Why I disappeared, Bright Chimezie speaks
For more than a decade he held Nigerians spellbound with Zigima sound his genre of music. His breath taking performances on stage also endeared him to the crowd where ever he performed. A very creative musician Bright Chimezie was able to infuse comedy into his songs. Songs like Respect Africa, Okro soup and Oyibo Mentality propelled him to national stardom.
And just when Nigerians were getting used to having him around, he disappeared from Omole, Lagos home.
Nobody could tell his whereabout. Today we serve you hot, Bright Chimezie as was uncovered by our Entertainment Editor, Ogbonna Amadi.
The story is better told Nna Ochie (grandfather) as Bright is better known by close associates.
It's nice to see you.
I'm delighted to see you as well.
I miss the razzmatazz.
Are you alive?
Not just alive, bubbling with life and efizzi.
Where have you been? Lagosians and Nigerians have been looking for you.
My brother, I did a tactical and diplomatical withdrawal. You know I play Zigima music. So, there comes a time you withdraw. I have been in Zigma sanctuary located in the Eastern part of the country. Really, it was a very difficult decision.
So, after seven years, I said it's high time to come back to Lagos and show myself to the people.
On a more serious note, you left at the peak of your career. What went wrong?
Nothing went wrong. No.1, you see, apart from playing good music, I'm also a family man. So, for over 10 to 13 years, I was here, raising the family.
At a point, they didn't know where I come from. I'll take off from here, go to the East and mount shows and come back. As an ambassador of African culture and tradition, at a point in time, I said look, I needed to take my kids home. Let them know where I come from, speak my language and know my culture. That's exactly what happened. So, for seven years, they've gotten that. My two sons speak Igbo language fluently.
My wife I met here in Lagos knows home. My other four kids understand, and the East is very happy with me. So, I felt this time around, April, I would be back to Lagos to get in touch with my fans here and tell them that Zigma is still very active.
When B&H and some other big companies left, it affected many of you who were not professional musicians. The emergence of studio recording artistes was said to have also forced you to withdraw.
Now, let me tell you something. I play a unique brand of music which is Zigima. People that come for my music, come for me and those don't that patronize music, don't. It has nothing to do with the economic situation. I have just told you the truth. By 2003, my kids were about to enter secondary school and if I had allowed them to start here (in Lagos), they would've taken up here as their first home. And I sell the African culture and tradition all over the world, as an ambassador. So, I had to leave back to the East to groom my family. That I have done.
Why didn't you let them go with their mother?
No, no, no. I couldn't have done it because I married a very, very young woman. If I had left my wife to go and do that, you know I'm ochie,(elder, professional), she couldn't have survived it. So, I needed to go there with her. It's not about being jealous.
She just couldn't have done it the way I did. I couldn't have allowed my wife to go to the village all alone with four kids, and a young girl. If I had stayed back, people would have said, 'Okoro Junior carry him wife go dump for village.' That would have been the gossip. Already, before I left the East, there was a powerful base I had created. So, by the time I relocated, yes, it was quite difficult but I was able to juggle it all together.
I love my wife and couldn't have asked her to go alone, and she's the only wife I have. She is very supportive. I named her Oyiridia because people say she looks very much like Bright Chimezie. So that's exactly what happened.
I'm not trying to say there wasn't low turn in whatever (the showbiz) but this is the basic reason. Having completed training the kids, they speak their language and understand where they come from, I feel accomplished. So, here I am now.
There's been a downturn in high life and live patronage when compared with today's kind of music. What has been your experience?
I don't believe that. Zigima sound which I've been courting for the past 27 years is very unique, and without sounding immodest, I have a very powerful reputation to maintain here in Nigeria and Africa in general. Yes, for most of the guys …Originality…. Most of these Hip Hop chaps don't play wedding ceremonies. They're not even holding the industry.
For instance, when I was in school, we used to dance to the Wilson Hot Chocolate and stuffs like that but when we became matured, we played the African stuff. As for me, I have told you exactly why I left. I needed close to 10 years to sort myself and my background because to be a cultural ambassador….
But then, you weren't even playing shows. Did it also mean that you shouldn't play shows in Lagos?
I didn't want my music dead. Remember, for artistes all over the world who want to stand the test of time, you throttle. You move out and come back again forcefully. I stand here to tell you that I have one of the strongest bands in Africa. I mean 16-man solid band that can strike anywhere, anytime.
You should know also that I've never done any kind of business apart from music. Actually, the Hip Hop boys have flooded everywhere but then, the African music market is there. People still patronise us. For instance, my latest job, by the time I got into this hotel, they started playing. How they got the job, I don't know. So, those are the things.
How did you survive in the East without playing the big shows in Lagos?
Do you know I played for the Queen in 2003 when she came to this country? It was in Abuja and apart from that, I did a lot of shows in Abuja from my hometown – Zigima sanctuary. Straight into Abuja and other places. Lagos is like home for me.
I have a lot of fans. I don't have to scratch in Lagos. It's a place I come to forcefully and do shows. Just like I'm back now and I'm going to do great shows here.
You think youths would still like your music when it's been long they heard from you?
I've been here for the past 3 days. It's difficult to walk along the streets. So, the market is there for me. Hip Hop has done nothing. In fact, they don't scratch me.
What's the impact of Hip Hop music on High Life, especially live playing?
I need to stay here maybe for a couple of weeks to really understand what you're talking about. But you know I'm a live musician and without sounding immodest, I hardly talk to the press. Zigima is an extension of High Life. So, probably, when I stay here for a week or more, I might understand exactly what you're talking about.
But all over the East, and Abuja, they appreciate the brand of music I play. That is nothing but the truth. Maybe, we'll test our powers here too.
So, what was it like living in the East for seven years?
I'll tell you. I used what I call the Zigima strategy and it really worked out for me When I moved into the East, my boys were coming all the way from Lagos to come and back me up. At a point, I got new boys, trained them, taught them the Zigima language.
They got it. I debuted way back in the 80s. The name, music and fans are there. So with this latest technology, phones. People were still getting in touch with me to come and do one show or the other. It wasn't just about weddings or burials. Influential people in the society invite me to come and play for them and I go.
In the last 7 years, how has the industry done?
We've done good and we've also done bad. If you look at what is giving the boys big dough, it's lyrically zero. They are rhythm and the rhythm comes from the computer. I don't know what they call the beat and stuffs like that. Apart from that, there's nothing for the kids to pick up in the song.
Probably, this is due to the nature of one's leaving the scene and not being there for them. All you hear is the rhythm. Probably, 'Baby I want to dine with you this night,' or 'I want you to kiss me!', and stuffs like that. Apart from that, there's nothing more. Zigima sound is a natural philosophy.
It's been close to 30 years now and I've tried as much as possible to enshrine myself in the hearts of men, and not just ordinarily. There's a natural philosophy that flows with the Zigima brand. So, positively rhythm, negatively, empty lyrics.
What are the implications?
The danger is that people will soon be marooned. There is no authenticity. If you call me up now, I set up here and I power sound with all my instrumentalists playing. I'm not sure these young boys have this kind of firepower. So, what do you get? You get the ice-cream kind of music.
Most of the people that patronise them have their jobs but when you look at it inwardly, there's nothing there. So, I don't know where we're heading to. If you go to Ghana, in as much as the Hip Hop thing has affected them, there's musical direction .
Even in the US. But in Nigeria here, a chap will just come with his laptop. He creates a beat and by the time you know it, he's there. At a point, I blame the press, sorry to say. Any garbage that comes out, you promote. You hate to promote the culture of our land.
You don't appreciate what you have. You want to sound like the oyibos (Whites) and where does it lead us? So, most of us that have got the rhythm, we hold it tenaciously and we serve people that want it, even if they are just 200. They've been sustaining us.
But some people feel that they have to wear the African fabric. How long do you think you can sustain this?
Who are the younger generation? Where are they from? Where you're from, the language you speak, the kind of food you eat, the people you associate with matter a lot. For me, these are the issues. You have to project where you come from.
I was in Austria couple of months back. Right from the airport, they gave my respect because of my dressing. One thing the oyibo man hates is trying to copy him. It makes you look stupid. In 2005, I was in Venezuela, all the way from my little village.
They appreciated the music. They looked at me, the dressing, even the language. I told them 'look, you better call an interpreter because some of the songs are in Igbo language. But the rhythm of the language is fun for them. So, all this Hip Hop thing they're doing here will stay here. When they get out there, they will look like fools.
And it is we, the authentic Africans that look real to the outside world. Often times, we don't even bother with what happens here, because most of the guys here are marooned. Their focus is very dangerous, probably because of the little proceeds that come from it.
In those days, when Respect Africa came out, I never bothered about royalties or anything. What I had in mind was to permeate, stamp my feet on the sands of time, do music. But most of these guys doing this thing with laptops are thinking of Hummer Jeeps and stuffs like that. That is not where paradise is located. Paradise is inwardly.
For instance, I may not be very, very rich but I have an rich inner life. I'm very comfortable in my skin, and that's exactly what matters. So, our people need what I call Zigimatical re-orientation for them to know what is happening.
Their content are empty.
In seven years, how many albums have you released?
Zigima music is not a brand … In 7 years, I worked on 'Because of English', packaged it, the video and audio and I'm out to promote it just like I did Ogbono Soup. 'In the year 1974, I travelled to oyibo man country, Ala beke…. I use humour to get the message across to the people. That's why they like me. I didn't stay away from recording. I did Because of English which I am here in Lagos now to promote.
You spent 7 years on it…?
Definitely. Seven solid years working on that brand of music. It's not Hip Hop. Look, you have about five guys doing the guitars. You have horns men and you've to arrange this music. It's not something you just push into the studio and come out.
It's music from the theatre world. Have you heard Because of English before in the entire world? But call any of these Hip Hop guys and play their music. I will help you to know where they're coming from and exactly who they copied.
These are the things. I released Respect Africa in 1984. It was later in 1987 that I came out with 'Life of Yesterday' and I was forced to do that because I had wanted to wait for sometime. Rogers said then with four tracks, it's not enough for you to jump on the road.
You know you're a live artiste. After that, I had 'Oyibo Mentality' in 1989. By 1990, I did the chart buster. Ogbono soup. Then 1995, I did life na teacher, then Prophet Chukwuma – my experience in 2001. By 2003, I left to be a good family man to my wife and five children.
I thank God I was able to balance that equation and remaining the industry, even though I was out of Lagos. So, even if you give me N50 billion now, I can't release everyday because some of my colleagues did it. I don't know where they are. I'm sorry. I'm not just playing music …. It's a calling.
How's your relationship with Rogers these 25 years?
Number 1, I'm not materialistic. I believe in an Igbo adage that says O nweghi Ife ka ndu (nothing is bigger than life). And Rogers happens to know me in and out. When we started, I told him, 'Look, I'm a messenger. I have a brand called Zigima music'.
I want the money but more importantly the documentation of my message because when I leave here, that is what speaks for me.
So, for the past 20 years, he has been doing that for me. Proper documentation, good production and I think he respects my talent. He appreciates my dressing and I don't joke with anybody that appreciates what I have come to this world to do. So, this is just the secret.
And how do you both tackle piracy?
Piracy is cancerous. In fact, I don't know where Nigeria is headed to. Can you imagine that Respect Africa sold millions? Somebody saw me on Victoria Island and said, 'Bright Chimezie, by now, I know you're flying a helicopter. I said, well, if it's the spiritual helicopter, you're right but if it's the physical one you're referring to, you're wrong. I have no helicopter. He said, 'but your album sold millions'. I said, talk to the pirates.
Rogers tried as much as possible to tackle them but he couldn't do much as an individual. I think the cabals are capitalising on the fact that musicians (especially we, the older ones), pay little or no attention to the lack of structures.
So, they are feeding fat on us. You know, when playing 'Respect Africa' at a show somewhere in Abuja, a guy came to spray me on stage. And after the performance, he came to meet me and said, 'look Bright Chimezie, I made good money with your first album'. I asked, 'how?' He said 'na we dey sell am'.
It came short of saying '1 pirated your music'. So that's the thing. That was a song I sang in 1984. Imagine what would have happened to me today if not for such thing.
How do you handle women who bother you?
Women have natural liking for me. They don't bother me, honestly speaking.
How do you handle women who like you?
I try as much as possible to be very friendly but when it comes to matters of 'bring down your zip' I'm a hard man there, you know.
Is it that you're the best of husbands?
No, I can't be the best of husbands. I can tell you now that I'm very faithful to my wife. I have beautiful sisters and a mother too.
What was it like going back home?
Though we come from Umuahia town, but if I had dropped there I wouldn't have accomplished my mission because the town is still like Lagos. I wanted a Zigimatical base and I wanted the kids to know the exact environment I'm from.
It was a very difficult task but God saw me through.
Your plans for Lagos.
To promote the 'Because of English' album and to link up with my fans and the corporate bodies that appreciate Zigima music. To let them know I'm fully back.