Rotimi Martins a.k.a Alariwo of Africa/ cross-over king, a musician, broadcaster, master of ceremonies and comedian has contributed positively in his own little way to the Nigerian music scene. In this interview with Sandra-Izuu Okafor, he spoke about his soon-to-be-released album.
You are from the Ibo speaking part of Delta State, how come the name Rotimi?
My father was a very lively Lagos socialite and he gave everybody a Yoruba name. He gave my younger brother Ajayi, my elder bother Tunde and he named me Martins Jr and I said why, me I no get Yoruba name? Right from the time I was young, I used to love one man called Rotimi Williams and I said daddy henceforth my names are Rotimi Ndidi Etumudon Martins, it got stuck and they started calling me Rotimi and I love it. That can even give me the opportunity of being a politician in Lagos State because Lagosians are always answering English names.
How long have you been singing?
Professionally since 1987, but I took it as a career in 1998. Let’s just say approximately 10 years ago.
Music as your choice of career, how did your parents take it initially?
Obviously, no parent will encourage their children to go into music. My father never wanted me to do music but my mother was always praying and encouraging me, hoping that it’s going to be okay.
What is your brand of music?
I play music. Music is music, but if you start talking about brands, I’ll say I play cross-over music because in my kind of songs, you’ll hear Highlife, Afro-beat, you’ll hear different kinds of music. So, I address my kind of music as cross-over music.
What is the style of music that makes yours different from others?
My style is different in the sense that I combine different brands of music into one album. Some people have an identity. Previously, people used to say that I sing afro-beat and the next thing they hear another song and the song sounds like reggae, the next they hear another song and it sounds like highlife and they are like ‘wow,’ what kind of music is he playing? That’s why most people just say OK, he’s really the cross-over king.
More and more young people are coming into the music industry, do you think the terrain will soon be saturated or is already saturated?
It can never be! You know, it’s a free world. You want to do it, if you are talented, do it. If you want to do it because you think you want to make money because Alariwo or D’banj or Tu Face is making money, try it and let’s see. If you are not talented, you can’t make it. It’s a free world! You can’t stop anybody from what he or she wants to do. Some people have the love for it, some people do it as a hobby, some people want to use it to make a name and use it as a disguise in doing other things. So anybody that wants to experiment should go ahead.
Do you think the Nigerian youth have the adequate opportunity to be who they want to be?
If they want to be who they want to be, they will be who they want to be. If they want to be who they want to be and pretending not to be who they want to be, then that’s the way they want it.
What other passions do you have apart from singing?
Entertainment generally, I package events, I anchor as a master of ceremonies (MC), I do comedy, I ‘dee-jay’ and I consult.
How many albums have you released so far?
So far, I’ve done two albums. The first album was in 1998, the second album was in 2002 and the third album will be out very soon, it’s titled Back on Track. Tell us about your soon-to-be-released album ‘back on track’.
Back on Track is a fusion of different brands of music. I have a track titled Black Thursday dedicated to Lucky Dube. I was the first artiste to do a tribute song for the late reggae icon, Lucky Dube who was murdered on the 18th of October 2007. I have a song titled African dance, I have another song titled I’m a winner; it’s a gospel song dedicated to the Almighty for keeping me alive, I have a song titled Sweet Ladies. I have series of songs, different brands of music from Hip-hop, R & B, Reggae, Dance-hall, Highlife, Afro-beat, all packed in one. It’s a 14-track album and it’s coming out very soon. I’m still negotiating with some reliable trustworthy people and as soon as we conclude, back on track will be out.
Why is there so much time space between your albums?
A creative noise maker is who I am; I take my time. Marvin Gaye released once in 10 years, Michael Jackson was once in 4 years. When the album comes out by the grace of the Almighty, people will now say oh, it is worth waiting for.
Talking about shows, how many have you done so far?
Oh, I did a lot, I still do shows and I’m always busy but it’s not all shows that will be featuring Alariwo of Africa. If I’m not entertaining, I’m consulting for people and if I’m not consulting, I’m packing and if I’m not packing, I’m co-ordinating and if I’m not co-ordinating, I’m MC-ing. I don’t really do musical shows right now but I do it for selected mature minds who still want to hear African music that still calls us and pays us what we are worth.
What do you think about the Nigerian music industry?
It’s improving, encouraging, interesting, vibrating, really moving high and we appreciate God for that.
In what area do you think you can make amendments in the music industry?
Piracy! Piracy!! Piracy!!! Too bad Abacha is dead, he would have been the right person to do this, because there was a time we were supposed to have a meeting with him and we were instigating firing squad for the pirates and I’m sure he would have done it. But right now, our president is a very reserved person, he doesn’t like wahala, but we hope he can listen to us and I keep saying it that the amount they are spending on sports, if they can spend 5% of the amount they are spending on football on the entertainment industry, the industry will be a better place.
What really inspires you?
The name of the father, the son and of the Holy Spirit; that’s what inspires me. Some people smoke marijuana to be inspired, some people drink alcohol to be inspired, but I have a name up there called J-E-S-U-S and G-O-D, there are my inspirations.
How are you coping with the stiff competition in the industry?
Better native doctor no dey get sign-board, if you appreciate me, call me. In America, you have about 500 musicians releasing their albums at least in 2 months, so anybody that wants me or appreciates Alariwo will call me. If you don’t want me or feel I can’t do it, then try or call someone else and if the person makes a mistake, you’ll regret and come to me and I’ll tell you my bill.
Are you trying to say you are expensive? If yes, how expensive are you?
I’m okay; I wouldn’t say I’m expensive. I’m just okay, if you meet my demand we’ll do but if you don’t, better luck, next time.
Give us an idea of what your call-out fee is like.
We don’t need to disclose it because we have a clique and we don’t want anybody to just attack us like Tu Face was.
Can you mention some of the international shows you have done?
I have done series of shows abroad. I have done a show with UB40, that was 2004. In Cologne, Germany, I’ve done a show with one of the biggest German group called Bantu in 2004. I have done a show in the University of Bairoit in Germany; that was where for the first time, I saw a picture of Hubert Ogunde in a German University. My international shows are always in Germany and France. I had a concert with another artiste called Gentleman; he’s one of the biggest reggae artistes in Germany. I had the opportunity of meeting Lucky Dube in 2006 here in Nigeria before he died. I was also in Dublin where I had a concert with Sunny Nneji.
How much of a fashion conscious person are you?
I am very fashion conscious because I’m Alariwo of Africa, so I project strictly Africanism. I only wear African fabrics which means I don’t wear anything aside African fabrics and I have to just stick to that because I feel I’m an African icon and I have to project my culture. I don’t wear English fabrics and even if I want to wear anything western, it must be African with a western touch.
Why did you decide to make ‘cross-over king’ synonymous with the name Alariwo?
Alariwo is a stage name while the cross-over king is a title. I am the cross-over king, no be me give myself, some people gave it to me because they admire the kind of music I play; I was in University of Lagos and they told me to sing this song, I sang it; do this, I did it; do comedy, I performed and they were like ‘wow,’ this guy is good he’s everywhere, he’s really a cross-over king. So, I can’t reject the title.
What is your greatest fashion indulgence?
Everything I wear, if I’m wearing an Ankara fabric, it has to be Ankara all through, straight to the shoes and sometimes my wrist-watch will have a touch of the Ankara leather. There are different ways of indulging in things but my fashion indulgence has to do with projecting my African culture.
You sound like an activist.
I am! I decided I was not going to be an on-lookers but an activist, fully involved in the course of emancipation of mankind from mental and financial slavery into true and total freedom. Through my songs, I find it easier to express myself.
Do you see yourself being a politician in the nearest future?
Politics is dirty, I can only sit down and speak my mind. If they say you have to vote for Alariwo to win, I might win, I might not win but I know that 95% of the people that want me there will try their best but when it’s time for the results to come out, the people that will rig it will do it and not put me there. So if I get an appointment, and I’m seated, that will be a different thing and I’ll deliver. I contested in PMAN twice and there were some pranks being played and they made sure I didn’t get the position I contested for because they knew that if I get there, being a very strict person, it’s not going to work out for them. So they felt they should just do away with me but right now, they are regretting it because Charlie Boy embezzled and stole 80% of their (PMAN) money and they felt Alariwo was warning us about it but we didn’t listen and now we are regretting it.
You anchored a TV reality show called the Maths Whiz-Kid, what happened to it because we didn’t get to see the end of the show?
The concept was mine, Alex Njoku sponsored it, he came up with the idea but all of a sudden he felt he was not getting the idea he projected and all of a sudden he just felt he should just stay away; he (Alex Njoku) doesn’t pick up my calls. My responsibility was to project, produce, direct and present the show. I just felt I should assist a brother and I don’t know why he didn’t want to continue. The winner, Ganiat Saheed is my responsibility now, I’m going to take care of her because she’s going to be in the university very soon. As soon as I negotiate with some TV stations that I’m talking to, we’ll just start the programme on TV and we’ll do it annually.
Who are your role models in the industry both from within and outside Nigeria?
My role models from outside Nigeria are Hugh Masakela, Salif Keita, Youssou Ndor, Angelique Kidjo and Miriam Makeba, and those from Nigeria, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Victor Olaiya, Sunny Ade, Osita Osadebe and Oliver de Coque. I’m a Nubian artiste; I love Nubian people like India Arie, Desiree, Joe Scot and Erykah Badu.
Do tell us about your family?
I’m married with three kids –Joanna 9, Dumebi 7 and David 2. I’m married to Shola Martins. We got married in 1996 in all those I feel all right kind of marriage but we officially wedded on the 28th of January 2007.
How do you relax?
I relax when my kids are not at home. God! If they are home, I can’t relax. I think it’s high time David started kindergarten because that boy “Father, Lord help me!” (Alariwo exclaims), he needs to just leave the house so that I can have the opportunity of resting and relaxing. I can’t concentrate when they are around but there’s joy in being a father.