?
I have been deliberately shying away from publicity because I believe that publicity is an instrument for making money. If I have a project that I need to publicise, I will call you all to get involved. I actually see it as a business where you get properly paid and then it is publicised and I also make money. So publicity becomes one of the raw materials for making money. That is the way I see it. I have been deliberately shying away because I don't have a new product, a new album or a new company I am promoting. I did not see the relevance of this interview until now and that is because of your persistence and I love to maintain my good relationship with everyone, which is the reason I am granting this interview.
So what have you been doing ever since you departed music years ago?
If you ask me, I will not say I had any departure from music. I only stopped practicing directly in the frontline of the music industry. I have been at the back scene doing a lot of work in the music industry and I really do not intend to leave the music industry for anything in the world. If I do, that will be almost criminal because it is beyond just my personal wishes. It is a responsibility to the public, a responsibility to my fans, to my profession and a responsibility to people who have come to expect certain things from me. So I will not really say that at any point in time, I left music. I am only practicing from behind the scene and I intend to remain that way for a while, although in a short while I am coming back top the full front of the industry.
What exactly are those things you have been doing behind the scene?
In 2001, I set up what one will consider an ultra modern studio. The studio is possibly the best recording studio in the country as it is now. It is situated in Lekki and we have had quite a number of international artistes come in there to record. It is actually a record company but it has a studio which is called Red Alert. The studio is under a musical company called Tropic Music Company (TMC). TMC is a registered recording company in the proper mode of international standards of a recording company with several other young labels under it with each label representing a different type of music. There is Adis Ababa, which represents the African music; there is also Small Axe that represents deep rooted reggae music and Red Alert, which incidentally is the music studio name, but it is also a label that represent dance hall music. All these are under the TMC umbrella. All these have been on the drawing board for a long time with complete business plans reaching out for them. Traditionally, the music industry has been an industry where are people are paid by the ear. They just invest money without proper structures. In fact, they don't even carry out proper feasibility studies to know what profit margins exist for what amount of financial involvement. We have done all that and we have taken a proper time to study the industry and the alternative industry and we have been able to come out with a feasibility study of all the variables of the industry before we set up the TMC. It is the music company of future awards and the record studio has been existing before then and has been able to record a lot of artistes.
Like who and who?
We have had the Plantation Boys. Their reunion album was started there. We also have Bracket that sang Yori-Yori. We have also had the likes of Wande Cole, Weird MC. My memory seems to be failing me right now. Some of them would have even finished recording there before they will see me to tell me that they were there to record.
Have you signed on any artist yet?
No. We have refused to sign on any artiste now because we are not ready for direct music publishing and releasing albums yet. If we sign on an artiste now, we would have kept the artist waiting for too long and I have experienced that in the past in the music business and I don't intend to make others victims of such. However, we have allowed artistes to record their albums free. People we consider very talented artistes have been allowed to go into the studios and record their albums to the master tape level and take it away to look for market themselves elsewhere without asking them for a kobo. We have done that for at least 50 artistes.
Is that your own way of giving back to the society?
Not just the society alone but the music industry because I know what it was when I had difficulties getting a proper recording studio. For me, a state-of-the-art recording studio at a free disposal of talented artists was a way of solving one problem that I had encountered and it has helped quite a lot of artists. On June 12, there was a young artiste who released his album by the name Rock Study. We recorded all his works for him. We have had quite a lot of big names that have recorded in the studio. We have the younger ones like Black face, 2face. They have all had the experience oif recording in the studio. People like Kelly Handsome, African China, even Charlie Boy have also recorded in that studio
Being a very busy person, who handles all these when you are away?
I have a seasoned producer/engineer/ studio manager that we call Sergent. He is a Ghanaian but his real name is Joseph. He recorded my second album, 999, in 1987 and it is amazing that since after recording my album, he eventually became my own studio manager. It is ironical and it shows that we have a good working relationship when we were younger and even till now. His son that was delivered in my presence while I was recording is one of the studio engineers with him now. I think I have been through generations.
Why don't we have a hit from you again?
At the moment, I may not be able to pursue the demands of the music industry.
So should we of expect any hit from you now because of your busy schedule?
Not because I am busy. That may be indicting and I refuse to accept it. Right now, I have been into the industry for a while and I have had major experience in the food industry. We have set up confectionery shops, bakeries and restaurants and we have about 11 factories round the country that handle those kind of issues. Having been in the industry for a while, we have experienced the good, the bad and the ugly of the manufacturing industry in Nigeria and that is an experience. I believe that whatever experience you get in life is not wasted and that is an experience I intend to capitalise on. Right now, we are building what I will call a food palace: a property of 11 storeys, which will be a major market that sells only food from the ground floor to the last floor.
Where is that situated?
It is situated here in Lagos but I will like to keep the details to myself for now. The structure is almost completed and that will be a major food cot where foods will be sold. There will be sale of processed foods, finished foods like fast food and all that and there will be sale of raw food ingredients that make food but all presented in a very decent manner in one major building. We are also making arrangements to see that we bring food closer to the people because food is really not as expensive as restaurants and food eateries make it. The percentage profit margin of food is sometimes nearly 80 per cent or thereabout, which should not be. Although in recent times, with all these food crises, a lot of the profit margins have affected, especially the bread industry, because the bread industry depends on wheat as its major ingredient. Wheat and sugar are not done here and the international price affects them and this has really increased the price of bread and has made the bread business not worth it anymore for us. But because bread business for us is a family tradition, we still manage to keep a few of our factories running just to keep it going. So, all of these have made it impossible for me to go into music right now. Building all of these processes in a country where standards are not really there, where you have to create your own standards and relate with the international market, localise the international standard, all these have been quite a lot of process. You can harbour all kinds of consultants building their templates for you but you have to practicalise it and adapt it to your business. So it has been a lot of work. In all of these, it is impossible to stand up and take a microphone with a band and start to play.
Apart from all these, what other things do you do?
I am also consulting for a few governments and that is even as tasking as can be. Governments right now needs to employ people who can develop solutions for them, who can look at the problems we are facing and have a solution that is suitable for their environment and their peculiarities and that is the vacuum I am trying to fill. Right now, we are creating solutions for waste management, drainages and major environmental problems. We are also creating solutions for public interaction, creating solutions on that so that the government can be more transparent and accountable. We are also creating solutions for the oil industry and the youth development because whether you believe it or not, youth development is the key to total general national development. And if you are creating solutions for that, you are more or less creating solutions for national development. So in all of these, it is difficult for me to carry the microphone and the band and sing.
Will it be right to say that you got all these from your background? How was growing up years like for you?
If you relate it to the bread business, you will be right because my father was actually a baker and he started his bakery in 1973 with the same bakery name we are using today: Wilson's Bakery Limited. 1973 till now means we have turned over 36 years. I remember waking up as a child, counting labels and nylons and going to sell bread from the store to the people. I doubled as an accountant and a baker, so I grew up learning all of that. We had one bakery and when the business got bad because of the drought on wheat during the Shehu Shagari regime and the import restrictions all affected the business and we had to close down. In 1995, I resuscitated the business with my younger brother, which was done purely in order to keep them busy. It was in 2002 when my father fell ill and couldn't be involved in the business anymore that I realised there was a vacuum and someone has to fill it. But I was too busy trying to keep him alive, taking him round the world for treatment but he eventually died in South Africa. After his death in 2003, I called my brothers together and said: well, this is one legacy that this man left for us and we should make use of it. Luckily for my dad, he had sons. He had six sons of which I am the second oldest. I have an elder brother. But because he is in the US involved in their strategic arms limitations unit, he could not come in and bail the boat. So I had to call my younger ones together and we decided to go on an expansion bid. We agreed we are not going to keep the bread in Port Harcourt alone since we have good quality and good recipe. So we expanded to Lagos, Abuja, Enugu, Ilorin and Ibadan and then to other places. We have over 11 factories in the country now. That was how we started.
With this kind of background, what inspired you into music in the first place?
Music was my rebellious trick. It came before the bread. It was the part that differentiated me from other members of the family. My mum did a lot of singing around the house and I grew up listening to a lot of records my father bought. My father was a great fan of the musicians. He had a lot of LPs. Those turntable stuffs of Latin Coile, High D'ala Fountain, Mighty, Sparrow and all what have you. Incidentally, most of we his early children were born in France and Cameroon and I was actually born in Cameroon and we later moved with him to France. We had a lot of French culture and the music of D'la Fountain and the Mighty Sparrow were the only English music my father could find in some of these French speaking countries. He guarded them jealously and I listened to them attentively. So when I grew up and I found myself singing, my father always says to me: if you sing, you become wayward, you become a womaniser, you must try to avoid singing. I accepted from him. When I found that I was naturally writing songs and was singing very well, I said okay, I will be behind the scene, I will just write songs for people to sing because my father will not like to see me dancing on stage. I can remember when Marvin Gaye's father shot him dead, my father came to me and said 'you see, that's what happens?' When I learnt all that, I said to myself that the beset thing to do is to stay behind the scene. But somehow, the people I wrote songs for misinterpreted the songs I wrote. They never came out right and every time I do them, they came out well. That was how I ventured into it and did the first, people just pushed me, telling me to go ahead and that was how I released my first album: Danny in the Lion's Den.
What was the sale of your first album like. How much did you make from it?
It was nothing. I did not make much from it. But when that album was released in 1985, it was shocking because Tabansy Records was flying the air and I was coming to Lagos wanting to do a video. Then the next thing Madonna now came out and they wanted to organise a launch for me and all the other artists that were yet to release albums like Majek Fashek were also coming because I was already in the campus and it was all magical. It was happening too fast. This was the reason why in the early days people ask me why I chose music, I always tell them that music chose me, I did not choose music. And this is the reason that even now that I am not singing again, I still meet fans of mine who say Daniel, we have not heard any music that you did, you better come back and sing again. Right now, I have compiled about 17 tracks to release very soon but I have to see that there is a little more stability in the industry and between my personal life before I can release them.
Who were those you wrote songs for who misinterpreted them?
They were all very young and most of them did not make it as musicians and they were my neighborhood kids and all that. Some of them made it as musicians but they were localised to Rivers state. People like Iwosinda Jnr., who eventually died, Arthur Pepple and others I cannot remember right now. Then, it was more of a village setting thing and they were all localised. It was eventually I decided to publish my music. When I recorded Daniel in the Lion's Den, it became a big hit, but it did not sell much. But when they now said I should come and do the video and all that, I had to go back to school to write my exams and then I was writing my project, I did not even have the time to go and do any video and all the things I needed to promote the music and that album died. In 1988, I released 999 and that album was my very big hit because I made more money from it than any other album. I made money from it more than artistes did in those days because somehow, I always have a business acumen and a way to put business together. When other artists will be waiting for concerts to come, I was writing proposals to corporate bodies on how we could perform for them. So I became the toast of corporate bodies like Shell, Elf, Mobil. I was doing performing for all the companies, including banks My band and I will be flown by a private chopper to most of their destinations to go and perform. So I was making more money from music more than my contemporaries.
Being a good looking young man, especially then, you must have been the toast of several female admirers. Even now you still look stylish. How did you cope and how are you coping?
Tell me, do I have any impact on you (laughter)? I have got six kids and I tell you this is what life is all about. God created male and female to have a wonderful lives together. We make things difficult when one woman tries to posses a man... do not go to another woman. I am not ascribing to anybody being promiscuous. But I believe strongly that women were created to live in harmony with men and the only way that could be is by a certain allowance of freedom for a person to make up a decision for themselves. I have had a wonderful life with women and yes I have difficult times, especially for the ones who insist that I do not look left or do not look right. The only problem I had with women were women who wanted more than I could give, which is why I learnt from childhood to be straightforward with women as best as I can. If you tell a woman what you can offer from day one and she eventually asks for more than what you can offer, you will truly say to her that I told you this is what I can offer. You know they say that hell has no fury like a woman's wrath. That was how I was able to survive. But living with all that, I still end up having children with more than one woman because I just could not manage it well. You truly can't manage it a hundred per cent. So in terms of how I have managed my life with women, it is still an ongoing struggle. I can't tell you that I have all the answers. I am still going through the struggle till tomorrow and I think I may go through that struggle till I die because I am sure that even when I am 70, I will still find a woman that is attracted to me and I will be attracted to a woman too. That is how life is.
When soft sell magazines called you a womaniser, did you feel insulted?
Of course I am a womaniser. What else would I be? I can't be a maniser. Seriously, the word womaniser is relative. People consider it as a derogatory word because it means a man who has excess of women. No in that sense. That is not the kind of womaniser I am. I am a man who likes women, respects women and try my best to get the best out of them. Women have very positive spirits if you know how to get the best out of them and I try to take advantage of that. So in that sense, I am a womaniser; I womanize with my mother, I womanise with my daughter and I womanise with girlfriends. I basically love to relate with women. I feel safer with women than with men. May be that is why I am a womaniser.