You have been away for some time…
Yes. I have been away. I have been out of the country. I was on tour. I left for the US in March. I had a contract with a foreign promoter, which took me to America.
How was the tour?
It was great. The turn out was excellent. It was my first US tour and I know it has gone a long way to boost my career.
Atawewe is not your real name…
No, it is not. My name is Sulaiman Adio. I come from the family of Oyeneye. I am also known as the Duke of Music worldwide.
How did you come about Atawewe then?
It was actually my teacher that gave me the name when I was in the primary school. I was a very stubborn pupil then. I had a small frame as well. Whenever anything happened in school, my teacher would always say, ‘I know that you will always be a part of it. You this boy that is as small as pepper.’ She was always calling me Small Pepper. My friends now turned it into Yoruba and started calling me Atawewe. I didn’t even know I was going to be a musician then.
And as you were growing up, you didn’t think of stopping people from calling you that name?
I tried to change it but the name had already stuck. Everybody had got used to it and there was nothing I could do again. By the time I started my career, I had to adopt it and it finally became a household name in the music industry.
Are you still stubborn?
No! I was only stubborn as a kid. I have outgrown such life.
You said earlier that when you were in primary school, you didn’t know you were going to be a musician. When did you decide to become a musician?
Really, it still started when I was in primary school. From primary one to four, I was a little kid then, I didn’t know what I was going to do. But the love for music started when I was in Primary Five and it went on till my secondary school days.
How did music start?
During the Ramadan period, I followed some musicians to wake people up in the morning so that they would eat.
That was how it was until there was a competition called Were. I came first in the competition and that influenced my love for music a great deal.
How far did you go in your education?
I furthered my education. I went to Kwara State Polythechic, Ilorin.
How many albums do you have now?
I have eight albums. Some of them are Facility, Mr. Ronaldo, Master Key and Free World.
Why did you decide to become a musician?
My father was a musician. He was one of the late Apala artistes. I see my profession as an inheritance. This was what my father did. If he wasn’t able to carry it to the top, I think I would start from where he stopped and try to get to the top.
So your father supported you to become a musician?
No. He never liked the idea of his son becoming a musician. I never understood his reasons. But when he eventually saw how successful I was becoming in the industry, he supported me. He said if I would boost the name of the family, I should ensure I do it very well.
What about your mother?
My mother wasn’t even aware that I was popular. She was surprised. When I became a star, my mum didn’t even know I was the one people were talking about. I didn’t tell her too.
There was a day I went to visit her and she was telling me that she heard there was a fuji musician called Atawewe and that he was becoming popular. She asked me if I knew the person and I said I didn’t. I told her that she would get to know the person one day. As we were talking, some passers by saw us and they started hailing me and shouting my name. My mum was shocked. She said, ‘You want to kill me? Why didn’t you tell me?’ That was when she knew her son had become popular.
Why did you choose fuji music?
If I had gone into any other genre, I don’t think I would have been who I am today. I appreciate the fact that I am a fuji artiste. We have so many people in Nigeria. Glory be to God that among the millions of people in the country, people hear my name.
How has it been since you became a professional?
It has not been all rosy. But we have to do it since we have decided to get into it. I have experienced a lot of stress and challenges, but at the end of the day, we don’t have a choice. We still have to do what we have to do.
I believe that no profession is easy. You have to make sure that you put your best into everything you do.
I have gone through a lot since I became a musician. I have been arrested before. I don’t even want to talk about that.
Did you feel like quitting your profession when you were arrested?
Oh yes. I remember when I had a problem with the Federal Investigation Intelligence Bureau, Alagbon, Ikoyi, Lagos. That was when I was arrested. I wanted to dump my career then. But someone I met while I was in detention told me that this career would turn me into something I never expected in life. He told me that I should just hold on, that the sky would even be a starting point for me. He advised me not to quit my job because of the hazards I was facing.
The day I was released, you needed to see the kind of reception I was given. It was as if I was coming back from a foreign country and fans had come to welcome me. There was even a welcome party and people were so happy that I was out.
That was when I decided that this was the job for me. I am in the right profession.
Can you tell us why you were detained?
It was in 1996. They said I was singing for bad boys. They levelled so many allegations against me. But then, I knew that all the big artistes we have today went through such trials. It is not a big deal. I took it as my own time to go through trials.
I felt so bad while I was in detention. I was not supposed to be there. But I couldn’t do anything about it. It was between the government and me.
Did that make you to sing against the government when you were released?
It did. When my people applied for bail, they said they were still investigating. I wasn’t against the investigation. I know you can investigate something for 100 years. When I travelled overseas, I found that you could be released on bail while the investigation continued.
But here, it is the other way round. Why would you detain somebody, claiming you are investigating when you know deep down inside you that the person is innocent? It is not right at all.
How long did you spend in detention?
I spent close to five months. It was one of the roughest periods of my life.
How come you say you are the Duke of Music?
It was an honour given to me by the Lagos State Television. I was crowned at LTV 8, Lagos in 2001. It was LTV 8 that crowned me.
We hear you are involved in the supremacy battle that is going on among fuji musicians.
I am not involved. I am not a part of it.
But in the lyrics of some of your songs, you throw punches at some fuji musicians.
No. I don’t do that. That is why I call myself ‘Mr. No Clinching’. I don’t want anybody to clinch to me and I don’t want to clinch to anybody as well. They made me a kingmaker, so I don’t have to take sides. What goes around comes around. That is why I don’t want to get involved in any controversy. I am alone.
Do you have a new album?
Yes. It is going to come out soon. We have a tape that we called Appreciation. Just like the title, we want to show appreciation to all our fans for having been there or us. We are going to release the album and the tape at the same time.
But we hear a lot of rivalry exist in your industry?
I am not quarrelling with anybody. I don’t envy anybody. There is no reason for that. I believe that if I can do my job well, my handiwork will prove the kind of person I am. I am not after anybody.
For you, is it going to be music for life?
No way. I am not going to play music for the rest of my life. Once I clock the golden age, which is 50 years, I will retire from music. There are some things on the ground that I have to finance. Once I am through with them and I am 50 years, I will quit.
But many other musicians are above 50 and they are still playing music?
I don’t know how they planned their lives. I have planned mine, that I will quit at 50. Don’t get me wrong, I will only quit as a professional musician. It does not mean I will stop playing music entirely. It is just that I won’t be a full time musician any longer.
Do you intend to collaborate with any other artiste from other genres, like hip-hop?
Yes. We are going to do that very soon. I don’t want to mention the artiste I am going to work with.
Are you fulfilled with the level you have attained in the industry?
I am happy where I am. But I know I am still growing. I have not reached the top yet. I am yet to get to my destination.
Who is your godfather in fuji?
The big boss of the fuji industry is the one that created fuji and he is none other than Alhaji Sikiru Ayinde Barrister.
Is it true that musicians always take hard drugs to enhance their performance on stage?
I don’t know about that. I am okay. I don’t need any influence. I don’t smoke and I don’t drink.
How do you cope with women?
It is part of my job. I cope very well with them. I know what I want and I only go for those things I want.
But it is said that musicians love women a lot…
It is the truth. Musicians cannot do without women. It is a part of the job. I can’t do without them. But don’t get me wrong. They are my fans. I don’t intend to marry all of them or go into any relationship with them.
So how many are you married to?
I am not married. I have my plans. Before the end of next year, I will be married.
Are you sure the woman you intend marrying is not going into it because of your status?
No way. She is a novice. She is innocent. She loves me for who I am. She has been helpful as well. There are some things I didn’t know that she explained to me. I am going to have a website now; she is the one that is building it for me. Since I met her, things have been very smooth. She has been of help to me. She has her own job. It is not as if she is marrying me because I am a star.
But you once had a wife?
Yes. But we are divorced.
It was not my fault. She is the mother of my children. I think she didn’t want to understand things any longer. I don’t really want to talk about it.
Did you ask for the divorce?
No. She was the one that asked for a divorce.
Were you beating her?
Ha! Do I stay around? I was not always around, so where would I have the time to beat her. I just don’t know why she left, and so I can’t talk about it.
Was it painful when she left?
My life and career are more important. If I marry another person, I won’t put the marriage on my head because it might affect me. This is a forgone issue. I have moved on with my life.
So, it was not difficult to replace her?
It wasn’t that easy. I gave a space. I had to know this woman in my life very well. She had to study me as well. I don’t think I would want another problem. I don’t think she would behave like my former wife.
Where did you meet?
We met in the US. While I was in the US, she came to Nigeria. I told her to come and make investigations about me. She is a Nigerian but an American citizen.
Are you marrying her because she is an American citizen?
No. We met on a neutral ground. The issue of her citizenship didn’t even come up when we met.
Do you still take care of the children from your former wife?
Yes. The kids are with me and I take good care of them. They are my life.
Do you regret your first marriage?
No. There is nothing to regret. We got to the end of the road and we stopped. Right now, I am very happy with my life.