His finger throbs the body and spine of the shiny object, it moans in mellifluous undertones. He teases various parts of its body; the stately sax reverberates with soulful tunes. The audience are enraptured body and soul. His eyes widened as he delivers a virtuoso performance. The beads of sweat on his brow are like a sliver of gold dust. He wriggles in enigmatic movement with his sun-shine saxophone. As he waltzes on the stage with his prized musical instrument, the crowd gyrate in ecstasy. No one does it better than Mike Aremu with the saxophone, one of the world’s best sax players. From the United Kingdom, he talks about his ingenuity and modesty with Funke Olaode
Learning to play the saxophone takes time and effort, believe it or not, it took Mike Aremu, one of the world’s best saxophonists four days to learn to play it. Incredible but it’s true. Smooth-faced Mike Aremu makes extraordinary things seem simple. His modesty underlies his power of superstardom. As a performer, he dazzles and as an inspiration, he provides vision. His fashion sense is not simplistic though simple.
The suave, sassy and savvy saxophonist is at once mesmerizing and evangelizing.
Born in northern Nigeria in Kaduna State, the Ogbomoso, Oyo State native had his early years in Minna, Niger State. He had his primary and secondary education in Minna before proceeding to Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro, Ogun State where he studied Electrical Electronics Engineering. Later, he was admitted to the University of Maiduguri.
Today, he has moved beyond his early calling of being an engineer as he keeps evolving.
“I have been doing a lot of training on so many things; software testing, data analysis, and I have trained myself when it comes to music even up to music production and video editing lately. I guess one just keeps evolving and updating myself on so many things. I am also training on forex trading,” the London-based Mike Aremu reveals.
Mike Aremu’s road to stardom like others before him began in the church. Though trumpet was his major, people were convinced he sounded like a sax player.
He says further, “I would say that saxophone chose me because as a child growing up, I have been into music as long as I can remember. I started with local drums and other instruments but trumpet was my major for a very long time. And even as a trumpeter people would tell me how much I sounded like a saxophonist. It was that smooth.
“I have seen saxophone on television but I didn’t have access to any. When I got the opportunity to pick any you may not believe it I learnt how to play it in four days. I sounded so great and I have always loved the sound of the saxophone. I have always loved the smoothness of the saxophone.”
From the vineyard of God where he discovered his talents as an eight-year-old, Mike Aremu metamorphosed into an international artiste delighting and serenading his audience.
For him, playing the saxophone isn’t just God-thing. It’s for humans too.
“Music is a therapy and I don’t only play for Jesus I also play to glorify Jesus. I also play to make brethren happy, to make men happy, to change the mood of the people. I also use music as a tool to speak about my faith, my love, my motivations,” he points out.
“I just not only play for Jesus and God who is my inspiration. That is the reason why I live. For instance, I play at parties. I play at weddings, funerals, birthdays. So, music has a way to lift people’s spirits. During the lockdown, a lot of people have been blessed.”
To say Mike Aremu plays a saxophone is an understatement.
“If the saxophone were to be human, I would call it a female. I have several but there are three major saxophones that are dear to my heart. As a matter of fact, I gave them names: soprano, alto and tenor saxophones.
“My soprano sax is called Kokumo.
“My alto sax is called Enitan; because she is been with me for a while.
“The third one is Folorunso. There is a meaning attached to each of my instruments.”
The names, he revealed were given just for fun. They are a summary of his survival, triumph and future.
Mike Aremu explains: “For Instance, I almost lost Kokumo when I was attacked in Nigeria many years back.
The armed robbers spared it and didn’t take it. It was a very pretty box but they left it. My tenor sax is my most expensive sax and I call her Folorunso. She is one of my favourites and God is my insurance on that because of how much it cost. And Enitan because she has spent many years with me.”
In his musical exploits, Mike Aremu has traversed the world serenading his audience with his creativity. And if there is a lesson learnt on his musical journey it is the ability to impress his audience and not to suppress them.
“Every concert is important,” he says. “You know every opportunity I have to perform in front of the audience, for me is an opportunity to display my God-given talents. For instance, there are two categories of the audience: the gospel or what I would call the church audience.
He adds, “The church audience is about one thing, God matters and my heart belongs to God. And it is overwhelming when you have led a group of people and you see people dancing, shaking their bodies. With modesty, I have led people in their millions, hundreds, and in tens but the only thing I find in common especially with regards to gospel music is to see physically how God is being lifted in body, soul and spirit.
“I mean moving people in worshipping God. The second audience category is the secular world. I had performed in many festivals across the world and people such as Germans, French who don’t really understand the lyrics, were on their heels feeling the music. So, making the music journey with you is amazing. It is the most fascinating thing. It is the most exciting thing in the world.”
Mike Aremu believes his audience deserves great performances.
The lively saxophonist notes, “For anyone to spend his money to be at your concert, he or she deserves the best. Mind you, whether people pay or not, as an artiste you just want to create a great performance that will create everlasting memories. You want to create the best atmosphere for anyone. First, you have to feel the music. The whole gyration begins with you and the band, then it is easier to convey it to your audience.
“It is a mind-blowing experience that you feel when you wrote the songs, rehearsed the song and you ensure that the delivery is mind-blowing. In organizing a show, great performance counts but acceptability and patronage count more. God has endowed you but where the pressure comes is to get the people to come and watch the show.”
He finds peace being on stage. He finds deliverance too. On the stage, hope does not elude him. He also finds hope. Then, he sees visions. The stage is not just for performance. It’s also where he draws inspiration and consolation.
“On the contrary,” he replies when asked if there were times, he didn’t feel like going on stage to perform. “The stage is actually is where I run to when I am down It’s where I am able to express myself. I wouldn’t say there had been a moment when I didn’t want to go to the stage to perform.
“The stage is my refuge. It is where I am able to express myself when I have not even seen the world. Also, it is a place where I hang out.”
Mike Aremu paused momentarily when asked what lessons he has learnt from his mistakes. But he said, “I wouldn’t call them mistakes because looking back those things (so-called mistakes) have helped me to become who I am now. I feel it is okay to make mistakes in life and learn from those mistakes. You know people’s paths are different from every other person because we have to toe different paths at different times or the kind of experience you will have.”
He adds, “If there is any advice is just to make sure that truly you have been called to do what you are doing. If it is your true calling you will excel and overcome challenges. Mistakes are learning processes. You fall and rise again and move on.”
As a celebrity, it’s easy to attach fame, fortune and fun to Mike Aremu but he admits: “I like my peace and wouldn’t say I am there yet but I am happy. I am a fulfilled man. That is what I would say. I have a lot of fun but fortune and fame are not my focus because I will choose fulfillment over the whole world.
“I feel fulfilled when I see a lot of saxophone players or rather aspiring saxophonists who would say how much I have influenced them. By the grace of God, I changed the face of saxophone playing in Nigeria regarding how it’s viewed and perceived. To me, it is fulfilment rather than fame and fortune.
Then, he acknowledges again: “Fun, Yes! I love what I do and I flow with it.”
For many accomplished artistes, living the dream comes with women and a lot of wine. You will want to know Mike Aremu’s vice in that regard.
“What I say to people,” he explains, “is that I am a Christian and that has guided me in my music trajectory whether you call me a gospel artist or a jazz artiste.”
What makes him tick then? He mentioned the Bible. He also talked about some values. No show ladies. This man isn’t the fun-seeking guy you seek to ‘waylay’.
Then, Mike Aremu says: “My way of living is based on my Christian faith and the Bible and I must respect that. Yes, women will try but one can ward them off nicely by knowing how to control yourself. I try by God’s grace.
“I am not saying that I am perfect but somehow God has helped me. Apart from my Christian faith, I would say the values I’ve imbibed in life have proved invaluable. If they come, I would let them know where I stand.”
The saxophonist is a globetrotter but he loves his home.
“I have a family and there has to be a balance as a musician who wants to stay in a marriage. You have to make a lot of sacrifices, always consider your family. This is constantly in my subconscious that there has to be a balance.
“Somehow, I create a family time when I’m around and make the best of it. I try to balance everything and of course, my spouse understands the kind of job I do and is lovingly supportive. So far, so good, we have been able to cope very well,” he says.
But he also admits: “I had missed birthdays, anniversaries and Christmases. But we are coping and I try to make it up to them so that they don’t miss my absence so much.”
Did the sax play a role in wooing his wife?
He replied: “She would be in the right position to answer that. I am sure it did whether she would admit it or not.
“I am sure sax plays a lot in wooing her. We were good friends (before we got married) and it went beyond the saxophone, though it could be part of it.”
Not even COVID-19 lockdown could hold down the sax maestro.
“I am so excited to announce the release of the animated lyrics video for ‘Not A Man’. It’s one of the tracks of my SOS album,” he discloses.
“It will be available on YouTube on Friday, June 12. This album means a lot to me because I had a clear instruction from God on what to do with these particular songs; how to do the songs. God even asked me when to release it.”
The excited Mike Aremu continues: “So it was released on June 12 on Spotify, Boomplay, Tik Tok, Amazon Music, Google Play, Deezer, Tune Afrique, and all other online music stores.
“It has been an amazing journey for the past 21 years when I released my first album. My fans, both at home and abroad, have been supportive. I am eternally grateful to them and for their support.”
With over two decades of musical exploits and string of successes, does he feel special when he is referred to as Nigeria’s best saxophonist?
With a touch of modesty, Mike Aremu admits: “I am honoured for people to look at me that way. Honestly, it is an honour and I want to ascribe everything to God for that status.”