‘Music-making comes to me naturally’
‘Why it took me so long to release album’
By Bolatito Adebayo
Talk of Nigeria’s Stevie Wonder, Cobhams Asuqo readily comes to mind. Cool and composed, the visually-impaired artiste from Akwa Ibom State is many things rolled into one. He is a songwriter, producer and a deft instrumentalist. While this artiste has been an inspiration to many, he admitted in this interview with Effects that his maiden album was much delayed because he deployed a great deal of time nurturing budding talents. In this interview the visually impaired musician told us about his music, fatherhood, valentine experience with his wife and other things.
It took you so long to come out with an album, why was it so?
I did that for two reasons.The first reason is that when I started, I didn’t like my voice very much. So, I felt that the best way that I could express music was to use other people’s voices to do the things that were in my head. Then on the other hand, I was going on with production, interpreting the things in their heads as opposed to the things in my head. So, I learnt that and realised it was fascinating to help others berth their dreams and help create someone’s sound.
So, I did that for a long time and I enjoyed it while I was doing it. I still do it, every now and again but over time, I have come to accept my voice for what it is. I also realised that there are certain emotions and truths that must be said by me or should be said by me. Other people are going to say it how they want to say it but I control how I say it. And so, I decided that I would go into the studio and create it.
Also it comes to me naturally to write music and I think I am able to master my voice better now.
The message in this album, I guess must be very deep first of all, my position on the typical Nigerian music is that millions of people cannot be wrong. There are millions of people who love and embrace afrobeat. It is a sound that has come to stay.
However, Nigerian music space should accommodate other genres and other forms of music.This album was not created to fit into a box, it was created to be my musical expression and I don’t know if I have heard songs in the album played in clubs. The sounds are definitely true to the kind of sounds that I would create and I don’t want to say that it is not a mainstream because really, anything can become mainstream.
Can you reflect on other artistes you have worked with?
I have worked with a lot of artistes and for me to work with an artiste, then I’ve got to like something about that artiste.
Those artistes must be unique and be able to bring something different to the table. The first person I worked with, I can’t really remember. I started about 15 or 16 years ago and it was about me saying, I was a producer even before I entered the studio. The first song that made me really go commercial happened after I worked with the group called, MAINTAIN.
You mean Olu Maintain?
It was not just Olu, Maintain was a group in 2002 or thereabout. I was 21, young and excited and Big Bamo, who was their producer took a chance with me. Something a lot of established acts were afraid to do at that time. For a number of reasons, number one, they thought I was too young.The number two reason was, could you trust a blind guy with your stuff? So, big Bamo took a chance and we made that song, put it out there and it became a hit. That was my first major commercial success.
You wife. What does she mean to you?
She is special. She is my friend. There is absolutely nothing we don’t talk about. There is nothing we can’t pray about. She is someone I’m not afraid to be vulnerable with. We have a very special relationship and she is someone that I am not afraid to disagree with because disagreement does not always mean lack of love. You are safe with a person when you can agree and disagree. She is the smarter of the two of us; she is super smart and super humble. She is a good lesson to anyone who would want to allow her; she is very creative, very artistic. She is definitely my best friend.
How did you meet her?
We met at the library, the public affairs section of the United States Information Service (USIS) in 2001.We were studying ahead of traveling to the US and she eventually ended up going.
She left two years later and I stayed behind. We became great friends; we were friends for many years. We were just friends and we were good friends for many years; about eight or nine years. Then we realized that it was time to take the relationship to the next level.
What were the qualities that you saw in her then?
Her honesty, sometimes brutal but always necessary. She is someone who generally is not afraid to speak her mind especially when it concerns me. Someone who is not afraid to tell you the truth with the hope of helping you be better. Then she is a very kind person, considerate of others. I think that I have a very interesting temperament and I know that I am not the most perfect person. I can be easy enough to get along with just anybody.
Obviously because of the grace of God upon my life, in a place where I can be a lot to a lot of people and I can add value and when you add value people can tolerate you more. So, your relationship a lot of time is based on what you can give. My relationship with her is not based on how she treats me alone, but how she treats other people who cannot be what I’m to her. I think that is the sense of true compassion and kindness. When you are fair with how you see things and how you see people and you respect people not because of what they can be to you but because they are people. She is that way and everyone else in her family is like that. They are amazing people.
How are you spending this valentine with her?
Ha! That is not for me to reveal. I am not going to reveal the surprise. All I know is that it is an interesting time for us as a family. We’re working together on the album and getting ready for the 12th of March when the album would be dropped at a launch. She is a big part of that; she is a part of everything that I do. In the midst of all of that, we recognise the season that we are in. We would do our best in our own little private way.
Let’s talk about the memorable moments in your life and career?
I have had a few; one of them is in the time of recording this album and the kind of emotions that you deal with creating a project like this. It’s been a roller coaster of emotions. There are very good days and sometimes there are down days and putting all that together.
Also working with musicians around the world and creating the projects, the recordings were liveI spent.
Nikky Laoye described you as a source of inspiration, what is your impression of her?
I think she is a bundle of talent. She is a strong woman and I have so much respect for strong women. People who are able to hold their own and stand out in an industry that is male-dominated. She was always striving to create her own sound, she is a hard worker and the honest truth is that the principle of hard work and consistency is that you get good results. And I think that she is someone who strives to do that. For the fact that her music has been placed where some of her contemporaries struggle to reach, not necessarily being as successful. She has done amazing things, she is a gospel artiste who won at the Headies, it is a feat when your music is not boxed in because of your beliefs, and on stage people can recognise you and the brilliance of your work. I think that is something that Nikky Laoye has been able to earn for herself, I respect that very much.