Every observer of the present Nigerian musical landscape would have noticed the person of Anis Halloway. He is from Sierra Leone and first made an appearance in the 2009 MTN Project Fame West Africa where he finished a respectable tenth. The Nigerian experience left an indelible impression on him and he immediately developed a strong affinity to the country and wanted to come back.
The urban music channel, NIGEZIE, offered him a route back. Mr. Femi Aderigbigbe (Kwame) the CEO of NIGEZIE has been a judge on the show since its inception and immediately acquiesced to the young man’s request for a space in his outfit and thus the journey back to Nigeria. He worked with NIGEZIE up until last year when the opportunity to present the ongoing Nigerian Idol came and he has been doing a good job.
As I sat down with him after one of the Eviction Shows of the competition, he told us his story from the beginning. “Sierra Leone was my place of birth and I had no control over that part of me,” he begins with a laugh. “I love Nigeria so much and I’m blending so much that and most people are very surprised when I tell them that I am not Nigerian by birth.
“I grew u in a family of hardworking parents. My dad grew up in the village and did not even have money for his Primary education but he showed me the principle of contentment. He had his 1975 Toyota Corona which I sat in when I was a kid and drove when I was grown up and it showed me that you can have something and maintain it.
“When the war finished, the system was a bit down so my dad used his last savings to send me to the UK. I have had problems all in my education so far because I wasn’t the regular kid who was good in Maths and other subjects. I was very artistic but there was no artistic platform to help me so in school it was almost like I was stupid because there was no mechanism to help me be creative in my natural talents.
“When I got to the UK, I also struggled because the college that got me a Student’s Visa was a business college but I managed to get my Diploma to make my dad happy. After that I decided to do things my way and found a college that specialized in the arts and from my first day there, I excelled. I learnt Sound Engineering, Music Production and bit of Music Theory which was boring to me. But I was able to practicalize my experience because I was a natural writer. Part of our assessment was from practicals and these included gigs and shows and it was all fun. From there I just continued going up and got signed up to a record label and did my first video, “Eyes on Me” in 2005.
“In 2009, I left the UK because I felt I had reached my limit there and it was time to come back home. I wanted to bring my talents and knowledge back home and in March 2009, I was home. My album, SMALL BEGININGS was ready but nobody in Sierra Leone helped me except a guy called Mohammed Kamara, a big TV/ radio producer in Sierra Leone who was there and is still there for me. During my secondary school days before I left Sierra Leone, he had come to my dad for sponsorship to help him kick start his musical career and my dad in his own small way had helped him. So when he saw me come back as a musician, he was very happy to help me.
“Not long after I got back, without any previous radio experience, I started working at Capital Radio which was the best radio station in Sierra Leone. It was managed by an English guy called Colin Mason and he told me that I had a very nice voice which basically meant that I had a good radio voice. They had a quiz programme and he placed me in charge of it.
“I had just had my first salary when I heard about the auditions for the MTN Project Fame West Africa. I didn’t even know who MTN was; I thought it was a TV from overseas. I passed the first audition, went to the second and out of the 27 people that made it to the second stage, I was among the two that were selected. The other person was a Nigerian girl who was based in Sierra Leone.
“So we came to Nigeria and when I got to Nigeria, I was very impressed. The experience completely changed my life as it was my first time of seeing a stage like that in Africa. I saw a structure that was not present in Sierra Leone; I saw young people like me running things and from then those things began to motivate me. During the show, even though I didn’t win, I gave my best. I came out of the competition with my head held high and my dreams intact and made up my mind that I was going to come back to this country.
“I went back to Sierra Leone and even though the newfound stardom worked a bit and people called my name in the streets, I knew that it was fickle and that I was going back to Nigeria because I was in love.”
Anis returned to Nigeria with virtually nothing. The little money he made from Project Fame was down and he laid siege on Mr. Kwame of NIGEZIE through the phone. Kwame never gave him a concrete promise of a job but he had told Anis that whenever he came back to Nigeria that they will talk. It now remained for Anis to take that leap of faith and return to a country where he virtually had no one. His love for Nigeria put paid to his fears of the unknown and he came back to Nigeria.
It was never a rosy path. He had to find accommodation and then take up the NIGEZIE boss on his promise. He succeeded in both after some initial delay and duly began work on TV. Work was exciting but it was still hard times. A lot of folks would remember seeing Anis repeated re-wearing the Durella 2gbaski sneakers which were presented to him by the rapper. But in all this he never lost faith in his God. “I continued praying fervently to God for a break; a big break so that I could take the next step,” he says.
One of his prayers which he terms funny is: “God this is not my country. I came here without knowing anybody and I can’t compete with the people here on the same level. God please hook your boy up.” A couple of weeks after one of his colleagues at NIGEZIE drew his attention to the Nigerian Idols and their need for a male presenter. He was invited for the audition and a week later he got a call in the night that informed him that he had been selected as the male host of the competition. He was not allowed time to consider or celebrate as he was told to pack up his bags for the first assignment which was the Enugu auditions on the same call.
“I looked at where I was coming from,” he continued, “what I was getting and what I was going to get and realized that I had naturally progressed. When I took the job, I didn’t even know that the show would be broadcast in America, UK and other parts of world together with so much online presence. I was a bit naked in Enugu because that was my first time in there but I survived it and as we went from one city to the other, I got more comfortable but the job got more hectic and exciting. Today I am basically hosting the show which, I think, was not the initial plan because I understood that I was going to be doing more stuff backstage but I thank God for everything.”
So what has happened to his music? “The music is still there he answers. I have made some moves with the first money I made from this. I have three new videos now and my first album, SMALL BEGININGS, is being repackaged for the Nigerian audience. By June this year, I should have had my Album Listening Party because I want to get that part of my history out before newer stuff would start to drop.”
“I have had so much help from so many quarters. Nodash, the director, had directed a couple of my videos: “Tell Me” and “We No Wan Dat.” The second video, “We No Wan Dat” is based on my direct experience of being in the final days of the civil war in Sierra Leone when the ECOMOG troops were battling the rebels and I was literally in the last zone that the rebels and ECOMOG fought in Freetown – and area called King Tom.
“This was the area that housed our electricity provider, the National Power Authority (NAPA) and it was a very hot area. The rebels massacred a lot of people and even caught my dad and commandeered his vehicle but something distracted them and they let him. We were in the middle of all those and survived. But that changed my whole perspective of life and I wrote a song that carried the message to the world. The song narrates most of what happened then and Nodash helped me adapt it into the video.
“We created a scene of a village called Wataloo (a real place in Sierra Leone) where people heard of the news of the rebels approaching them and tried to run away with a public bus but fail and end up being massacred by the rebels.”
Anis talks passionately at length about the situation in his country and his hopes that his music and the video would draw the attention of the world to the situation that happened there. He also plans to return to the country in a big way and participate in their 50th Independence Day celebrations coming up this year on April 27, 2011.
He however believes that a big part of his destiny lies here in Nigeria. His dad is still alive in Sierra Leone but his mom passed away a couple of years ago. He has two sisters - one lives in the US and another is in Sierra Leone. His brother lives in the UK and helped him a lot during his time there. But for Anis, his heart is in Nigeria. “I am an adopted son of Nigeria and I hope to buy a place here since I am here most of the time,” he says with conviction.