On June 19 this year, maverick entertainer, producer, singer, and songwriter, Charles Oputa, aka Charly Boy, clocked 70. In this interview with Stanley Nkwazema, Charly Boy talks about marriage, children and his childhood.
What is the secret of your youthful looks as you could pass for someone in his late 30s or early 40s?
When you are from a good stock, falling from a good tree that counts for half of it, considering that my father lived up to 98 and my mother 101, and my grandfather 100. Obviously, there is longevity in the lineage. When you add that to being groomed by a very disciplined person who always said the signs of what makes a real man must start with discipline, simplicity and contentment. These are the kind of moral values I grew up with.
For me, because I saw my father as a role model who did not overindulge in anything whatsoever and kept a very clean mindedness. Even when I brought him to live with me it helped me to understand who the man really was; more than what I knew about him before. I was happy that I had the privilege to show love, give care, and to really take good care of my parents. As a disciplined soul, you are on a diet, not just what goes into your mouth but what you watch, what you listen to, the people you interact with, understanding the essence of life. All of this put together makes you first and foremost more of a human being, keeps you calmer, and if you double that up with a good routine of exercise and being very particular about your health. A lot of people don’t take their health seriously but in the Oputa family, we take our health very seriously. I guess if you put all of them together that kind of describes my gene as vampirism.
How many children and grandchildren do you have?
The late Chief MKO Abiola will tell you that children are not to be counted, But I have already counted mine. I have nine children and 16 grandchildren. These are my biological children. I have over a million children out there which is why I am called the ‘Area Fada’. I have nurtured and guided a lot of Nigerian youths in millions. I have inspired them to always be their authentic selves and I am sure because of the brand Charly boy, a lot of young people who ordinarily would have quit in the pursuit of their own dream stayed and battled it out because if Charly boy could do it, they too can. I know for those who can see beyond the shenanigans and stunts, my lifestyle has inspired millions of Nigerian youths. I am proud to say that for the celebrities who have a better life, a lot passed through my hands. If we were to mention names, Majek Fashek, started from the village with me. That is where he sketched the song, ‘Send down the rain’. You know how life in the village is, he had to get out.
You mean he was in Oguta with you?
Yes, and guess who brought him? My father brought him from Lagos. About 1980 I finished my youth service. In 1981, my father was transferred to Lagos from Owerri. Due to this transfer, I had to move to the village as I was not willing to move with my father to Lagos because of his constant nagging about my choices. I had already had a big row with him because he had secured a job for me but I told him I did not want to work there. I had enough of living under anybody’s shadow so I went to the village. In the village, I had a free house but no money to start anything, no car, nothing. I spent two years going through hardship. That was my first encounter with poverty. I now knew what it was to be poor. I started running a makeshift studio where young people come, do their demos, and drop small money.
Discussions I had had with so many musicians helped me to know who was doing good in Lagos from the stories they told because Lagos was like the Mecca for musicians. One name kept recurring, that name was Majek Fashek. He was a great guitarist. He hadn’t started making his songs. He just played in a band. Two or three years after I had disowned my parents, my father was trying to make up with me. He now called me and started giving me this song and dance that it was not like he did not support what I was doing but he didn’t see the stability in the music industry. That I should have been responsible enough to take up the job. I told him, ‘Please, I don’t want to hear that one.’ He now said, ‘OK, I want to show that I support you. What do you want me to do?’
I’m sure he expected me to ask him for money but I told him that there was one musician in Lagos, ‘if you could bring him for me that’s the best thing you can do for me.’ A week after that my father brought Majek. They drove from Lagos to Oguta. That is how Majek started staying with me. He was like a studio assistant with me in the studio. So, any time we do demo we shared the money because na only me and him dey. One day I don go sleep, I was tired of staying in the studio cooped up all day, smoking weed, vibing, writing songs and doing all sorts. As I went up, my wife woke me that Bob Marley had released another song oh! That she was hearing one song downstairs. I listened and was wondering who was singing. I thought it was a record playing until I came down, noticed it was Majek. Then, he was sketching the song, ‘Send down the rain’ and I am privileged to say I am the very first human being to hear that song because it was in my studio, they started to write that song. That was it for Majek. I don forget your question sef.
I asked about life, your age, the number of children you have, amongst other things.
I think in a way God has blessed me. I won’t deny that. He may not have given me material things per se because my father wasn’t rich like that and we were taught early enough not to attach importance to material things especially money like my father will always terrorise me with his famous quote, ‘A good name is worth more than gold or silver.’ Though my life has always been from one battle to another either fighting for my authentic self, fighting for the dreams that I believe in, fighting on behalf of whoever and wherever I see injustice because I was also taught early enough to fight injustice wherever I see it otherwise it will come back and chop my head off as my father will always say too. A lot has to do with where I am coming from and my values which I still hold sacred and all the things that I was taught when I was growing up.
People seem to have a wrong perception about you because you smoke, ride a bike. Why?
That is because Nigerians are incapable of deep thoughts. They are not critical thinkers. It didn’t use to be like that before. I think something happened after the civil war; the values that we grew up with, things that were sacred, everything started to unravel. Then, when you have riff-raffs in leadership positions who are semi-illiterates, you can’t expect them to attach importance or priority to education or history because they don’t care. For them, it’s not important. They will now send their children to get some education and that will be their nemesis in the future because one day, one of them will run counter to what he has been taught. Everything I like to put at the doorstep of nature and nurture. If you come from a good place, a place of warmth, of love, you are more likely to be a people kind of person, to be a giver, to have more compassion, more empathy.
If you are coming from a place of strife, challenges, insecurity, it affects the man you later become. I have seen that it is either people are running away from their past or they are running back to their past because there is something there that they like or they conform with. They think that, OK, even if I no get money, let me try and protect this self. Like I always say it’s not about how affluent the home you are coming from because sometimes people that come from good homes not becoming very successful but people who are coming from a very moderate, but a place filled with strife, knowing how to struggle, they mature early enough and they make their life a success. The end of the story about that is that it is an individual thing. It depends on what is driving the person. You can’t see Charly Boy from just looking at the rings or shenanigans because those are supposed to get your attention after I have got your attention if you are smart enough it is to listen to what I am trying to say to you. But people rather judge how the messenger looks rather than the message. That is where they get it wrong.
Tell us about you being a father.
I sowed my wild oats when I was younger. I was restless and adventurous. But God has given me the ability, still again from my pedigree, to put my family together and that is what I ended up doing. Now my present and only wife is the mother to all my kids. It was not that easy. It is not as if marriage is a bed of roses. We go through challenges but like I have said marriage is about management. People think that marriage is because you are compatible with your wife because you can’t agree on all areas. Marriage is about dealing with compatibilities but with friendship and love. There is no easy marriage but we have decided when we have a lot of friendship and communication, you guys respect one another, those are the qualities that endure in a marriage that has longevity. Sometimes I can’t stand my wife. Sometimes I know she can’t stand me but we have vowed to be together so we all die here. Who knows the next one I will go and carry now that will be the correct ‘winch’? It is better to deal with the ‘winch’ you know. Hence, my loyalty and my commitment to my matrimonial vows.
How close are you to your children?
Oh! my children are my best friends; they tell me what’s in vogue. They know I am their father but we have a kind of friendship going. They are always talking to me as a communicator. That is what I will always encourage in my own system. Early enough I made my children my friends. So, I am the first to know whatever is happening in their lives, whatever mistakes or whatever successes so that we celebrate together; whatever goofs, I guide them to the best of my ability. I am happy that I have kids that are more of my friend than anything else.
Tell us more about your children.
My first son is a professor of Robotic Science, Sylvester Snr. You know I have two children with the same name; two daughters with the same name. My family is very special and very strange. I don’t know how that happened. Two of my kids from two different women were born in the same month, in the same week; still don’t know how that happened. I consider this all God’s blessing because even as crazy as I might have been in the past, I never squandered my grace. It is only when you work on your grace because God has given every single person something in life. You need to discover it. Every single person born in life has grace and when you discover the grace and work towards the light, you can be fulfilled by his blessing. It’s just like God has given us phones, everyone has SIM cards. There is no big or medium-sized SIM (card). They are all of the same sizes. I can load N1,000, you can load N100,000 on your SIM, which means you have access to more information. You can do more things but if you choose to use your N100,000 data to watch porn and I use my N1,000 data to access information that will help me I am still better. The analysis I am trying to draw here is that even if we have grace, for us to have blessings it has to be work in progress all the time. The desire to seek knowledge, the desire to seek life, and to understand the essence of life and spirituality. We are too religious; which does not help us. Religion doesn’t really allow us to explore. We are living under organized religion and organized religion is nothing but politics and trickery.
You were born into a Catholic family. You dropped out of a seminary school and later decided to go into Buddhism. You’re also associated with Hari Krishna. You are now seen in churches, preaching, and talking with your friends who are pastors. Can you shed more light on all this?
Bible is just a reference point because Jesus was a very interesting and controversial human being. Even though people did not understand him, the authorities were scared of him. The disciples were not too sure of where he was leading them to, that is why Judas sold him out; that is why Peter denied him; that is why Thomas was doubting him not to talk about the other disciples who were neither here nor there. That is why when Magdalene came and all the people were trying to be in the presence of Jesus and they felt that he was communicating with sinners how come? Spirituality without religion is really nothing. My father always taught me to question things, to interrogate them, never to just accept. You see our problem is a one-directional narrative. The fact that everybody is doing one thing does not make that thing right. Because we have not understood the concept of God because God is love, that is the end and beginning of everything. Spirituality is to understand yourself and the role you have to play in society.
My best friend today is a pastor. He is not a pastor that performs miracles. He is not a pastor that is talking too much about anointing. He is not a pastor that is always quoting Bible verses for me. He is a pastor that uses thing you can relate to talk to me making references in the Bible where it is. He is talking to my soul, which should be what these religious leaders should be doing. It is not enough to be a good motivational speaker. It is not enough to inculcate in people’s heads making them lazy, that they can get something out of nothing, just by praying, just by doing abracadabra miracle. But they are working for their pocket. They are not working for souls. So, if you see me transversing from one place to the other, I am looking for the purity and beauty of the soul. It was as a result of going to these Pentecostal places that I saw a pastor that stood out from the rest, which is more spiritual, that ended up becoming my best friend. If you take away the Bible, you take away religion. What is the colour of your soul, is it compassionate? Is it filled with love? is it peaceful? Do you understand the essence of life? This is what I am about not prayer. I only have one prayer; Thy Will be Done. Period.
Are you fulfilled?
I’m very fulfilled. I can’t trade my life even though I have gone through many ups and downs and challenges; mostly self-inflicted because trying to be my authentic self has a big price to it. The big price that I paid is that most of the time I am lonely. I am on my own because you wonder are people so stupid. They can’t see what you are seeing. Because you have decided to live your life through the values that you have imbibed that make you sort of antisocial because they say when in Rome behave like the Romans and if you are not behaving like the Romans in Rome, then you will be a little bit off. In that way, I say I am. There is a whole lot of sacrifice that usually is made by wanting to be the best of your authentic self. If I was to come back again or live again yeah, I will do the same things but maybe I will be much wiser and smarter in how I put out but I will like the same life.