By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, please let’s leave politics for this week and discuss my primary constituency, showbiz. I’m always happy to see young people break barriers of poverty through creativity. This is why I have invested materially and otherwise in our talented youths since 1989 when Sir Shina Peters broke record charts with his monster album, Ace. I doubt if any other album has recorded such monumental success. For the first time, a Juju artiste captured all the major awards and took the front page of Nigeria’s biggest-selling Weekend Concord, edited at the time by Mike Awoyinfa. SHINAMANIA was the headline of my story and this became the title of Sir Shina’s next album.
Through my work, I would later interact and become officially or personally close to some of Nigeria’s greatest icons such as Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey-Fabiyi, King Sunny Ade, Chief Sikiru Ayinde Barrister, Prof Kolington Ayinla, King Sonny Okosuns, Admiral Dele Abiodun, Ras Kimono, Onyeka Onwenu, Christie Essien-Igbokwe, Laolu Akins, Toni Okoroji, Evi Edna Ogholi, Queen Salawa Abeni, Tee Mac, King Wasiu Ayinde Marshall, Mike Okri, Alex Zitto, Mustapha Amego, Esse Agesse, Mandy Brown Ojugbana, The Mandators, Charly Boy, Adewale Ayuba, Abass Obesere, Alex O, Daniel Wilson, Blakky, Wasiu Alabi Pasunma, OJB Jezreel, Sammy Okposo and others. The warm relationship would later extend to the younger artistes like the Plantashun Boys, Tunde & Wumi Obe, Paul Play Dairo, KUSH, Dare Art Alade, Tony Tetuilla, Remedies, Omotola Jalade-Ekehinde, Genevieve Nnaji, Ruggedman, Olu Maintain, Bouqui, Sasha, Banky W, Timaya, Zaki Adze, Solek Crew, JJC, and many others.
I have gone through this preamble to demonstrate my substantial interest in Nigerian music and showbiz in general. The essence of my piece today is to situate my position on the imbroglio between Don Jazzy and D’banj, two of Nigeria’s most influential artistes of the moment. I believe my first encounter with D’banj was in March 2005, when he performed at the Global Recognition Awards staged by my friend and Brother, Mayor Akinpelu. All I needed to convince me about the awesome talents of D’banj was this young man coming on stage blowing his hamonica with a passion and singing Mo Bo Lowo Won. I never danced in public like I did that day. This guy blew me apart and took me to Cloud 10. D’banj was that infectious.
After his performance, I asked Mayor where he got this guy from and he said Percy Ademokun, KWAM 1’s manager had pleaded with him to feature the guy who used to work with JJC & his 419 Squad in London. As a matter of fact, Mayor was reluctant to put D’banj on stage because that slot had been reserved for Sunny Neji who unfortunately did not turn up but thus created the chance for our young friend. From that moment, I took more than a cursory interest in this guy. I later learnt there was another young producer who was the pillar behind the D’banj rising stardom. His name was outstanding, Don Jazzy.
My first one-on-one contact with D’banj came one Sunday morning, when D’banj told my former Personal Assistant, Chichi of Africa, a songstress in her own right, that he would like to meet me. Chichi knew I was very fond of him and did not waste anytime in setting up the appointment. She picked him up and drove to Bay Dorchester hotel in Victoria Island where I was at the time. As soon as Chichi arrived, I asked where D’banj was and Chichi said he was waiting in the car. I asked why she had to keep our superstar in the car and Chichi said she needed to get clearance from me. D’banj came in and prostrated flat to me while I told him he didn’t have to do that. But he was a very humble Yoruba boy who understood the culture of his people. He brought out his cd and I gave him some amount of money and we became brothers from then onwards.
I must have been among his top ten fans. And swore by his name. The only artistes who had won me totally over like that were Sir Shina Peters, KWAM1, Adewale Ayuba and Tu Face Idibia. There was hardly anything I wouldn’t do for them. And each had touched my life in different ways. D’banj was next to them. In 2006, a friend of mine, Richard Senou, was running the presidential race in Benin Republic, and he asked me to invite my celebrity friends in Nigeria to help with his campaign. I quickly assembled my closest buddies like RMD, Zack Orji, Stella Damasus-Aboderin, Fred Amata, Tony Tetuilla, and of course D’banj to Cotonou. We took over the city and rocked the place like never before. D’banj could not join us the night before but still managed to come in the morning and I was very grateful.
Our next encounter was Ghana. I had persuaded Iyiola Ayoade, the CEO of Charterhouse Ghana and GhOne Television to invite D’banj and Don Jazzy to their annual Ghana Music Awards Festival. On arrival, I welcomed the powerful people from Nigeria at my home. D’banj and Don Jazzy came in with the doyen of entertainment, Kenny Keke Ogungbe and Dayo D1 Adeneye. It was such a dramatic evening at my place as the incredibly energetic D’banj showed off his acrobatic prowess and started somersaulting in my living room. He was just full of raw energy and blew his hamonica endlessly. Thereafter, he and Don Jazzy disappeared from our radar. We later heard they enjoyed the akwaaba hospitality in Ghana. The next time D’banj came to Ghana, he was with Dr Sid and they dropped by at my restaurant, The House of Ovation.
D’banj and the Mo Hits featured in the 2007 and 2008 Ovation Red Carol effortlessly. But thereafter fame and money chased them from every part of the globe. That was when we started drifting apart. It became difficult to communicate by telephone as numbers changed rapidly. Wande Cole became my boy and participated actively in the theme song for the Ovation Red Carol of 2009. But I never stopped praying for D’banj and Don Jazzy in particular. Theirs was a marriage made in heaven. A break-up would spell doom of tragic proportions for both of them. I was always elated anytime I read interviews granted by D’banj in which he poured encomiums on Don Jazzy and referred to him as the boss though he was older than Don.
I had the last chance to advise them on a trip from South Africa to Nigeria. The engine of our plane had suddenly failed as we were taking off and the flight had to be dangerously aborted. Sammie Okposo was with us and he was visibly rattled. The problem engine was later fixed and we had chance to discuss the music industry in Nigeria. I was relatively assured that theirs was a solid union. I gave examples of big stars who had perished due to one mismanagement of fame or money or both. My favourite example was that of the Spice Girls. They had it all wrapped up. Fans camped outside their hotels for nights while on world tour. My ultimate idol Michael Jackson got terribly broke after all that gargatuan popularity and fabulous wealth. I told the story of how Chief MKO Abiola described poverty as the most stubborn animal and that you must never throw the cane with which you beat it away because it will always come back. Every fall in life begins with a wrong move.
D’banj and Don Jazzy were brothers from another mother. I don’t know how and why they allowed the devil to come between them. In the whole of Africa, only the twin Brothers, Peter and Paul, of P’Square enjoyed better or equal supremacy. Reading the exclusive interview D’banj granted Ayeni The Great recently, Mo Hits must have made too much money. In the process, my brothers must have forgotten the truism that wherever too much money is gathered the demon must make itself Executive Chairman. They obviously did not see the omnipotent demon walk into their lives. If they did they would have fought tooth and nail to chase it back to the pit of help. No lizard can enter a wall that had no crack in the first instance.
I’m extremely saddened by this unfortunate saga. There is nothing as crazy as two bossom friends fighting and going their separate ways. Husbands and wives do fight. The tongue and the mouth are no exception. It is a rule of life. But we must always try as much as possible to manage our differences. Wealth and women are often the causes of problems between friends but these guys had more than enough of both and could have ignored their worst adversary. I don’t know what roles their closest friends played in this disastrous separation but I believe it would have helped if they intervened at the right time. I read somewhere that a few important personalities tried to settle the rift but were unsuccessful. It is a big shame that we lost what could easily have been the biggest crew in African music. It is possible that individually they can start all over and blow up their individual talents again. But that type of merry-go-round would have been unnecessary. There’s a great lesson in this experience for other artistes planning to kill their brands to start from the very beginning. I learnt from Chinua Achebe that when things fall apart the centre don’t usually hold.
I really pray that God continues to bless their hustle so as not to turn theirs into an Israelite journey when you spend 40 years on a trip that should have taken 40 days.