Innocent (2face) Idibia has become larger than life on the Nigerian music scene. He has won almost all the awards available and has done songs with many musicians. Others only dream about. He told Deputy Editor, Charles Okogene, about his new album, fame, how it all started and the mothers of his children.

Why is your latest album titled Unstoppable?

It is simply Unstoppable because of what I said in my first album, ‘who God has blessed, no man can curse’ except the person himself does something to himself that will stop him or act of God like death. It is a 19-track album and I featured a couple of artistes in it. I have a song with Chaka Demus and Pliers and one with R. Kelly. The song was produced by R. Kelly, he also did the chorus. The songs are basically spiritual, feel good, love and songs devoted to praising God and thanking God for my life. I just want to start doing music, no more hording of my music, no more waiting for two years before I release an album. From now on, I might even be coming out with songs every week.

Who produced Unstoppable?

I worked with a couple of people like Ozzy, a Nigerian based in the UK. I worked with J. Sleek; Jegg, who is also a very good sound engineer. As a matter of fact, he is very talented, humble and easy to work with. I chose to work with them because they are not known and they are young.

Are you endorsing them?

Something like that; I just said ‘look, let me do stuff with these boys.’ I mean no disrespect to the people I worked with before, I respect them a lot, they have made their names already. I worked with them to show that there are so many other talented young guys out there. I am the executive producer of the album and it is released on Hypertek Entertainment label in collaboration with Kennis Music.

You have had your fair share of trying times like armed robbery and auto accident. Did you at any point suspect that somebody was behind it all?

Up till today I still maintain that I don’t feel that anybody was behind the robbery attacks. I am saying so based on the way these things happened. It was just that I was at the right place at the wrong time.

So, in essence, you bear no grudge against those who attacked you?

I bear no grudge against them. There is little that I can say. I have forgiven them. I don’t know what drove the people to do what they did. I don’t know if it is sickness, I don’t know if it is poverty, I don’t know if the person has been to so many people for help and nobody helped and they decided to carry guns. I am not trying to justify act of robbery but the reason I have forgiven or bear no grudge is because I don’t know what drove them to do that; only God knows if ‘me too no dey sing, maybe I for be armed robber.’ But that does not justify anybody being an armed robber.

Why did you choose to produce this album?

The only reason is growth. I am growing musically and no man is an island. But I decided to produce it so that I would have the experience and learn and say to myself ‘yeah! I did this myself with the help of people.’ Even the people that have been working with me did not do it all alone; there were still a whole lot of input from other people. That is way I did it too and I had a lot of advice from (Kenny Ogungbe) and D1 (Dayo Adeneye). I used all that to package the album on my own.

What is the level of collaboration you are into with Kennis Music as far as the new album is concerned?

They have been counselling me on what to do and what not to do; the album is out on Hypertek Entertainment but if you check closely, it is coming out on Kennis Music and then in terms of video production and a whole lot of other promotional stuff that we are going to do, we are going to do with Kennis Music.

Who is distributing and marketing it?

Distribution and marketing is by Happy Boys and Obaino Music.

How does it feel to be independent?

Independent in the real sense of it is that you are the one that finances the whole project; you are the one that oversees it. It is basically finance and overseeing; that is the added responsibility.

Has it not affected your traditional responsibility of making good music because in other climes, your counterparts do not finance their album production?

Definitely, there is a whole lot of pressure and stress but that is what we do; that is my work.

No doubt that you have become what one can call the face of Nigeria when it comes to music, and this has made you very busy travelling round the world. How have you been coping with that?

It has not been easy. I have had to go without sleep many nights in a roll. It is crazy, too much pressure, some fans don’t want to hear that you are tired. Plenty ‘wahala,’ plenty pressure, but it is all good and we thank God.

In the face of the pressure that has earned you lots of fame and fortune, do you see yourself changing from Innocent Idibia we know way back in the days?

I am always Innocent Idibia and would always remain so. It is only when I am on stage that I am 2face that is the funny part of me. That is why they call me 2face because every other time you see me like now, I am Innocent Idibia.

Well, even if you don’t accept it, stardom would have taken something away from you…

Yeah! Definitely, it has taken some things away from me like a whole lot of privacy. My personal life is being invaded on an hourly basis. So many things are just going on at the same time. I don’t have time to rest but it is the business I am into and that is the price for fame and fortune.

When you set out did you envisage that you would be this big in such a short time?

That is a question that touches my heart because when I started, I started with Plantashun Boiz and it was like ‘gbam!’ Plantashun Boiz was a success all of a sudden. After that, I did my solo album when I joined Kennis Music and just in a space of how many months my album became a real success, I sold over two million copies and it was so sudden. It was unbelievable. I dreamt of making it happen but I didn’t actually know that it would happen real fast. It happened real fast and I have God to thank for that.

Did you ever see yourself separating from the Plantashun Boiz?

There is no separating me from the Plantashun Boiz; anytime you mention Plantashun Boiz, the image you get is that of Blackfaze, Faze and 2face. Understand? So, there is no separating me from the group.

You have won almost all musical awards that are there to be won, which of them came when you least expected it?

I will say it is the MTV Europe Music Award African Artiste of the year. I was the first ever African (home) artiste to win an MTV Award. That was a huge success and after that, a whole lot of people have been winning it. I was like the door opener.

On that day in Portugal at that very moment what were your feeling?

I felt good. It was as if Christmas showed up early. I was proud of myself, I was proud of Nigeria and Nigerians. I was proud to be an African because what happened that day was that during my own award, the votes came not only from my fellow Nigerians but from other African countries who voted for me more than their own artistes. But now, it has turned to every country voting for their own person. Even South Africans, Kenyans, and Tanzanians voted for me more than their own artistes so there was no contest about it all.

The recent one is the World Music Awards, how did you feel about it?

Femi Kuti was the first to win it for Nigeria; after Femi Kuti I am the first person in my generation to win it, that is why I think it is another history.

How do you get the inspiration for your lyrics when others now sing rubbish?

That is where I have to thank God for the talent he has deposited in me. The only explanation is my God given talent, my education, formal and informal, my sense of humour and how I perceive the world. It is just like how Okocha (Jay Jay)’ take ‘sabi how to take’ because football schools no dey teach the kind of Okocha’s skill. E dey bodi.’ That is the way I see it and all thanks go to God for that.

In what ways are you using this God given talent and your contact with the rich and powerful to reach out to the less privileged?

Right now, I just started my foundation, which I am trying to organise to get it right so that people will feel the impact. I am even researching on how foundations operate and I am getting there. In my own little way, I have done a couple of things, which I don’t really want to talk about. The only reason I want people to know about my foundation is to let them know that something like this is happening, so that people can be encouraged to partner with us so that together we can touch the less privileged in our midst. The theme of my foundation is ‘service to humanity.’ We have done a couple of things; I have donated my talent a couple of times and put smiles on some people’s faces in the cause of charity. It was just inevitable for me to have a foundation. I genuinely promise here that I am going to use it to make a whole lot of underprivileged children smile.

You have mentioned Plantashun Boiz a couple of times, take us through the musical road you have travelled to get to where you are now?

How do I put it now? I would describe it as a genuine growth from my humble beginning, peaceful innocent boy that later got exposed to a whole lot of ‘uninnocent’ things and became somebody out of nobody. I was born by two, very gentle people, the kindest people, the most peaceful people! I mean everybody can say things about their mum and dad but I mean, if you know my parents, you will know that I am saying the whole truth. They are the most peaceful people I know on this earth, very gentle people and I guess that is where much of my character comes from.

People brag that their parents have money, they have this, they have that but I will rather brag about the fact that I am a very peaceful and gentle guy. I want to brag about the fact that I am kindhearted, I want to brag about that fact instead of how much money I have got. That is how I am bragging about my parents right now. I realised my talent in music at a very young age. I didn’t know then that I was training myself. I used to pick other people’s songs and sing them as good as the original singer, try to get to the vocal height the person got to. I was doing all that until I started going for musical competition while in secondary school. I had a group, Black Universe, in secondary school. It was made up of Baba School, Demetrics and John Attah (a.k.a. Sly Dunbar) and myself then known as Inn Raps. We were mainly into reggae music then at Mounts Gabriel Secondary School. Reggae music is my root that is my soul music.

After that I went to UNIJOS (University of Jos) for one year remedial course. There I formed another group with the likes of Austin (a.k.a. AJ Bell) and Jesse Miller, a Warri guy. That was my first contact with Warri people and I fell in love with Warri people and that is why my Pidgin English is strong because of the Warri guys I met then. The name of our group then was Bad Manners. I left Jos after one year for IMT (Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu). There I hooked up with my schoolmate, Austin Amedu (a.k.a. Blackface). Then we were not a group but when we go to shows we performed together, they called us on stage together. It was in 1996 that we decided to form a group, Plantashun Boiz. Then we were average kids, we did not come from a wealthy background in terms of money but we were very wealthy in discipline, upbringing, good heart and God given talent. We were able to use our talent to raise money for our studies. We were doing all these till 1996 when Blackface’s brother, Colonel Samuel Amedu, he is retired now, sent us N20, 000 to produce a demo because he had listened to us sing and he believed in us. We went to the studio and recorded 11 songs. We worked with Okey Okwu, he used his father’s studio to record us in Enugu. It was after that that we decided to come to Lagos. We came to Lagos in January 1997.

That was when we decided to do music professionally; we stayed in another of Blackface’s uncle’s house, Captain Moses, who is also retired. We met people like Edi Lawani, Willie Workman, who was actually our first manager and he hooked us up with our first Fame Music Awards (FMA) show that we performed at. Then we met people like Cally Ikpe, he believed in us, gave us some slots in his programme, made us to feature in the montage and that gave us a lot of publicity, exposure and hype. Then we met Tony Tetuila, Eedris Abdulkareem,

I met Eedris before I met the rest of the Remedies. We got our first major break when we featured in the Rothmans Groove in the Hood tour, which was packaged by Tequila Event and which took us to a lot of states. It gave us massive experience and exposure. It was after the tour that we started doing one or two collabos with Tony Tetuila. He released his album in 1999 and it was a huge success, which rubbed off on Plantashun Boiz. Then we met Faze who officially joined the group (Plantashun Boiz) in 2000 and in the same 2000, we released our first album on Dove Records label owned by Nelson Brown. We actually met Nelson Brown when he was working with Weird MC in Even Ezra Studio, Victoria Island.

In 2003 I went solo, released my first solo album in 2004 and then like they say, everything is now in the history books. ‘Na so e take happen o!’

At what point did you lose your reggae soul?

As for me, I listen to a whole lot of genres of music because my dad had a lot of albums; from Sonny Okosuns to highlife to Oliver De Coque, Jackson Five, The Temptations just name it. So, my influence was wide.

You have not answered the question as to why you did not continue with reggae.

I was getting to that point. If you genuinely listen to the way I sing, you will notice that even if I sing R ‘n’ B it is reggae-like. The reggae is not totally lost; it is just that it is embedded in every type of music that I do. Maybe that is responsible for my unique kind of singing because I am not trying to sound like a hardcore R ‘n’ B singer.

I saw the picture you took beside Bob Marley’s statute when you visited Jamaica, at that moment what was going through your mind?

I wish I took that picture with him alive. That moment I was feeling as if I was standing with Bob Marley and shaking him live because he is one of the people that influenced me when it comes to lyrics. Anytime I am writing lyrics, I am like what would Bob Marley have said, how would he have put it? What would Fela say, how would he have put it?

You have done so many collaborations with both domestic and international artistes that a lot of people believe it has brought you so much fortune. How wealthy is 2face?

Right now I am comfortable. I can feed, house and cloth myself. At least, I can do all the basic things of life. As for the collaborations, like in America, you make money on royalties from the sales of the collabos but in Nigeria here, most of the time we are just doing it! I don’t collect no penny from nobody. I look at it as help because sometimes I feel the people, either their personal character or their music.

How are you using your talent to encourage equally talented youth from where you come from?

I am not a tribalistic person, I am not somebody that will say everybody I will help must be Benue person. If I see a Benue person that has talent and skill, I will definitely encourage that person but it doesn’t mean that if I see a talented Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo or Ijaw person that is talented I won’t help. I definitely intend to go back home! Bongos Ikwe has set up a magnificent studio in Benue, I don’t know what else I am even going to do there.

Any plans for a collabo with Bongos Ikwe?

I have spoken to him about it and he is very ready. He said anytime. Maybe we will even do an album, nobody knows.

Was this foundation that gave rise to 2face and Friends Tour that took you to several charity homes early this year?

The 2face and Friends idea came because I wanted to go round Nigeria and impact positively, spread a positive message through my music. That was how the whole idea came and MTN, being a responsible company was interested in it. In addition to my foundation, I also have a football club (Hypertek Football Club) which I sponsor. This is a group of young boys that I see everyday in my neighbourhood, they play good football and I decided to organise a training place, buy a few kits, one or two first aid boxes and hire one or two coaches. Now they have hope that they will make it one day in football. Nobody has contributed a penny, everything is from my pocket. But right now I really need the help of one or two people, corporate organisations to come in and support these boys. They are highly talented and there are over 50 of them.

How was it like working with R. Kelly?

The collaboration was facilitated by Toyin Subair; who actually got in contact with R. Kelly’s people and eventually got in contact with R. Kelly. It was like he suggested my name to him, and R. Kelly expressed his willingness to do a song with an African artiste. He heard my song, Toyin spoke to him and he said, ‘I will produce a song, do the chorus and give it to your boy to put his voice on it.’ Then Toyin went ahead to arrange for a meeting between R. Kelly and I. So, I had to go down to Chicago to meet him. When we met him he was even playing basketball and we joined him. It was a fun meeting with a whole lot of other guys around. He actually gave us VIP passes to all his concerts but we were not in America all the way so we didn’t attend all the shows. We only went to two of the concerts and we had backstage access. At one of the shows he called us on stage when he wanted to perform ‘Step in the name of the Lord.’ This was in Columbus and there were up to 15 girls on stage to do the song with him. I was really excited to meet somebody I have looked up to for so long, somebody whose musical works I respect.

Of all that you have heard people say about you or read in the media, which one do you feel terribly offended about?

There are a whole lot of stories that are just lies and nobody met me for confirmation before publication. It is just sad that we have some very lazy, unethical journalists around. It is just so sad that we have some media outfits that are only out to bring pain and sorrow to families, celebrate negativity. I am not saying they should not publish the truth even if it is bitter. The idea of messing up a whole for the offence of one person is not good. It is so sad, there are so many stories that I can’t count.

What then is the relationship between you, your kids and their mothers?

I have very lovely kids; I love them dearly and I and their mothers try as much as possible to cooperate because it is not about us now, it is about the kids. ‘Whether we marry o!, whether we no marry o!,’ we are trying to make a positive situation out of what people perceive as a negative scenario. We are human beings, it has happened, it has happened and we do not want to start regretting that it happened; we don’t want to start putting our heads down because there is no shame. I do not feel any shame in all that has happened. The only thing I feel is that there are kids who look up to me as a role model and would want to emulate me, my advice to them is ‘if your power no reach, no do am.’ Let them learn from my mistake. Even my fellow artistes themselves should learn from my experience. I am just like a teacher for all of them. They will become great people. I don’t really care about what anybody says; I don’t care about what anybody thinks. I don’t care, it happened, I was living my life like that and it happened and I don’t care what anybody says but let nobody follow the way I did it but if you want to, wise yourself up. Be sure you can stand it. I do not encourage anybody to have kinds from different women. For me, it has happened and I am going to positively continue like that. And I respect the women that had the courage to give birth to my children; I respect them. That is just it for me and please let’s discuss something else.

Then, when are you going to marry?

Very soon, very soon but nobody knows the woman.