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Mike Okri: How Armed Robbers Almost Chased Us Into a River in Eleme

…in remix collabo with Yemi Alade, Sheyi Shay
…set to release 16 Tracker Album

The man with the magic wand who dominated the Nigerian Music scene in the 80s and 90s, Mike Okri with his ever green hit songs like: ‘Hear your mama hear your papa’, ‘Rhumba Dance’, ‘Time Na Money’, ‘Okpeke’, ‘Wisdom’, ‘Oghenekevwe’, ‘Burnin’, Omoge and many more.

Arguably the finest to have emerge from this part of Nigeria, he left the shores of Nigeria over two and half decades ago, to go and raise his family in the United States, the music legend is back on the bloc to beautify the entertainment industry with his wealth of experience coming from the past into the present showbizness in Nigeria.

The veteran twins father, founder/CEO of Mike Okri Entertainment fielded few questions from Creekvibes Oluwadamilare Daniels.

Excerpts:

Cover 15 Edition

During your reign you fans suddenly did not hear from you again, what happened?

Why Nigerians were not hearing about me was because I left the country, I can categorically say I was one of the hottest and biggest act for many years.

While you were in America we gathered you were also doing your music stuff but we don’t get to hear much about you. Can you tell us little about it?

As it were, life music go to pain, music in America might not take you to the main stream because Americans are bias about African music, for entertaining your folks or people of other race that like your cultural music they’ve got no problems with that but when it comes to taking what belongs to them from them they can be very jealous, a similar example could be how they take their basketball to heart and never care about football which is the number one sport in the World, they are so passionate about their own thing, once they see you coming into their own main stream, they have problem with that.

Europe is more open to African music like Afrobeat and the likes of them, if I may jump into conclusion Burnaboy came into the Grammy through Europe which is the ground opening for all musicians if he had come through the United States it wouldn’t have been possible to win Grammy.

In 1991 when I was on Europe tour sponsored by Benson & Hedges, I was the biggest team that came from Africa at that time, honestly Europe was open to me, it was the experiment citadel of music to me, they will accept you the way you are, when I choose US over Europe I think it was more spiritual than ordinary.

Compare when you went on Europe tour in 1991 and going on the same tour now which will be more lucrative?

When it comes to showbizness, in terms of life performances, it was better then than now, but when you talk about the money and exposure, we didn’t make money, the exposure then was all about passion, but now with a click of a button your music can be all over the world and you could be making the fat buck that can make you afford a jet plane, but back then we had too many middlemen, some were busy pirating our musics, we had people who will tell you, you have a radio play which will not generate any income, by and large we concentrated in making money from live shows, which entails travelling with all equipment and man power on some occassion we got chased down by armed robbers, but we thank God for the good old days, sometimes once we mention our name, they will say “Oga na you? ECOMOG let them go,” though non of my men were injured and that was the beauty of it, now we can’t measure that with the Herdsmen.

In a nutshell, there are a lot of great things we can picked from the past an infuse them into the present to be able to beautify the entertainment industry maybe that’s why we are still alive, we thank God for life.

Are we going to compete with anyone? No, as far as you speak a language people understand, provided you have content; stamina, you are your own person, not mimicking Olamide, not trying to sell like Davido, that alone will create a niche for you to remain there, till date nobody can claim to be Sunny Ade; the late Fela Anikulapo even though his children are stepping into his shoes, Fela’s shoes is still too big for anyone to step into.

Burnaboy and others who won Grammys did that because they stepped into their own shoes and they were comfortable with what they wore.

Officially you left this country Twenty-six years ago and now you are back, are you back for real or to stay for a while and go back?

I never left, there is no way I will be involve in an industry and leave it dry, I will make sure I follow it to the latter, promote it, enhance it, partner it, like I’ve done with Tunes Afrique on digital streaming, my platform is ready for business.

I am still studying the environment to see who to partner with, with the help of some partnership, I will ensure to be around often.

Now that you are back what are you putting on the table?

Firstly, I am bringing myself to the table to be re-branded, secondly, newly signed music artist on Mike Okri record label,

I’ve got TFO, they are twin including Ola Ireti the only girl among them, the ground is open and they are ready to blow.

Are you presently working on something for your fans?

Yeah, I have released 6 EPs, in months to come I will be releasing 16-18 tracks album, some of the songs were in collaborations with Seyi Shay, Yemi Alade, they are old songs that are been remixed.

Should we be expecting the videos as well?

Dazzling 15th

On yeah, the good thing about me is that while I was away in United States there was no doll moments, I do engage videographers, cameramen to hand down some of my works.

The videos for some of the new songs will partly be shot in the US and Nigeria.

Every song on that album must have a video.

Your kind of music is timeless like ‘Time Na Money’ since 1989 people still rock it. What inspired you then?

I thank God, in line of doing anything you should first seek the advice of elders, I happened to be one of such who grew up with wonderful producers they inspired me because their music has message, when I wake up early in the morning an hear good music, it reshapes my life.

I meet a young girl who happens to be 22 years old, telling me ‘Oh I love your music,’ I asked her what era are you?

She said her mother usually plays ‘Hear your Mama, Hear Your Papa’ for her as a growing little girl, you see how her mother has succeded in inculcating a good virtue in her through that timeless music.

Situations like that do happens to a lot of us. Will you strike the same scenario with ‘Smoke Gbana till You go yo?’

I’m not drawing a wrong conclusion, but such music like ‘Smoke Gbana till You go yo’ can still be meaningful if properly put together, it could be presented in a way to checkmate the after effect of Gbana not at the form it was presented, I mean the message should be a lesson to the world to see the negative effect of the ‘Gbana’ substance.

During your reign in the 80s what were the prize you paid to be at the top, what was the secret?

The secret was good music, we had to take a risk, we didn’t have social media, we hit the road, sometimes directly into the ambush of robbers and get robbed. We started with polytechnics, we were moving from one polytechnic to the other and then to the universities.

Many at time we performed infront of exceedingly large crowds and yet nothing to write home about, sometimes in the groove we probably maybe thinking of our take home which we’ll assume will be better off due to the mammoth crowd,  suddenly you will hear that, the man with the bag of money has disappeared.

Those were hard knock challenges we had, but I will tell you music was sweet; we never got tired of it; we were passion driven, majority comes in now and probably hit one or two marks and opt for a Limousine or Bentley, that is suppose to be secondary. There is money in the business now if well harnessed properly. However, our major goal is to bring the music into a full circle where everyone will be able to see an understand the performamces and the technicalities the music business is all about.

What kind of musician should be on the podium? He or she must be a pro to the core, not just some hurriedly put together lyrics by a recording artist and when time comes to be presented live, he or she won’t be able to deliver and inturn disgrace will be returned to the record label.

In signing an upcoming musician, what are the criteria you put into consideration?

Majorly, character of course on the emotional side, humility but character define in totality what a musician is made up, in addition, the musician should put on the table 80% of the concept idea and the producer will balance up 20%, so the originality of artist is kept but, if I have to throw an artist around I could be so much exhausted, if I take an artist headon and I put 80% of my concept to his 20%, you might find me sounding the same way with all my artists.

I should look at character, how hard they’ve tried to achieve fine tuned lyrics on their own to make them close to me professionally by the time we put them on hot seat and tell them what we are looking for, it is just like trying to audit a fantastic actor, the producer will mould the actor/actress to suit the character he wants and the actor or actress will step into a character that could beat a joker

Mike Okri Entertainment will also teach new entrants how to compile lyrics, so ten years down the line, if they are no longer with me, they will be able to say I learnt this from Mike Okri Entertainment and they will also pass it on to the next generation.

Can you share an experience on one of your trip where you were attacked, which area and how it happened?

We had several attacks, but let me share this particular one with you. It was in 1996 on our way to Port Harcourt, we had all our equipment that worth millions of Naira, it was an NBL trip we also had some NBL officials on that trip, just after Eleme in Port Harcourt, we saw a fat log of wood across the road, I was in front of the vehicle so, i told the driver ‘stop! Armed robbers, armed robbers,’  I told the driver to back off, when they saw that we’ve stopped they started shooting, they weren’t shooting at us but into the air in order to scare us, we were all frightened, hysterically the driver turned the steering and we almost fell off a cliff that leads to the river, if he had gone further all of us would have gone down into that water, we where shouting Jesus! Jesus!, he stop so I told him to turn, we were able to turn and went back to a check point we passed earlier and met with the police officers on duty, I introduced myself and told them what happened, they said; “Oga Okri na you?” and started flagging down all coming vehicles.

Mike Okri 2

So a top police office came, and he introduced himself, I went to him with all humility, I told him who I was and how we were attacked, he scream “What?”

He radio, right there and then, after that he said everyone should form a convoy, and he lead the convoy, when we got to that barricade he came out and moved it off the road, so we continued little by little and he led us into Port Hacourt, we did not arrive until 2am, we saw other places where they must had robbed innocent people, that was a sad experience.

An advice for up coming artist?

I will say that, they should aim beyond the sky by being very professional about their line of business; education is the key it will mold their character, it will let them know how to navigate, and also will help them not to get screwed.