Son of a military man and graduate of a fashion school, Sunny Nneji popularly known as Mr Fantastic is a music star and entertainer the country is proud to reckon with. Though his first album failed to hit the mark, he has since risen up from the ashes of failure to become one of the country’s successful musicians. He recently spoke with Sandra-Izuu Okafor about his soon-to-be released album.
Briefly tell us about yourself.
I’m an artiste from Cross River State, from Ogoja to be precise. I’m the last born of five children. My dad used to be in the Army and I was born in Lagos at the military barracks in Shomolu; it used to be known as the Mayon Barracks, but I do not know what it’s called now. Soon after my birth which was in the mid-sixties my dad retired and we relocated back to my home town, Ishibori in Ogoja Local Government of Cross River State. I had my primary school education there; then I came back to Lagos, went to Government Secondary School, Ikorodu. I was living with my elder brother, our first born at that time. After my secondary school, I proceeded to the Yaba College of Technology where I studied fashion designing.
You studied fashion designing, what led you into music?
Fashion designing was a total distraction, that’s why I’m not practising it because I believe we have all been created for a purpose and until you find that purpose, you are just wasting precious time. So I found my way back to what I have been called to do because music is what comes very natural to me. I don’t have to do anything extra, it just happens that I can write songs, I can compose, I can think up subject matters to sing about, I can make music so easily without any stress. I’ve been into music all the while I was in school and was trying to record. Eventually in 1991 I recorded my very first album. It was called CAPTAIN. Captain wasn’t a success, in fact it was a colossal failure. So many things went wrong with it. A lot of people didn’t get to hear of the songs because it wasn’t promoted. Maybe the recording company had their own plans at that time. They did not project me –the artiste, so I just let it go.
What did you do after the failure of your very first album?
I joined a band called COLOURS, but in-between, I was into production of radio commercials, radio jingles and my voice actually became quite popular then on the radio.
Can you mention some of the radio jingles you have done?
I did some very popular ones for First Bank, a political jingle for M.K.O. Abiola ‘On the match again;’ I did jingles for Mr Biggs, Maggi cubes, Knorr cubes, Dunlop tyres. I could go on and on, in fact, the list is endless. While I was doing that, I was with Colours band and we were like the ideal band in Lagos at that time. We were playing at parties, functions, product launch –we were very popular and while the band was metamorphosing to become Lagbaja’s band, I decided to leave because I had finished recording Mr Fantastic in 1996 which was eventually released in 1997. From Mr Fantastic, people got to know me because it actually became quite popular.
How many albums have you done so far?
After Mr Fantastic in 2000 I did another album called Rofo-rofo. In 2003, I recorded Unchained which completely unchained Sunny Nneji. The album Unchained had songs like Oruka, Face me, Tolotolo. After Unchained in 2006, we did another album called Off Da Hook. We re-issued that album last year in 2007 and called it Rock Steady. Right now, we are in the studio recording a follow-up album but meanwhile we have two songs on air that we are promoting as singles. One single is here in the West and that is Obokun and the other single Ojoro is in the South-East and South-South. All these are like a build-up to the release of the album –we are hoping, that everything being equal, should be coming out by October.
What was growing up like for you?
Growing up was very interesting, it was fun. I’m not from a wealthy family but all the same, I didn’t miss anything growing up. As a child, we had enough food in the house to eat, I had clothes to wear. All the same, I didn’t miss anything maybe because I didn’t know any better. My parents got separated at some point and I had to go and live with my mother and every now and then we had to go and see my dad. When I left my parents, I came back to Lagos to live with my elder brother –that was another phase of my life. My brother was a music lover, I remember in our house then we had almost every record that was reigning at that time and because I was some sort of a recluse, listening to all those songs, it became my favourite pastime. I could listen and listen and I could disturb the entire neighbourhood with those songs but all that while, something in me was being stirred until I started to write my own song(s). With the help of my brother, it started becoming refined, I had more direction and more purpose because of the exposure I started having.
What challenges have you faced so far since you started singing professionally?
Life is one very interesting road, full of challenges. Challenges are actually meant to strengthen you and help you move, discover and create. Without challenges I’m sure life would be boring. So, it’s been one road full of challenges; a challenge comes, I deal with it, I put it behind me and I move to the next challenge. Then as a young upcoming, growing artiste, I had a challenge of finding a recording label to sign me on. It didn’t use to be as easy as it is now. Now, you have studios everywhere and with five or ten thousand Naira, you can cut a CD and you’ll be hearing it on radio. Then it never used to be like that, we had structures in place, we had big recording companies in place like Sony Music, PolyGram Music and EMI Music. So it wasn’t very easy for you to just walk in to any of these studios to record.
What is your candid opinion about the Nigerian music industry?
The industry is not an industry yet as far as I’m concerned because a whole lot of structures are not in place. The structures that you would naturally expect to be in an industry are not there anymore. We used to actually have an industry until the major players pulled out because of the activities of the pirates. The pirates came in and took over the business. They made the business very difficult for everybody including even the artistes and not to be as lucrative as it used to be.
So until we have those structures back in place where investments can be guaranteed, I know that nothing can be guaranteed 100% but at least to a certain level, where one can study the market and say “Okay, if I plough in X amount of money, I can make XYZ profit from it.” Until we can project like that, I think there is a problem. Until we can find a solution to the challenge of piracy, even if we are not able to wipe it out completely, at least let us reduce it to the barest minimum, let us send them into hiding instead of them operating in the open like they are doing now –they do not care, nobody can do anything to them, they are untouchable; when we are able to find a solution to that challenge, then we can begin to attract proper investments and say that the industry has finally taken off.
What kind or brand of music would you say you play and sing?
I make good music the way my spirit leads me. I must not give it a name because all I want to concentrate on is making good music. As a creative minded person, it is not really very healthy to put yourself in the box because when you lock up yourself, you lock up a whole lot of things. With creativity, I don’t think you should restrict yourself; you should just let yourself go.