Interview

INTERVIEW: “I will keep making music even if only one person is listening” – Djinee talks on 16 years of making music

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When Djinee released his debut song “Ego” in 2005, he stole all the attention and it seemed like the whole Nigeria stopped to listen. 

Then he dropped “I no dey shame” and “Lade” to make everyone know we were witnessing a special artist. The voice was unique, the lyrics were different and the soul of the music was angelic. 

2005 is a long time and not many artists from 16 years ago are still releasing projects or popping with new set of fans. But as recently as three weeks ago, Djinee born Osayamwen Nosa Donald just dropped the remix of his latest track, Pamper You featuring MI.  

And he is not done. He’s been in the studio for the past few weeks, recording and putting in the works to release his next EP.

A lot of people might wonder where he draws inspiration to keep making true music in this era of extended commercialization of music and beat down on lyrics, but these are not big concerns for Djinee. 

When I asked him how he has kept going, he told me with his strained voice, “Music is deep for me and I almost lost my life because I was singing music. I will keep making music if it’s only one person that is listening.”

  • It has been about 16 years since you made Ego in 2005, how did that moment change your life? 

That singular moment put me out there as a musician. I had previously been out there on TV as a presenter, I was producing and anchoring TV shows and a couple of people knew me. But I was not really out there as a musician so Ego just changed everything. 

Funny enough, it was not financially rewarding but the fame opened doors to other things. If you understand how hard it is to break in Nigeria, then you finally have that head start,  it just gets you started officially and that was key. 

  • Growing up, was music something you had always wanted to do? 

Oh yes. I come from a family with a musical background and funny enough Victor Uwaifo I think is my granduncle and my dad always plays the gramophone and all that stuff. His compendium of music was very wide, so we always played music in the house from the turntable so I got interested quite early. I found myself singing and more importantly, I found myself performing. I found out that when I sang, people were amazed, and they were not amazed because a child was singing but I could tell people were spellbound. Other children too sing but mine was on a different level. 

So I just knew that there was something and even as a child, when you understand that you can elicit certain emotions from people, you wanted to delve more into it. So I knew at one point in my life, I would be doing music. I was not sure if it would be as a professional but I was just sure I would be doing music. 

  • At what point did you decide that it has to be music?

I think that was when I got into the university. I wanted to read Medicine, but I had to go with Computer Science. The plan was to read Medicine in my second year by crossing over from Computer Science. 

I attended a University of Technology so it was basically sciences but I found out that when I got into the university, I was just just in the midst of creatives. I was older then and could decide, so I said this music thing looks better than I thought. So I knew I was going to be doing music professionally, and I knew for sure that I was not going to be sitting down in an office.

Not a lot of  people know for sure what they would be doing in the university; you kind of hit a great stroke of luck there 

I am trying not to be proud but when you have a talent that I have, when you are blessed with a gift and you know this is a gift. A gift is something you do not deserve, it is not a payment. A gift is something you have been bestowed and God just said, this is your cheat code to life. When you see it like that, you know you cannot just sit down and let it waste. 

Yes, I honed my skills over the years but I knew this was it. I could see the reactions from people, I could see  people amazed and I said it would be a major disservice to the world if I do not do this music. I mean if I did not do this music, there would not be Ego that people loved, there would not be Over-killing, there would not be Pamper You that I just released. So they are songs that are like soundtracks to people’s lives. Of course, I am not saying there would not be other musicians, there would be other musicians but imagine just being blessed with those songs. 

  • After Ego, I no dey shame and Lade, for some of us sort of boxed you in the RnB genre, then you scattered everywhere with Over-killing. So what kind of artist are you and whom do you make music for? 

To be honest, this question is a very strong question. I make music that is true. True because if  I tell you that I am an alternative musician, it will be like I am putting myself in a box. I know it sounds cliche but I do not want to be put in a box. 

Sometimes I find it hard to believe that I am the same guy that made Ego, I am the same guy that made I no dey shame and I am the same guy that made Over-killing. When Over-klling came, I was in a kind of state that I was not happy with the way the industry is; I felt people wanted me to be a certain way and people were trying to take advantage of this. And I needed to speak, I needed to vent. I would not vent and do a RnB so that is how Over-killing came. 

I am a truth artist If I want to use that word. Yes, my music is urban, it is contemporary, but my music is truth. If not my truth, then someone’s truth. 

  • Whom do you sing for? 

I make music for young people that were not even born when Ego was made and they know Ego. I sing for the older generation too. I have new fans that I win every day and with the advent of social media, I win more new fans with my most recent music; I have Pamper You and all of that. I can say my demography is maybe 15 – 45 years old but I have been called to do stuff for kids. 

But this journey I am on is amazing. 

  • There are not many artists who made songs around 2005 and are still releasing projects today; what has kept you going? 

The question is why did I get into music. When you know your why, then as long as your why keeps being served, then you will keep making music. Yes, there is a business of music but music for me is more than that. I did not get into music as a poverty alleviation scheme. I got into music because this is what I love. I am more alive when I make music. If I stop music, then I am probably dead. 

When I had an accident in 2018, I was on the bed for weeks and when I could manage to get up with crutches, I immediately went to the studio to record. I have the video on Instagram. That is to say that if I could record on my hospital bed, I would find a way to record. It was not like I had a deadline to meet but I felt dead in the period I was not recording.  

  • How did the accident shape your life and music?

I was hale and hearty, and everything just disappeared. I was driving on that day and in 15 minutes; I was lying on the road and my life hung on the balance. For three to four months, I did not know if I would make it out alive. When you go through stuff like that, you take things easily. It is not like I do not have zest for life anymore and I am not saying I am not ambitious anymore because now I am more ambiguous but I know it can all go away. 

At that point, I just wanted to be alive. At some point, I felt I was not going to make it in the hospital so I asked to go home because I felt it was better to die at home than in the hospital. I got a lot of messages from people then but at some point people just moved on. So I learnt a big lesson of not holding on to people. 

I was out for a year and a half and in fact when I was back to recording, mentally I could not release music because I was not there yet. I was afraid but mentally I was in a really fucked up state. 

  • Can you compare the music space back then in 2006 to what we have now? 

It is a lot different now and some of us have managed to move with the tide. First, there was no social media and the way it was is that you join record labels or use the more popular Alaba markets. Then, Alaba would pay you if you have a single that pops or you have a name. They pay you based on your value as an artist and that is before you complete the album. That means they pay you off and after you make the album, they make the physical copies. 

Then one or two artists collected money and did not make albums. Then Alaba stopped entirely then; this was way before the social media era. I have deep respect for people like 2Baba (formerly 2Face), Majek Fashek who became popular before the advent of social media. They moved from one media house to another to be heard. You had to physically go meet people. 

Now the advent of the online space has made it easier to promote music. Now you can sit in your sitting room, put work online and be discovered. I think the advent of the internet has made it easier for us to move our music around and gain new fans. Some people now know more with my new songs than earlier ones. 

Production is easier now and almost every kid can do something from their laptop. I am not saying it is easy to blow but there are a lot of opportunities out there. 

  • Pamper you remix just dropped and last time we spoke you told me you are working on a couple of projects, what should we expect? 

I’m back to my element. Well my element never really left but I’m enjoying recording again. I’ve been recording but now like I have a deadline, my guys have set me a deadline. But you should expect music that is going to transcend generation, transcend time and I’ve found out that that’s what works for me

I do say that for people to listen to you in Nigeria, you need to spend money, forget whatever everybody tells you.

Now if you do not have the means, if everybody is going right and most people that are going right are spending money to go right, and you that you’re doing exactly what you’re doing, when you’re not spending the money, they are spending it.  No matter how big you are . So what do you do? You go left. 

This is my own way of circumventing the whole process. If you go left, at least some people would know you are going left and produce  great music. 

  • Your voice sounded stressed the first time we spoke but then you told me it is because you were doing a marathon recording. What pains do you go through to make music? 

I wish a lot of people asked it often. Then, they will know the value the average Nigerian artiste. 

I have spent more than 10 years in the business and a lot of people don’t know how hard it is to make a music. My voice is even why I wanted to do this interview today and not tomorrow

My voice is not clear yet so I’m not using the voice now. I’m doing a lot of instrumentals and all that now. I’m doing a skeletal on my own that we are going to take to the studio. I’m not supposed to be in the studio today because of my voice. So I am not going to be doing lengthy talks after today because tomorrow is too close to Wednesday that I am very sure I might need my voice.

Also, we are different artists and we all employ different methods to do music. There are some people, especially people  that do the Afrobeats sound. The beat is almost the same from beginning to end. So one producer creates a beat and you just virtually vibe on it. They call it vibing, just vibe on it. I mean it works for a lot of people but for people like me that’s not how it works. If you listen to my music, you’ll hear it’s different, and this is what works for me.

I do a lot of talking, and that is where my voice strained. So since I’ve been doing this recording for the last 3 days, I’ve been slowing down in my talking and I just like to talk in whispers. My voice is delicate, a little stressed, and I just lose it. So I do a lot of keeping quiet. It’s not comfortable, you know. Someone pisses you off, you keep quiet. 

I drink a lot of honey and ginger and all those things, just trying to get yourself in shape. Music is one of the reasons I do not smoke is because of my voice but some people tell you smoking helps them. It is different strokes for different folks. It doesn’t work for me. Some people think it is not a lot of work, they say – is it not just to sing? No, it’s a lot of work. Some artists abroad travel to remote places to write or even to make songs. They don’t want distraction. Their phones would be off or they give their phones to their managers or PA talk to nobody.

  • Asides recording, what are the other pains you go through, probably how it affects your lifestyle, your relationship with other people?

I recently had some friends that just came in from outside the country and they wanted us to hangout and stuff but I couldn’t do all that.  I always try to convince some of my friends to understand I can’t do this today because I’m recording. 

The other day I was explaining to a friend of mine that she wanted to follow me to the studio and we literally make a lot of noise normally. We are a noisemaker group of friends.

She couldn’t understand and some people as well would feel somehow because they don’t understand. I have a lot of female friends who don’t get it. When they talk to you and you’re calm on the phone and they complain that is it not just to record? They don’t understand that it is serious. I think some people are still yet to understand music is serious. You understand what I’m saying? So that and music also takes everything from you including financially.

You remember that Don Jazzy stuff that came up where his ex-wife. The post where people finally knew he had an ex wife. And he said one of the things. I can feel him in that interview when he said music took him. Music takes your time. If you’re going to be serious about it, it takes your time. And that’s why a lot of us, we pray to have partners that will understand. 

Music is deep.  I mean Lucifer, one of the highest angels at that time was a musician. People don’t get it. I know it doesn’t look like it’s deep, some people need to even go on drugs to even make music. I mean music is crazy. There are days N9 will be on me and that money will be spent on money.

  • What’s the biggest price you’ve paid in your musical career?

I was recording on the day I had the accident. On August 26 or 27th was when the accident happened. I slept on the steering. I slept off.

They were warning me not to record because I was tired, I didn’t want to just hear, I just wanted to record because I had other engagement.

I was in and out of consciousness. I was on the road. I think I woke up one time on the road and I fell back into unconscious. It was just a mad house. I was trying to re-link pictures and videos of everything. There video was recorded by some people and it is out there online. So maybe when you see the video, you would totally understand how crazy it was. It was a mad house.

So that’s one price I know I’ve paid. A very big price.

Doctors did not understand how I survived. That was purely miraculous not by any power of mine.

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