In 1989 Mike Okri shone like bright stars after the release of his ‘Concert Fever’ album which had hit songs like ‘Omoge’ that gave him the sobriquet, ‘Omoge Man.’ At the height of his popularity, Okri traveled to the United States for 10 years before he returned. Since then, the ‘Omoge Man’ has been shuttling between America and Nigeria. Recently, he returned to continue with music and in an interview with SAM ANOKAM at the service of songs of late managing director of Premiere music, late Toju Ejuyitchie, Okri spoke about his latest project, PMAN crisis among other issues.
Did you know Toju personally?
Within the short time that I knew him since he came into Premier, he made most of us who wanted to leave Premiere come back to begin to enjoy how an artist should be taken care of. Even though I was no longer an artist with Premiere per say, I still have my catalogue with them. Toju was a nice man. An exceptional man in the sense that he is very calm, calculated and encourages you even in bad times. You know it is very common when a man dies, that is when people begin to pay all forms of tribute. Even in death, this man had done so much. He was a great man that came into the industry and did great things within the short time he was there.
Are you finally back to base?
I am always going back and forth. Mike Okri Entertainment is a company that we have established now and we are looking forward to being able to come up with besides Mike Okri the artists attached to Mike Okri Entertainment. We have other artists we have enrolled and very soon, I will be coming up with an 18-track album in collaboration with other younger artistes involved in the album project. We are also looking at the possibility of releasing other younger artists. I’m in the business for good and I will be coming up every now and then. I thank God that I enjoy the privileges of dual citizenship, so I can choose to stay in Nigeria as long as I want. I can also choose to go back and stay as long as I want.
What are your twin sons up to?
We are working on one or two of their singles right now. Good enough that Mike Okri Entertainment also has this aspect of the video production. We are going to be having the editing suite soon. We want to have everything in-house so that we can take care of business.
How did you cope during the coronavirus pandemic?
It was terrible. When I was coming to Nigeria, I was scared but when I came eventually, it became a great relief. I have been here since November last year. That is not to say I should be careless and go partying, and say COVID doesn’t exist, but I think the issue here is our weather and how you take care of yourself matters. Just watch what you eat and keep your hygiene.
What is your take on the Nigerian music industry then and now?
Simply put; a house without foundation is bound to break into pieces by little wind. During our time, we had a solid foundation. We learnt from our past. We got engaged in the business from being rookies and apprentices through churches, being boys to other great artistes, etc. You can probably finger count those who probably came through that process. And it tells of the kind of low quality. We are not talking about the beat. Even if we say the beat is super quality but how many of these guys can really say ok, 20 years down the road, their content would count by the time they get to the level some of us are today. I am not criticizing anybody. That is why we are also relevant in the sense that we are hoping that when Mike Okri Entertainment comes into business fully, ours is to nurture, contribute our quota not just to be in the business and compete with others but make sure we are able to lay a good foundation for those that would be under our tutelage and of course, the world would see by the time they see the kind of artistes we are producing and the kinds of ways and manner we are presenting them to the world.
Unlike your hay days, inspiring and meaningful lyrics are no longer taken into consideration when creating music. What do you think is the issue?
The society itself is gullible. Give a young lad a bottle of beer every morning, he becomes a drunkard. What you feed the society is what it becomes and gets used to. We can change that. We are not saying that beautiful songs are not among the songs that are written today after all, ‘Omoge’ was also a club song, one of those free fall songs yet, it has its vital meaning. We should now begin to groom songwriters, composers – see them as our co-equals in the business of music and money making so that they can add more value.
Every singer out there does not write their songs, just like in America and all over the world. Rod Temperton wrote songs for Michael Jackson. I don’t have to write a song assuming I don’t write songs. And I like what Davido does; he knows he has money – he gets the material and people that are aiding him. That is as far as production goes. Content is another thing. I would want these youngsters to begin to follow through because 10, 20 years from now, you cannot read through certain music in that hall of fame maybe in Carnegie hall or one of these top universities abroad. At one time many years ago, I was happy that ‘Rumba Dance’ was brought to the table in Brooklyn College and I was glad that my own music was with the likes of I.K Dairo and the rest of them. I wept that time. We should be looking beyond writing cheap lyrics and on how to satisfy today only to find out that in the next couple of years, they are wishy washy within a few months. You don’t hear them anymore because people are tired. This is an industry that evolves in all areas. We can write about love, romance etc., we can also write about our problems. It becomes the encyclopedia of knowledge and acquisition for correctness.
Look at what is happening in our society today! I remember during the time when many musicians across the world were singing about ‘Free Mandela,’ apartheid and all that, it changed the perception of how the world feels about black people. Now when you are talking about black lives matter in certain places because champagne, mmanya like they call it in our Igbo land has taken over. Nobody wants to talk about the real life that matters. Look at what is happening in the north west, north east, the killings of Nigerians everyday, no musician has been able to come up and say even if the government will come after them, you said the truth. It is sad. It is not that we have to wait till it gets to our doorstep, that’s when we will know they are killing me o. You should from afar be sounding the gong so that everybody will take cover. That is what I see is wrong.
What’s your take on the never-ending-PMAN crisis and what have you done as a veteran to bring lasting peace to the body?
I have done my bit. This is an aspect you probably do not know. I have even served under the Kevin Luciano caretaker committee. I was the next in command. It is just unfortunate as things fell apart because some people are drunk with power and for not seeing the collective as a way forward and seeing their own selfish interest is why PMAN is still suffering. But we are losing because PMAN is supposed to be the pivot on which every other association will begin to rotate to make progress.
For instance, look at COSON, look at MCSN, look at all these other bodies. I will not mention a particular one. They are happy because they feed on the negativity that is hitting PMAN. PMAN is the only government association that musicians have. By now PMAN is supposed to have various investments. When I wanted to run for PMAN president many years ago, before I travelled to the U.S., my pain wasn’t about me trying to hold office, I know what I suffered mentally, physically. When I came back Pupa Orits Wiliki talked me into coming back to PMAN for us to see how we can run it. I remember when we were building the caretaker committee and I was selected as the number two man, we even rented an office a block away from COSON, we were there thinking the good turnaround has come for PMAN not knowing that was the beginning of our woes because of sabotages here and that. One Hajia said she is this, Pretty Okafor said he is that but my problem is that how many of them have really sat down and said what kind of stakeholders are they? If they say today, I should come up and say instead of me to work my way on how to make money why don’t I look at a multi–billion-dollar business that is suffering? Why can’t I think of how many have died under penury because PMAN has no stand! I am ready to make that sacrifice but not right now.
If I see that there is a headway let all of us put our heads together and I will be ready to do that. But I look at the people who are championing themselves even if I want to support anybody, it is Uncle P. He is the only person that can move the industry forward to a point. Call everybody together and then call a delegate conference and then conduct the election. Whoever wants to compete says the president of PMAN should do so. Pretty keeps struggling over nothing. To me he doesn’t understand the industry and it is sad. If I meet him one on one, I will ask him what he knows about the industry? Why making people suffer? You have your followership, yes. How do you sleep at night by claiming to be president when you are not? Individuals are the ones hijacking the business.