‘No Standard is Too High for Me’

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Intellectually gifted, a fine orator with a good command of the English Language, and a good sense of humour, this multi-talented upcoming music artiste, Sammy Yakubu, simply known as Sammy, is taking the music scene by storm with his latest act, ‘Hustle’. In this interview with Mary Ekah, he displays unique intellect as he talks about his entry into the music industry, the challenges, and his plans to wrestle down the industry by dictating the pace

Give us a brief introduction of yourself and your journey so far?
The journey might be a long story but all the same, I will start by telling you that my name is Sammy Yakubu. My stage name is Sammy. I was born and raised in Kaduna but my Dad is from Oyo State. I have never been to Oyo State before, my Dad grew up in Kogi State and so Kogi State served more like home to me then than Oyo State. Growing up now and realising that my Dad is really from Oyo State, is something to be proud of and something to explore.

Having been born and raised in the North, how easy was it breaking into mainstream music?
Whatever it is that you are doing in life is never easy. You always have to be steadfast. We always have to keep working. You always have to keep building relationships. You would always have down times and bad times. It is like building a business. After establishing, you have to build the clientele. I mean you have to focus on yourself. You have to build yourself as a brand, making people to understand your brand. You have to make people understand how they can relate to your brand. You have to do a lot. So it hasn’t been easy at all.

A lot of people have been in the industry before you. Do you think that they have set a standard that is too high for upcoming artistes like you?
I don’t think any standard is ever too high if you know who you are and you know what you want to achieve and you are ready to put in as much hard work as possible as you need to, you will also end up setting your own standard. You are not looking to be like somebody else but you are looking to create a version of you that is the best version of you ever.

So if you are trying to be like someone else, you would always be number two. But as long as you try to be you and you are creating the best of you that you have to offer, you will always be the moon. It’s like saying, the sun burns, but the moon doesn’t. The moon does not shine, the sun shines because it burns. They both have different purposes, the sun shines and the mood shines in its own way. So I feel like no standard is too high.

You seem to be so philosophical about everything you say. Why?
I am learning and these are the kind of things that help me remember things a lot. I read a lot and I like philosophy; I like to be logical about things and at the same time, it is for me to be entertained.

What was the last book you read?
Wow! It has been so hard to read in Lagos since I moved here to do my work. That is the honest truth. I’m still not used to some things in Lagos. Like I worked all night last night till about 6:00am and I left my house in VGC at 7:00am for this meeting scheduled for 10am only to get here at almost mid day. I mean in Kaduna, it wouldn’t take more than 20 minutes to get here from where I was coming from. I mean in Kaduna I just have to plan only 20 minutes before and sometimes 10 minutes before and I am there. So there are lots of things in Lagos that I am not used to but I appreciate the fact that it holds the opportunity that I need and that I yearn for, which is why I am here.

You used to be a member of an award-winning dance troupe. How much of dance have you imbibed in your present works?
When I first moved to Lagos about seven years ago, all my performances had dancers. A lot of time dancers are not respected as much as they should be because people don’t really see their value; they see them as stage fillers. But I feel that dancers can be maximised and if you take example of people like Michael Jackson and Chris Brown, the dancers are actually stars on their own but they dance for them. So if performance, which is one of my big focuses when it comes to music, could imbibe more dancers, it will improve dance the more.

Right now I feel like I do one of the best performances in Nigeria because I put up a lot of hard work and resources into my performances because I am rooting for dancers to get better and also get better respected. I am no longer a dancer but I am imbibing the dancing culture into my music and at the same time, I am trying to grow the dance community. I pretty much know all the major dancers in Lagos because I have been able to build that relationship with them and wherever they see me, they come and talk to me, we exchange ideas while some of them tell me their problems and I try to help them. Eventually, now I have a better opportunity to help dancers and to help people respect dancers and to pay more attention to them and even pay them a little more money.

How long have you been into music professionally?
I have been into music like about five to seven years now.

So why did it take you so long to come out?
I feel that life is in phases. When I started music, I never knew how to write in Pidgin English, I could only write and sing in proper English. So I had to take time to learn. If you hear my Yoruba in music before now, you would laugh so hard. It was so bad. But over time, I realized that no matter what kind of music you do, as long as you are in Nigeria, you need to own your music. People need to be able to relate to your music and if they can’t, then you are not making music for people, you should just record it and keep it for yourself. Eventually, I had to learn all that and that took me time. Over the years, I was able to learn and put things together properly. I also do other things all along so it has been more of balancing and learning process for me.

How would you describe your genre of music?
I grew up with R&B but over the years, I have been able to infuse Afro beat into my music. And I have a lot of respect for commercial music. I feel like if you are not creative, you cannot make commercial music. For people to dance to your first, second and third songs and then on and on, it means there has to be something that keeps attracting them and you have something special. So I have a lot of respect for guys who are into commercial music. I had a close relationship with Wizkid back in the days and he actually made a lot of music and it was so enlightening for me. I learned so much from that process, the ways he goes around and sometimes he does not even need to write because he feels the vibe of music and sometimes music actually needs to be like that. The fact that they make money means their music have so much value because you can’t just make money with something that has no value at all.

What is your staying power in the music scene?
I think it is my performances, then my voice, I feel that my voice is unique, which I love. I have met people who didn’t know I was the one that sang a song and when they realise I was the one, they are like: “Wow! That couldn’t have been you! It makes me appreciate what I have. So my performances, voice and my general overview about life have been my staying power. I am always learning. I think that if I want to make music for the next 40 years, I will continue making good music because I feel that there is no point in life that you should stop learning. So my staying power is the ability to continue to be forever young.