Away from D’banj’s finger nails for a minute. The Pop star got talking with Funke Babs-Kufeji Style Correspondent at ThisDay Newspaper and talks about his career, his growth and relationship status.
Tell us a little about your background and how you got into music?
I went to Nigeria Military School, Zaria. I always thought I was going to be in the military just like my father but that didn’t happen. But I definitely believe that’s where all my energy is from. I lost my brother who was also in the military to a plane crash when I was still in secondary school and I think that’s where everything changed for me musically. He died in 1994 and I was in school when it happened. I went home for his burial and when I got home, what I saw was that they laid down all his belongings on his bed in his room and the harmonica was one of the items I saw that i was drawn to. I took it back to school and started playing with it. No one taught me how to play the harmonica but the more I played, the better I became. So for me I think that’s where the love for music grew.
I joined the choir and played every instrument I could lay my hands on. At every opportunity I got, I tried to express myself through music. Then I left for the United Kingdom, when I got there I realized that I was more than just a singer and that I had the ability to entertain, so I started trying to study what it took to be an entertainer. It was there I met my friend and partner Don Jazzy and together, we found and built one of Africa’s biggest and most successful record labels ‘Mo’Hits Records’. We came back to Nigeria in 2004 and launched my first single ‘Tongolo (What is the koko)’.
When you started out your musical career, you adopted the stage name D’banj but over the years you have adopted a lot more names. What do you prefer to be called at the moment and why?
People call me different things these days and I am open to them.
Some people who know me personally call me Dapo (like my parents), people who have followed my career call me D’banj or Koko Master or Banga Lee and most recently, with my strong interest in agriculture, some people call me Koko farmer. I am open to all these names as long as they are positively called. I will always be called D’banj though because even my parents call me that, as D stands for Dapo and Banj my surname Oyebanjo. Every season and time I get a new name I use it.
You can probably say I’m the only artiste with the most names. Eja Nla in 2012, which means big fish and I was given Banga Lee in 2013 stemming from Lee temple.
Did your parents oppose to this back then knowing that being a musician was really a lucrative career
In the beginning my parent opposed to it because they didn’t think being a musician was a bankable career that could sustain me but later when they realized what I wanted to do, they gave me their support.
As long as I was doing what I enjoyed they gave me their blessings. They supported me financially and with prayers. When I had my first show as an independent act in 2004 back in London, Hackney, I became the talk of town and my career took off. That’s when they knew and realized how successful one could be doing music. They continue to be my voice of reasoning and remind me to pray everyday and continue to steer me in the right direction.
How has living in Nigeria influenced you as a musician?
Living in Nigeria has influenced us all in one way or another. I can proudly say that it has made me the man I am today. My culture, ethics and hustle has influenced my lyrics and music, my experiences here has been a big part of my music. From the onset, my music has always been about me being a Nigerian. It is a big influence in my music and will continue to be.
You parted ways with your partner and long time friend Don Jazzy, which wasn’t pleasant news for many of your fans in Nigeria and around the world; can you tell us why you took such a decision?
Any split or break up will affect anyone because you are used to a way of working and for me, it did. But I always look at the light at the end of the tunnel. It was after the split that I had my first global hit ‘Oliver Twist’. It hit the top ten in the United Kingdom and also it was when other endorsements came through, such as the theme song for Africa Cup of Nation ‘Top of the world’. I got to perform it in front of 92,000 people. Also I was made a GLO Ambassador and also an ambassador the Bank for Industry. But Don jazzy is one of Nigeria’s most amazing producers and will continue to be so, I respect his work tremendously. He is also a long time friend and brother.
Has the split in any way affected your musical career or has it had a positive impact on the musician you are today?
I don’t believe it has affected my career in anyway. As you can see, D’banj is getting involved in many things such as the ONE Campaign by Bono; an ambassador for agriculture in Nigeria, my music is doing great too with my recent new video for one of the soundtracks for ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’. My career going great as expected. This year we celebrate 10 years of D’banj in the entertainment industry. I’m thankful to God.
What’s the biggest lesson you have learned through it all?
I have learned one simple lesson, ‘Without God we are nothing’.
Internationally acclaimed, what will you say has been your biggest achievement and why?
Everything I embark on is an achievement so I can’t say what my biggest achievement is. But I have to say, Bono selecting me to work on the One Campaign is an achievement. Doing a soundtrack for ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ which is the biggest movie right now is also an achievement for me. The minister of agriculture endorsing me as an ambassador for agriculture is an achievement. Being able to live and survive in this industry for 10 years is a great achievement.
You were signed on to Kanye West record label G.O.O.D Music, how did that happen and has this had any impact on your musical career internationally?
I met Kanye on my way out of Dubai. I had a concert there and after my show on my way out at the airport, an airhostess on my Emirates flight must have confused me for Kanye west. When I came down from the car with my entourage, she ran up to me with a plaque that read ‘Mr Kanye West’ and I saw it and said to her ‘I’m not Mr Kanye West’. But I also knew he was coming to town, so I told my people to keep their eyes out for him and when they spotted him, my P.A Chuchu approached him and introduced himself and spoke to him about me. He invited us for five minutes. Five minutes became thirty minutes and as a sharp Naija boy, I had my headphones, my iPad and everything else ready for him to listen to our music. When he heard it, he liked it. He invited us to New York and said to make sure to pass through next time we came to the States. So the next time I was in the States, I passed through New york to meet up with him and after about four days of trying to get hold of him, we received an email saying he would see us in the studio. We went and we were opportune to meet the whole crew. By the next day I met L.A Reid. It was such a great experience, not just for me but for everything I stand for, which is Africa Music. We have never had that kind of opportunity before, at least not in my generation. It was then that all eyes turned to African musicians and as we all know, people around the world love African music but I must say Kanye was the first to spot the uniqueness in African music that he made the world pay attention to our music.
Your song ‘Oliver Twist’ got massive airplay locally and internationally, what doors did the song open for you musically?
It got people of different races and in different countries appreciating D’banj brand. It felt great that music was enjoyed across various countries and it made the world also pay more attention to African music and since then we can now see the doors have opened musically for Africans internationally.
You also own your own record label, what is it called and who are the musicians signed onto it?
The name of the record label is called DB Records (D’banj Records) and we have three artistes signed, D’banj, Kay Switch and the new kid called 2Kriss. The management, event and media company that manages the brands, events, acts and the label is called DKM media.
What current project are you working on?
My 10th year anniversary in the music industry, focusing on my Agricultural projects, the ONE Campaign, releasing some never-before-seen footage and releasing some new tracks/music.
You recently ventured into agriculture, what led to this move and what do you hope achieving this?
Agriculture is the new cool. I am happy to be part of a venture that can change lives in our country and put food in the table of millions. I hope to influence more youths to garner an interest in this sector. It will change all of our lives.
You have been in a series of collaborations with international and local artistes, which will say has been your most memorable and why?
I will say ‘Endowed’ with Snoop (Lion). I love a lot of my collaborations but I love Endowed with Snoop and Tony Montana with Naeto C. Endowed for me was a time in my career when I just thought we had done enough for the Nigerian music industry and African music on the map and I will say Endowed did just that. We flew to Los Angeles, did the video with snoop and it was a huge success. He is a living legend and I have all the respect for him. He calls me his nephew and I call him my uncle. As soon as the video was released, the whole world connected with it.
If you were to pick a favourite song and music video from all your albums, which will you say has by far been the most successful?
‘Olive Twist’ if I must say. It’s the most successful song and the video in Africa. It is not necessarily my personal favourite but it has been the most successful. It’s been the most viewed video on YouTube by an African musician. It got about twenty six million views. It was the first African music to top the UK charts in eleven European countries. I have my own personal favourite but the most successful has to be Oliver twist.
What kind of music do you listen to when you are not making music?
I listen to all genres of music.
A lot of ladies out there will want to know this, is the Koko master/Eja Nla/ Banger Lee single?
Yes I am!
It is rumoured, you are dating the daughter of a rich successful luxury brand owner, is this true?
Rumours are rumours and they will always exist.
What are your favourite Nigerian and international songs right now respectively?
I can’t really mention five favourite songs right now because I might pick five now and remember one as soon as I pick the last song so it’s really difficult to say. I love music.
Would you compare the Nigerian music industry with the international music industry? What will you say the music industry lacks here to meet up internationally?
I think the music industry is the same everywhere. Music is universal, it just depends on how the industry is structured and the difference between the two is that government intentionally have realized how much money, income and power can be realized from the industry so they have keyed into that and put right policies in place. They have all the fundamental things in place and know what the industry is worth so they give the respect that is due. But in Nigeria, yes there one or two policies in place but I don’t think we care. I don’t think we have that backing that is needed in terms of proper quality control and all. I just think that it is a bunch of people trying to make a difference, which isn’t enough. We have not been seen as a viable industry that can generate revenue or income or even job opportunities. People haven’t realized our strength, we have to change the way people see us but it is only a matter of time. When they realize these potentials in us they’ll want to invest. We are still in the early stages but with time, we will grow and people will realize the potentials the industry has.
Describe you what a typical day is like for you?
My typical day consists of a lot of meetings. I have a strong team and we are busy this year.
What will you say is important to know and have to become a successful artiste like yourself?
Know your fans and know what they’ll enjoy. Know your talent and stay true to it, yourself and your calling. Be hardworking. Be original and of course be patient but not stupid. It’s good you value yourself so people will value you.
Describe your personal style?
My personal style is based on individuality. I create my own style. I will say I’m a trendsetter and always remember to ‘Dress how you want to be addressed’.
What is the most expensive luxury item you have ever purchased?
I can’t really remember because I buy what I like, I bought myself an Aston Martin, a Bentley and my jewelry.
Any last words for any budding musician who wants to attain international success?
Continue to follow your dreams, apply your self and don’t take no for an answer. Be real and of course believe in God.
This interview was culled from ThisDay Style Magazine