Last week, ace flutist, Tee Mac Omatsola Iseli, rolled out the drums. He clocked 70. And to mark the occasion, SPAN hosted him to an evening of fun and excitement, where he was honoured for his contributions to Nigerian music. In this chat, Tee Mac opens up on the joys, thrills and pains of becoming a septuagenarian. Enjoy it.
How do you feel turning 70 and being celebrated?
I feel fine and not a year older than 45! I just added one year but my body is hardly adding the years. I work out, play my flute 24 hours a day, walk my dogs twice and just feel great. The secret is right feeding. I do plenty of vegetables and fruits, no red meat, and all food freshly cooked. No junk food at all. No white sugar, only honey into my green tea.
What have been the high points of the last 70 years?
I would say my family and children; my concert tours, my visits to all the countries on this earth.
Are you fulfilled? Is there anything you would want to do differently if given another chance?
I am fulfilled but I would have done many things differently if I could foresee the future. I would have spent less time in Nigeria and not invested at all in solid minerals and gas and oil. I realised a bit late that government changing policies could be very dangerous, like when Obasanjo revoked everybody’s mining license and we had to wait for two years for the mining act to be passed, and then apply again. I had big supply contracts for zinc and lead and nearly went bankrupt. Hundreds of millions of naira worth of mining equipment got rusted on the fields. Processing plants became obsolete during the years we were not allowed to mine.
Do you have any regrets?
Yes, I have many regrets, but I have to live with the choices I made and not to think about spilled milk.
What has been the most trying experience of the last 70 years?
I think my most trying and frustrating experience was when I accepted to become the PMAN president. The viciousness of the factional president, Dele Abiodun, the absolute negativity of Pretty Okafor and his statements that I sold the PMAN land gave me an idea that even music politics can be very negative. But I learned how to be a leader and how to take the stress of the largest black musicians’ union in the world.
What has been your happiest moment?
I have had many happy moments including going to the beach or on vacation with my children. But most of all, I am happy and content after every successful show. Few understand the stress one goes through especially in Nigeria to put up a perfect show. Whatever can go wrong will go wrong, so when it is over, there comes the happiness of achievement. We professionals perform as a kind of self-confirmation, to prove to ourselves that we are up to the task, and happy fans and concertgoers are our confirmation.
Could you share your saddest moment with us?
I was in China performing when my sister called me from London with the bad news that my mother quietly died without any sickness. She just decided that her time was up and said goodbye to my sister, Orode, and closed her eyes. I loved my mother so much and was devastated. Also, every time one of my wonderful Alsatian dogs dies, I feel bad and unhappy for weeks. They are like my children and I am very attached to them.
Why did you decide to be a flutist despite the fact that you studied Economics in school?
I had wanted to be a flutist since I could walk. I got my first flute at age seven and started private lessons until I could join the Conservatorium in Zurich. I studied Economics to please my family.
How old were you when you started using the flute?
I started to play everyday from Christmas 1955. That was when I found my first flute under the Christmas tree. I was seven years and seven months old.
You have lots of dogs as pets and you name them after prominent Nigerians. How did your love for dogs develop?
I lived in a wonderful estate outside Zurich, Switzerland with a lot of land, sheep and horses, and my uncle allowed me to choose a dog. My first dog was a Bull Terrier puppy called Bully, and I was 13-years-old. He was my best friend. I had to take care, feed, walk and bath him. When I left house to enter the university, he fell sick and my family put him to sleep. I was devastated. From then on I have always had many dogs. At one time, 10 years ago, I had 14 Alsatians at the same time. I named them after prominent people because they reminded me, in their behavior, like their namesakes.
You are mostly seen in native attires, what do you think about them and what is your best colour?
I have designed most of my native clothes since 1971. I feel much better in them than in suits and ties. I also think this is a way of expressing my artistic thinking. I have never followed the trends of what is in or out! I hardly have designer clothes, maybe, a few suits and snickers.
What is the current state of Nigeria music especially regarding the ‘war’ between COSON and NCC?
I am a director in MCSN and have watched COSON’s actions from day one. I am glad that NCC stepped in and proscribed it. When a collective society collects and no proper accounting and distribution is done, then they are in default and they must be stopped. MCSN chaired by Orits Wiliki is solid and honest. We do not miss COSON at all.
Now that MCSN has been approved, when are your operations coming back on stream?
MCSN never stopped serving musicians in 18 years. Until the approval, MCSN acted as artistes’ assignee company, which means we gave them the right to collect our royalties on our behalf. Many good things will come out in the nearest future. MCSN is being re-organised and re-branded to fully take charge as the only approved collecting society.
What is your advice for up and coming artistes?
Show business is great but very hard. It takes total dedication including thousands of hours of rehearsals. Young musicians must educate themselves, be able to play at least one instrument. The music illiterates have no chance in the international arena. Up and coming artistes have to learn to live healthy, no drugs, and alcohol in moderation. Many have gone down due to the vices. And they should learn on how to stay humble and grateful to fans.
What new project are you working on?
I have signed a contract for shows with the Jacksons in the Middle and Far East. The Jackson’s 50th Anniversary TV special in Dubai including concerts in Singapore, Beijing, Hainan Islands and Macau. I am working on a new CD as a follow up to ‘Just Like a Dream’ and I am involved in some humanitarian development projects. I thank God for good health and good friends.