Leroy Fagbemi alias Mr. Flint, a physically challenged US-based Nigerian musician started a pop group called the “Mende Boys” when he was just 11 using the platform to supplement his income while in high school. The hustling came to an end just after an automobile accident that paralysed him, but that only marked the beginning of a fortune for him. He spoke with Mary Ekah
What were your formative years like?
My parents are both Nigerians and were working citizens in the U.S. They also owned a business in Nigeria. As a youth in Brooklyn, New York, making music was always a passion for me. When I arrived in Nigeria at approximately 11 years old, I started a pop group called the “Mende Boys”. We stayed together until I graduated from high school, and returned to the U.S. Upon arriving back at Brooklyn, I immediately noticed the Black Pride era had become the crack epidemic era. The transition was very much a challenge because first of all, I was born in the U.S. and sent to Nigeria to learn my African culture. When I returned and saw how difficult it was to make money legitimately, especially while going to college, I began hustling to supplement my income. The hustling came to an end after the automobile accident that paralysed me.
What kind of music were you into and what made you have faith even at a time the Nigerian music scene was not that appealing?
In the U.S I gravitated to R&B Pop, Hip-Hop and Soul Music. I basically listened to the music my parents played in the house, and learned to appreciate it. When I was introduced to the Nigerian Music scene personally I felt there was something good about the music to build on. I was introduced to “Fela Kuti”, “Obey”, and “Sunny Ade” and honestly, I felt there was something about the sound that was appealing to me. I envisioned Nigerian music becoming a widely accepted genre of music in the future.
What was your state of mind after the accident put you on the wheelchair?
I was in my car, 100 feet from the entrance to my job at the time and an 18-wheeler truck ran a red light and hit my car. The accident left me paralysed from the waist down. I was in the hospital for six months recovering and going through occupational therapy sessions. Since this accident in the mid-nineties I had contemplated suicide about three times. Music and the desire to create music definitely helped me overcome feelings of deep depression and suicidal thoughts. A friend of mine connected me with some artistes and we formed a 7-man group called “King Tinz Fam”. This opportunity was what helped rekindle my passion for making music.
Take us through your works and Nigerian artistes you have collaborated with?
As I mentioned my first professional music experience was the “Mende Boys”. Then I joined “King Tinz Fam” in the late nineties after my accident. Later I joined forces with an artiste where we made multiple tracks featuring each other. However, we never officially became a duo group. The Nigerian artistes I have worked with are “Sound Sultan”, “Young Grace”, “Ola Mide”, and I’m looking forward to collaborating with “Yemi Alade” and “Reminisce” soon. My main goal is to make music that uplifts the disabled community, especially those in Nigeria. I also want to be a voice against discrimination of all kinds. Today, I have carved a niche for myself in the quality of music I render especially the richness in the lyrical content. I am one of the few artistes that churn out songs that have message, given that the Nigerian music entertainment industry survives merely on how commercial your music is than on quality.
Why do you put enormous concern on quality?
The reason behind the quality lyrics in my music is because I feel I have to work ten times harder as a disabled artiste, and my music has to be ten times better than the average artiste.
One of your songs, You Think My Life is Easy, tells the story of faith, courage, pains and determination. How were you able to get that blend into music?
It is something I had wanted to share with my friends, family, loved ones and others with disabilities. I heard the beat first and the concept and lyrics just came to me. This song is 100 per cent freestyle, I never wrote anything down. I was led by emotion and a desire to give people a glimpse of my everyday life.
Life for people with disability is difficult in Nigeria, what are the differences that stare you in the face that many people even don't seem to understand?
One main difficulty that people may not realise is that a majority of doors at public places like the banks, churches, private car service or restaurants are not wheelchair accessible. Also most hospitals don’t have amenities that are wheelchair-friendly. One other thing is that I sometimes experience friends assuming I pay for the company of the women I’m involved with. I also have had friends discourage me from dating able-bodied women and plus sized women. Lastly, a few of the loved ones of women I have been in relationships with have discouraged them from dating me, calling me a burden. I’ve grown to ignore those negative comments and opinions.
Many call for government to do more for people with disabilities, what are the immediate things you would suggest?
I would suggest automatic doors for more places of business, recreational centres for the physically disabled, and housing that totally meets the needs of the wheelchair-bound.
The most problematic issue in the country is about insecurity, does it not seem odd that Nigerian musicians have not really contributed in any measure in addressing this security issue, why is this happening?
The reason why things are this way is because the “Big fish” at corporate level of the music want to keep things superficial and commercial. Most artistes don’t become stars unless they conform to the record labels idea of a marketable artiste. Music that has an actual positive message is no longer status quo. My hope is that up and coming artistes unite to break this cycle because original, good music cannot be denied.
Apart from music, what else do you do?
Formerly I used to work Day Trade in the U.S. Stock Exchange. I also used to flip houses. (Buy a house, renovate and resell for profit.) Currently, I run a charity called “Second Chance in Life” in Nigeria. It is geared towards helping people with physical disabilities be more independent and increase quality of life. I am also launching two organisations to aid in the discrimination of plus-sized people. One is called “Curvy Plus” in the U.S. and “Plus-sized Africa” in Nigeria.