….I Want To Go To School To Study Entertainment Law
For over two decades, Innocent Idibia has kept his hold on the pulse of African pop music. How has he competed at the top through generations of change and artistic evolution? Find out the answers in this interview Joey Akan of Afrobeats Intelligence had with 2Baba, in Lagos.
To put things in context, Facebook was 2 years old when 2baba dropped the smash hit record, African Queen, in 2006, Twitter had just launched, and for Nigerians, video calling only happened in Hollywood movies. One of the most successful records of all times, ‘African Queen’ rose to become his Magnum Opus. The record made a killing in licensing across film and television, while becoming a cultural phenomenon, as well as a staple of African romance.
Ownership of such a record is a blessing that came with its share of downsides. His ex-band mate, Blackface Naija, claims he co-wrote the record during their time together as members of Plantashun Boiz. He’s spent the last decade calling 2baba out in the media and filing court papers for intellectual property theft. It’s an allegation 2baba has settled legally.
2baba’s other controversies have been personal. With 7 kids from his wife and two other past relationships, his love life has been the subject of public scrutiny, and the source of endless jokes and memes about masculine virility and celebrity indulgence. It’s a reality he’s embraced. Taking care of his large family is one of his greatest joys. Being a family man has defined his existence for good.
2baba is meek, gentle even. If you ask around the music industry in Lagos, you’re always met with character testimonies about creators and professionals. For 2baba, the dominant narrative is always “2face no get one single wahala.” His life and how he’s conducted business attests to this. His fatherly handling of a complex family setup, leaves nothing to be desired. And when he inevitably ends up on the controversy mill, there’s always a measure of grace in his navigation. Close up, it hits you immediately. He holds your gazes, taps your shoulders, takes little walks. There’s an air of simplicity about his mannerisms. He’s always laughing too. Deep laughter that punctuates each clever turn of phrase. Flowing between the English Language and its pidgin equivalent, there’s always an answer to everything.
We spend an hour together, talking about the past and how it all leads to the future. What it means to be an elder statesman. What retirement looks for him. How has he worn the crown that life has placed on his head?
At this stage of your career, is there anything you feel like you haven’t achieved?
Yeah man. There are plenty things that I know that I haven’t achieved. As you know, I started from a different era. I started from the era of cassettes. We scaled through cassettes; we entered CD. We have scaled through CD, now we’re in the digital era, you know. I think I have achieved a whole lot from the cassette era, being part of a group that was one of the biggest groups in the continent at that time. And then to my solo movements, from the early days, which was a CD market. I think I broke records in that time: highest numbers of CDs sold, awards and all that stuff.
Now we are in the digital era. And as you’re well aware, many of the young cats are amazing. Their numbers are staggering. Their numbers are ground breaking. And I think I caught up late on that digital movement. You know how these things are, it’s the next generation that always takes it to the next level. And I think it’s no exception with me and these new guys that are coming up. They’ve taken it to the next level, and that was the dream. So for me, I’m not going to say I want to achieve…I definitely want to achieve those numbers as well. But I want to achieve it being me. I want to achieve it in my own genre, in my own terms, without necessarily being in any competition with anybody.
So definitely I’d like to up my numbers in terms of digital acceptance and digital awareness. There are still a whole lot of markets that I haven’t really penetrated, so to speak. Now, I think it’s time to upgrade my business skills and upgrade my businesses. All that is part of things that I know that I still want to achieve. And hopefully we are working towards it. I still want to go back to school and study something. I want to study entertainment law. Not necessarily to go to court or do anything like that. Not necessarily to be called to the bar. But to be able to draft contracts, to be able to read contracts, to be able to know all the legal nitty gritty of entertainment law.
To better protect your business?
To better protect everything, intellectual property. Intellectual property law so to speak. I really want to do that as a professional course. But like I said, I don’t want to be called to the bar. But there’s a way that you can do it and you can legally draft a contract. You can legally do all those stuff I want to do. And then a little bit of business studies as well.
You’ve had hits in every generation since you’ve started.
Even this year you’ve had two hits. And a lot of people would say you got some magic formula. Do you have any magic formula?
Wow. I don’t think I’d call it a magic formula. As much as I try to do music that is not necessarily of the times, I still try to keep myself in the loop. I still try to be like: anything I do, any era, they would still feel it. And apart from that, even if that pattern end, you go still dey enjoy that my own particular music. E make sense abi the thing wey I talk?
E make sense.
So naso I want make the song sef make sense, anytime wey anybody hear am. For me, I just try to always refresh. Reinvent, refresh, stay in the loop. That kind thing wey dem say old soldier never die. Ehen, na that kind thing.
But when you refresh, what’s the one thing you look out for when you want to transition your music?
I look out for young producers. I like to know the lamba of the streets at that point in time. If e no dey, we go form our own, all those kind thing. Because we sef, we dey create lamba dey give the young guys too. Because many lamba wey dem dey use sef, na lamba wey don dey for ground wey we start. Wey somehow, the young people dey catch up with am now. And sometimes they create their own lamba as well. And you cannot speak with them in a lamba they don’t understand. So you have to give them their lamba as well. But being that musically, I have that ability to blend all this lamba together and go with the flow. But I look out for all the young producers and the lamba of the era. I try to just keep it fresh. That’s what I meant by ‘keep it fresh.’ But overall, I just try to do good music. Music that is not for any particular time, music that anytime you hear it, it would still make sense to you. That’s what I try to do.
Do you think you’re a legend?
(Laughs) Hmmm… For myself, like I said about things, I think I still want to achieve a lot of those things before I would actually call myself a legend. So when people call me that, I think it’s because I’ve been for a while in the game. I mean, I’ve achieved a whole lot, you know. But for me to have legendary status, I think it’s more than just being popular. People play with that word
The meaning is deep. It is bigger than the way people just talk about it these days. These days, everybody na legend. But I don’t think it’s like that. Legendary status na something else. When people call me a legend, it’s a huge compliment and I take it with great humility. It comes with a great responsibility as well. For me, na heavy challenge. I’m working towards becoming an actual legend.
When you started, how far did you see?
That time ehn, you have your dreams and aspirations but you don’t really see it because many things change along the line. Sometimes it happens faster than you even thought. Sometimes it happens slowly. There are so many factors that come in play when you start actually living some of the things that you dreamt about. When I started, I had this dream to become popular, to be able to make a living out of this thing that I love. For me, it seemed slow ’cause there were so many struggles, trials and tribulations from the beginning. And those things wey dey make pesin mind jump from those early days. But as time went on, once the thing came, it was like gbooo! And sometimes when it happens, you don’t even realise that it has happened. For me when it started happening, I was still hungry. I still wanted to go and keep doing more stuff. Just like what I told you earlier, there are so many things wey I feel say I wan still package. So far, I’m grateful for all the things that have happened so far. So far, it’s close to what I dreamt about but I never finally reach the place wey I dream about yet.
There are many times along the journey where you failed to win. How do you change the situation that is negative to a positive one?
I think it’s the race man. Many times back in the days I used to tell people that e be like say God dey do partial for my side. I think it’s the grace. And for me, there’s no film trick about my life, I’m an open book. I just try to live my life. I never try to run anybody down. I never tried to take what’s not mine. I never tried to sabotage anybody’s movement in order for me to get ahead. I never tried to do any of that kind of stuff. I just try to do my thing and just be in my lane. Many times, I think I don’t really see that somebody is trying to bring me down. I think it keeps me focused and it keeps me going.
For me, I think I just like to mind my business a lot, encourage whenever I can encourage, help whoever I can help. I can’t do pass myself. I’ve always tried to live like that. I’ve always tried to live within my budget, within my means, within my level. I never try to paint a picture that I’m not. I never try to be a gangster that I’m not. I never try to be a saint that I’m not. I never try to show off more than I have, I never try to do stuff that is bigger than what I have. I just try to keep myself in the very realistic picture at all times. And I think that is the only thing that I can say that has kept me going.
You’ve had a number of projects all through your career. Which of these projects would you say did the most work for you in your career and why?
Well I’d say it’s the first project “Plantashun Boiz”. Because once that album became very successful and people knew who we were, it was all over. I mean, the first major thing is to break that ice; to actually come out for people to know you. I mean in every corner of Nigeria, “Plantashun Boiz” became a household name. And I think that was the breaking of the ice. That’s where it all started from and that is what brought the level. And I think that’s the level I’ve been riding with till now. I mean, it can only get bigger. Ups and downs like you’ve said earlier. But the name was already established from that first successful album. So I think it’s from there.
You were the ‘first’ to do a lot of things in African music. Does that bring a sort of responsibility to you?
The decisions that I made then helped to shape many things that are happening now, not even just me, but to many of the artists that have come after me. The way I handled myself when I was outside the shores of Nigeria made many people accessible to the markets. It opened Nigeria to them so to speak. So anytime they hear Nigeria, their experience and perception is already a good one. But if I was an asshole, them go say ‘those Nigerian people abeg free dem’. For me, those ‘firsts, I think it was because of all those things they came about. The first award was clean clear, there was no ojoro inside. It was unanimous.
I mean we had our challenges then. That time there was no social media. For me to have people in South Africa know me, to have people in all parts of Africa know me, and even other parts of the world. That was massive. After a long time in Africa, you couldn’t have an artist that was known all over the continent. Apart from those days that you had the big record companies in Africa. You had all these major record companies in Africa. But apart from that time, there was this slope where everything was regional. That was a very huge barrier to break. Where there was no Twitter, no Instagram, there was none of that. And I was all over the continent. Every country, it was mad, it was massive. Stadium gigs, shutting down. Back then, you only had your camera and maybe some of these programs that would show it. But now, it’s easier to have people see these things in real time. Being the first to headline this, first to win this award, it comes with a whole lot of responsibilities and challenges. I’m really proud of those moments because I really deserved them and I really deserved all those firsts, you know. And there was no film trick about it. It was real so I’m happy. I feel blessed, I feel privileged, I feel honoured to have gotten so many firsts. But I mean, people keep breaking records, so let’s hope that it all comes to Nigeria. Let’s hope that all the firsts would be Nigerian artists.
At this point now, how does it feel to own a song like ‘African Queen’?
I mean, sometimes it’s a curse but most times it’s definitely a gift. But sometimes there are so many things that come along with it you know. For me it’s a gift and a curse. It’s a gift in the sense that the song is forever green. It’s massive. But something is, if you just mention 2face anywhere in the world, that’s the first song that comes to their head. “Oh! ‘African Queen’.” And I’ve had so many other songs that have been huge songs. But that one na hin be the first ringer. Some artists are artists that their first songs didn’t really make it. For some artists, it’s maybe after their fifth album before they have a hit song that now exploded everything. There are some artists now that it is their new song that everybody knows. But for me, it’s the beginning one na hin everybody sabi. And it’s crazy because it overshadows everything that you do.
Sometimes, some people would hear my song and they love it. And they’re dancing to it and they even request it. But them go request am with 2baba, them go con forget say na the same guy be 2face. So I have that small problem going on right now. So most people want to search for my stuff now, they search, only 2baba comes up. Sometimes they search only 2face and..so it’s divided. I’m still figuring how, because my numbers have slashed. Something wey suppose be 100 million now don turn to 30 million, if you search this particular one. I’m having that challenge now because I didn’t think of that before the name change.
But why did you change your name?
I just changed the name because na growth now. When I became 40, I just said I don turn to baba, so make I just change am. And then, people dey call me baba already for the streets. So I just said ‘okay.’ And you know that ‘2baba,’ e be like title. So I just say make I claim am officially, and then make the name just sound Nigerian more.
Does it come with any responsibility?
If you be baba, you get to dey behave like baba now. Na the responsibility be that. Baba in the game.
What about You and your activism.”
Well, I’d like to correct that impression. I’m not an activist. I’ve never been an activist. I never want to be an activist. I mean, politics affects everything that I do, therefore my interest in politics. And I’ve always been somebody that I always want to speak what I see. I always want to talk about what I speak, what I see, especially the ills of government. I just think that as a people, we deserve a very level playing field. Based on what we have on ground, we deserve a government that would create an enabling environment whereby anybody that is a government person in Africa or Nigeria, should be people that are worshipped like gods. That is if they do the right thing.
Africa is the continent that has fed the world for centuries. And I say this with very serious conviction. Everywhere wey don develop for this world now, Africa contribute to am immensely. Now if Africa contribute to everywhere immensely, even on human resources and natural resources, how come the Africa be as e be so? That means na we suppose be the baddest place for this world and we still stand. The resources still full, the manpower still full. Intellectual power still yapa. So imagine say Africa organise. It’s just a simple thing. Make we organise.
Everybody has achieved stuff by killing us, deceiving us, stealing from us. Name which country wey never rape us, wey never thief from us, wey never subdue us. All these things wey dem do for Africa, them still dey do am from today till tomorrow. Many of the people that were assassinated in the past, na people wey dey organise stuff for Africa, around the whole black world. Many of the people wey don try to organise the black world are people that have either been assassinated. Just name it. A black man would be fighting for freedom in his own country and he’d be called a terrorist. Meanwhile, the person wey come there wey enslave him people na saviour. Person wey dey kill him people na him be liberator.
You see how twisted the whole thing is. We need an Africa that is able to stand for itself, organise, and not take any bullshit. We have to be able to stand strong. That’s what Africa needs. We have to stand strong, organise ourselves and move. Until that happens, we’d keep talking.
Would your work in music ever be concluded?
I think that would be in a couple of years, man. I want to stop active work. If by the grace of God, I live up to 60 years old. I mean, now I’ve already reduced the amount of shows that I’m going to go to. Music is never going to stop for me. I’d definitely keep recording music till thy kingdom come. I’d definitely keep writing, keep recording. That one is never going to stop for me because it’s something that I love to do. I’ve written songs for people. I’m going to keep writing, keep creating music and I’m going to keep putting out music. But in terms of active stage touring and all that, like right now I’ve really really reduced it. And I’m going to keep reducing it like that.
There would be a time maybe in a whole year, e go be only once them go see me for stage somewhere. Before sixty I wan shutdown totally.
All photos are courtesy of Lasgidi Creatives.