Ortis Wiliki is one of the most popular reggae musicians in Nigeria. He, alongside Majek Fashek, Ras Kimono and The Mandators dominated the music scene in the ‘80s through the ‘90s.
In this chat, the self-acclaimed ‘Koleman Revolutionaire’ waxed nostalgic, recalling exciting moments with his reggae contemporaries. He also talks about retirement and only regret as a musician and copyright administrator. Enjoy it.
How have you been coping since the coronavirus lockdown?
It has been pretty rough! We, entertainers, are the worst hit. There are no shows, no concerts, no events, and studios are not working, so it is really tough.
After all these years, you are still making music and performing. When are you going to retire?
That will be when l can’t breath no more. His grace is upon me; l am a product of grace. Retirement will be when Jah calls. I write songs anytime l am inspired. My songs will outlive me, this l know because songs that l released over 30 years ago are still relevant today. l write only when the spirit directs. I don’t think l will be able to record all my songs in my lifetime because l am still writing. My untouched songs are over 200 and still counting. So, l will continue to be a musician. There is no retirement in our calling. KSA (King Sunny Ade) and (Ebenezer) Obey are still performing, even Pa (Fatai) Rolling Dollars played till his last day, so no retirement for me.
What is your take on the contemporary Nigerian music?
The Nigerian contemporary music has come of age with Information Technology playing a massive role. Today, everybody can sing and be an artiste with the aid of software. You have millions of preset sounds available for use by anyone who can’t compose songs or melodies; it is easier to be an artiste now. However, we must also be able to separate the artiste from the musician, because they are not the same. The artiste can be said to be a singer, dancer, poet, painter and so on but the musician is one who is a skilled instrumentalist. I give kudos to our kids flying Nigerian flag musically worldwide. Perhaps, what we need more is content. Content is what puts you out there for a long time, because it is easy to be a star with just one song but most difficult to sustain that stardom. We are still doing our stuff even after almost five decades of active performances and recordings. l am talking about myself and the likes of KSA, Ebenezer Obey and Victor Uwaifo. If they didn’t have the right content impacting and inspiring lives, they would have long been forgotten. Back in the day, you could only be a musician by knowing how to play at least one instrument, unlike today.
A while ago, reggae music icon, Majek Fashek passed on. How did you take the news of his death?
It was painful. Yes, we knew he had been sick for a very long time. Not many thought he could get to that age because there had been rumours of his death but it wasn’t God’s appointed time. However, when l heard about his death, I was shocked. Majek was a bundle of talent. Jah controls the affairs of mankind. He only can understand the reason why He had to call them home at a time. We may never ‘overstand’ and we can’t question (Jah). Majek was one of the most talented musicians in Nigeria. He understood the guitar and he had his unique style. With such awesome talent, it was fun working with him especially on the first album which l was part of.
You, Ras Kimono and Majek Fashek held sway in the music industry for over a decade. How do you feel being the last of the titans?
Majek was a talent like no other, a fantastic instrumentalist who understood instruments and how to play and use them. He always knew what he wanted, so it was easy to work with him. Kimono and l were a lot closer than Majek and I because we had one thing in common, and that was humour. If you ever found yourself in our midst, then you would have understood what l am talking about. Kim’s passing was the one that startled me most. l was shocked and confused for almost a month, because inside me, I was in total denial. I never believed or imagined Kim would go so soon. We did a lot together, so l still miss him a great deal. Therefore, losing two friends in so short a time was like a double gunshot. It was indeed very painful, like a terrible bitter pill to swallow. Like l said before, everything is in His hands. We can only give thanks.
Back in the day, you guys monopolised the music industry alongside The Mandators, what was the secret?
Monopolised? I don’t agree with you. What l will say is that there were clear cut and seasoned professionals at the helm of all radio and TV stations. There was equal airing of all good genres of music. While reggae was everywhere, fuji was also there. So also were juju, pop and highlife music. There were so many stars with different genres of music ruling our airwaves.
What has been your happiest moment as a musician?
I have done music professionally for over 35 years but my happiest moment was when l wrote, produced and performed the official theme song for FIFA World Youth Championship (Nigeria ’99) entitled, ‘The Land of Plenty’. And also when I emerged the first musician to write an official song for HIV/AIDS awareness campaign. l dragged the then Health Minister, Prof. Olikoye Ransome-Kuti to the studio to do a voiceover on that song.
Is any of your kids taking after you?
Yes, l can see the traces in one, but I am watching her with keen interest and will not push her till she makes up her mind.
In 2017, after years of litigation, MCSN’s license was finally restored. Since then, we’ve not heard much from the platform by way of payment of royalties to members, what is happening?
That means you haven’t been following our operations and developments. First of all, you will agree with me that the blatant distraction of our status, operations and structures for over 13 years by the NCC and COSON wasn’t something we could have come out from to continue doing business easily. Even after the license was granted, we spent the following 12 or 13 months in court because Tony Okoroji wanted the decision reversed by suing MCSN, NCC and the AGF. We eventually got judgment and thereafter had to quickly settle down to the process of rebuilding, reconnecting and reassuring our licencees of many years. Next, we had to go back to where we stopped, and since then we have been able to sign on major licensing of several users of our works. We realised that the only option left for us was to be humble in victory while building on the previous professionalism, goodwill and new approach to bringing on board new licencees through sensitisation and education. We had a lot we planned to do this year but for COVID-19 pandemic. This has further worsened business activities in no small measure and even so, l can tell you that MCSN is back.
What are you regrets?
Regrets are coming into this world through a country richly blessed by God Almighty, yet the people are highly impoverished. My regrets are looking at a country where our professors are only good for conducting elections, and highly educated people shying away from politics and leaving the arena to a greedy few and ‘agberos’ (touts) to rule over us. My only regret is why it took over two decades to rescue our copyright sector from hijackers, leaving many owners of works dying without receiving any benefits for their sweats.