His shimmering studs sparkle as he stood tall on the stage while his dreadlocks seem to touch the night’s sky. Thick smoke of ganja billow in spirals. His eyes are bloodshot and muscles taut as every pore of his skin flows with thick sweats. As he ‘sangalo’, his fans go haywire in gyration. It is the dawn of ‘free madness’. His trademark bell chimes into the ears of the chaotic crowd as he begins to speak gibberish like a prophet seized by some supernatural power. Terry G is possessed by an ingenuity and serendipity not known with many Nigerian entertainers. Many love to hate him but they often fall head over heels in love with his music – his madness. In the past, most of his ‘madness’ was attributed to drugs and booze. In the present, Terry G says he has become a new man with a new madness blended with the old. The Akpako Master now has a new lease of life. Vanessa Obioha writes about his reinvention and new revolution of madness
The Lekki axis of Lagos has become the new abode for successful Nigerian entertainers. Even the most unlikely of the lot, going by the sentiments expressed in their music has taken up residence in Lekki. So, it was not particularly a surprise to trace Terry G to an address in Lekki. The artiste who stormed the music scene a decade ago with his eccentricities lives in a modest duplex in one of the quiet neighbourhoods. He has been living there for four years and the property belongs to him – and not many, he said, knew that. His living room was a moderate space with sparse furnishings: sofas, home theatre, a dining table and pictures on the walls. The walls and decor are painted in white – his favourite colour due to its association with purity. Adjacent that space is another room which until recently was his studio. His production room now occupies a spot upstairs.
It is in this haven that the Benue State-born finds his inner peace, away from the noise in the city. This is where Terry G and his team are planning his comeback to Nigeria’s music scene. Of course, he says he still performs at concerts and churns out singles, but the impact is not as huge as when he first came into the limelight with his ‘free madness’.
Coming from a family blessed with the gift of singing, Terry G, whose real name is Gabriel Oche Amanyi, started off as a gospel singer. Like many other artistes, he veered off from the spiritual to the secular seeking fame and fortune – as he embraced R&B (rhythm and blues). Sadly, that did not fetch him the prominence and opulence he desired. He craved for a status that could stand the test of time.
“I have tested all things and realised that even if we are blessed with different talents, we are still not unique with what every other person is doing. So I took my time to check out the endeavour I want to pursue. I looked at artistes like King Sunny Ade, Fela. What is it about them that made them last all through the years, even when they didn’t make music? It has a lot to do with their image,” he concluded.
That curiosity was the springboard that launched the intriguing persona that he is known for today. From being an average afro hip-hop artiste, Terry G became a king of the street with his eccentric style.
“I created the madness image. I started linking my style to that. It was my style. I deliberately put myself in that shoe. It’s a garment I wear and know what people expect of me. People will look at me, laugh and call me unserious. That is how I wanted to be seen: the guy who acts and sings weirdly.”
His plan worked like magic. He changed his looks: groomed his hair to dreadlocks, donned studs on his eyebrows, nose and lips. He cemented his art with his unique style of music: pulsating beats with gibberish vernacular lyrics tinged with slang and catchy phrases such as ‘ginjah your swagger’, ‘akpako’, etc. His energetic attitude on stage added colour to this image.
Simply put, he was a raving singer without a leash. Many marvel at his queerness, particularly the way he delivers his lyrics which most times have a hidden message. For instance, in his hit track, ‘Free Madness’ – that ultimately took the music industry by storm and earned him a place in the stars – he belted out that enemies were trying to stop him: “But I am stubborn as a mad man.” The catchy phrase in that song was “Free me now”, an aggressive expression of freedom. That track shot him to stardom. In another track, he sang the gospel of ‘akpako’ – also the title of the song – which means a wooden stick in pidgin. The chorus was about hitting someone or something with a stick. There is also a sexual innuendo to the song.
Most of the slang, he said, was picked from a group of friends from Benin in Edo State.
“I came about ‘akpako’ while I was trying to get some musical equipment for my studio. I saw the bell and decided to purchase it. Then that slang ‘akpako’ just came to my mind as I was about to hit the bell. I have friends from Benin who are very good at speaking pidgin. They taught me some of the slangs, but the general perception is that I probably hail from Benin in Edo State. Actually, I was raised in Iju, Agege area of Lagos State.”
He did not shy away from the fact that his music at times appears meaningless.
“It’s deliberate,” he admitted. “It’s to make people happy.. My music is nonsense that makes sense. I want people to look at me, listen to my song and just laugh.”
Mention Terry G and the public thinks about a mad man running riot either in the studio, at concerts or on the TV. His name and image are synonymous with madness. However, the singer thinks his artistry was misinterpreted.
“It’s just unfortunate that the image is a hard copy and very difficult for people to open it and see what’s inside of it. I’m just like anyone else. I’m a human being, imperfect. I’m just me. I was misunderstood. I have seen that people can easily judge you,” he pointed out.
Continuing, the Akpako Master said, “I didn’t know I was going to be crazy. Free madness was like freestyle. I was doing a production for a group of artistes who were outside drinking. I just mixed my voice on it. I was just spitting nonsense. One of my DJ friends promoted the hit and it went viral. People now expected me to be crazy. Whatever I did henceforth was critically judged even when I was innocent – like the drugs intake. I’m always singled out because of my status. You have to get to a point of maturity where you are a servant to the people. People hardly knew the real Gabriel,” he philosophised.
The ‘real Gabriel’ who sat in the living room appeared shy – and somewhat subdued – as he kept on rubbing his hands nervously, dressed in a colourful patterned shirt and sweatpants –his face was void of studs, wearing a beard tinted in gold.
“They don’t know deep inside that I am very shy,” he said.
But on the stage, he always got the crowd eating out of his palms. It is inexplicable how he assumes another character once he grabs the mike, flying in frenzy and fluency as he bellows his ‘beautiful nonsense’ of music. He can be on a stage for two hours with unbounded energy. After each performance, the first thing that escapes his lips is “thank God!” According to him, he has to give gratitude to God because he has no idea where his strength came from – many will point to alcohol and hard drugs. But the trained pugilist has a new reawakening.
“I don’t take drugs anymore. I take alcohol moderately. In fact, I perform more energetically now than when I used to take drugs. Drugs take away the energy,” he confessed.
The lifestyle – indulging in drugs and abusing alcohol – had cost him a lot. For instance, he has yet to clinch any endorsement from any brand.
“They like my style but they didn’t deem me fit to represent their brand,” Terry G revealed.
His turning point, however, came when his son was born.
Staring at the photo of his son on the wall, he stated in an emotion-laden tone: “He changed me. He made me want to be responsible. He is in the UK with his mother. I always cherish moments spent with him. The moment he came into my life, I wanted to be a better person. I knew that I have to live responsibly so that he could have a role model to look up to. Moreover, I have seen everything. I had drunk to stupor and been high on drugs. I had misbehaved under the influence of drugs. All of that is in the past.”
His rehabilitation is not the only thing that that has changed about him. He now identifies himself as a prophet.
Like ‘Prophet Fela’? He paused as if weighing his answer. “Well, I know I am not divine but I speak the truth.” Terry G continued: “What is the truth? The truth is being positive when you are not supposed to be. Just be yourself.”
With the negativity attached to his artistry, Terry G is still sticking to his style. In fact, he believes he owns the market and the street is still waiting for him.
“I know that nobody has occupied my space. Yes, the street is free but the style is mine. I ring the bell you know. I got styles that the people are missing. People still want to see me because they can’t see me anyhow on the streets. Some people want to know if I am still crazy. That’s what defines me. A huge personality I can wear anytime.
“There is no event that I perform at that I don’t own the stage. Nobody threatens me because I have a niche already. What kept the likes of D’banj, Fela, and Daddy Showkey going is the stage – which is what I am aiming at. I changed the music scene back then and I will change it again,” he said assuredly.
Giving insight into his new definition of madness, the eccentric artiste said: “It is an expression of my art, my own music. I want to be able to be seen as a positive image which is still in progress. I want my generations to come to be proud of me. They don’t need to sing like me. That is the only thing that can make me unique. I want to come back as an actor. They should just give me the vibe.”
He revealed that he is working on a new album which will be released later in the year.
“I have been working on a lot. I have had time to experiment. I have been sharing some of them on the social media. I’m also going to bring in some slang. Dem go hear word,” he disclosed.