Brother of MI, Jesse Abaga a.k.a. Jesse Jagz, explains why he and his brother went into secular music in spite of the fact that their father is a pastor. He also speaks, with ADEMOLA OLONILUA, about his love life and relationship with MI.
How did you come about the name Jesse Jagz?
Jagz is the acronym for my initials. My name is Jesse Abaga Garba. I only added a Z.
You must have been influenced by your elder brother, MI, to go into music...
No. I have been in music for a very long time. I probably started music in Nigeria before MI, because he schooled in the United States and came back in 2003 while I started music in 2001. I had already started rapping and singing before I started producing. But I guess most people ask this question because his album came out and he got into the limelight before me. And because I was the major producer on the album, everybody thinks I am only a producer. I have been in music for a long time.
You and your elder brother are children of an evangelist. Why would an evangelist’s sons opt for secular music?
I would say for personal and business reasons. If you want to flourish or prosper in any business, you have to study the business and weigh your options. I was into gospel music for a while and I found that the problem with gospel is that most of the time, everything done in gospel music is done on the basis of favours. Because it is in the name of God, it is expected that you would just show up and perform for them and God would bless you. Secondly, is that because of the spirituality around it there is hardly any room for improvement? You hardly get criticised. Nobody tells you how well you have done or how much you have messed up your performance, because anytime you perform, once you have a good message, people would clap for you. I think this does not help an artiste to grow. In secular music on the other hand, there is room for competition. Competition forces you to grow, I weighed all this and that is why I opted for secular music.
So far what has your parents’ reaction been to two of their three children going into secular music?
When we started, my father was a little concerned about us making secular music. Over time, like every other parent, they are comfortable with it. All they want is our happiness. Right now they are really supporting us. Our father never took any extra measure to stop us. He is quite an open person. We talked about it, and in the end, he said if that was what we wanted to do, he was all right with it.
A lot of people believe that you went into music to ride to fame on the back of MI. What do have to say about that?
I would say that is wrong, because when we started music, we first moved to Abuja. You could ask anybody from Jos or Abuja. We have been doing music together since he got back. I guess it is because he was the first to get signed on to Chocolate City before me and because his album came out first, that is why people have this opinion.
MI already has a lot of fans. What has been the acceptance level of your album?
I would say it has been accepted more than we imagined. A lot of people expected to hear a second MI, but my style was different and people have accepted that. They are now able to say this is MI and this is Jesse Jagz. They have been able to separate the brands. We have gone round the country and the acceptance has been great.
What is your brand of music called?
I would say it is still hip-hop with the influence of pop and other genres of music. But the foundation is hip-hop. I would say I am a more experimental hip- hop artiste.
Talking of experiment, did you go into music production because you felt your brother‘s shoes were too big to step into?
No. I started producing in 2001. When we started Loopy Records, I was the major producer and it has always been that way. Even now in Chocolate City, I am still the major producer. I guess the perception is because he came out first and at a time I was still trying to break grounds in the industry. So a lot of people think it is because his album did so well that I came up with mine. I have been producing for about seven years now.
Would you say you your brother‘s influence played a major role in your choice of career?
It did in two ways, though everything turned out positively in the end. First, with his first album, people knew the name Jesse Jagz. But on the second hand, the pressure on me to perform was a little more than it was on him when he first came out. It was like MI did this, let‘s see what Jesse Jagz would do. It all turned out good. But there were both the positive and the negative sides to being MI‘s brother.
What‘s the negative side of it?
The negative side I would say is the pressure to match what MI did, because most people were expecting to hear another MI.
In an interview, MI said for him, you were the only force to reckon with in Nigeria. Don’t you think he flattered you?
I would not say he flattered me. And when I say that MI is the only artiste I fear in Nigeria, I am not flattering him either. I guess it is because we both know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and what we are capable of doing. We have lived our whole lives together. We have done music together, though we do different styles of music. But there is still a meeting point. But on record, I would say MI and Jesse Jagz are not to be messed with by any individual or group. I would say MI is about the most intelligent person I know. He is very hard working and also very talented. I would say this is just the beginning for MI.
How did it all begin for you?
It started a very long time ago. My father was a pastor, so we grew up in church and learnt to play the instrument at a very young age, and we were always involved in music at one stage or the other, even when we were in secondary school. I would say music has always been a part of my life. But I would say when I finished school in 2001, I decided to go into it fully.
Jos has been through a lot of crises lately. Is there anything you and your brother are doing to prevent more crises in the city?
There is a lot we have done, which we have tried to keep from the media for some reasons. In March, the entire crew of Chocolate City went down to Jos with relieve materials. We visited some of the people that were affected by the crises. We went to some of the camps. We went to meet with the governor. We have been there about three times after that to see the people. The reason why we have kept this away from the media is that when a thing like this happens, a lot of people tend to ride on it for different reasons. I think if you really want to help, you do not need to be loud about it. We are planning something big, where we would have a lot of big artistes go from Lagos to Jos and do something to support peace in the region. But for now, we would rather do something quiet outside media attention, because there is a thin line between trying to help people and trying to help yourself when a thing like this happens.
When you won the future awards as the best producer, many people felt you were relatively new and didn‘t deserve it. What do you have to say about that?
I would say it is not about the number of songs you produce but the quality of it. I would say that was why I won the awards. I am not really a person that would do 50 productions a year. I would rather do five and stand out. Just focusing on one thing and perfecting it before moving to the next.
Do you have a girlfriend?
Yes, I do.
Is she bothered about the difference between Jesse and Jesse Jagz?
Yes, it has always been a problem, because whether you like it or not, people see more of Jesse Jagz. Every time I come out, people see Jesse Jagz, not Jesse. I go to everywhere I want to. But I guess she understands. It is difficult most times but she understands.
Tell us more about your girlfriend
I would tell you three things about her: she is in school, she loves me and I love her.