Vanessa Obioha narrates her encounter with the Nigerian entertainment superstar, Sound Sultan. The maverick music star, introspective and futuristic in style, sound and sentiments marked his 18th anniversary in the music industry with a musical, ‘The Jungle Story’
He had barely sat at the table when a young man approached him. He shook hands with Sound Sultan and began chatting with him as if he was an acquaintance. Next, he brought out his phone and drew closer to Sultan for a selfie. Then he paused, took one look at Sultan’s face and decided it would be better the artiste remove his sunshades and fez cap.
“Baba abeg comot your glasses so that dem go know say na you,” he pleaded with the artiste who showed no sign of irritation. It was important that he got a selfie with the ‘real’ Sound Sultan in case his colleagues at work doubt him.
After the photo-op, he asked with uncertainty: “Baba I go like get your number make I just holler you. You go fit give me?”
Without blinking an eye, the Naija Ninjas boss took his phone and punched his numbers. The young man left with a smile as wide as a slice of watermelon.
Could that be Sound Sultan’s ‘real number’ he gave to the young man who identified himself as Uche?
“Yes, it’s my other line. I have had it for 16 years.”
Wasn’t he bothered that he would be swarmed with phone calls?
“I’m used to it. It’s normal. I get such (calls) every day. It’s really no pressure because if I don’t want that, I wouldn’t be on TV.
“There was one time when we were little that my father took us to the Trade Fair show. We were going from one stand to the other. Then, I saw Soni Irabor. I just left my father and started walking after Irabor, just looking at him. I was ‘jazzed’. Meanwhile, my parents were looking for me. Until I heard my name being announced through the public address system that I start running back to them.
“My family was like what is wrong with me. I told them that I just saw Soni Irabor. That impression of my reaction to Soni Irabor made it easier for me to understand my fans,” he recalls.
It took Sultan a while to focus on the interview. His phones were ringing constantly. His musical show, ‘Jungle Story’, to mark his 18 years in the entertainment industry just ended few days ago and he is yet to recover from the physical stress of it all. He also had to catch up with 2Baba’s rehearsal for the Buckwyld n Breathless show where he also performed.
Between answering phone calls and replying to text and WhatsApp messages, he managed to field questions.
To fully understand Sultan’s staying power in the industry is to critically examine the different layers that embody his persona. Born Olanrewaju Fasasi, Sultan’s first music love was rap. But today, he has metamorphosed into a singer-songwriter. His style of music is not boxed into any genre. He came into the spotlight in 2000 when he released the hit single, Jagbanjantis. The song was a satirical look on topical issues in the country which was then embracing democracy.
The music industry too was churning out new hip hop stars like the Plantashun Boiz, Remedies and a host of others. With his big brother Baba Dee paving way for him in the industry, Sultan soon had the klieg lights on him. Jagbanjantis also fetched him a recording deal with Kennis Music where he produced four albums. He would later leave the record label and team up with his brother to form the Naija Ninjas, what he described as a sort of empire.
So far, he has produced about seven albums in his nearly two decades spanning career. He is also a comedian and actor. He recently co-produced a Nollywood flick ‘Head Gone’ alongside his brother which is enjoying great views on the online streaming platform Netflix.
With all these glowing titles, Sultan appears to be caught in the middle. His name is not always flashed on major news headlines, or has he moved to Lekki axis which is somehow the hub of A-list celebrities. He still lives in Festac where he and the likes of 2Baba found their true calling.
The perception in the public is that he is yet to get the desired appreciation. But the artiste thinks differently.
“I think I have. I don’t judge by how high. I judge by how long. If I’m able to celebrate 18 years on stage, there are people who have received loud ovation but are no more around. The best things are when things grow organically on people. It is the best. I am very satisfied with where I found myself and most importantly, everybody has their own part to play when it comes to purpose or the industry.
“My purpose is to be like fine wine. For me, people will always look at me and tell me what they think, but they are all wrong. Most people are wrong about me. Those that are close to me know what I am capable of. Over the years people have been able to use my nature to pick one or two things from me. They pick the ones they can easily understand. They pick that and they run with it and I am fine with that,” he explains.
Sultan often likes to see himself as an inexhaustible well that will not take glory from the source of water.
“It is always God,” he enthuses. “Some people will say this person is always talking about you. Those are the people that know me deep down. They know the level of creativity is not something I can brag about because I don’t even know where it’s from. That is why you see me talk or do less to appear flamboyant because there is a bigger purpose I feel like I owe to the person giving it to me. I have to be me and also be strategic in the way I celebrate myself. I’m not the type to blow my trumpet. I think there is no class in that.”
This meekness he said has fetched him respect in and outside the industry. However, sustaining a brand can be a herculean task particularly in this era where new artistes are springing up every second. Though he admitted he is never under any pressure to live up to its status, he is worried about the short lifespan of songs today.
“People no longer keep track of albums. It’s a new world order. People buy things in sachets now. They fear commitment. Everything in the world is changing, not only in Nigeria,” Sultan tells THISDAY. “People will prefer to go with the ‘now now’, like they are so scared of the future; scared of committing for a long time so they look for the short-span songs. Everybody just dance, use it, then dump it and jump to the next one.
“Like two months of a lifespan. Even we the artistes, because of the demand out there for such kind of songs, we try to satisfy it by churning out such music and everybody wants to make money. The audience too on the other hand, feels that the artistes are responsible for this short lifespan of music. So we are all going round that cycle, using each other. Give some essence to your music because it will give it longevity and that will translate in your brand. And that will ensure you last longer than your songs.”
The essence of Sultan’s music lies in the storytelling format he has adopted over the years. In ‘Jagbanjantis’, he adopted the role of a Mathematics teacher highlighting some issues confronting Nigeria.
‘Motherland’ sees him playing the role of a caring friend, appealing to his loved ones in the Diaspora to return home. The musical piece examined the brain drain experienced in the country at the time. ‘Hello Baale’ sees him as the snitch who tells his master of the sex escapades of his wife, while admitting at the end that he has also been to bed with her. This particular song he said was inspired by the American R&B singer, R. Kelly’s ‘Trapped in the Closet’ hit.
If anything, Sultan is glad that most of his songs have impacted a life.
“There are lots of people that listen to my songs when they are abroad, particularly ‘Motherland’, and they feel like they have to come home and do something or reach out to people back home. I have heard someone cry on how they listened to my song and reach out to their son whom they haven’t heard from a long time.
“I have seen someone with teary eyes tell me that when his brother was overseas, he bought five copies of my album, Out of the Box, circled ‘Motherland’ and sent it to him. His brother eventually came back that December. He was too emotional after listening to the song and felt he may not see his family again. That gave me satisfaction that people are using it to process different kind of thoughts,” he says.
Glimpses of the comical and witty side of Sultan were on display during the interview. For instance, when he tried to explain why he marks his presence in the industry at a certain time.
“When I celebrated 12 years people were like what the heck. They asked me why and I told them it ‘dozen’ easy. As I marked my 18th anniversary, they asked me why again, and I replied that my career is now legal. It can drive, vote and do anything. Ali Baba celebrated 30 years and I told him that my career is the type that they will say you are old enough to drive a car but his own career, dem don dey look am say make he go marry,” he says amidst laugher.
For his 18th anniversary, the singer decided to make a musical, ‘Jungle Story’. The musical had a star-studded cast like Jimi Solanke, Richard Mofe-Damijo, Falz, Helen Paul, 2Baba among others. The musical — a satirical look on the political landscape in the country — was shown five times in three days this month at Terra Kulture. Sultan revealed that plans are underway to return the show in December and tour the country sometime next year. Meanwhile he and his brother are currently working on a movie that will be released next year.
Despite his love for music, Sultan admitted that his main love is basketball. He owns a basketball team, Lagos City Stars.
“I’m overly passionate about basketball. I’m supposed to rest for one week but I actually went to play yesterday. I translate the passion from basketball into music. I love music very well,” he confesses.
Often times, Sultan has been asked if he forced his wife Chichi Morah, an Igbo lady and a Christian to convert to his religion Islam.
The artiste responds saying, “I always tell people when they ask me that ‘as you see me like this, I fit force anybody do anything?’ It is a thing of choice and understanding. My wife looked at me and saw the reflection of the religion on me and wanted to be part of it. I tell a lot of people this. You have to reflect what you are. Religion doesn’t have to be the reason someone is with you.
“How you behave and what your policies are should reflect on your personality. If you are bad, you are bad; religion has nothing to do with it. The moment you can feel that inner peace with your partner, you are okay. It’s not really about the world. The world will adjust. It’s not about tribe. My family love my wife so much right now.”
As the interview was rounded off, his phone rang again. It was Uche. “The call don start”, he sighs.