Benjamin Etoro Abasi: Early Days in Church Choir Advanced My Interest in Music 

Benjamin Etoro Abasi, known with the stage name, Dabenja, is a Nigerian Afro-pop musician, who is also the owner of The Mustard Seed (TMS) Music record label. He is a serial entrepreneur and philanthropist, who is quite compassionate about helping and uplifting other people in need. This talented artist works to also leave a mark outside of the music industry. He is passionate about social welfare and talks about how he gives back to society. The award-winning artist who has been making waves in the music scene since 2011, speaks about his music career and achievements, his newly released EP titled, “Tribe of Benjamin”, building his community, challenges he has faced in the Nigerian music industry and lots more, in this interview with MARY NNAH 

Why did you pick Dabenja for your stage name?

The origin is not far-fetched, it is basically from my name, Benjamin. My initial thoughts were “The Benjamin” but of course that could not work for several reasons. Also, I wanted it shorter so I opted for “Dabenja”.

When and how did your musical career begin?

My interest in music started very early in life. Back in the days, growing up with my parents in Lagos, my family and I were fervent churchgoers. Around the age of eight, I developed an interest in music and this propelled me to join the church choir.
Looking back, I can see how those early days in the church choir advanced my interest in music and possibly laid the foundation for my music career. The discipline of attending rehearsals, and the sheer joy of creating music with others all played a vital role in shaping me as an artist. It was a time of growth and discovery, and I’m grateful for every moment that has led up to who I am today.

What music label Do you work with currently?

I wear two hats in this music game.  While I started out releasing independent music, I leapt a few years ago and founded my label, The Mustard Seed (TMS) Music in 2014. It has been an incredibly rewarding journey, allowing me to maintain creative control while building a team I trust and scaling things up in a way that aligns with my vision.
Thriving as an independent artist takes a lot of hustle and resourcefulness. It is not always easy, but the freedom and ownership I have with TMS Music is invaluable. Being able to make decisions quickly, experiment with different sounds, and directly connect with fans has been instrumental in my growth. It is a different approach, but one that works for me!

When can fans anticipate the release of your debut album?

Yes, between 2011 when I started making music, I have produced and released several songs- mostly singles but I have just released an EP titled “Tribe of Benjamin” which is available on all streaming platforms, I encourage everyone to go and listen. 

Tell us a little more about the Tribe of Benjamin

The Tribe of Benjamin is my first EP. It is a collection of songs that are personal to me because each song touches on different aspects of my life, the ups and downs, and the challenges I have had to overcome. I believe listeners would be able to resonate with my vulnerability and authenticity. I also hope to build a community called “Tribe of Benjamin”. A community that would assist people in overcoming challenging realities.

What generally inspires your songs?

As a music artist, my inspiration is drawn from several sources, but at the core, is my faith. My music is a reflection of my spiritual beliefs and the experiences I have had. 
Beyond faith, my passion for music itself is a profound source of inspiration. The power of music to evoke emotions and connect people on a deep human level is very fascinating to me.

 I am also deeply influenced by other music artists and legends. Their creativity and ability to capture so much- emotions, experiences, all that and more through their music inspires me to strive for excellence in my craft.

So, to come back to your question, it is not just one thing that inspires me. It is this confluence of faith, passion, and the legacy of music itself.

Who have you collaborated with in terms of music and who else do you look forward to collaborating with in the future?

One of the singles I released in 2011 titled “All 4 Love” was in collaboration with Terry G. It won Best Collaboration at the African Entertainment Awards, in Malaysia. I do not have more collaborations for now because I am focusing on building my community and allowing my audience to grow with me and get familiar with my work and voice solo.  
In terms of future collaborations, I cannot say for now but I am open to collaborating with other artists who share similar sounds and values as me. 

Who are your role models in the Nigerian music industry?

My role models in music are mostly artists I listened to growing up. Today we consider them legends, that would be Fela Kuti, Bob Marley and Majek Fashek. They are sources of inspiration to me sometimes when I make music.

Can you share some of the challenges you have faced in the music world, particularly in Nigeria?

As an artist in Nigeria, I have faced numerous challenges in navigating the music industry. One major challenge is the limited marketing budget available to independent artists like myself. Without substantial financial resources, it is difficult to promote music effectively and reach a wider audience.

Another challenge is breaking into international markets. While Nigerian music has gained popularity globally in recent years, it is still a competitive landscape, and breaking through is no easy feat. 

Music distribution is also a challenge, especially for independent artists who may not have access to established distribution channels. Getting music onto major platforms and ensuring it reaches listeners across different regions can be a complex and time-consuming process.

The dynamics of dealing with record labels is also another challenge. While signing with a label can offer resources and opportunities for exposure, it also means navigating contracts and negotiations that may not always be in the artist’s favour which is why I founded my music label. It allows me to have creative liberty. 

Overall, succeeding in the Nigerian music scene requires persistence, resilience, and a strategic approach to overcome these challenges and make a mark in the industry.

What are your thoughts on the current state of music in Nigeria and what advice do you have for stakeholders on how to improve the industry?

Well, first off, let me say that the current state of music in Nigeria is exciting.  We are evolving and expanding. Nigerian artists are pushing boundaries and creating innovative sounds. From Afrobeats to Afropop, Nigerian music is making waves not just locally but on the global stage as well.

While this is good for us, there is room for improvement. We need more support systems for emerging talents to flourish. That is more mentorship and development programs, workshops, and funding opportunities to help artists navigate the complexities of the music business.

The government and private investors can give support to music education, and initiatives that empower artists. There should also be support platforms and initiatives that empower independent artists.

You have been described as a serial entrepreneur and philanthropist. Tell us a bit about the business ventures you have been into and why you are described as a philanthropist.

I wear many hats, you may say. There are no limits to who a person can be and what they can achieve. I am a music artist and a businessman. I have ventured into businesses in various industries such as Agriculture, Oil and Gas, and Real Estate and even own my record label TMS Music. Having been involved in multiple businesses I guess one can say I am a serial entrepreneur.  I also founded a non-profit organisation called, The Dabenja Foundation. which I use as a channel to carry out social welfare activities.

Tell us about the mission Dabenja Foundation. What is the inspiration behind it?

The Dabenja Foundation was inspired by the desire to give back not just for the “sake of it” but to also make life easier for people and to add meaning and value to their lives. Through the foundation, we have been able to feed over 2000 people, offset the medical bills of some individuals who could not afford it and support the educational pursuits of underprivileged children.

 Where do you hope to see the brand Dabenja in the next five years?

As the times and technology are changing, you have to adapt as well. So I desire that my sound would have evolved- become better, while maintaining authenticity and originality of course. I hope to see my brand become more global, reaching a wider audience
and for my music to continue to be a way to connect with my listeners.
For the Dabenja Foundation, I would like to see we be able to do more good in society, reaching more people and possibly having more collaborators, volunteers and financiers and it inspires more people to lend a helping hand in any way they can to the community around them. 

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