“There’s no problem with Majek following a woman after our show in LA… he followed a light complexioned lady and failed to turn up on time for his own show”
Kofo The Wonderman is one Nigerian taking African music to the next level across the world. Thanks to his afro beat band, US based Kofo The Wonderman and The Afrobeat Stars. A master talking-drummer, an innovator and singer/composer, he is a direct descendant of master musicians of traditional arts and culture of the Yoruba people. Among others he once played talking drums for reggae legend, Majek Fashek and currently, he is in the country to push his new body of works. Thanks to his record deal with foremost record label, ACI. In this chat with TS Weekend, Kofo talks about his sound, his times with Majek Fashek and his challenges working in the Nigerian entertainment industry.
Over a decade ago you were in Nigeria to promote your music and now you are back again. What has changed about you?
I’ll say God’s time is the best. Twelve years ago we were trying to bring my sound back to Nigeria but
it didn’t work out so I chose to be very careful. You see, I did not just want to come and ruin what I will call my ‘industry’ hence I took my time but now we are back for good.
What were your challenges back then?
I came back to Nigeria with all the products that I had but getting the right hands to work on it was a problem. I was doing the promo myself because they didn’t even have money. I said ‘okay, I will do it with my own money’ but the contract they gave to me stated that half of my profits would go to them. We printed 10, 000 copies of Naija Ile to test the market and I went back to the United States. Upon all the money that I spent I did not get a dime in royalty. I kept sending money for promotion and not one single CD came back from the 10, 000 copies. That was the breaking point for me so I took my time before taking the decision to finally come back.
What steps have you taken to avert such an occurrence this time around?
If I didn’t know ACI I wouldn’t rely on them. ACI is based in Pennsylvania in America and the contract is an American music industry standard contract. ACI is into music in America so they understand how the music industry works. I don’t see the owner of ACI as a hustler because if he was, by now we will have so many artistes on the label. They have what it takes to promote any artiste.
Let’s look at Majek Fashek. You played talking drum in his band, how did you meet him?
I knew him a long time ago at Japex Studio in Anthony Village, Lagos. There was Ras kimono, Mandators and Feladay among others. I was playing talking drums during sessions. I was at Decca Studio that fateful day when Sunday Are revealed Majek Fashek was doing a new album and he needed an African talking drummer. The song was Free Mandela. He gave me his address and I went after him and when I met him he was excited and that was how he asked me to join his band.
What was it like playing in his band?
Majek is a very nice guy. You can’t compare him with the people I was playing with before who owed me N300. I was always complaining because I believe in God and go to church. This guy would bring a herbalist to the stage and after making the money, he would give it to the herbalist. They said I was talkative and rather than pay me, they gave N400 to policemen who locked me up for three days before they finally bailed me. It was that same week I had a session at Decca where Sunday Are told me Majek Fashek needed a talking drummer. It was a tale of moving from police cell to meeting Majek Fashek. With the old band, if I played three shows in a week, I couldn’t get more than N45 but with Majek Fashek, I got N150 for my first show performing for just an hour and half. Later, Majek started paying N200 per show.
Majek Fashek got a deal with Interscope and at some point, he was touted to be the next Bob Marley, what went wrong?
It’s a very big opportunity for any African artiste to get a major recording deal with an American company. One day I met the vice president of Sony Music and I asked ‘sir, can I ask you a question?’
he said ‘yes’ and I said ‘how come you people don’t sign African artistes.’ He confessed that they love African music but if they sign an African act, the majority of the buyers of his music are going to be from Africa. He revealed that every big artiste on the label that are not from America sell their music in their countries. However, African countries don’t have certain trade agreements with the US so, how are they going to make their money with pirates everywhere? The implication is that Jimmy Hiving was not looking for money when he signed Majek Fashek; he did it because he just loved Majek. If it was based on money, he wouldn’t have signed Majek but Majek eventually disappointed him.
What do you think was responsible for Majek’s fall?
When I joined his band he was not an Igbo smoker, he could only drink half a bottle of Coca Cola and was clean. That was when he would say something and it would happen! Everywhere we went, Send Down The Rain was the song we played last because if we played it first, that was the end of the show as the rain would come down hard. Even Majek Fashek did not understand it so whenever it happened he would express his amazement saying: ‘I don’t know how this happens. God you are great!.’ But all of a sudden things changed. Maybe, he got into things he was not supposed to. I am talking about the Seven Books of Moses, he started doing rituals, slaughtering hens on the streets of New York which could have sent him to jail. And Jamaicans loved him because they were looking at him as Bob Marley. They always followed him around and the only favour they did for him was to bring Igbo for him in the dressing room which he started smoking. Maybe, they mixed something else with the Igbo; I don’t know. When I hear people say Majek was taking drugs I am shocked because I did not for one day see him taking cocaine or heroin when I was in the band.
Why did you leave the band?
I left the band because things were changing. I was looking at Majek as a mirror to see myself but when the mirror starred cracking, I could no longer see myself well. Instead of one I was seeing three images and I knew it was not good. He was not the same Majek I knew. You see, you don’t disappoint a show promoter in America. Majek Fashek disappointed a show promoter in San Diego. His record label, Interscope, was funding the show. We were not the major acts. The show had other acts like Burning Spear, Tracy Chapman and Jimmy Cliff. All Interscope wanted was for the fans of the other artistes to key into Majek Fashek. Majek was a new thing to them; they had seen a lot of reggae but Majek was different and unique and they just couldn’t have enough of him. I remember this vividly, the show was everyday and anywhere we performed we were the opening act and we had only 20 minutes. And the newspaper of the next day will talk about Majek and not the headliners. Jimmy Hyvine of Interscope had confidence that the album would hit the world so they were pushing with their money paying us salary, hotel bills, flight tickets and whatever. How can you disappoint a show like that because of a woman? There is no problem with Majek Fashek following a woman after our show in LA but you have to be time conscious. We left LA after we played and headed for San Diego which is about two and half hours journey and he followed a light complexioned lady and failed to turn up on time for his own show by 7pm. In the middle of Burning Spear’s show he suddenly showed up; that was not good.
He lost a big chance for the whole of Africa. He could have opened the doors for African artistes looking for an American break and that was why Kimono, Mandators and Mike Okri all came to America. They were like ‘if Majek Fashek can have it, maybe we can also have it’ but Majek Fashek messed it up! So for me as a little smart guy, I did not feel I could follow such a leader anymore. He was not like that before but he chose to be so. I finished the tour and then I told him I was done with the band. This happened in 1992 and I stayed back in America.