For the TV Reality Idol, Timi Dakolo, life has been a paradox. It is instructive that the platform that offered him a voice had denied him the stardom that accompanies it. The Reality TV show, the West African Idol, only gave Timi fame but took away its pride – the princely star prize of an international recording contract with Sony BMG. However, Timi, the cheering undergraduate of Mass Communication at the University of Port Harcourt has continued to hold his head high against all odds. In this exclusive interview with Femi Oluokun, Timi reveals his plan of waxing a new album that would be world-class among other issues.
How has life been with you since you emerged as the first West African Idol?
It’s been great. Basically, I will say it’s been a giant leap for me. The experience is that you cannot pass through me and avoid me. In every facet of life now, I cannot just do anything and get away with it. However the whole idea has been a wonderful experience for me. I would say God has designed taking me from one stage of life to another in the sense that I can enter any place. I have entered Aso Rock, a couple of times and I had the privilege of sitting in the Vice President’s office and I looked at my self and said; “me?” I would say it has brought me blessings. Not just financial blessing, but I can sit down with people and look at it from a totally different perspective. Now I’m more mature, unlike the time I used to rush at gala (a local sausage roll) and La Casera. Now, I can’t stop by a boli (a roasted plantain) woman and tell her to put plenty soup, I would say it has been a blessing for me.
From what you said now, it appears you have hit stardom. Now, how have you been able to manage that status?
I have just been myself. I don’t allow it to get to me like oh I am the idol. I try as much as I can that when I wake up, I do pray to God to give me grace, to help me meet people that would affect my life positively and those whose lives I can affect. Now I can’t just stop by the roadside anyhow.
When you talk about managing fame, the fact that you can’t just stop by the roadside and pick a girl, do you see it as a constraint, or a blessing?
Somehow I can no longer go back to where I was coming from, yet sometimes it’s boring. People only think it is lovely. But sometimes, you wish to do something normal, Sometimes, you just feel like meeting your normal friends like going to play football. Many people outside see it as funny but it is lonely. I am a normal hyper boy, the let’s go and play video games, and all sort of that. That’s me.
So do you contemplate going back to that old life?
Oh no, I do not want to compromise that. Sure not for any thing.
So far, will you consider the West African Idol project a rip off?
Not really, for me it’s a two-way thing. Somehow you don’t get the contract, don’t bear a grudge. And the other part, it has given me a platform which I have received. It’s something that every artiste craves for. If you want to be an entertainer, this platform is what you want. I see it as a blessing. I can take up my life from here and I would say I still bear no grudge.
What do you do for a living now?
I’m working. I’m my own boss now. After the Sony BMG contract, I have been writing songs and my fans have even been telling me, it is as if you are taking too long to do this. It is not funny when people look at you and say Dakolo, what is wrong with you, you are wasting our money that we used to vote you in? Where is the album? However you will understand that it is not their fault. Sometimes I will say okay let’s just say do it here, mix it there. It takes about four hours to mix a song. Sometimes I say okay let us just mix it here and just say we did it there. But then it was one story after another, you are going today, and tomorrow it is visa problem, and I say okay. But I don’t have forever, because forever is such a very long time for anybody to wait in vain.
Aside from the international record contract you are supposed to get, did you get other perks that went with the competition?
Yes, I got them. I got them all.
There was a time Zain, the mobile operator was about to sell 15,000 copies of your album, but there was no album, what really happened?
You see, I don’t want you to ask a question that I don’t have an answer to.
Have you had offers from other recording companies?
Yes, some people called me. Even some called from London, other ones from America, but you cannot do business with somebody on-line, because you don’t know who is who. You don’t know who wants to rip you off. You have an offer and somebody says I want to publish you, and I say “oh, that is not a problem, talk to my manager” because I don’t like to follow anything like that. It is better for me not to know than to start saying; “ah, I’m being promised and at the end of the day, they now renege on their promise.” You never can know who is trustworthy.
Are any of your albums in view?
Yes, I’m working on my album; I have a single Let it shine. And I’m also working on an album. I have a song I’m working on There is a cry. It is a Niger Delta song though.
What is the motivation for the song?
You see, when I was growing up, we (with a couple of friends) used to play outside the field. We used to throw banger and other fire crackers during Christmas. Then it was so much fun. But now if you throw a banger you can be sure everybody is on the floor. I know how it is shocking. We are losing investment and people are running away from us. It’s not a funny thing, if people leave your town because it is not safe; it remains only you and you. I’m not a politician though, I’m an entertainer but I’m saying no one gets anywhere with violence.
During the competition you lost your grandma. How did you feel?
Ah! It was sad! I said I would not sing again. And we were about to start then. There were two people before me during the training but my younger sister as blunt as she is, just phoned and asked me “where are you?” Apparently, when I entered for the Idol I didn’t tell anybody, so that if i got evicted nobody would know. I just didn’t want to hurt anybody. I only told one of my aunties that normally pray for me. Then, my sister just phoned and said ‘mama don die o! And she cut the phone. As I was calling back, she was cutting the phone. Then I called somebody but that one started shouting,’ who told you that kind of thing?’ But I knew that she was withholding the truth. So I said I wanted to go back home and they say for what? I told them if I was there with my grandmother in Port Harcourt she wouldn’t have died. They said please don’t go now because you are one of theimpressive candidates. You can’t go o! They just started calculating how much they had spent. But, honestly the news of her death was really sad.
You seem to have so much affection for her that you refused to go with your parents when you were young. What informed your passion for your grandmother?
The reason was that when I was young, at about nine months old, my parents took me over to her and left me with her for a period and somehow I grew fond of her. Actually, I was born in Ghana then I was brought to my grandmother so I was told. Probably that was the only person I knew, when I cried it was her that would wipe my tears. And at the age of three, or four the two strangers (my parents) walked in to take me from her, I said lailai ….I had to cry. I wanted and chose to stay with my grandmother. I didn’t really know them (parents ) anymore.
Are they still around?
My mum is late, and my father is around.
Who is your mentor?
I listen to Luther Vandross, Lemar and I listen to a lot of Bob Marley.
From the account I garnered of you, you had so much passion for Lemar song. You came top three with it. I can’t remember the title now. But you came top three?
I am a big fan of his lyrics. I believe that when you hear a song and you go back, it will give you food for thought. I don’t believe people should just sing. People should sing and leave an impression. Leave an impression in people’s heart. When I’m dead I want them to still be playing my song. There is a song in America, When a man loves a woman. You will find out that people and young children still come to mimic the song. Songs like you don’t know what its like to love somebody (he cooed the song sonorously). Songs like Georgia, Georgia. If I give birth to a 10-year-old child now, the child will come and know that song. There is this song Hallelujah by a lady in London, because of the way she did it the original is now selling more. There was something about their performance. Their lyrics come alive.
Why are you so passionate about the songs?
One thing I believe and I think we lack in our own country is that you don’t just sing a song. For me, music is life, if I sell something and I don’t believe in what I sell then I can’t sell it to you. When I i sing a song, I go through it until I become that song. So that when I communicate it to the audience they feel it through me.
Before the competition, did you ever train your voice?
I never had a voice coach. What I did was because of my burning passion for music. When I was in primary school, somebody brought a tape of a particular song Gimme gimme nine nine we used to sing. This is one of the ways I helped developed my voice. I never went to any voice training school. I just knew that I loved to sing. I was in one choir that was on the back row. (Laughs).
So, you had thoughts of becoming a professional musician before Idols?
No, I was thinking of graduating with a 2.1 (Second Class Upper division) and probably secure a job with Shell or Chevron. (Laughs).
And did you eventually graduate from the University of Port Harcourt?
I had to stop my programme for a while because of the Idosl stuff. And I took a transcript because my state government is willing to assist me attain all levels of education.
You see, the contract was so discouraging. It is just like having high hopes and someone suddenly brings it down. Before that time, I was not living in Lagos. I only came to Lagos to check on what’s up. And then, they would say come back next week.
What level were you in Uniport?
I was in 200 level.
What’s your perception of the trio panel at the West Africa Idol?
I would say it’s a mixed grill of the good, the bad and the indifferent.
Which would you consider indifferent?
Dan Foster. There was something about him. But Dede was bad. All you needed to do was please Dede because his opinion counted. I remember, how he gave it to me one day, he said ‘hey! Niger Delta don’t disgrace us’.
How many songs have you written?
I have a truckload of songs. I keep singing, singing and, singing.
Do you play any other instrument?
I love playing the keyboard but it takes much discipline too. But I’m still on key C. Can you imagine I am still there?
Of all the events you have performed, which is the most outstanding and memorable?
AMAA Award. I love the whole concept of it all.
Since the Sony BMG contract is taking forever to come, what do you intend to do?
I am on my own right now. The contract has long lapsed. Now, I need to move on with life, so I have my own thing going.
Bearing in mind that the same platform in the Western world gave the like of Ruben Studdard, the stardom they enjoy. How do you feel?
It don’t feel bad. I’m a Nigerian and I’m proud. I’m not just a Nigerian artist. I look at myself that in the next three years I will be winning Grammy’s. I see myself being invited on the international scene as representing Africa. Because my philosophy of life is that when you do a thing, do it like your whole life depends on it. You will never know where it will take you. Why write a book that somebody comes tomorrow and re-write and does it better than you.