He is a showman with showstopping performances. A ladies man with a subdued beauty and grace to his countenance. He is a living legend, young and urbane. He is a socio-economic and political advocate, a philanthropist, and one of Nigeria’s greatest musical exports. Tuface, born Innocent Idibia, the ‘African Queen’ crooner is a man layered with different personalities, writes Vanessa Obioha
When iconic music artiste 2Baba marked his 40th birthday four years ago, a few changes heralded the celebration. He changed his stage name from Tuface to 2Baba. The change synced with the release of his sixth studio album ‘The Ascension’, which signified the beginning of a new dawn for the artiste.
Four years later, Tuface is celebrating another birthday and had planned a bigger celebration. For his 44th birthday, a week-long activities were planned which saw the artiste performing gigs at different concerts such as the Foundation Concert that held recently as well as partying with the housemates of the ongoing reality show Big Brother Naija season 4.
A day before his birthday (September 18), 2Baba invited journalists to hang out with him. He arrived a bit earlier than scheduled and had to wait for the arrival of some of his guests who were caught in traffic.
He walked into the hall dressed in a crispy casual shirt and jeans, his signature dark glasses hid his artistic eyes or perhaps prevented them from the flashing lights of the cameramen who clicked vigorously to capture the singer’s spectacular entrance. 2Baba wore a modest grin as he greeted the journalists, before taking his seat. He was surrounded by his long-time friend and manager Efe Omorogbe and the winners of his Next Up online talent hunt. His eyes scanned the room, looking for a familiar face or maybe familiarising himself with his audience.
A man of few words, most of the talking was done by Omorogbe who relayed the purpose of the gathering. It was to announce the week-long lined up events to mark the singer’s birthday, and of course to emphasize the 20 Years a King celebration which kicked off in January.
It seemed just like yesterday that the artiste born Innocent Idibia was beamed to Nigerians as a member of the defunct boy band Plantashun Boiz. Known as 2Face then, he stood out in the band for his unique vocals but mostly for his remarkable handsome looks. Not a few female fans longed for their own Tuface. The band was among the few successful bands in that era characterised by musicians discovering their own sounds and breaking away from the influence of Western music. Although their music had influences from the Western R&B and hip-hop, Tuface and his friends Blackface and Faze were able to distinguish their music from the rest with their creativity.
For instance, one of their hits ‘Plantashun Boiz’ was a sample of the Euro-Caribbean vocal group, Boney M popular 1977 hit ‘Plantation Boy’. The song became an anthem of some sorts, like their other hits such as ‘You and I’ and ‘Don’t You Know’. They were effectively seen as trailblazers of their time.
With only two successful albums to their name, the band was eventually hit by the curse of most music bands. There were speculations in the early 2000s that the band would break up. Individual differences would finally split the band in 2004 with 2Baba intent on pursuing a solo career. That same year, he released his first album Face 2 Face under the Kennis Music Label. That album filled with great hits signalled the rise of a new star. Every track on that album was a hit. From ‘Nfana Ibaga’ (an Ibibio phrase for No Problem) which became a national chant, ‘Ole’, ‘Keep on Rocking’, ‘You No Holy Pass’ to the evergreen ‘African Queen’, 2Baba evinced his artistic ingenuity.
Two years later, he released his sophomore album, ‘Grass to Grace’, still under the Kennis Music Label. Like the previous album, ‘Grass to Grace’ also featured great hits such as ‘One Love’, ‘If Love Is a Crime’, ‘See Me So’, ‘4 Instance’, ‘E Be Like Say’ featuring Soul E and the love hit ‘True Love’.
‘Grass to Grace’ marked the end of his romance with the music label. Sure-footed that he could set out on his own, he launched his own music label, Hypertek Digital. His subsequent albums were released on the label. Since then, the acclaimed Afrobeats pioneer had been consistent in delivering top-charting hits and grabbing headlines. He’s been decorated with both local and international awards both for his music and humanitarian works.
Beyond that, he is Africa’s most decorated artiste and still relevant in the industry as a trailblazer. His star wattage is still sparkling.
As Omorogbe reeled out his achievements, Tuface shouted ‘Hey!’ and clapped his hands as if in disbelief of his fame.
If you ask him the secret of his relevance, he would probably tell you that it’s been his fans, family and friends. And work as well. But much of it he attributed to grace.
To understand the man behind the name, one has to look at the artiste from different prisms. There is Tuface, the young singer who serenaded the audience with his tenor in the early 2000s.
As Tuface, he was a paradox; a superstar who protected his private life. Yet, it was difficult to keep that part of his life from the prying eyes of the public. Details of his love life was relished with gusto and at a point, it was like a soap opera where different women were fighting for the love of one man.
Looking back, the lanky young man wished he had done things differently but no regrets.
“I don’t like to regret. It creates worry and down feeling. I like to be happy. There are things I should have done better but I’m not regretting it. I have learned to take responsibilities.”
During this period, he was tagged many names.
“Some called me a bastard womanizer. Others said I’m an illiterate because I didn’t complete my education (He actually sang about this in his hit single ‘Nfana Ibaga’). When people talk about school they misunderstand what school really means. There are people who are on the streets but are more intelligent than those in the universities. Formal education is good but I don’t think it should be a yardstick to measure one’s intelligence.”
As Tuface’s fame grew, other layers to his personality unfolded. He was no longer known only for his music. His philanthropic and humanitarian works fetched him ambassadorial roles for international organisations such as the Red Cross Society of Nigeria and the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration (NAFDAC). In January 2017, Tuface announced a partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
He made an initial donation of over US$11,000 to UNHCR for IDPs and returnees.In June of the same year, he released a dedicated IDP-awareness song titled ‘Hold My Hand’ to mark the World Refugee Day, and promised 60 percent of the proceeds from the song to the IDP cause.
He also launched his own foundation, 2Baba Foundation that catered to various humanitarian needs.
Yet, the most resonating part of the artiste in the Tuface era is his advocacy for good governance. It started with his ‘VoteNotFight’ campaign before the 2015 elections which he partnered with the Youngstars Foundation and National Democratic Institute. 2Baba implored the youths to shun violence and vote wisely in the campaign that was backed with a song of the same title.
In February 2017, fed up with the leadership of the present administration and the growing economic hardship, the singer in conjunction with the civil rights and democracy advocacy group, Enough is Enough (EiE) planned a mass protest tagged ‘One Voice’ but at the last minute cancelled it, citing threats to life. Since then, the ‘Amaka’ singer has limited his advocacy to mostly social media. He was among the artistes who openly condemned the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa and called for freedom from mental slavery.
When pressed to reveal why he is yet to lead a mass protest to champion his cause, he paused as if weighing his answer, then deflected the question with a blunt response.
“I don’t think I want to answer that question.”
For one who is not so generous with words, Tuface had a lot to say about delivering the black man from mental slavery. You could tell from the rising of his voice that he is very passionate about it. He tapped the table as he buttressed each point, made eye contact and for a moment, let down his guard and spoke from the heart.
“The solution of mental slavery, hmmm,” he sighed then continued. “It has to start from the top. It has to be a deliberate effort by government. It has to be done by the system. If you are doing things on your own terms and the government is irresponsible, they don’t carry out checks and balances, things will never change. It will remain like this. Because everything that is happening now, from our belief system to values is not African. It is very western. We have to change that mentality that we are inferior to the westerners.”
He switched to pidgin English to make this particular point: “If an oyibo man manufacture shoe today, a Nigerian man will easily patronise him, meanwhile the shoes we have in our local market boast better quality. We need to deliberately shut out those things. Not that we can’t patronise their products but we should give ours top priority. So we need a total change from our religion to fashion.”
To an extent, his music has addressed these issues. He is among the few musicians who sings conscious music today.
“Music will definitely have an impact but it will not be as much as the efforts of the government. All these things has to do with our culture. Look at cybercrime today, it is on the rise. But you see politicians have always been stealing from us. And when they do, people hail them. We have gotten to a point that when you condemn someone for stealing, people will look at you as if you are abnormal. Things have turned upside down. Stealing is wrong so there’s no reason to glorify it. The system has created what we are experiencing it today. So we need massive reorientation,” he argued.
The rare part of him which the public is yet to glimpse is the entrepreneurial side of him. With the numerous deals he clinched with notable brands such as Campari, Tuface seems to be always smiling to the bank. But little is known about the artiste and his investments.
“I’m not a businessman,” he claimed. “If we should have a business contract now, you are likely to cheat me because I’m not shrewd in that area. I’m only good at music. It is a passion that has been part of me from childhood. I try to invest in businesses that do not require me to be there 24/7. I have invested in a couple of real estate, hospitality, fashion and I have a couple of clubs which I hope to expand to other parts of Nigeria and Africa.”
Yet, when one collapses all these layers, the only personality revealed is Innocent Idibia, the young man who stormed the industry two decades ago, transformed it with his ingenuity and is still reigning as king of Afrobeats music today.