By Fred Itua
Singer and entrepreneur, Oladapo Daniel Oyebanjo aka D’banj was in Dubai, United Arab Emirates recently, where he performed at a desert concert organised by Dubai Tourism.
In this interview, he spoke about how he met and struck a life changing deal with American rapper, Kanye West, future collaborations between African artistes and their Dubai counterparts, among other issues. Here are excerpts:
Dubai tourism is keen in seeing Afrobeats meeting Africa. Do you think this is something that can become a reality?
I admit that it is a great start and that is why I came to Dubai Tourism. I have been coming to Dubai, but this is the first time it was so pan-African, and I think that is what we want. Growing up, I used to tell people that crude oil was our biggest export in Nigeria. But today, just like crude oil, creative content is also a natural God-given resource; but it depends on how you can pick and refine it. When you refine crude oil, you get kerosene; you get petrol. It’s the same thing with creative content. We need to refine ourselves and have the right platform to showcase ourselves, and I think Dubai Tourism has done that. Dubai is a place you come to when you want to relax. I think the vision is that, we want a situation whereby we have a pan-Africa platform, where everybody can come and appreciate.
You know, we cannot preach enough to educate people about our culture. We learn everything from America – how they dress, how they talk. So, it is time for us to keep preaching ours and I think that is why we are here. From our show, you could see the bond with those from Tanzania, Kenya, etc. Afrobeats is not yet there, but it’s better than when it started. I can say that in no time, this is going to be everything we will be doing. I see something happening twice a year. I even see collaborations between African artistes and Dubai (artistes).
You said any rich man who hasn’t been to Dubai doesn’t know how to spend money. Can you expatiate on that?
Look at Dubai, the way they have been able to structure themselves; the infrastructure. Yes, you know we have money. We are rich and wealthy in Africa especially in Nigeria, but we need to be able to turn that wealth into the next generation. From their structures, you can see how stress-free they are. You know, when you have money and you are under stress. What’s that? When I work, I should be able to relax. Dubai provides that. They know how to relax. You can bring one billion naira, they will show you where to spend it. Everyday is a new thing because of how they structure themselves. They welcome everybody; I am talking of multinationals. So, you see, everybody is here. Even the designers are here and we don’t have that at home in Africa. That’s why I say that any rich or wealthy man that gets money must come to Dubai.
You had a wonderful performance at the Dubai desert concert. What are you taking home from this experience?
I have never been to Angola; I know they like my music, but I saw Angolans here at the show. I also saw Tanzanians. Dubai Tourism has made it easier for everybody to be here. So, it is something that I will really like to commend them for. I got to understand that collaboration is the new competition and that’s what Dubai Tourism just showed us at the desert show. Those from America also came and in fact, I don’t know whether you saw when I got someone on stage. He is a big guy in America and I met him here; and I heard him saying, ‘your face shines, your shoes shine!’
On a normal day, you have to travel to America. Twelve years ago, I met Kanye West in this same Dubai. I didn’t meet Kanye West in America before I got a deal with him. I came here for an event and on my way out, I met Kanye West and from that day, we started having a partnership. So, Dubai has always been a central place. I met him and he said ‘come to America’ and I went to America. So, coming here 12 years later to see that is something else. This is the centre of excellence.
We’ve been seeing a whole lot of changes in Afrobeats from time to time. What does that mean?
I will like to first of all educate people. We have Afrobeats, but we also have Afrobeats equals. The late Fela Kuti made Afrobeats popular and I know when you are talking about Afrobeats, it is not just a genre, it is a lifestyle. Ten years ago, the first ever Afrobeats or Afropop record, Oliver Twist, made the Top 10 chart around the world. I keep telling people that, that is not Afrobeats, that is Afropop record. So, if you listen to Oliver Twist, it is Afropop. We have Afro-reggae. The reason why we are saying this is because Afrobeat was Fela and he was the biggest. So, that’s what people know. It is time for us to educate them and let them know. For example, Amanpiano is going crazy and we know that Amanpiano originally came from South Africa; and we now made it our own and we added the Afro. So, it’s Afro-piano. So, anything we are doing now, I like us to know that it’s just getting Afro. So, I think it’s our job and responsibility to keep educating, especially people that are just coming and the whole world is looking at us as Afrobeats. We are Afro musicians, but we are bigger than Afrobeats. We have Afro this, Afro that, all together it’s African music.
How do you feel bringing Afro music to Dubai?
It is a question that has kind of answered itself, because I am an entertainer and I will love to entertain. So, for me to have come here and perform, it means they have already accepted us, and even my fellow colleagues have been in town. As I said earlier, Dubai has from time opened its arms to everybody to come in as long as you are serious-minded. So, over here in Dubai, it is a mini-Africa; people move from America, London to come and have a base here because they believe this is the best place to be. The acceptance is there. When we started, ‘nna we suffer’, but right now, the number one genre of music in the world is Afrobeats. That is why you will see Justin Bieber, who is one of the best musicians in the world, do a collabo with Omay Lay. I know how I suffered before I got that done. In 2009, I know how much I suffered. Don Jazzy and I spent three weeks in New York when Kanye (West) said we should come. We thought we were not going to see him. I remember we wrote the last email, ‘we don wait oo, we de go oo!’ before someone responded that ‘Kanye West will see you’. So, it is getting sweet now, but we just need to maximise it. I believe the onus rests on us to do a good job because it is not a lie, the impression they have about Africa and Nigeria especially is not good. It is time to change the perception people have about us. It’s time to let them know that we are the richest when it comes to culture. Dubai is going to stand in that place. I have never seen a desert concert, but here, it’s like we were in Eko Atlantic City. I hope it’s going to be better and bigger especially with Dubai Tourism. It is for us to stand as proper citizens of our country and continent.
You are top in African music now…
(Cuts in) Make I no lie. Those days, when you ask me this kind of question… I love the new generation. They have taken over. Davido, Wizkid, Burna Boy, Omah Lay etc. That is a beautiful one.
Are you looking out for collabo with any artiste from Dubai?
In fact, I just told you what Dubai Tourism taught me. We are collaborating, it’s just right for us to collabo with them so that we can teach them our culture. So, it doesn’t necessarily have to be me alone, but my colleagues will have collaboration with the UAE.
As an African artiste, what will be your role in developing music in Africa?
Twelve years ago, I met Kanye West here. I don’t have to go through that stress. We are already doing very well back home. We have been doing much when it comes to revenue. But I have a problem. Each time they have a show, they will say ‘go for the big artiste’. So, they call us local. You understand? They said we are local artistes and that really got me! We make a lot of sacrifice. There is no difference between us. If you look at me and you look at Kanye West, you go even fear say I big pass. One thing with Africa is simple. What we need is just to show us the way. So, today, I see what my younger colleagues are doing. Anytime I sit with them and they say ‘Baba you have inspired us’. They told me that they saw what I did and that’s why they could do it. So, today, when I see them with Justin Bieber, I know it’s my vision and it’s going to get better and bigger. That’s why I’m doing this partnership so that we know that beyond this, we can move up. I am in partnership with the Dubai Tourism. We just did my new perfume. If you look at Kanye West or Rihana, they’re worth $1 billion. It is 20 per cent of it that’s from music. So, I am always a pacesetter to show these people that this is what we are going to do. I will keep doing my best.
Do you consider Dubai as a viable place for African artistes and movie producers?
Trust me, everybody in the world knows that Dubai is a beautiful place. If you are looking for location in Dubai, you will be tired. But the reason is that access is cheap. It is my job now as an ambassador to make that clear, and Dubai Tourism has been supporting our industry for years. Look, they supported the biggest movie, Wedding Party. We have been doing our job; ‘we don go oo, we don see oo, make una come’. That is why we are here as ambassadors.
But people feel the bottlenecks are too tedious for them to break through. How do they break that?
Like I said, information and knowledge are powerful. You know, before, it was difficult. The way Dubai was structured; you couldn’t get into Dubai Tourism. You didn’t know whether there is an office where you can go and show them a proposal. What you cannot do, you don’t just show them. If you show say ‘you fit catch this fish, you go catch well’ for them.