At a period the North-east faces insecurity challenges in decades, Musa Akilah, an indigene of Borno State and a musician is more forceful in preaching peace and advocating a change in the way people perceive the region with his new initiative known as the New Borno Initiative. In this interview with Ugo Aliogo, he speaks about his career, his efforts in bringing lasting peace to the region and also commends the International Non-Governmental Organisations working to promote peace in the region
Can you tell us about yourself?
My name is Musa Akilah popularly known as Morell. Iâ€™m from Borno State. Iâ€™m based in Abuja and I started making music professionally in 2009. I did my first professional performance in Rugged Manâ€™s album, then to Naeto Câ€™s album, before I released my first single in 2011. Music has always has been a medium for me to actually say what is on my mind. I studied Creative Arts at University of Maiduguri, Borno State. From there I proceeded into music.
What is your brand of music?
I make all kinds of music because I grew up listening to various brands of music. Most times, I make Rhythm and Blues (R and B). In between Iâ€™m trapped in pop culture as well. I have an album which is my debut album. It was released in 2017 titled: â€˜Musa Jikan Musaâ€™. The focus is a blend of the Northern local sounds (drums and guitar) with digital sounds.
We learnt you have been doing some works with the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Borno State. Can you give details of your activities in this area?
Last year, I took sometimes off to be part of the change ongoing in Maiduguri with the New Borno Initiative which gave me the opportunity to visit some of these IDP camps. We are using this initiative to reach as many people as possible. I have a strong followership due to this initiative; it is not only in the North, but also on social media. We spoke to a few people and perform at some places. The initiative began last year. It is my own foundation and through it I was able to work with UNCH. Last year, I was at a programme they organised and I met a couple of people who saw the vision in the whole idea and endorsed my initiative. The government and the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are doing reconstruction, but my focus is on the mental reconstruction of the people of my state.
Do you believe music can be used as a vehicle for change?
Yes, music can be used as a vehicle for change. The songs I recorded in 2015 have made remarkable impacts, especially the song titled â€˜Bornoâ€™. I say this judging from the number of people who have reached out to me because of the song. A school in Paris, France actually put out a project on the song and they made a video from the song. For me, music can do a lot, it actually controls the way you feel sometimes.
What are your targets for 2018?
I am really glad with where Borno State is presently, but not completely excited. I believe by 2018 or sometimes in the year, things will settle so that is my hope for the state and the country because if the state is safe, the country will be for the good of all.
Letâ€™s look at using music to re-direct the minds of the youths of state from insurgency. What have been your efforts in this direction?
In the song â€˜Bornoâ€™ I said at first we were afraid to beg the government and the authorities responsible that we want peace, but now we have to beg with fear. That alone is a message to the youths that it does not really matter your religion, language, and ethnic group, we have to stand for the same thing which is achieving a peaceful Borno State. Years back the state was very peaceful and we lived together amongst people from different tribes Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo. We were not concerned about whatever difference that existed between us. A typical Borno man is a peaceful man. The new Borno will be more peaceful and better.
How much of youths have you been able to reach in your efforts of using music in addressing the insurgency?
I have been able to reach a lot of people. I have been to the university, and hanged out with couple of young people. Also, we have visited different areas where I lived before and places where people were eager to see me. So far, we have reached a large number of people. Their responses have been amazing and they are willing to support me. They are eager to pursue peace and change with me; they are tired of the insurgency ongoing in the state. They are calling for a better Borno.
What will be your advice to other musicians?
My advice to other musicians is that at every time they should not be afraid to say what they feel and they should not be afraid to support their people. Iâ€™m here because Iâ€™m following my heart and I feel I should be here. I have to be here in lending out my voice not just from the studio, but to be here to connect with the people. I need them to understand that we share the same values.
Is your music in English and Hausa?
My music is a blend of English and Hausa. But in this part, they are more in tuned with the Hausa songs as it connects more to them directly.
Are you involved in youth mentoring?
Yes, I am involved in youth mentoring. I have been be given different titles such as Gatan Arewa which means the pride of Arewa and that I pride myself to be honest because I know that I have inspired a couple of young people to make a difference.
What would you advise the government to do in the continued effort to bring peace to the region and what is important for you and your group?
For the government, I really think that they are doing well. There is some level of peace in Maiduguri; however, I just want them to keep promoting the peace efforts in the state. In the pursuit for peace, the vital thing is education. People need to understand the fact that they should move on from whatever that has happened. I understand that people still have grudges they are keeping against each other. What we want is for our children to go back to school and continue living their lives. We are trying to see how we can bring in therapists to assist people to get over the trauma they have been through. When you come across people who experienced these trauma first hand it is really hard for them to explain.
We know that you have been working with some of these victims. Are you planning to include their story in any of your songs?
I am planning to include their stories into my songs. If you watch the Borno video, you see bits of that. Presently, we are collecting materials, talking to a lot of people and we have clips we are putting together to incorporate that into my music and the projects for the future.
Are there persons, groups or organisations that have indicated interest in what you are doing internationally?
Internationally, the new Borno page on Instagram has so many International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGO) following my activities. This is the first step for us and very soon we will discuss a lot with them. From the local scene, we have celebrities from the Northern part indicating interests. They have been showing their support massively. It is a new initiative and we are still getting more people. The initiative is beyond Borno, like I said, we are working for a better Borno which will have positive impact on the country. This is a big project which I didnâ€™t envisage it is going to go bigger than this, everyday I see myself moving with the tide.
In terms of funding, how are you soliciting for funds?
Presently, I am working with my own resources. I hope that as time goes on people will see the vision and also support me and key into it and support.
What are your future projects?
For now, I cannot say certainly the projects Iâ€™m working now, but it basically revolves round healthcare, education and other areas. There is a lot we are planning on carrying out with other organisations.
Can you brief us about your national and international collaborations in music?
For me, I have done collaborations with some of the big names in the music industry such as Flavour, Rugged Man, Olamide, Ice-Prince, Vector, and others.Â I was in a project for Chimamanda Adichieâ€™s Half Yellow Sun sound track. I did a song with Reminiscence known as Wazobia (2014). I had collaboration with Wale in Ice-Princeâ€™s album Tipsy. The focus has been music before the Borno situation escalated. I am still making my music, and attaching a lot to Borno State. I am looking at giving back some percentage to the community to help. I help the community financially. We have been able to buy a few things and given to some IDP camps. Last year, I was an ambassador for an organisation based in Abuja who sent 10 girls in Borno State to school Government College. We have gone to different places in Kano. So far we have helped about 70 girls in North to go back to school because we feel education is really important for girls and boys here.