In this interview by OSEYIZA OOGBODO, Zaaki Azzay, one of Nigeria’s most accomplished musicians, speaks frankly about a lot of issues, including his music career, his relationship with popular Nollywood actress, Steph-Nora Okere, and the rumour about the dwindling fortune of his career.

What’s the latest on Zaaki?
Well, an album, the long-awaited album titled Speed. Everybody have been asking when Speed is going to come out. Finally, a single offthe album is coming out very soon. As you can see, there are a lot of CDs here, CD jackets, so I’m hoping that before the end of the year, the album properly will come out.

Why did you title it Speed?
Because it has both spiritual and physical meanings. Speed, to me, means that for the time I have not been doing albums, you know I’ve not been doing albums for a while now, Ivejust been performing and performing, traveling, so its title is Speed because I’m telling my fans that I will not delay anymore, but in a way, I’m happy, because during the break, I discovered how much people appreciate my kind of music, in fact, I discovered that people love me more than love itself, they love me beyond my music, they are concerned about me and I also discovered there’s aspace, a gap which is where originality comes to play, you know, because of the kind of music I do and the way I present my music, even though I’ve not done anything, nobody has been able to occupy that space for my fans. So Speed is telling them that I’m going to work with a lot of speed now, that they should expect one album every year this time around for at least four years before I start one album in two years again. And I’m telling them with Speed, I’m gonna make up for all the time that I didn’t produce albums.

Are you saying that with so many guys like Tuface Idibia and D’Banj out there now, with Speed you’re going to be bigger than them?

Well, I’ve always been bigger than them, so I don’t see any competition between me and them. If you’re talking about me, those are not the kind of names I can be compared with. I was here before them. I’ve seen like four generations of artists just because I started early. I was eighteen when I started which is a very good thing so I fit into old school, I fit into new school, I’m just everywhere and very important. I’m still the biggest act in the whole of the north by the grace of God so I don’t see any competition.

But you’re also not in demand at big shows.
Well, it depends on what you mean by big shows because I know I play big shows too, some in Nigeria, some abroad, so it depends on what you mean by big shows. To be specific then, ThisDay Music Festival and Star Mega Jam, just to mention a few. Well, Star Mega Jam is a big show. It’s just that maybe sometimes when they want me, I’m not available, I’m already out of the country or something-something. And as for ThisDay, I’m looking forward to when they will invite me, they’ve not invited me. I know I’ve witnessed a couple of ThisDay events that my calendar was free but somehow … There was a time they actually wanted me and I was abroad and I came back and I called but they said it was too late, that they’ve replaced me with somebody else. That’s happened like two times, but I know that one day will be one day.

How many tracks do you have on Speed, who are its producers and is it still your usual type of music?
Well, it’s an improvement of traditional hip-hop and gida music which is Hausa house music just the way I’ve been doing it. As per production, I produce all my work most of the time, but this time around, I worked with some guys that produced some songs like Candy Beats. He worked with me throughout the album’s production. He did most of the production. And I featured Obiwon because I have a lot of respect for him. I like him. I think he’s an artist with something upstairs. He’s not just an artist but one that people should look out for.

Considering all the years you’ve spent in music can you mention one thing in particular that music has done for you that you can never forget?
Music has done so much for me. It has opened doors for me and taken me to places that I never expected in my life. It has made me wine and dine with kings. For instance, I met and performed for the former president of the United States, Bill Clinton. I performed for George Bush twice, the Queen of England, these are some memorable performances. I don’t want to mention how many presidents, ourpresident, Ghana’s, Indonesia’s, • Sierra Leone’s, ah, uncountable, I can’t count all the people that I’ve met that I never would have met, things I have that I never would have been able to afford, music is great. As I speak, I have a street that is named after me in Lekki where I have a very massive property I’m developing. I own a studio, as you can see, I have a lot ofbig cars, I’m married to a beautiful woman from a prominent family, I have kids, I dress well, I eat, I don’t know, music is everything for me.

Tell us then about the downsides for you.
The downside is that nobody believes you when you say you don’t have. Everybody thinks that you have money at all times. What I would say is that getting there is not an easy task because you have to maintain the class, the status, that means you have to keep your inflow of money steady because once it drops, it means you’ll drop, and once you drop, people like you will become our enemy instantly and you begin to write that oh, we saw him on okada, his car is smoking, and all that. Sometimes you see a nice shirt in a boutique but you can’t buy it because of the boutique’s location. There a lot of disadvantages but the advantages are more.

Can you now tell us about your celebrated relationship with Steph-Nora?
know that’s exactly why you wanted to see me. Of course.Okay! Hmn, it’s a normal thing. I think that people don’t want to believe that one can be a celebrity and have a clean slate. I think the story came up because people feel if theyjoin Zaaki with Steph-Nora, itmight sell, because Zaaki has never had anything like that. When Jay-Jay Okocha was retiring from football, I was billed to perform, we had a wonderful time at Planet One and the after party at Jay-Jay’s place. There were a lot of actresses there, Rukky Sanda, Jennifer Eliogu, Ebube, Steph-Nora, Tuface Idibia, KC Presh, a lot of stars. And of course if you go somewhere, these actor/actresses are our colleagues so it’s more comfortable to relate with them. I danced with everyone of them, Steph-Nora particularly. Steph-Nora is my wife’s friend and we attend the same church. We meet in church and we talk, so, God, we hadn’t seen her in a long while, because she stopped coming to church so I saw her and I was like what happened? But I don’t know how to explain it because she wasn’t the only one I danced with, spoke with or sat separately with as a lot ofus sat together, including Jennifer Eliogu.

How far with your record label and the artists you signed?
Well, it’s there. I have released some, especially in Kaduna. There’s a guy called Blacky I just released, not that same Blackky, his is spelled differently. There’s another girl called Laraba, it’s just her school that’s been in the way, really. I’ve been working on her too and shell come out early next year. I don’t want to mention them all.

How will working with artists affect your own career?
Well, I’m not doing it to make money or fame. Ijust believe that the greatest achievement in life is how many people you can help, how many you can touch. So in my old age or when I’m retired, I want to be able to point out 25 or 30 musicians that I helped. The reason I have a studio is to enable me assist a lot of people. If God has blessed me with a lot of talents and a studio,I should be able to help. That’s why when I do your album and we sell it off to a marketer and I give you the money, I’m finished with you, you are on your own, you find your own level.

How much do you get for them from the marketers?
That is confidential, but I’lljust say a minimum of N1.5m so far.

So which track in Speed is likely to become a national anthem?
That album, that album, chai, to be honest with you, I don’t know. I don’t want to use my own opinion. Even me, when I listen to it, I tell you it’s this one, it’s that one. Even people I’ve played it for, when I ask them which is their number one, they keep choosing different ones. But there are five particular songs out of the ten that people are undecided on, so I really don’t know.

Are you going to hold an album listening party as is the tradition?
Well, I don’t know. If my spirit leads me. But for now, I just feel like you know when somebody is overdue to release an album, forget all those celebrations and just release the thing.

Your last album was released by O’Jez Music. Will this one too be by O’Jez?
No, no, no, no. That album I did with O’Jez wasn’t a good thing. Yeah, he paid me well, but the album was nowhere to be found in the market. Copies were not made. I sold it off to them but they didn’t follow our agreement so I don’t count it as an album I released.

So who lost out in your O’Jez deal? O’Jez or you, after all he paid you.
I lost out. Even though they paid me, how much money would you quantify with a career built over a decade? If not that I’m Zaaki, I’ve been around, I’ve a strong fan base, you can’t kill me, I would have been dead by now, career-wise.