— Pupa Orits Wiliki, popular Reggae musician and one-time second Vice President, Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN)
Since 1989 when Pupa Oritz Wiliki’s first album, Ten Commandments hit the market, many contend that there has never been a dull moment in his career, as he has not only released seven other successful follow-up works, but has also worked his way into being one of Nigeria’s most visible reggae artistes.
But Wiliki was to for about four years disappear from the musical stage, only to reappear a few weeks ago with two albums, a gospel song and his usual contemporary Reggea-songs. In a chat with Wiliki which took place at his Surulere, Lagos studio on Independence day, he poured his heart out to The Source regarding why it took him that long to release his works.
In those four years, he was involved in active politics, musically. He was at a point the second Vice President of the Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN), the umbrella body for Nigerian musicians where he said he contributed his quota to re-building the industry.
If you are wondering how old he is, better not waste your time asking because he’ll give you a long lecture about what his beliefs are about man and his days on earth; just as he’ll also do about man and education. He will not tell us how many children he has either, “because Africans don’t count their children.” But he did say we could refer to him as “Father Abraham”- the father of many nations.
Wiliki, who is a staunch member of the Baptist church, started singing in the church choir when he was only eight years old, “and from then I knew I was going to be a musician.” His dad who was a missionary and a very good instrumentalist – who thrived on the Organ and acodion – encouraged him and his sibblings until his death. “He was only 49-years-old when he left us and till date I miss him so much,” Wiliki said.
In this insightful interview, you’ll find out why Wiliki vows never to return as an official to PMAN, an association he helped to build – and many more revelations.
I ‘ve always thought that when an artiste is through with his album he has no business with the studio again. But here you are in the studio after an album launch. What are you doing here?
It’s not over until it is really over. I just don’t produce Oritz Wiliki. I have chunks and loads of other people’s work to produce too. That’s why I am still here.
Are you saying you now have a label?
I have always had my own label, but I also produce for other labels. Lately, the list of people I am producing is getting longer. In a few months time you’ll get to be hearing them. One of the people I am working with is a lady called Grace and she is a fantastic gospel singer. I have Obi, Boffy, etc. I have nothing less than nine jobs that I am working on right now.
For how long have you had this label and who are the artistes you’ve produced so far?
I have had it since 1993 and I’ve produced Oritz Wiliki, Funky Hiray, Sherry, Sultan, Chichi and several others.
A few weeks ago, you released your latest album into the market, after four years of staying off the stage. Why did it take you that long?
I think I managed to inform my fans that exit was necessary because I do serious projects. I don’t release works for the sake of it. I spend huge sums of money. I started recording this work three years ago. Its been three years of hardwork, doing the songs and shooting the video. After I do this, at least, I am expected to take time to reap the fruits of my labour by making profit, but you’ll see pirates feeding off you. So, there are times when you’ll look back and say, ‘do we still want to go ahead with such?’ Or, let’s address the issue? So addressing the issue was one of the reasons I had to go into the Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN) with Charly Boy, to be able to see how much we could put in place, especially to fight pirates. I will say that to me, it worked because the blessings of what we put in place is what a lot of our upcoming musicians are enjoying today. We redirected the pirates, educating them on what they have that we don’t have – and that‘s the network for distribution. Ordinarily, they won’t operate in an environment where goods are not in demand. Over 30 of them have taken up license today after we told them that we could do business legally. We are not there yet, but it will be better as we are sure still working.
You released two albums at a time; why?
It’s because that will compensate in a way for my long absence, and I had to release the gospel album because it’s a project I owe God, to thank him for the inspiration and for His goodness in my life.
Why gospel and why now. Is it because of the profit motive?
This project is delayed. I was doing it, but maybe I was not just strong enough to release it. But all the works I have done Bible-inspired contents.
What are the titles of the albums and how many tracks are they?
They are titled Lift Him Higher and Wanted and they both have 11 tracks each.
I have listened to both albums and noticed that you did a remix of your monster hit, Ten Commandments. Did you have to do that?
I’ll tell you that there has been a lot of pressure on me to do remixes of my past works. If I open my e-mail box now, you’ll be amazed at what I have there. But I have always never wanted to listen to them because I have chunks of songs begging for release. I have well over 300 songs. When am I going to release them in my life time. The pressure became so much that I had to listen to my fans, since one does not live for oneself, so because they “wanted” it, we decided to give it that title: “Wanted.” They wanted “wanted” and they got it.
Some people see you as a prophet, not just because you are a musician but because in your song. 10 Commandments, you predicted the future of the nation. What can you say about this, do you see yourself as a prophet really?
I told the story of Africa in the album and the brainwash our colonial masters brought upon us, telling us that Mungo Park discovered River Niger, etc. How do you discover what had been existing? Which means we have been lied to. I am no prophet, but I sing inspirational songs in the Reggae genre, Bible-inspired songs. The Bible tells us a lot of things and I sing about them. So that’s just it.
How long have you been in the industry, professionally?
Over two decades.
I can still remember that you put a lot of fans through a guessing game about where you are really from, so to keep the records straight can you tell us now, where you come from?
My ancestral home is Ethiopia.
All Rastafarians say that!
When I say that, I mean that my grandfather is from Adowa in Ethiopia. That’s in the Northern province. Rastafarians say that because they have accepted Ethiopia as their spiritual home. My grandfather came in to Ugbodede in Warri during the slave trade days with Portuguese traders. He was very enlightened and was doing a lot of interpretation for them, that was where my father was born and naturally we became citizens.
I don’t think you’ve ever told any fan the schools you attended?
Well, I do not discuss education because I believe every man is an illiterate until he stops learning. Everyday is a learning experience. Look at it this way: most of the explorers, the Aristoles of this world, never saw the four walls of schools, but we spend money today to study the works of illiterates. Pa I.K. Dairo was a lecturer in a foreign university but to us here, he was not good enough, not educated enough. That shows that we have talents to develop. Most of us have not really discovered ourselves to know what we are cut out for. We do this or that and abandon it by the way-side. We never stop learning. The dead ones are the educated ones because their memories have stopped working. They have none of the past or anything they are saturated with and have no further space for learning. I call myself an illiterate just like any living being.
Tell me about your family?
I have a very beautiful family. I have a wife and kids. Like you know, Africans do not count how many children they have. I will just refer to myself as father Abraham, father of many nations.
How did you meet your wife, Becky?
We met in the course of the business. But it wasn’t love at first sight. It was a business which eventually developed into a relationship and then blossomed into love. Till date, it is waxing stronger.
Let’s talk more about PMAN. You were once the second Vice President of the association under the Charly Boy leadership and later wanted to come back as a running mate with T-Mac during the election at Kaduna. What really happened?
I am one of those who believe first of all, that it is good to always do things right. PMAN is not the only union that has crisis. In NUJ, NBA, NMA, etc. they all have crisis. The deference between us and them is that we are entertainers. We attract a lot of attention, and the fact that we are not able to manage our crisis becomes a public thing and people from all walks of life make contributions. It becomes a thing of interest for our fans.
But do you agree that money actually changed hands at Kaduna, and that was why you and your partners couldn’t win the election?
No doubt about it, money actually changed hands. But where I am coming from is that that wasn’t the problem. I realised afterwards that PMAN members were not ready for a true change that will ensure the sustainability of PMAN as a union. People were rather interested in what they could get immediately, not in the future. I knew what they wanted and I also knew I could not work with such bunch who didn’t believe in making sacrifices for tomorrow to be better. They were more comfortable with the crumbs of today. I couldn’t waste my time. I have better things to do because I am still very vibrant.
Are you still a member of the association?
Yes. A bonafide one.
Tee-Mac, your running mate was finally called upon to head the association; where you called too?
They called on me but it was no longer necessary. I told you that the people were not ready. You don’t suffer and make sacrifices on behalf of people who don’t share your vision.
You and Tee-Mac shared a vision but he went back?
It’s not a one man thing. To change PMAN will take a team work and changes should start within individuals. If I must go back to it, I must see the readiness in the minds of people you call members to make that true change. You will realise that PMAN has been hijacked by idle-minded people who are not necessarily musicians and these are the same people who make decisions. Because they are not musicians, they don’t feel what you feel. They can afford to take any decision to the detriment of the true musicians. I can’t sit and watch that happen.
Tee-Mac has been there as president for several months now, have you seen any changes?
Well, Tee-Macs, I think, is doing his best, although the fact that results are not coming in does not he’s not working. Maybe he is working under and some of his results would come later. I speak with him always and he is always up and doing. It’s not a job for one person. He doesn’t want to fail. If you have 10 of them working in the association, of course, things will move faster.
Don’t you want to help him?
For now, I am for my business, for my career. From time to time, I make my own contributions from outside. I do not have to be a vice-president to do that.
Do you see yourself ever running for a position in the association again?
You can’t tell. If the members at one point in life decide to understand what I have always wanted them to know and then we have true musicians taking decisions, I will do it.
Are you still close to Charly Boy?
Of course. he is my friend.
A lot of people still believe he is the problem of PMAN, what do you think?
Charly Boy has his own ways. But it’s not all about him. You can’t put the blame on him alone.
Back to your new albums. How has the response been since they were released?
I am very happy about the spontaneous acceptance. Abuja is on fire with this job right now and I intend to do nationwide tour very soon – like we used to do. My fans have been great so far and I thank them. I have put so much in these jobs.
How old are you now?
Age is a thing of the mind. I am as old as what I am doing right now.
You’ve got one of the best well-kept dreadlocks in the country. What does it cost you to keep it that way?
A lot of money. I treat it every month. With everything I spend, it takes between N15,000 and N20,000 to keep it this way. It takes a whole day to do it, it’s like a war. If you consider what I go through to maintain it, you might as well say it’s not worth it.
What informs your style?
I keep telling people that I am a happy person. I would rather be happy for the whole day, than be angry for five minutes, because it could be disastrous. I am a highly temperamental person but very slow to anger. I am a very humorous person and I smile because smiles are very good for the face. It makes you youthful and its a nice exercise for the face. I like making people good about themselves. I wear what makes me happy.
How comfortable are you?
I will say that I am a potential billionaire. Judging form my estate, I have well over 109 released songs. I am talking from my first album, Tribulation till date. Tribulation was released in 1989. I had successful hits. When Bob Marley died, he had less than $4 million in his account. In 2003, collections from royalties for him was $760 million in 12 months. So, if our estates are well managed and copy-rights respected, then if I die tomorrow I know I have left a huge estate.
How many albums do you have now?
I have eight.3