ADEYEMI Adeosun, a.k.a Yemi Sax, is one of the best saxophonists in Nigeria at the moment. He is even more visible because he has successfully evolved a genre which he calls Afro Hip Jazz. It is simply a combination of those three styles –African sounds, Hip Hop and Jazz, apart from ‘Jazzyfying’ the works of some Hip Hop artists in the country. He is also good at his own compositions and has featured in the works of some mainstream Hip Hop stars and those of erudite Musicologists, Professor Laz Ekwueme and flutist, Tee Mac.
In 2008, he was honoured as an Ambassador of World Peace by the Universal Peace Federation and received a National Youth Merit Award by the National Youth Council of Nigeria. In this interview held inside the premises of ENCOMIUM Weekly, he talked to Notes and Tones about his journey into music, present occupation and future aspirations.
Obviously, you are Yemi Sax because you play the saxophone, but when did you start answering the name?
I was born into a music family from Osun State. My father, Prince S. A. Adeosun was the first to record a gospel album in Nigeria. He was also a banker and worked in Savannah Bank for 45 years. The name, Yemi Sax stared with the group I worked with before where we had another Yemi in the office and because I played the saxophone, they added sax to my name to differentiate it. Along the way, my fans also picked it up and the name has stuck ever since.
Was it a music related company?
It’s a music company called Goldmine Studios, owned by Captain Jide George, whose wife runs the Little Saints Orphanage. It was a big studio and he also had a band, they are the parents of Temitayo George who was on Idols West Africa back then.
Do you still work with the band now?
No, I left them six years ago to face my music. I am a music producer as well as a singer, I also run a record label and I try my best to help upcoming artists through my work. At the moment, I have four guys on Sax Records, my record label. SLV, Tom Xclaim, BMC and Remyte.
Tom Xclaim has released an album…
Yes, but that was not on my label though I did some productions for him.
Apart from the sax, which other musical instruments do you play?
I play other musical instruments like the piano, violin and the trumpet. I just decided to take the saxophone as my major because I love it the most.
So, why the love?
When my music career started, I listened to a lot of music especially instruments. I listened to a lot of saxophonists like Kerry G and so many others and fell in love with the saxophone and Kenny G.
How far do you think the saxophone has helped your career?
It has taken me to another level. I released my first album in 2005 with the Splash Band which I was leading. It was a saxophone rendition of popular Nigerian songs entitled Flavour I. I then released my second about this time as a solo artist in 2008. The album was entitled Saxophone Mood. Currently, I have almost concluded work on my second album entitled Virtuoso. I am known for jazzing up popular Nigerian tunes. We have a lot of jazz fans here in Nigeria but when they don’t hear any of our modern local sounds in jazz, they lose interest because they think they can only hear jazz when they go abroad. We simply show them that we have people doing jazz here in our modern way who can also do it the way it is done internationally.
How has the works of Kenny G and others influenced your style of jazz?
Kenny G reproduces the songs of other artists with the saxophone, sometimes he does it with the artist or by himself. He is known for that and still does his own compositions. That’s basically the same thing I do. I also have my own compositions like I did in Beremole. I even featured D’Prince of Mo’Hits. In the forthcoming album, I have up to five songs which are my compositions. I have R and B, Hip Hop and soul tracks on the album. These days, people even call me to request for a saxophone remix of particular tracks.
As a producer, who are some of the artists you have worked with?
For sometime now, I have stopped working for outsiders so as to concentrate on the artists on my label. But I’ve worked with D’Banj, I played the saxophone in Fall in Love. I produced Mr. Solek’s Fine Fine Baby and I have done a lot of stuff for many upcoming artists. I believe that everybody has his time and my time is near.
What would you have in your forthcoming album?
There will be between 17 to 19 tracks. Five will be my songs and the rest would be popular songs. I can’t let the cat out of the bag now but it will be good.
When doing a sax version of a song, do you go into any agreement with the artist that owns the song or you just do it your way?
I think this is the time for such a thing. When I did my first and second albums, they gave me all the support they could. But this third one, there’s going to be a legal agreement and we are already working on that. I’ve met all the artists I am doing something on their songs and they have all given me their permission. I want an arrangement where they would get a certain percentage of the proceeds.
What is involved in doing a sax version of a song?
It’s a little bit easier for me but it’s not cheap. I am a producer, I have a studio and I’m a studio engineer. So, I can always edit and re-edit to the final stage. There are some songs I do with the original artists where they sing along to my saxophone, some I get the instrumentals from them and I play the sax on it, some they might not have the instrumentals anymore and I will have to re-sequence it the same way they did the original version and then play the sax on it, those are the three major ways of doing it.
But just playing the sax to an instrumental is not that difficult?
It is difficult because you have to be accurate and play it the same way the song is. I also have to know the song inside out to play it very well. Most times when I play on stage, people sing along with me, imagine me not even knowing the song very well. It takes a lot of time and hard work before I can achieve that. Moreover, a lot of people are trying to imitate me now, so I have to always improve my game to be ahead all the time.
When you are on stage, do you play live or on top of past recordings?
It depends on the kind of event I play at. There could be small parties and the organizers may not want a large crowd on stage or the venue is small. So, I have to perform with a sound track if it’s a very big show and they want a band, then my band comes.
Apart from your dad being a musician, from where else did you get your musical education?
After my secondary school, I did some international music courses. I was also at the MUSON music school before I did the theories and passed their graded exams. I played the violin for the Muson Orchestra for about three years. I also played in the church.
Then the production part, from where did you get that?
While working at Goldmine Studios, I learnt a few things from some studio engineers and read a lot of books about studio engineering. I also play the piano very well which is an added advantage. I was very much interested in production from the onset and that helped a lot.
Tell us some of the shows where you have performed.
I have performed at Rhythm Unplugged, Basketmouth, Uncensored, Crack Ya Ribs, Soundcity Campus Blast, I performed alongside Sisqo, Bryan Mcnight and Soul2Soul. I was also there when T-Pain came and Calabar Carnival, among so many others.
So, what do you think is the reception of jazz in Nigeria?
Jazz started from Africa but it got to a time that we got carried away with other types of music. We have numerous other types of music and left jazz for the white people and it now looks like they are the ones that own jazz. In Nigeria, most of these other types are better received than jazz and that is pat of what I’m trying to address and it is working out because I am getting more fans to the jazz circle day by day.
Who are the other jazz musicians you know in the country?
There are so many of them underground but the mistake most of them make is that they play in a foreign way and expect us to dance to it. I still play the same jazz but in a way people will appreciate it more. So, that’s the edge I have over most of them. But we have a number of fantastic jazzists in the country.
So, how did you realize the style that counts in jazz in Nigeria?
What I gave my style is Afro Hip Jazz and it’s a fusion of African sounds, hip hop and jazz. I took time to study the terrain very well and discovered that for me to succeed, I had to do something that would appeal to the Nigerian audience and I did and they loved it.
You seem to have a very close relationship with the Mo’Hits group?
Yes, we work together sometimes. We’ve done a lot of things together, we’ve rocked a lot of stages together and been in the studio together. We are sort of business partners. I am not signed under Mo’Hits and I’m not their artist. But with what I do, I am a friend to everybody because I play other people’s songs a lot.
Did you see Wande Coal’s nude pictures?
Yes, I did but I’m still saying that they are not Wande’s pictures. I am sure of that because there was a period they said he was mad and most of the times, he was with me and he never acted mad. So, I just wonder why people should be saying embarrassing things about him. Then as artists, we should be careful, that’s all I can say about that.
For someone to learn the saxophone, how does he go about it?
To learn the sax, you have to develop interest in it. You need to have the time because sax music generally is a jealous profession. When you are not into it, it doesn’t allow you do anything else, you need to devote time to it and concentrate on what you are doing.