Tuesday, February 23, 2010

‘Why I am coming back home’-KUNLE AYO

KUNLE AYOKunle Ayo, the jazz guitarist and TV presenter, is coming back home. He has been in South Africa for the past seven years and has also released four albums, entirely for the South African market. He is now ready to explore the Nigerian music market and has almost completed his homecoming album. He recently had a very successful outing with his show “An Evening of Jazz with Kunle Ayo” at the Lagos Oriental Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos. It was a gathering of the 'who is who' in the society and music loving Nigerians. In this interview, he talks about his stay in South Africa and his reason for finally making up his mind to enter the Nigerian market...

Tell us some things about Kunle Ayo.
I lived in Nigeria all my life till 2002 when I relocated to South Africa. I have been there for seven years now. I have a KORA Award and a Channel O Award. I am an accomplished guitarist and I am a known TV presenter. My TV programme is called Africa Awakes.

How busy have you been musically?
I have been recording for some years now, but unfortunately, my records have been released in South Africa. Unfortunate in the sense that I have got four albums and all of them were released in South Africa and none in Nigeria because of contractual issues. We have not been able to agree on a way to go about it in Nigeria. There is no industry in Nigeria and the challenge of not having a system here in Nigeria affected me and my partners. We have a problem with coming down to Nigeria. What happens in South Africa is that when you release an album and you want to go to another region, you go through an industry. The album would be registered and distributed through a channel. The airplay is monitored and royalties are paid accordingly. But in Nigeria, there's nothing like that; the reverse is the case as artists pay to have their songs played on radio. That's the system in South Africa and that's why we have found it hard to enter the Nigerian market.

But you are coming back now…
Yes. We are working on a new album now for Nigeria because we can't keep staying away and saying that we can't come until it gets better. Music is getting better in Nigeria and we are almost ready to get into the Nigerian groove. I have just dropped a video entitled, “I Want You” in Nigeria and the album would be released, hopefully, next year.

What are the peculiarities of the album?
I am a jazz guitarist, but the current musical situation in Nigeria involves a lot of dance. There's hip hop or the afro hip hop and I have tried to infuse jazz into it. One cannot be an island and it is necessary to infuse certain influences garnered over the years into our music to make it more interesting. That's what I am doing with the album.

What makes being a jazz guitarist different from being an ordinary one?
If you are an ordinary guitarist, it is likely that you only play particular music genres, like highlife. Highlife music is limited to some particular kind of chord and musical notes, but jazz incorporates all the 12 notes of music, which means that I can do any and everything with my music. Even in the context of highlife songs, when I improvise or when I take a solo, I can use all the 12 notes of music in the way that I want. Sometimes it makes sense to people and sometimes it doesn't. Because the vocabulary of a jazz guitarist is very large, he can function successfully in an environment. When I am on a foreign stage, I can do certain things that people will appreciate and when I am home, I can also adapt to the system here.

What kind of music have you noticed that Nigerians appreciate?
Nigerians like fast music, Nigerians like to dance. But the slower songs, when you add pidgin English, people are happier. People also like it when the music is strictly English, but you find out that in mainstream music, it is either you put in some pidgin or you make it a bit fast so that people can dance. In South Africa, it is the opposite. People prefer more of the slow songs, while in Nigeria, when you make more than four songs slow in an album, people get bored.

So, which is more aesthetic?
You can't say that one is better than the other. As a musician, you just try to understand the dynamics of both markets and cater for them accordingly. When I play for South Africans, I try to add more melody to my music and I also introduce them to Nigerian rhythm so that they will know where I am coming from. And when I play for the Nigerian audience, I try to give them more rhythm and I also try to introduce what I have learnt there.

Can you say that the South Africans have a more developed sense of music than Nigerians?
Yes, I can say that. From the content of their harmonic structure, yes, I can say that. We are more choral in our harmony while they are more western. We can't really score our songs, we can't score for a big band, but in South Africa, they do. Our people are more conscious of what they are saying than taking time to do the job.

Are you now ready for this Nigerian system?
Yes, I am a Nigerian and I have got rhythm in my body. I am born to love what I hear. I am just saying that I will add a little bit of what I have learnt there. My sojourn in South Africa for the past seven years has taught me a lot of things which I am going to bring into my music.

Why did it take you as long as four albums before deciding to try out the Nigerian market?
No. I don't do anything if I don't feel it. It was just a matter of time. I never planned going to South Africa, it just happened that I needed to be there and I decided to start living there. My coming back is because things have started falling into place for me. My life has always been dictated by God and I believe my coming back now is still part of his plans for me.

Are you fully back in Nigeria now?
I am not going to live in Nigeria everyday. I am going to be coming in regularly to promote my music.

Since you are bringing out an entirely new work for the Nigerian market, how are we going to access the four which you had already released in South Africa?
Unfortunately, because of my contracts, I can't release them in Nigeria. However, I am going to re-do and re-record most of those materials. In South Africa, unlike any part of the western world, when you release an album through a company, you don't hold the master of that album. The company owns it because they paid for it. You own the song or album, but not the recording. So if you leave the contract, then you have to re-record the song if you like it a lot.

Can't you buy if from that company?
You could, but what they might be asking for might be ridiculous. So, why go buying it when you can re-record it? It's your song. It doesn't really make commercial sense for you to go and pay people for your own song. So, you can re-record the song and then own the master.

So, would you do that for your previous albums?
I could if I want to, but because everyday there's a new song, there is no need to go back to the old ones.

Let's go back to the guitar. Where can one learn how to play jazz guitar in Nigeria?
There is no particular place where you could go to learn it. I have been playing the guitar for a while. I started working with Chief Ebenezer Obey. Then, I worked with the Compassion Band in Ilupeju, before I went over to Daniel Wilson and so many other people before I worked with Lagbaja. In all those times, I felt a need to grow and jazz provided that platform for me. Jazz is a form of music that provides one the opportunity to express himself. Lagbaja gave me room to be myself. It was a fantastic experience. It was while I was with him that the opportunity came for me to move to South Africa and I took it. I learnt through this period, I didn't learn it in any particular school. I was virtually self taught.

One grows according to the surrounding environment, how did you learn jazz guitaring when it is not very prominent in the society?
When you start thinking about something, you will start noticing it all around you. What you think about expands. If you want something, you will definitely find it. I went out of my way to discover where it is. One of the reasons I left in the first place was because I felt it wasn't viable for me in Nigeria to practice the art, but I have found out that I can do a whole lot of things with what I have and I am going to explore that option.

What actually made you leave Nigeria?
I was traveling with Lagbaja to Brazil and we went through South Africa. I love it there, so when we got back from Brazil, I visited South Africa again and my music was played there. The people at Universal Music loved it and they signed me on.

How did hosting the TV programme come in?
It was a fluke, just like my music. I never knew I was going to be a TV presenter. I have a studio in South Africa and two of my friends borrowed it to audition some girls for a TV programme. At a point, they needed a guy and I suggested myself to them because I had been on TV in Nigeria. I used to present a TV programme on Studio 10. They tried me out, when they took it to Africa Magic, they loved it there. That was it.

Tell us a bit about your family.
I have a wife, kids are on the way and she is back there in South Africa.

Tell us more about your album.
I featured Paul Play and a few upcoming artists. I am producing it myself, but I still work with some other people. There are about eight songs in the album.

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