By Lola Ogunnaike
Mr Idibia has been there. He’s done that. Thousands of awards? Check. Millions of albums sold? Check. Dozens of hit songs and loyal fans from Lagos to Kaura Namoda? Check. There’s no stopping the former Plantashun Boy; who’s growing from a wannabe singer to emerge, in less than a decade, as one of the biggest musical exports from Africa.
And it’s no longer news that, just like Asa and D’banj and Darey, Idibia is knocking on the doors to the international markets. The 35-year-old is eyeing a big break in Europe and the US; hoping to replicate his African success in the West. So, barely months after he secured a major slot on Mo’Nique’s BET show, the Hypertek front man sat down with Nigerian-born international journalist Lola Ogunnaike for a BET interview that got many tongues wagging…
You’re a big deal throughout the continent and I want to give the people a sense of just how huge you are. Page views of your videos on YouTube are in the millions, I don’t even know how many albums you’ve sold, definitely in the millions, probably more but Nigeria has the piracy issues, ‘African Queen’ was an international success and an anthem and you cannot walk down the streets without being mobbed. What is it like to be you in Nigeria?
Erm, it’s crazy you know, it’s crazy but I just like to be myself. Some people, when they see me, they don’t believe it’s me. They’ll be like ‘Nah, that’s not 2face, the guy just looks like him‘ and that makes it easy for me to be able to handle that.
Lets’ talk about the name 2face, where did that even come from and first of all, what is your real name?
My real name is Innocent Idibia, innocent as in ‘not guilty’. 2face for me is I as the ordinary guy and I as the artiste. So it’s like never judge a book by its cover. Your first impression about somebody is always about what they look like or what they are wearing but when you get to know people, you know the real them, so that’s 2face for me.
Talk to me about ‘African Queen’, it’s one of the biggest songs of your career, did you have any idea it was going to be such a huge international hit?
It was featured in the movie ‘Phat Girlz‘ starring Mo’nique. You know, when you do stuff, you listen to it and can tell if it’s a good song or if it’s not too good. I prayed for it to be a hit song and it became one. But the speed and the level that it went; it was like (gesticulates). All of a sudden, it was everywhere. It took me unawares but I suspected it was going to be a hit and it became a hit.
So how did it end up in the movie ‘Phat Girlz’?
It was somebody that knew somebody that played it for somebody that somebody listened to and then somebody loved it, somebody was doing a movie. I felt good about the whole thing you know.
It’s definitely the top five songs played at every Nigerian wedding…
Yes o, I’ve had to play at so many Nigerian weddings because of that song.
A lot of your songs are about love, are you romantic?
I wouldn’t say, I’ll leave that to the people to say. I believe in it though, if you ask me if I’m a romantic person, I wouldn’t be able to say if I am or not.
But in your videos, you always bring flowers, you’re always singing about your feelings..
Yea, I try to be cool and nice and as romantic as I can be, so if it’s romantic enough they’ll let me know
I want to talk about your sound, because I really think you are a pioneer of African pop music in it’s modern form; you blend English, Pigeon, Igbo, Reggae, Hip-hop, R&B. How do you all of that and why did you decide to do that because you could have gone a very traditional route but you sort of broke the mole and introduce your true sound
For many of us; the youths in Africa right now, our orientation is quite different from the old school. It’s not like they didn’t go to school and all that but you know, school, internet, global village now, you know what I mean. So it’s like we know everything. I want to do music for the sake of music and I want to do music that will cut across the whole world. So, for me it’s just important that I blend all these aspects of myself into my music so I don’t limit myself.
But when you started people weren’t doing that at all, so what was the initial reaction to that? Did people immediately embrace it, did they get it or did they think ‘who is this 2face guy? What is he doing?’
People before me have done similar stuff and as I said, English is the official language we speak in Nigeria so people have been using English to sing and then they have been doing contemporary music for a long time. So, I guess sometimes when you want to do something, if you force it, it won’t come out natural, it won’t blend so to speak. So some people should stick to the one they are comfortable with if it is maybe the traditional music because if they try to do hip-hop or something like that it won’t come out natural. So for me I just try to come out as natural as I can be, I just try to come out as me.
What did you grow up listening to?
I grew up listening to Reggae, High-life, Afro beat, R&B, Blues you know; The Jackson 5, The Temptations, Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff…all of them. My dad had a lot of records, old school records in the house. So, I would just play them.
Now I read somewhere that you were quite the dancer when you were a little boy. As soon as the music came on, you were up and grooving. Is that true?
(laughs) I did my bit, I wouldn’t say I’m the ‘badddest’ dancer but I used to dance very very well.
Where are you from In Nigeria?
I’m from Benue State, it’s right in the middle of Nigeria.
That’s in Jos?
It shares boarders with Jos
And what’s in the water in there because you’re from that area, P Square – one of the biggest groups in Nigeria are from that area, M.I – one of the biggest rappers in Nigeria is from that area. What is in the water in Jos?
I don’t know, I think a lot of us our parents once upon a time lived in Jos. Although Benue used to be one state with Plateau State where Jos Is located. Jos is a very funky town you know, it’s somewhere that they blend with Western Culture.
So you were listening to a lot of Bobby Brown and New Edition?
Yea, even ABC (Another Bad Creation) (laughs)
Now I think it was interesting for to me to find out that you started off doing jingles when you were a young kid. How did you get into that?
Ok, I was in school and there was this guy who heard me sing and he was like ‘ok, I’m a presenter in a radio station, I need you to do a couple of jingles for me‘. Then he took me to the studio and I did them and he started playing it like a full song you know. So he played it every time he started the programme, in between the program and before he ended the programme. So the song was a like a song on its own and people were like wow, ‘who did that song’ and a couple of guys came to me to do jingles for them as well.
Do you remember your first jingle?
(smiles and sings)
Wow, how old were you back then when you wrote that?
I think I was like 14.
So you were a baby and you were talking about getting down (laughs), what did you know about ‘getting down’ back then?
Were you always musical as a child?
Yes I was. I never dreamt of doing anything else as a kid, it was just music. The funny thing is I did not have any formal music training, I don’t even know how to play any musical instrument, I just learnt how to start playing the guitar now. My whole body, my mind, my soul is with this (music), and you know how they say it, if you mind is set on something, there’s no stopping it.
You foundation is 2face Reachout Foundation. What’s your main cause? What’s the theme that you are supporting?
The theme is ‘Service to Humanity’. They to whom much is given, much is expected. For me, it’s just like everybody says; it’s just to give back. So many things are happening out there, so for me it’s anywhere that I can contribute something positively. I work with a couple of other NGOs and we have done a couple of projects and we are doing more and more right now.
You have been in the business for well over a decade, which is a long time, nowadays especially. What has been the secret to your success and how do you explain your longevity?
For me, I think is re-inventing myself every now and then. You know just doing quality music. I always try to just do you know music that ten years from now will always be relevant.
And I even understand. I mean you CDs, even the way they look, it shows you are not settling. The lyrics have to have a certain quality, the appearance; the packaging has to have a certain quality. So why is that important to you, because you could have just put it out there?
We’ve tried that over the years because of the issue of piracy. We brought down the price of our Cds because we couldn’t compete with the pirates. The pirates were selling their cds for less than a Dollar, so we started selling ours for like the equivalent of a Dollar and that’s how we could sell over how many million copies because we brought the price down. But the pirates after some time started bringing the price down, it’s even less than 50 Cents now. It has become a very serious problem where the music has no value. It was just ridiculous, so we made up our minds that we were not going to give in. I decided to make my CDs a full package, proper jukebox package of a CD; I did it with pictures, lyrics, all the credits for everybody that worked on the album.
Piracy is a huge problem in Nigeria, throughout Africa; the movie industry suffers from it, and the music industry obviously suffers. Do you think that the government is doing enough to prevent piracy?
See the thing is they don’t even know the worth of the music industry. Everybody is concentrating on oil but they don’t even have an idea of what the music industry can generate because of the piracy, no proper record shop, no proper orientation on where to get original copies so it’s still shaky. So mostly, you make more money from concerts and endorsements than we so from record sales.
Do you think it’s more difficult for an African artiste to break out, to really make it big time?
Yes, it’s definitely possible, there’s no impossibility in that. It’s just the right strategy and the right back up, everything will happen. There’s no magic to it, it’s just the right strategy and the correct music to back it up.
I want to talk about your near-death experiences; is it true you had three of them?
So you clearly have nine lives?
Nine lives? (laughs). Anytime that I sit and look back at all those incidents…they happened randomly; the first one was my house, they (robbers) came to my house and asked for money. As I was trying to explain to them, they beat the hell out of me.
Did you think you were going to lose your life that night?
I fell unconscious, yea they beat me to that level, I was taken to the hospital and when I woke up, my neck was bigger than my head. But I was lucky it didn’t affect my spinal cord.
So then it happens again the second time….
This guy jumps out from nowhere and tries to open the door. When he couldn’t, he brought out his gun and shot the window as he tried to open the door from the inside. I didn’t even know the bullet had hit me in the left thigh, once that happened we ran out.
And so then it happens the third time, what happened then?
That one was hilarious in the sense that they came with AK=47s and told everybody to get out of the car. One guy tried to run and they opened fire on him. They asked if we had money in the car, we replied them by saying we didn’t it, we were just coming from bowling. When they found out I was part of the people they were robbing, they asked why I didn’t tell them it was me… (Laughs)
You’ve faced death three time, starred it in the face. What lessons do you earn form that?
Life is unpredictable. Anything can happen. You can be the most careful person on earth, the holiest person on earth. It just let me know that life is fast.
Now You’ve toured the world extensively, you’ve been everywhere. Favourite city to perform in?
I love Moscow. I love when I went there and performed.
What was the energy like in Moscow?
It was surprising, I mean I was surprised to know that I had plenty fans out there.
So you have conquered Africa, what’s next for you?
You could say that I want the whole world to feel music. I want the whole world to see the world from my perspective. So I want to go everywhere, I want to go all out.
Thank you 2face, thank you for everything. It was a great conversation
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