Eedris Abdulkareem was one of the musicians that were making waves in the country before a clash he had with the bodyguards of the American musician, 50 Cent, caused him to go underground for a few years. He, however, returned to the music scene a few months ago with a new album. He tells ‘NONYE IWUAGWU why he vanished from the scene and the cost of apologising publicly to 50 Cent. We hear you are releasing a new album about Barack Obama…
Oh yes. I am happy to be alive to witness the emergence of the first black American president. As you know, nobody believed it was going to happen. It shows that God loves the black people a lot and it is time for the black man to shine.
I have a responsibility to celebrate the black president-elect and at the same time advise our government and every citizen of this country to change. So we decided to record a six-track album for Obama. It will be launched in December. I am doing it in partnership with Prof. Pat Utomi and a couple of very important personalities and organisations in Nigeria.
It is time to celebrate Obama. He is a black man and we have brothers and sisters who are American citizens.
If Obama had lost, would you still have celebrated him?
I would call myself a prophet. I actually did a song to promote Obama before the election. The same song will be in the album. I saw it coming. I believed in him. Even if he hadn’t won, I would still have referred to him as my president. Whether he wins or loses, he has made history.
Won’t people think you are just trying to gain the attention of the American president-elect? You think he really cares whether you do an album in his honour or not?
I don’t care if he notices me or not. I don’t even want to see him. The point is as a black man, Obama has made history and I am excited about it. Malcom X, Martin Luther King and many others fought for this but it never happened. It is my responsibility as a creative person with an intellectual mind to pick up my pen and do a song on him.
I am not looking for any favour from the US or from anybody, but I want to celebrate a black man like me.
Has Obama’s success impacted on your life in any way?
Oh yes, it has. A guy whose father is a Nigerian and his mother an American can actually become the president of America. That was exactly what happened in the case of Obama. His father was a Kenyan and his mother an American. Today, he is the president-elect of America. This has made me come to the realisation that I can actually be who I want to be. The proceeds from the album launch will go to special kids in Nigeria, motherless babies and those living with HIV/AIDS. It is my intellectual property, so I am going to use the proceeds to add value to people’s lives.
You released ‘The King is Back’ after going underground for some time, and you are adding this a few months after…
I am not the kind of musician that sings only for money. I am a social crusader. I am an Olympic torchbearer . I have a responsibility to use music to pep the lives of people. Anything I do, I always ensure I do it optimally. The Obama album is a calling from God. Don’t be surprised if it takes the world by storm.
How much impact is your latest album, ‘King is Back’ making?
I think the album took everybody by storm. When the King went through a couple of drama with the Nigerian Breweries Plc and 50 Cent, most people thought Eedris Abdulkarim wasn’t going to make it anymore. People thought my career had ended.
But they are not God. It was God that gave me the talent. As an individual, there is no way you can fight a multinational company successfully. There is no permanent friend or permanent enemy but permanent interest.
I know I didn’t really have a problem with the multinational. It was just their consultants who were trying to be smart.
Was that why you went underground?
Yes. I went underground and put things together so as to tell the world about what really happened between me, 50 Cent and (Olusegun) Obasanjo. I came up with Kole ye won and everybody wants to listen to that track.
Yes, you had a quarrel with 50 Cent, but should that have made you to go underground?
I had to go underground and use that opportunity to study people very well. I had to study the market well. I had to study Obasanjo and even study the consultants of NB Plc very well. After everything, I have been vindicated. I learnt the consultants lost their job when the company found that the whole incident was the fault of the consultants.
Secondly, when Obasanjo knew he wasn’t coming back for a third term, everything turned against him. I was not the one that was jagajaga; he became the jagajaga person. So, I think this is the right time for me to come out, and I came out with a bang. I wanted to give something solid to my fans who were there for me and supported me all through.
There was a time you were rated among the top Nigerian artistes; don’t you think the younger artistes have overtaken you because you were off the scene?
My space was vacant. I left it for them to see if any of them was smart enough to fill the vacant position. Fortunately or unfortunately, they don’t have the skills. It is not really easy to create a standard for yourself and build up to it. When I had that problem with 50 Cent, it wasn’t about me, it was about African artistes; it was about Nigerian artistes. I fought for the industry in Nigeria. We should appreciate and respect our own. The Nigerian music industry has risen to a level that when you go to a club, all they play is Nigerian music.
I fought for the industry and I came out with a bang again. The vacancy remained till I came back and I have taken over my space.
Let’s just hear it from you, what actually happened between you, 50 Cent and NB Plc?
Like I said earlier, I didn’t really have an issue with Nigerian Breweries. It was just the fault of their consultants who contracted me to perform at that show. I asked for the same thing that they gave the American artiste. There was a contract to that effect. I didn’t want to be treated as an inferior person. I don’t even blame 50 Cent, because I learnt he was told that it was only workers that were on the plane where the incident occurred. He didn’t know there were artistes there.
But it is all good.
If Nigerian Breweries called you for a show now, would you accept it?
Yes, I will. They are my family and my friends. I never had any problem with Nigerian Breweries. It was the company that paid me the first three million naira I ever earned in my life as an artiste. I am their number one artiste. They love me a lot. If they call me again, I will definitely come back to perform at their shows.
Even if they don’t call me, I intend to call a press conference and show Nigerian Breweries love. I am doing a song called Shine Shine Bobo for Nigerian Breweries.
If you were to turn back the hand of the clock, would you wish that the 50 Cent issue never happened?
No. If it hadn’t happened, Nigerian artistes wouldn’t have been respected like they are today. They wouldn’t have been paid as well as they are paid now. They would have remained errand boys. I fought for the Nigerian artistes. It is a pity that there was a vacancy and nobody could fill it up.
Most people felt you were proud and you allowed pride to go to your head.
I don’t see it as pride. But then, hip-hop music has to do with pride. The music is about the way you live. It is about everything that concerns you.
If you cheat me, I would want to put you on check. It didn’t have anything to do with pride.
What did it cost you to apologise to 50 Cent?
I am an Olympic torchbearer. Olympic torch stands for peace, togetherness and unity. I am an ambassador of peace. I had to go on stage to apologise to 50 Cent. We were together at the back stage and talked about a couple of things. I thank God that some other organisations brought 50 Cent to Nigeria when we settled the matter. God is great. I am happy and fulfilled.
How did you survive when you were blacklisted?
As soon as that incident happened, I travelled to Europe. People showed me so much love and supported me. I was performing in many cities. When I came back to Nigeria, we were still okay. We were doing fine and we weren’t begging for food. When it was time for me to come out, I did so with a bang.
So, how has it been since you came back?
It has been very wonderful. My fans missed me. I have been performing in the North. I have been very busy. I am doing something for the police as well.
Why did your former group, The Remedies, break up?
It was a strategy for people to appreciate hip-hop music. We were on tour and I told Eddy and Tony that we should create a controversy so that hip-hop music could grow. We decided to come up with the idea of saying that Tony did not know how to sing. Tony was okay with that. And then, the controversy escalated.
Before then, I had already told them that all of us should be up and doing. Since we were going into solo albums, we should be prepared for that. That was how we went solo.
Are there chances of you guys coming back together?
We are working on a full album right now. We are coming back soon and it is going to be a bang.
It was alleged that former president Obasanjo never liked you.
I was actually sleeping one day, that should be on September 23, 2004, when I had a call. Somebody told me that the president said my family was jagajaga. I felt so happy. I got up, did my ablution and prayed. I thanked God that the president actually recognised me. It was the best thing that had happened to me. The president took me straight to a level that was higher than those of my colleagues in the industry. I was very happy.
But how could you have used such a derogatory word to describe your country?
Jagajaga is not an insult. I was talking about the state of the nation as at that time, but the president couldn’t take it because he felt it was an abuse on his government. Well, he made me a superstar and people still love the music till date.
Most people think you are Yoruba…
I am from Nigeria.
Yes we know, but which state are you from?
I am a Nigerian. This is the problem we have in this country. If you ask an American where he is from, he would tell you he is from the US. We are Nigerians and we are one.
But if you insist you want to know where I come from, my mother is from Ogun State while my father is from Kano State.
Many people would be surprised that someone from Kano State is into your kind of music…
You know, when I was growing up, I represented Kano State as a table tennis player in the 80s. In 1985, I represented Nigeria as a cadet at the All African Games in Kenya. That goes to tell you that I was exposed while growing up in Kano.
I come from a polygamous family. My mother couldn’t stay in my father’s house and I couldn’t stay there as well.
I saw it as a challenge to do something to help my mother out before she turned really old. Before I clocked 16, I was able to do a couple of things. I saved some money and started taking care of my family.
I am actually the only artiste from the North that has travelled all over the world with Hausa music. Anything I need, I don’t need to shout so much before my people answer me.
How were you coping with female fans when your career was at its peak?
Lets’ be sincere, we are all humans. I would say some of the female fans were the best things that happened to me. I sit one-on-one and relate with them. I always let everyone around me know that I am married. I love my wife and I appreciate her a lot. We are friends. But then, I appreciate my fans. I cannot run away from them. I don’t know what you are talking about.
How were you able to settle for your wife? Didn’t you feel she was marrying you because of your status?
It is about choice. I used to date about five girls then. They were very rich and they came from very influential families.
But when I sat down and thought about it, I knew my intellectual property would fade if I got married to any of them.
Why do you say so?
There would be so much money for me that I would become a politician. I would not be able to write or create anything. So I decided to go to the streets and ask God to give me my wife. I married my wife a month after we met. We have a beautiful relationship.
Why did you choose to become a musician?
Music is the only way you can reach out to people. Some people are under the bridges now. They want to speak but they don’t have the voice because nobody knows them. I use myself as an organ to speak for the people. The inspiration came from my mom, because of what she went through in life.
Since you are from a polygamous family, would you think of marrying another wife?
I would only have a good and platonic relationship with somebody I like. The person would add value to my life and I would add value to her own life too. But to marry the person? No way! I wouldn’t want the thing that happened to my mum to happen to my wife.
Was it really rough when you were growing up?
My mother had 10 kids and lost seven of them. I was very lucky that she took me out of that house when I was very young. My mum sold all manner of things to raise me. She sold soft drinks and water. She had a canteen and she was selling food. There was a day she was very sick and I had to go to the market to buy the foodstuffs and cook for the customers.
What is your relationship with your father?
I was just two when my father died. I never really knew who he was.
Do you have any regret in life?
I don’t have any regret. Anything that has ever happened to me is just an experience and a challenge that took me to the next level. If I have made mistakes through those challenges, I have been able to correct them so that I won’t make any other mistake in future.