By Emuekpere Christopher, Molokwu Theophilus Jide & Genevieve Ifeoma Ogbonna
For Ekene Ijemba, music runs in the family. His father was a disc jockey and mother also loved singing. But he took this a notch higher when be became a professional musician. Today, the artist popularly known as Humble Smith is a household name with his hit song, Osinachi, which has become a sort of national anthem. In this interview, he shares the experiences behind the song.
How did you start music?
I have been doing music since I was a kid. The whole thing started when I was six. My father was a disc jockey and my mom sang very well. So music runs in the family, it runs in the blood. Everything put together motivated me to fall in love with music.
Tell us a bit about your background?
I was born and brought up in Ebonyi State. We are a family of 10, with eight children all brought up in Ebonyi State. Life was very tough. I grew up listening to Bright Chimezie; he was my mentor from the age of six. I formed a group called the ‘American Boys’. It was the first time I knew I was going to play music. In the group, we danced, sang and acted. In 1996, we did a concert in church and the response from family members and other people was good. Since then, I have been eager to do music. I decided that I would take music more professionally. So, while growing up, I started meeting more professionals that saw a whole lot in me, that encouraged and advised me on how to go about playing music. Then I started going to the studios, I started writing songs for people. Apart from music, I also used to play football and I used to act. I love acting. When I was in secondary school, I was the drama director. I wasn’t the drama director until I did something in school that made me the director. They handed over the school drama group to me.
How did you get the name Humble Smith?
Back in Ebonyi State, there was a time people started calling me ‘Humble’. Most times people choose names for you, someone would just see you and say you look like something or someone and give you a name. That’s how people just started calling me ‘Humble’ and I like the name. But the only thing is that I had to leave up to the name. People calling me humble and I am not humble is not good. I am an artist so I decided to add ‘Smart’ to the name. First it was ‘Humble Smart’ until one blessed day one MC introduced me on stage as ‘Humble Smith’. It wasn’t a mistake; I think it was my friend that gave ‘Humble Smith’ instead of ‘Humble Smart’ so the MC introduced me as ‘Humble Smith’ instead of ‘Humble Smart’ so, I decided to stick with that name.
You talked so much about acting, are we expecting you to join Nollywood in the nearest future?
I am a registered member of AGN. I left Ebony State for Asaba because I discovered that Nollywood had a bigger structure in Asaba. I went to Asaba not for music but for movies, to know more, to meet stars, and to see if I could make it in the movie world. When I got to Asaba, I tried doing acting but it wasn’t working for me. I needed to tell myself the truth. I was much younger and I didn’t have money to sponsor or produce a movie of my own. And there was no way I could convince anybody to give me the kind of role I wanted to play because I was not there yet. So, I decided to join the crew. I did a whole lot. I worked as a Personal Assistant, I worked as a brooms-man, but at the end of the day music was still working for me.
How did you get the inspiration for your hit song, Osinachi?
Before Osinachi, I had about four singles. I had a feeling that I was going to be a star because I have worked hard. Nothing was actually working for me after those singles. I even had to travel to London to shoot two music videos. So, at a stage, I was confused if the thing I have been doing was the right thing for me. One day, I went to church; I fasted and prayed but it was as if nothing was happening. Some people advised me to go back to the east, to go back to the village that there was no room for me in Lagos; and that music wasn’t my career. So, I went to church on this fateful day, I went to pray but ended up not praying. I was just thinking. At a point, I began to cry and then something just came to my mind, that ‘young man, you are here crying, wasting your time. When you are supposed to be out there hustling, creating good songs, you are here crying and complaining, when you have hands, legs, brain and everything. Stop complaining and appreciate God for the little He has done for you, let Him know you still appreciate Him and use what He has blessed you with to encourage people’. It was good news to me. So, I thought about doing something different from what I have been doing. I wrote the song, Osinachi, there in the church, came back home and told my producer, who produced the song featuring Phyno. The song went viral. Thank God for that. I never knew God had bigger plans. At the beginning of the year, Davido called me to do a remix of the song. But meanwhile, last year when I dropped the song, I personally took it to Davido. I gave him my CD and he said that he has been seeing my work and that the song was going to be a hit, and finally the song became a hit. So, he called for the remix. God bless Davido. Today, Osinachi is one of the biggest songs in Africa if not the biggest.
In the song, you talked about your ‘loving daughter’; do you have a child?
I don’t sing for myself, my music is for everybody. I sing songs that when you listening to them, you can also sing them to yourself as if they are your songs. I don’t have any child. I said ‘I go name my first daughter, Osinachi’. So, for those of you who have kids out there, you can name your first daughter Osinachi. But if you don’t have and you plan to have, you can say ‘I go’ which is what I said. Maybe, my first daughter would be named Osinachi by God’s grace.
What do you think about Davido bringing his personal issues into the song?
That’s music for you, that is the way I understand music. For example, I told you about my story, what I went through that gave me inspiration for Osinachi, and how I poured out my anger, my experience, and my feelings into the song. I told you that I fasted and prayed, went to church crying and something came to my mind, telling me that I was wasting my time, when I was even better than many people in the street. That is being creative. It is not easy to recreate what is happening around you into music. Music is not all about I can sing, music is business; you need to make it commercial, something that would make people talk about it. That’s how you make your money. So, in essence, Davido did justice to his part in the song.
Did your parents want to force a career on you?
Every parent has a choice of career for his or her child. My mom wanted a priest in the family. We are Catholic and I tried being a priest, which my mom wanted me to be. My dad wanted me to be a footballer, but at the end of the day, music was what that worked for me. I never disobeyed them. I served mass, I followed Reverend Fathers, but at the end of the day, music is still the thing that is working for me.
What is your educational background?
I stopped after secondary school but I have plans to further my education.
What project are you working on presently?
Currently, we are working on a song. Also, I am working on my European tour, which is coming up very soon. It was meant to start from July 1st to July 31st, but we might shift it because more countries have applied for the tour. So, we need to restructure everything before we begin. I still have two singles to drop before the year runs out. Next year, we would then take the brand to another level.
What is your dream collaboration?
I would like to work with Chris Brown and Justin Bieber by God’s grace.
Who are your role models in the industry?
My first and forever mentor is Bright Chimezie. But I look up to a whole lot of people like Harrysong, Tuface Idibia, Wizkid and Davido. Internationally, I look up to Chris Brown.
What’s your advice to upcoming artists?
Anyone that wants to achieve what I have achieved should as well know what I went through. What I found out is that if you must chop you must work. In Nigeria, most people just want to chop but they don’t want to work. You are lazy but not lazy to chop. If you want to be successful, work. If you must chop you must work. Believe in what you do, don’t allow anyone to discourage you.