By Bismark Maduka
With a career spanning nearly two decades, Afropop/dancehall singer, Ahmedu Augustine popularly known as Blackface Naija, has made his mark in the Nigerian entertainment industry.
He was a member of the Plantashun Boiz alongside 2Baba and Faze, and their band went on to become one of the best of the early 2000s. To Blackface’s credits, he proved his mettle as a songwriter by writing almost all the songs in Plantashun Boiz’s hugely successful debut album, Body and Soul.
However, after the group’s shocking split in 2004 as a result of 2Face’s exit to pursue a solo career, Blackface released a solo album, Ghetto Child the same year. The album spunned hits like Hard Life and E Dey Pain Me. Other albums followed that made him a bonafide dancehall/reggae star. But then, his feud with 2Face over the rights to African Queen, a song they both co-wrote, seems to have driven a wedge between him and the public.
Nevertheless, signed to Loud Houz Entertainment, Blackface continues to make music and currently has in the market an album, Rising Sun (Volume 1&2). In this in-depth interview, the Benue State-born music star shares the highs and lows of his career. Please enjoy it.
Briefly introduce yourself for the benefit of the younger generation that doesn’t know you.
I am Ahmedu Augustine. I’m a singer, songwriter and performer. I was the one that has been the leader of the group, Plantashun Boiz. I’m the one that created the group. I had some members in it like Faze and 2Face. But those members are not active in the band right now. I’ve come a long way. I’ve done about seven albums: Ghetto Child in 2004, Evergreen in 2005, Jungle Fever in 2006, Me, Music and I in 2008, and Dancehall Business in 2010. Since 2010, I didn’t put any album out until 2015 when I released another album called Defender Volume 1. In 2020, I put out another album, Rising Sun, which is Defender Volume 2. Now I’m ready to drop another album called, Rising Sun 2. So, I’ve just been making music. I’m one of the hottest artistes right now from Africa, if you check it properly.
You started making music before the social media era, and now most new school artistes rely on social media to promote their works. Somehow it influences the listeners and the charts. How have you been able to adjust to this new era?
If you say everything is online and that’s what they use to sell music in this new era, there’s no difference. The only thing is just put our own music on those platforms so that people can get them as well. Because the music of yesteryears is still important to us today. So, we’re not saying like the new era came and they are doing online, so the other people are not really doing their own bit. We are doing our own bit. It’s just that in my old case, they’ve had some people say, ‘Oh, is it Blackface? Oh, we don’t want to work with you because you’re working with Blackface.’ And that has really been the thing that’s been going on since they plotted and planned that agenda against me a long time ago for no reason. So, even if I want to work with video directors now, that’s the latest one to say, ‘Oh, is it Blackface? We don’t want to work with you’. So, I don’t know why they put their eyes on me and try to slow my roll. And that’s factual.
So, that could be the reason why you don’t collaborate as often as you used to do in the past?
No, that could be the reason why people don’t see my music for them to be able to download just immediately. Because the people that are working in some of these companies will not let them put my music out so that people can download it and I can make a living off making music. So, platforms try to make themselves like it’s only us that will be on the platform, and no other person is going to come unto the platform, and then shut every other person out. So, that’s the way they’ve been operating against me over the years. The video directors don’t want to work for me, even if I’m willing to pay them.
It’s been that bad for me. But then it’s all good. Because if I wasn’t built for that to happen, I don’t think it would be happening. I’m to make that change and make people realize that that kind of attitude towards targeting a particular artiste, and trying to silence them or cancel them is a bad thing.
I remember your song, Ahead of The Game where you featured Mallam Spicy and Rocksteady. The track was huge that year…
(Cuts in) Even till now. Believe you me, there’s no song in Nigeria that is bigger than Ahead of The Game. All the other artistes that came into the music industry know that there’s only one sound, which is still here and nobody’s gonna surpass it, and I’m still here.
Why don’t you collaborate as often as you used to do in the past?
There’s a difference between the artistes I work with. I don’t always work with those people because they’re not on my team. I have my own team I work with. And just the way it was when I started the Plantashun Boiz; I didn’t just go and say, ‘Yo, because there was Daddy Showkey or Baba Fryo before me, my music will sell by featuring them’. I never did that. I did my own music, regardless of the people that were there and I made an impact. So, it’s the same thing for me right now. I don’t think I need the artistes to make the impact. I make the music for the love of it.
If Omah Lay for example reaches out to you that he wants to work with you, are you open to such collaboration?
My phones are open. They can call me if they want to work with me. But the thing is, before I work with you, the music has to be of substance, because I don’t do freelance features. I don’t do freestyle because I may have to be involved in writing or something else about the music. So, before I do that, I need to be sure of what it is; and if it’s a full project or a single, I’ve got to discuss the details. If I like the song, then we go. It’s not even about money, let’s talk about the music first.
What is your opinion about the new school Nigerian artistes?
I want them to understand that music is a tool, they should use it for positive messages. They should use it for messages that will affect the youth positively like the way it used to be. Put the right lyrics that will be of positive influence to society. Music is a big tool. There are some things you can do with it, so we should be careful how we use it.
But sometimes they need to entertain too…
But you can’t overdo it. If you do it too many times then it becomes a part of you. If you do it like, now you want to entertain, and then you go back to consciousness, that’s good. You can’t just be on a mad train nonstop.
Is there any misconception about you that you really need to correct?
You know what they do, they use the media against you when you are a target for them. They spent all the money they’re supposed to use to develop and help their people to pay the media to write bad about you.
Who do you think is behind all these specifically?
I don’t know the people and I don’t know what their aim is. Now, this is the third Instagram page I’m on. They’re trying to silence me, they’re trying to cancel me. That’s what I’m trying to make you understand. I had the first one (Instagram page), it went up to about 17,000 followers, they hacked it and took it off because I had some truth there. So many truths I spoke there that people would like to read and also see my artistic growth; how I started and how I’m doing now, which would have been a whole long library. I started another one again and it had like 30,000 followers, they took it down again. And now, I’ve opened a new one called, The Real Blackface Naija.
What do you feel these people stand to gain? What’s their motive?
They want to propagate a lie, they know I would come with the truth. They want to propagate a false agenda, they know I’ll tell my people the equation. I’m their major problem because they are agents of the dark.
But we’re all human beings, you feel these words, these things they say…
I don’t really care what they say. I’m just waiting for them to have a one-on-one encounter with me before they can have a change of heart. The first thing they should know is that the song, African Queen, it was me that wrote it and told 2Face to sing it.
You mean African Queen wasn’t written together with anyone?
It was not written together with anyone. It was me that wrote it, even though it was like the two of us should do it, I was already doing it. You understand what I mean? I was already doing the song. Like, dem give two of una assignment but you don already dey do the assignment. All that was left was to do a presentation. It’s me that told him to record the song. If I didn’t ask him to record the song, he wouldn’t be able to use the song. I didn’t hate him. I’ve already listened to his album before I said, ‘you know, this album, this is the way it sounds like, but this is the song that will make your album go to the next level’. So, nobody should be thinking, ‘Oh, I’m hating on 2Face’. No, 2Face is my town brother. All I did was say, ‘you can sing this song’. And they were wrong in the sense that they didn’t put my name on it. I don’t hate him.
There’s this rumour that things are not the way they were in the past for you, that you’re not doing well. I’d like you to speak on that.
Maybe there’s a standard that they have in their heads of how they expect me to be. Maybe they want to see me with posh cars, they want to see me living in Lekki or Banana Island, they want to see me like a superstar that they know I am. But how’s that going to happen when all these people are cutting me off? They know what they’re doing. I’m trying to keep my head above the water. With time, they’ll see me in some light. I don’t have to worry about standards and I’m just living my life. They shouldn’t worry, with time they’ll see me in a Rolls Royce. And then I will be able to reach out to my people in Benue State and do some foundation things.
What’s the most memorable moment in your career?
That’ll be the first time I went to Makurdi, I went to my secondary school, Mount Saint Gabriel’s. The students knew me and were so excited and didn’t want me to leave the school. That day was also a show. On arriving at the venue, the stadium; when the people saw me, it was like Nigeria scored a goal. It was so awesome. And when I was on the stage singing they applauded, I was having that feeling like ‘wow, these guys are really feeling my music for them to respond to my rhymes’. That was around 2008.
Your song, Hard Life was widely played during the EndSars protest. How did it make you feel?
I didn’t worry much. I already knew the impact of the song and I already knew the reason why I made the song in 2003. And the song is crying to the government that ‘please, we need a change. We need something positive to happen for the people’ because life in Nigeria was too hard in 2003. And imagine how many years it took before they were able to recognize it.
Because in the long run, even when they play the song they don’t want the artiste there. The radio will not play the song. That was supposed to be song of the year when it was released in 2004, and Ghetto Child was supposed to be the album of the year. But they didn’t give me any award. Since I’ve been doing music, I’ve not had any award from the music industry. I want you to understand how the politics in the industry plays out. We are the ones that’ll be talking about so many things the government should do better for the people. But in the long run, when they wanted to go on a protest, what did they do? They took people that are not even social crusaders, people that their music are talking about ‘Yahoo Yahoo’. Those are the people they’re pushing forward to talk to the people. What are they going to tell the people? What idea do you think they have? We are the ones that’ll be fighting for the people but they don’t want us to be heard. But all of a sudden they’re trying to use that music to propagate their own agenda. It was funny to me.
Have you received your share of the royalties from the song, African Queen? There was a time you guys went to court over the issue. Has it been resolved?
Let me give you an overview of African Queen. African Queen has so many covers by different artistes. I’ve been on the calm side taking things easy. So many people have used African Queen in different television programmes and commercials, of which legally, I’m supposed to know. But now, so many people have laid claims to the music like they own it. Meanwhile, they don’t own the music. Some of these people are outside the country. So, this issue goes beyond 2Face himself. We are getting to the bottom of it. When everything has been worked out, I’ll give a press statement and people will have a clear picture of where we are right now. I can’t tell you too much because these are supposed to be for the lawyers.
But 2Face particularly didn’t list you on the song’s credits, I think?
Yes, but when I told his team to credit me they said they were going to do it, which they didn’t do. But later, I was able to get confirmation from him that I wrote the song, and we shared the rights to his version that was released and published by Kennis Music. We shared the proceeds 50/50 percent. Since then, it is known internationally that the African Queen version that was performed by 2Face Idibia, we have a 50/50 percent cut from it. So, that has been sorted out. All that’s left is for us to talk about backdated royalties.
There was a time you had issues with your former bandmates for performing some of Plantashun Boiz’ songs. Has that been sorted out too?
Plantashun Boiz is a brand and I don’t want anybody tampering with the brand name. If Faze wants to perform, let him go out and perform as Faze. If 2Face wants to perform, let him go out and perform as 2Face. Unless I tell them I’m not going to be available, then both of them can perform Plantashun Boiz’ songs.
They may have their own shows and could decide to do a throwback on fans’ request.
This particular band is restricted from doing that, because they might collect money for the band and collect for themselves as well. If I’m on tour and the fans say they want Plantashun Boiz’ songs, most definitely, I must get my former bandmates to come in. If I can’t get them to come in, sorry I can’t represent the music in a half way.
Any plan of Plantashun Boiz getting back together to make music?
The Plantashun Boiz is independent of Blackface Naija, Faze and 2Face. Regardless of these people, the name Plantashun Boiz is going to be in existence. The band is going to be releasing music for the fans.
Personally, I want to see the former members make new records together.
Like I always say, the first cut is the deepest. The first impression is what’s really holding everybody back. But the thing is, everybody is subject to exploring their talent. These individuals (2Face and Faze) have decided to explore their talents, who am I to stop them? I’m getting some young boys, R&B singers to be the new faces of Plantashun Boiz. It doesn’t have to be the original members all the time.
What’s your relationship with your former bandmates?
Everybody is still where they are. I just released my new single, Mathematics, they’ve not called to congratulate me. I’m wondering if they’re caught up in their own music, I wish them all the best.
What’s your relationship status?
Right now, I’m married to my music.
I mean is there anybody in your life?
Even, if I have somebody in my life, I don’t want to tell you people. The last person in my life, they did everything to try to spoil it. I don’t want anybody to know about this one.