For 37 years, Aigbona Abumere Felix Akhidenor popularly known as Teddy Knorr has been pulling his weight in the music industry.
With many tracks in his repertoire, the reggae musician has been selected to compose the theme song for Bash Ali’s International Boxing Federation (IBF) World Cruiser Weight Championship fight slated for Nigeria this year.
In this chat, the indigene of Uromi, Edo State opens up on how music started for him, his latest project, challenges and why he’s yet to release an album of his own among other interesting issues. See below for details.
Tell us about yourself?
I am from a music family. I grew up on the Lagos Island. During festivals, I always led my age grade to entertain people. When I was five-years-old, I was taken away from home and I remember crying that they should give me my okele which is the samba. They said I should not worry that when I get to Lagos they will buy me another one, and that’s how I was cut off from music. But because music is in my blood, I have never stopped.
How did music start for you?
I am a very good dancer. I have always been a dancer but God used somebody to discover my talent. On New Year Eve in 1981, I went to a party where I danced myself away. The following day, January 1, one guy came looking for me. He introduced himself and said he saw me at a party yesterday. He then said he’s a songwriter and he wanted us to form a music group. I said ‘how?’ And he said he had just finished secondary school and that I should follow him to his house. There, he showed me many songs he had written. That was how we started rehearsals. I had started working and was staying with my brother. By the fourth month, when I received my salary, both of us traveled to Benin to record our first album. However, that night, when we came back home, my brother threw my friend and I out of the house!
You started pursuing your dream and your brother decided to chase you out of the house. What did you do?
What could I do? But that was how the journey started. We eventually finished working on the demo and we decided to go to my cousin’s place in Yaba, but my cousin was not around and the guy said he had to go to his aunty’s place in Ajegunle. And that was how he left. But something told me he was not going to come back. So, I prayed ‘God, if this guy doesn’t come back, give me inspiration so I can start writing songs’. The guy went away with all the recordings and that was the last time we saw. There and then, the Holy Spirit ministered to me and I wrote my first song, a reggae tune entitled, Getting Too Hot.
Did you release it?
No. But I have since been writing songs and doing productions. I did my first production in 1987/88 and the Jastix Band backed me. I was the one that recommended the band to my sponsor then.
Majek Fashek was a member of the Jastix Band. Did you see him becoming a big star then?
I saw so much greatness in Majek Fashek but I couldn’t fathom how far he was going to go. He was a great musician. During rehearsals, he showed so much commitment. When he went to London to master his album, my financier insisted that we wait until he came back. That was how my album was delayed until 1988. Majek spent over three months in the UK. He was the in-house producer at Tabansi Records then.
What happened to the album?
It never got released. I finished working on the album and we started looking for a marketer. I later took it to Aibtonia, a record label and he was interested. He asked my financier how much he spent on the project and he was told N30,000. Aibtonia then asked ‘how much do you want me to pay you so I can take over the artiste?’ My financier said N100,000 but Aibtonia said he could only pay N50,000. They both agreed that he should go back home, type out the agreement and return the next day for signing. However, the next day when we got there, my financier said he was not going to accept N50,000. Aibtonia was angry and ordered us out of his office. That was how I lost the work.
How did that affect your career?
It slowed down my career. After 10 years, my financier and I saw again and he told me that he regretted the decision he took back then. I learnt he kept my demo under his bed where the heat destroyed it. I later got a lawyer to nullify the 10-year contract I signed with him.
After that, how did your career progress?
I kept on writing songs and rehearsing. I did my second album, which was sponsored by King Sunny Ade when he was contesting for PMAN president. But after we did the master tape, it was a case of ‘to your tents oh Israel’. That was when Zmirage boss, Alhaji Teju Kareem came into the picture. He was interested in my work but then he was promoting Femi Kuti’s Bang Bang Bang! He told me to be patient but after waiting for a year, I became frustrated so I withdrew the work. My third album was recorded in 2009. I met a guy in Abuja who listened to three of my demos. He was so impressed that he asked if I could do a minimum of 10 songs he would get me a deal with Lucky Dube. He was Lucky Dube’s manager. I was able to persuade a brother who gave me money and I did 15 songs. I then gave him copies, which he sent to Lucky Dube. Lucky Dube later sent a message that my music was good but did not suit digital production. He advised that I should do analogue/digital productions. He said if I could do that, he would reimburse all the expenses and take over from there. However, shortly afterwards, Dube was killed and that was the end of the project.
Have you made any money from music?
I have not made money. You see, for me, music is a calling. I had an encounter with God. I have not made money but I have a conviction; music is my life. I have a deal with God and that is why I don’t joke with my music. Right now, I have recorded a new song. I have sacrificed everything for music. Like a woman, the spirit of music is very jealous. If I don’t rehearse for a week, it will be like my life is coming to an end. It has affected me in all areas of my life.
Is your family still supporting you after 37 years in music?
I thank God for my brothers. They are very supportive and believe in what I do but they don’t have the financial muscle. I am holding on because I have received accolades due to my singing prowess. The only problem has been finance. Those days when the white guys were here, what they needed was just your demo. Once you submit your demo and they see any commercial value in it, they sign you and give you everything. But these days, it is cash and carry. All the record labels you see today, if you don’t finish your work 100 per cent, they won’t be interested. That is why you see most artistes having their own labels. Now, I also have my own record label.
What project are you working on now?
If I have my way, I want to release 21 songs with instrumentals and acapela. To the glory of God, my song has been chosen as the theme song for Bash Ali’s Guinness Book of World Records’ upcoming fight. He called me one day and said ‘Teddy, I want you to participate in a project. We are looking for a theme song for my fight’. Immediately, I got to work. That night, I prayed to God and he answered me. I wrote a song entitled, ‘Bash Ali: The Oldest Boxer’. A few days later, I was informed that my song has been chosen. When your song is chosen as a theme song for a project, automatically, that makes you the musical ambassador for that project. Like I said, I have sacrificed everything for music. In retrospect, I believe that if I wasn’t there musically, such an opportunity could not have dropped on my laps.
How old are you now?
Spiritually, I am ageless; but physically, I am 57.
At 57, don’t you think time is running out for you?
Music has no age limit. Most of the artistes that we played their music while in school are still active. Some are in their 70s or even 80s. Look at the likes of U Roy, Burning Spear and Jimmy Cliff, they are still active; but because they are not having representatives here, we don’t hear about them. Google them and you will see just how busy they are.
What new project are you working on?
Last year, I recorded a song entitled, Take A Note. It is about true federalism and restructuring. I am an inspirational songwriter and researcher. I am a tourism enthusiast as well. I have two companies that will be in charge of my marketing and promotions. I am ready to go. All I need now is just a financial partner.
When you look back after 37 years in the music industry, do you have any regrets?
No, I only thank God, because if I start now, within the next two or three years, I will regain what I have lost.
You used to wear dreadlocks, why did you shave it?
I did it basically because of maintenance. If you do not maintain your locks, it will become a burden. You can’t be wearing dreadlocks and walking in the sun and sweating. That I no longer wear dreadlocks does not mean that I am not a Rastaman. The principle that makes you a Rastaman is being your brothers’ keeper.
Can we compare the music of the ‘80s to what we have today?
There are two areas I would like to shed light on. It’s about content that has been watered down. And we tend to focus more on sex-driven music whereby artistes end up undermining their social responsibilities to the society. Are you surprised about the increase in rape cases? Artistes are the cause and it is because we overcharge the system with sexual vibes. By our nature, a musician is a minister of enjoyment. Spiritually, we brought music from the kingdom of God, so if you are moving with a musician, you could die of enjoyment. Therefore, the need to simmer down cannot be over-emphasised. I will appeal to my colleagues, both young and old, to let us simmer down. There are some songs that are not supposed to be played in the daytime. Secondly, we are not creating jobs. Why should we leave instrumentalists out of the loop? We are playing fantastic music today but it lacks depth. That is why our productions are so monotonous.
A lot of young artistes are making waves today. Which of them would you want to work with?
I would want to work with a couple of them including Tuface. The very first time I listened to Davido’s song, I knew he was going places. I would love to work with Tuface because he is a lyricist; he has depth and is representing both the old and the young. I would also want to work with Olamide and Wizkid; Olamide is in his own class.