Afro jazz pianist, Dapo Dina is widely travelled, having visited about 19 countries. In his view, the appreciation of jazz is not as low as is perceived in Nigeria. The young artiste speaks with OVWE MEDEME on his decision to return home, his love for the piano, maintaining his dreadlocks and sundry issues.
WHAT does being an Afro Jazz artiste entail?
The afro I guess would be interpreted as African so it is more or less an African jazz musician or pianist
Why jazz music?
I always love jazz because I think it is superior and very challenging. It is also a very intellectual music. I don’t just want to go for something less. That is why I chose jazz.
How commercially viable is jazz music?
That is the problem people have with jazz, they want to stay commercial. Jazz is very wide. It is huge and there is also some element of commercialism in it. Smooth jazz, pop jazz, afro pop jazz and different kinds of jazz could be commercial but it all depends on how you are looking at it and how your mind can embrace a little bit of technicality into the commercial.
For how long have you been doing this?
For a couple of years now, I have been performing jazz music but I only picked up my career as a professional some years back, about two years ago.
How many albums have you released so far?
I have one album and I am currently working on the other one. The first one was initially titled wealth of knowledge because of my experiences around the globe. But when I came back home and I had to infuse the African thing, I decided to change the title to Ile, which is an African name. Ile means home. There is a particular track there which talks about home being the place to rest.
In the course of doing music, what countries have you been to?
I have been to about 19 countries around the globe both in Europe and Africa. I started out from South Africa. Then, I played with a band which took us to Dubai and Brazil. It was a pop band so when I came back, I decided to play a little bit of Jazz or crossover music. That was when I decided to travel to Europe. When I got to Europe, I toured a bit of Paris. We went to Berlin, Germany and Czech Republic. We were in Istanbul, Sweden. We went to Amsterdam a couple of times because there was a guy I was also working with as a producer. He is a gospel artiste called Uche and I produced some of his tracks. He booked me a couple of times in Holland. I have also been to a number of African countries, Cameroun, South Africa, Lesotho and Zimbabwe. I moved around.
What is your take about the Nigerian audience and acceptability to jazz music?
Actually I lived about one year in Berlin and I met a lot of musicians there. I realised that I had to actually register my presence at home and also to learn some of my culture just to get acquainted to the African or Nigerian roots and some of the instruments. That is why I came back home to register my presence. The first time I was here, which was July last year, before I travelled to Sweden, every time I say I am a jazz musician, people reacted by saying that jazz does not sell in Nigeria and there were a lot of negativity. In September, I started to play a lot of gigs.
I played in about six major shows because I had to fly out in December. One was the Mandela Day which was put together by the South African consulate. I played a Tale of Two African Cities, the MUSON Jazz Festival and some other shows before I left for Sweden. That can answer the question. I think maybe people don’t really know what jazz is around here. They just hear the name. It scares them and they say jazz does not sell but I have been busy since last year. This year too, I have played a lot of shows.
How do you think that impression can be corrected?
I think jazz is all about education; people need to educate themselves about this genre of music before they are able to embrace what jazz is. If you are not aware of what it is, what jazz means, then you will be scared of it so you need to educate yourself and find out what exactly it is. If you find the meaning of jazz then you will also find the areas that is commercial and that you can embrace.
With all the issues bugging Nigeria, why did you decide to come back home?
I did not come to stay forever because I am a touring artiste. I realise that I must come here and showcase myself and move around and register my presence. I have to do this in spite of the situation because there is no other way for me to show myself to the people. The electricity and the other problems that we face, for me, I overlook them. I use it as a story in some of my music but I don’t want to make it too political. I just want to connect with my roots and see what it going on; see how I can infuse it and preach morals with my music.
Aside that, what other themes do you address with your music?
I can sing about the issues we face but I don’t talk to the government. I don’t want to be too political or direct. For instance, I can sing about not having electricity which is the truth. Everybody knows that but not to the extent of being an activist.
How would you react to those who say jazz music is too intellectual?
There is instrumental jazz music and then there is afro jazz music. The afro jazz part of it has to do with infusing the culture and the language to bring the African tradition.
When was your first encounter with the piano?
I am from a music family so we had some instrument lying there. I fiddled with them at will but after going to school to study Business Administration, I realised that I wasn’t focusing. I went to Owo Polytechnic but I was always going for one music function or the other so I decided to just follow my passion full time. I chose piano because it is the principal instrument. With piano you can achieve so much actually. We don’t really have pianos here in Africa. Most people here are keyboard players but there are also more possibilities in playing the keyboard. You can have other sounds, you can have the strings, you can be a producer so I just thought piano was the best.
Why did you choose to align yourself with Inspiro Productions as a label?
Inspiro stands for jazz. Some years back when I wanted to come home, I wanted them to listen to my music and all that. We ended up having something together now because our heart is there and we are serious about what we are doing. Inspiro has a vision and he knows where he is going. We had to connect and build a new movement that is very futuristic.
How long did it take you to groom your dreads?
That area of my life, I call it imaging. You need some kind of image. A lot of jazz players don’t have dreads. Actually people have misconceptions about me. They thought I was playing reggae music. I don’t think it is really a reggae thing because out there a lot of people have dreadlocks and they are not even musicians. It is about having some kind of image.
Is it true that carrying dreadlocks come with some sort of spiritual undertones?
I decided to grow my hair not for any spiritual reason but for the social image kind of thing.
How expensive is it to maintain?
For sure it is very expensive. I have to go to the salon to make it look neat all the time. I have had it for about four years now and I intend to grow it very long.
So you don’t have any hopes of cutting it soon?
Not now. Maybe in the next ten years.