Timi Dakolo Exclusive: ‘Reality shows come with a lot of pressure’

By Olamide Jasanya

Timi Dakolo

After he won the first edition of the West African Idol, all eyes were on him to deliver. Five years after, Dakolo is seen by many as one of Nigeria’s strongest male vocalists. In this interview, the 31-year-old newly-wed shares with NET the truth behind his supposed near-death experience in Port Harcourt, what married life has been like for him and his plans for the future.

Let’s start with the news about the aircraft incident. What exactly happened?

I was not on that plane, [and] I wasn’t meant to enter. What happened was that I had a performance at CARNIRIV that evening and I was running out of time. There were choppers and I needed to know which one was available, but they kept telling me to wait for a particular 24-seater. When I got tired of waiting, I went to get a boat straight to Yenogoa. The plane had crashed even before I left. Incidentally, the network service in that area wasn’t good, so I wasn’t reachable. Perhaps that was the cause for the confusion, but I didn’t grant any interview saying whether I was going to board the plane or not.

But minutes after, you got on social media and tweeted about God saving you…

That was because I was hoping to enter a chopper, anyone available. Indeed, I was desperate to get one, but not that particular one, so when people started saying all sorts, I got confused. One person even had a version that I was seated in the plane and asked to come out. It’s not funny when somebody calls you to tell you they heard you are dead.

Away from that, what kind of reception has your album gotten since its release?

It’s been great. I really don’t [do] the popular kind of music. I try as much as possible to stay in my lane because everybody wants to do everybody’s music. I stay in my lane because it is what I’m good at, not because I can’t do other kinds of music, but I like to identify with the kind of music I do. Generally, the reception has been great, from Let It ShineHeaven PleaseI Love You and the rest. Everybody had something to pick from it. If I had not titled it Beautiful Noise, I would have named it mixed grill, because it had reggae, rock, ballads, soul and all.

When you say you ‘stay in your lane’ what exactly do you mean?

I don’t like to do the everyday thing everybody does. I don’t want to be pressured to do that either. I’ve [always] been known, since the days of West African Idol, to do ballads and love songs, and I like to stay there. For instance, you won’t see Bob Marley doing a Rock song, that’s what I mean.

Nigerian artistes these days are judged by how many club hits they have. Do you see yourself moving to that direction?

I don’t think so but I might do one or two techno [songs].

So is there a possibility of having a club hit from Timi Dakolo?

It depends; time will tell.

Your ‘Great Nation’ video has been getting a lot of great reviews. Some even suggested the song be made the National Anthem. 

I never thought of that, I just wanted something to give hope to my generation and help them remember that there is no other place we can call our home. I wanted them to realize that it doesn’t matter where we travel to for holidays, for medical checkups or education that can be like our country. I look forward to the day when everybody will want to stay in Nigeria, when Nigerian hospitals will be recommended for ailing people abroad, when people don’t consider tribes or ethnicity before the interest of the country. I want us to have a good educational system, a good health system where everything is right and in order.

What inspired that song?

I just looked around me that day and realized some years ago, currencies like N20 or N50 used to be a problem, but now I can afford the basic things of life. I have a house, I have a car. I can give out and not feel bad, but my grandmother, who actually molded my life, is missing. I just thought about it and I wished she was still alive.

Tell us your experience while writing that song.

It was actually myself, Cobhams [Asuquo]and a colleague. We were tired of all the Nigerian jagajaga songs. The truth is we are still very lucky in this country, other countries haven’t gone through what we have and they have scattered and broken, but we are still together and we are for a purpose. Let’s just forget about our ethnic [differences] and build a nation for the sake of our children and the ones unborn.

 What does the song writing process entail?  

It’s just your mind. The whole process for me varies. Sometimes, I don’t have a part to play, like the song ‘Heaven Please.’ It was in the middle of the night, the song came in with the line ‘Heaven Please’ and I kept repeating it. I woke up my friend, Justice Amadichukwu and together we started writing. In 2 hours, we were done, and when M.I came later that day, we wrapped it up.

What was the first song you wrote and at what age?

The first song I actually sat down to write, I am yet to record. I have a friend who plays the guitar, so then it was very easy, we used to sit down and write, but my first recorded song was Love of My Life in 2005. We were just students trying to do what we love.

As an artiste, what kind of music you listen to?

First of all, I don’t listen to my songs [because] I am always criticizing myself. There are places where I think I write songs better and [one of those places] is my bathroom. I think that echo helps a lot. The songs I listen to, none. I don’t listen to music, I’m always on my playstation. I can count all the songs I know from the beginning to the end, apart from my songs. If I pick any interesting song, it can be my favorite for months and I still will not know the lyrics from the beginning to the end.

You are signed on to the Now Muzik management. What has that been like for you?

Before Now music, I was trying to do the music thing on my own, but the truth is we can’t do these things on our own. There has to be division of labour. Now Music has been very active. They get the job done; the deals I couldn’t get, the contracts I couldn’t strike, they get it done. They make it easy.

You all got married this year, was that Now Muzik decision?

Actually, I [had already] decided to get married this year since 2011. I have always thought I would get married at 30.

Share with us your experience with marriage.

Marriage changes a lot of things, starting with how you think. You don’t think for one anymore. You think for the children in your loins, your wife. Normally, you can decide to eat outside, especially when you are tired, but now you can’t, otherwise, when you get home, you will explain where your appetite disappeared to. I used to be very happy for Christmas because somebody would buy me something, but things have changed; now, I’m the one that buys people things. It is a very wonderful venture though.

How did you meet your wife?

We were having a Valentine’s programme in my church. I walked up to her and asked her to be my date. I asked for her number, she refused at first, but when I continued pestering her, she succumbed. We started talking and listening to each other’s shortcomings and from there, we kick-started our Romeo and Juliet loving.

Lets talk about your experience at the West Africa Idol.

I went there with some of my friends, for fun. We got there a night before, and on the day of the audition we went to a friend’s place to have our bath, but [when we came] back, we saw a crowd that [made] us discouraged. Soon, it was time, everybody sang and when it got to my turn, I sang Lemar’s Time to Grow and I was asked to come back in three days. I looked at them; they didn’t even give me transport and are asking me to come back. Gradually, we got to the top 10 and people started recognizing me. Anything worth doing is worth doing well.

Did you have your family’s support for the audition?

Trust me, nobody knew I was going, especially my grandmother. My house is not that kind of house, all they want from you is to go to school  and get good grades.

For someone who is a product of reality TV show, what is your take on the effectiveness of such platforms?

It comes with a lot of pressure, especially for the winner. Shows like that don’t prepare the contestants for the world outside. It is when they come out they realize what is going on in the world. After I won, I went back to Port-Harcourt and started reading books on music business, song writing and I started to gradually grow.

A lot of people believe there is a strained relationship between you and Omawumi. How true is this?

There is nothing wrong between us. We were in Port Harcourt together last week, even lodged in the same hotel.

You are a graduate of Mass Communication. Any plans to practice soon?

I never liked it. I always wanted to be an Engineer but [I didn’t do well in] Physics. I wanted to be a Petroleum Engineer, work in Shell and have [lots of] cars and all.

Apart from music what do you do?

Nothing, but I would like to be a landlord, and act like the regular landlords. Seriously, I like to talk to people, so I’d like to start a talk show, where I talk about real life issues; it will be funny though. I would also like to give hope to the hopeless by giving.

What would you say are the things needed to make the industry move forward?

We don’t have as much equipment as they have [abroad]. An average Nigerian singer is great and has a powerful voice. There however needs to be advancement so the industry can generate enough money. People need to invest in the industry. We need a lot of investment in this country for our industry to make it.

2012 was an impressive year for you, what are your plans for the future?

I want to make music for the whole world, organize sold out shows. Do more music, not just for blacks, but for everybody. I want to win a Grammy, and I want my music played all around the world; in Japan, Australia and everywhere.

Finally, what project are you working on at the moment?

I just got the right to do my version of Majek Fashek’s Send Down the Rain.

Will you be doing an R&B version, and when will it be due for release?

I won’t tell you. It is supposed to be a surprise. It will be released very early next year.