From being the hook-man to the artist behind Wakaa the Musical theme song, Brymo has developed the right muscles for the challenging tasks that he heaped on his shoulder in a painstaking solo effort towards a successful music career. Yinka Olatunbosun reports
You may have spotted the fliers around town. Olawale Olofooro, otherwise known by the stage name Brymo, is ready to shake Lagos come October 2 at Freedom Park, Lagos Island. It’s no news that this talented singer-songwriter was on the A-list of embattled artists for his controversial contract deal with Chocolate City, which legally expired in April 2016. This reporter had watched from the side-lines as the artist and his former producers took their matter to court while the social media fuelled the dispute.
You can’t really write Brymo’s biography without this controversy being at the centre of it. It is a defining moment in a career. Brymo may stand strong alone today but he owed much of his experience to the Chocolate City, good or bad. His landmark hit single, “Ara” was a club-banger, an OAP’s delight and a cross-over classic. Having done a rare blend of fuji and pop for close to 15 years and professionally for a decade, it seems apt to seek him out as to what’s next in his music juke box.
A fortnight ago, this reporter met him at the Rhapsody’s, a lounge atop the Ikeja Shopping Mall. He drew some attention as he walked in quietly to sit beside his waiting reporter-guest. Clad in black t-shirt and denim, he had this boy-next-door look. Still, his simple appearance didn’t fool anyone as they congregated at a respectful distance to watch him.
Brymo grew up in a home where juju and apala music were being played. As a teenager, he listened to Westlife and other pop bands.
“I listened a lot to R-Kelly, Usher, and after a while, I imbibed the American music culture,” he began. “But then, if you sing pure R&B, Nigerians won’t buy it. So I blended the genres so that I can have an international appeal. I still have to do songs that Nigerians can relate to. To the core fuji artists, I don’t sing fuji well. And when they try to sing pop too, it doesn’t sound that good to pop fans.”
Brymo recorded his first album in 2006. Personally, he wouldn’t rate a successful artist by his album sales and sell out concerts. For him, success is more than that. Brymo was catapulted to limelight when he did the hook on Ice Prince’s smash hit, “Oleku”. He also did the hook in MI’s “Action Film’’ and several other songs. But then, Brymo was determined not to be “the hook man”. He didn’t sign a contract to be just that. And for the past three years, his music has evolved and he can be appreciated as an individual artist.
“The thing about life is that people see you the way your people see you,” he continued. “I was in a recording label and my efforts were being undermined. It was part of the reason why I had to leave. ‘Ara’ was my hit single that shot me to limelight and that has been the trend in Nigerian music. People always remember you for the first hit song. I don’t think that is right because there are a lot of artists trapped in that phase.”
He performed the theme song of Wakaa the Musical, which was a recent hit in Lagos and London. The song, “Waka Waka” is refreshingly different and has enjoyed some airplays too. Brymo revealed how he got invited to the production.
“The production team for Wakaa the musical got in touch with my management and I read the script. I was very interested. It was quite different from doing a soundtrack for a movie. I did a soundtrack once for a movie, In the City by Udoka Onyeka. For Wakaa, it was different. The script actually inspired the song and it was fun. I did two songs for them. There is actually an album for Wakaa the musical. ‘Waka Waka’ was the official theme song for the stage play but Viva was not published until the album release,” he disclosed.
Meanwhile, the song grew and became profitable. Brymo thought it was a worthwhile venture.
“It was amazing. It was a single and it has become a big song. I was at a university once for a performance and the audience kept calling out for me to perform ‘Waka Waka’. For me, it was profitable. There was an initial payment that covered the cost of production, song-writing, engineering and the likes. Afterwards, my people were in touch with their people and there was some kind of agreement on the royalty split between BAP productions and Brymo. So it is quite fulfilling. I have done more soundtracks after that.”
“Dem Dey Go” was a patriotic track from his new album titled, Klitoris. It ended on a disturbing note where the singer asks that if the three cannot remain together, they should go their separate ways. Brymo had to defend himself that he wasn’t preaching national disintegration in the song.
“The essence of the song is that it is my piece about the state of Nigeria at present. I was making particular reference to the three major tribes. I was not suggesting that Nigeria should break but I was only preaching that we should make this unity work. We should not let ego and pride ruin us. Everybody must work and earn his position. Nobody must act as if he has more right to life than others. I am a Nigerian. I live in this country and I am very conscientious about the situation in the country. I am a musician and I am famous. It is easy to use my fame to talk to people. ‘Dem Dey Go’ is about fixing the problem. It is not about pointing accusing fingers. But then I ended it with the clause, that if they no wan gree however, they should go their separate ways. Nigeria has been together for so long and I don’t think it pays anyone for us to divide.”
Brymo usually writes his song before going to the studio unlike many afro-pop singers. But for Ara, he dropped his lyrics spontaneously on the beat and voila!, a hit song was born. Despite that singular success, Brymo prefers proper song-writing routine.
“Ara was produced by Legendary Beatz in 2011 and I got the beat from them. That was the first time ever that I would write my song on a beat. I usually compose the song before I hit the studio. But with Ara, I like the beat and I was able to do the song on it. I produce my music here in Nigeria. My producer lives in Igando and has his studio there. He is one of the best in the continent right now,’’ he revealed.
On his recent collaboration effort, he said he had worked with a Ghanaian artist and is still looking forward to working with afro-centric artists; the type that wears beads and native attire. Also, TMG, an American label just signed him on for a marketing contract for the distribution of his works in the US only. Brymo gave an insight into how he got so fortunate.
“Annually TMG select African artists that they want to market in their own American market. Whoever they are bringing, they sign him on. The end is to break into the actual American market. That usually takes time. It is not an easy thing to grow your brand in another man’s country. But we have been getting more and more recognition abroad. Close to 200 radio stations are playing my music worldwide, according to the email they sent to me. For me, that is the beginning of something different,” he remarked.
He has released the video to the song, “Something Good is Happening” drawn from his new album which this reporter got curious about. The first track on the album is titled “Naked” and it features his love, Ese. But, why pick such title?
“What album title?” he paused, waiting to hear this reporter repeat the name and he continued saying, “Oh thanks for saying the name. Some people don’t like to say it. I stumbled on the fact that ‘Klitoris’ is the key to a woman’s sexuality. And I was considering calling my album key so I just called it that. Other factors such as the beauty and mystery of the woman inspired that album.
Though Brymo sees himself touring the world in a few years, holding it down for the folks at Madison Square and Staples Centre, nothing is as good as the freedom he enjoys. In his reaction to the widely read article published in THISDAY on his sour deal with the Choc boys, he stated affirmatively that he never wanted to return to the recording label.
“I didn’t say I was sorry. I didn’t tell Toni Kan that I was sorry I left Chocolate City. But at the end of the day, it is business. The industry itself needs fixing. We need to fix how the albums are sold and distributed. We don’t have a proper structure. I thought that being an entrepreneurial artist would pay more and it does. The label system doesn’t work. I like to fight my war alone,” he said just as the waiter placed his beverage bottle on the table.
When asked how he feels now without the contract hanging over his head anymore since April, Brymo responded that he had been free since the day he realised that he had to leave the recording label.
“I have been a free man since 2013. If I wasn’t free I wouldn’t be putting out albums. My father didn’t raise a fool. I had to continue doing my work,” he said, sipping on his cold drink.