By Tony Ogaga & Gilbert Okezie
For fast rising star, Richie Okonkwo aka Selassie, music is more than a passion. It is life. Determined to make it big in entertainment, the 21-year-old Geological Engineering graduate from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, Ghana, jettisoned his degree and embraced music.
In this chat with TS Weekend during the launch of his debut mixtape recently, Selassie opens up on his career, vision and dreams.
How did your musical journey start?
It has not been an easy journey at all. I chronicled the journey in the first song on my mixtape, Thunder Fire You. It tells the story of how back then I would be talking about my music and people would take it as a joke. They would say I wouldn’t succeed because I am from a traditional Igbo family where first sons are supposed to be successful, and as the first son people felt music would not bring me success. I had a vision and a drive and God gave me this talent, so I believed it was possible. My career started when I was in secondary school. Then, I used to sing and rap. I did not take it serious but later I started to do it full time; that was after my university education.
Who were your influences?
I had a lot of them, but when I started, there were those that really touched me like the late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and Da Grin. They had very strong influences on my sound. It was not only about their musicianship but also their confidence on stage. For the business side of things, I look up to Jay Z. Then, there is the greatest: Michael Jackson, the reason why most of us are into music. There are Eedris Abdulkareem, Sound Sultan and so many others. But right now, Wizkid is my number one role model because of how far he has taken African music.
What kind of music do you play?
My music is termed ‘Urban African’. It is a mixture of contemporary Afrobeat and hip hop music tailored to Nigerian youth.
Does music run in your family?
Not at all, I am on my own. No one in my family is into music and that was why my parents were surprised at my choice of music. They discouraged me initially, thinking that, I went into it as a result of peer pressure. But at a point, they began to see the joy and accomplishment and understand that I have passion for it. So, they did not have any option than to give me full support.
How many albums have you?
I have many demos, but right now, I have finished work on a mixtape titled, Anywhere Belle Face. It has songs like Thunder Fire You, One Chance, and lots of other tracks. My songs are different from what we have in Nigeria right now.
Do you have any regret giving up engineering for music?
I do not have any regret at all. Obviously, with the grace of God and hard work, I am sure I will make it more in music than in mining engineering, because I have the talent and passion to succeed. For me, music is a noble profession that has so many things to teach or learn from.
What were your challenges?
Lack of funding. Back then, nobody believed that I was capable and people didn’t want me to do it. I was on my own basically for a long time but thanks to my lovely parents, they saw my dreams and after I graduated they threw all their weights behind me.
How do you get inspiration to write songs?
It comes in different forms. As an artiste, art is life. Creating art is creating life with your imagination, which is telling stories. So basically, I sit down and observe my surroundings and see what is happening in government and market places. I see what happens when boys and girls relate because my music cuts across a wide range of topics. Sometimes, it could be magical. I could get inspiration in my dream, when I wake up, I write it down and then rush to the studio.
How long did it take to record Anywhere Belle Face album and what were your challenges?
Anywhere Belle Face took between six to nine months but the actual process took a lot of time. Anywhere Belle Face is a product of my self-discovery journey and it took a lot of time to put it together. I did not just want to regurgitate people’s ideas; I wanted to discover myself… I spent time alone trying to develop my sound and when I met MLV, my producer, he understood my sound. Since we shared a unique vision, he helped me discover myself fully. I started Anywhere Belle Face with Ginger. Then there was Thunder Fire You and then the others came. We have nine songs in the mixtape, which is 35 minutes to be precise. I featured a lot of artistes from Satellite Town, Lagos, the home of abundant talent.
Now that you are fully into music, what happens to your degree?
I tell people that ‘you just don’t go to school to pass through school but school has to pass through you’, and that is why I encourage artistes to go to school. School will give you the exposure and intelligence and finesse to package your music and sell yourself. So, school is very important whether or not you practice what you study. As for my degree, I plan to use it in the near future.
What are your dreams and where do we see the Selassie brand in the next five years?
The major dream is to give a platform to young up-and-coming artistes. Like Jay-Z will say ‘we can’t all make it if we are at the bottom. One of us has to climb up and carry others along’. So, that is my first target; to get to that place where I can help my people put bread on their table. The idea is ‘if one person wins, we all win’.