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Friday, April 13, 2012

Feature: Bolaji 'Boj' Odojukan

If the new wave of Nigerian artistes all belonged to the graduating class of a high school, DRB Las Gidi’s Bolaji would be that effortlessly cool kid with no problem relating with the perceived ‘nerds’ or ‘razz kids’. It is this effortless coolness that informs his band mate and close friend, Teni Zaccheaus describing him as “the rockstar of the group”. It had been my intention to interview him and detail this coolness first hand but I had never gotten round to it. One day I sent him a DM telling him my plan. He was up for it but asked me to run it by his Manager first. I did that. For a bit, it was difficult scheduling. When he wasn’t in the studio cooking up some songs, he was away in London. We even considered doing it by email but then thought better of it. Finally, on the 26th of March, we got round to it. 

I met him at his flat in Kent. I walk in to meet him engrossed in a game of FIFA with his friend, Ikay Ofili. He’s using Real Madrid and Ikay Chelsea. A song from Drake’s ‘Take Care’ is on full blast. The game’s stuck at 2-2 when the track changes. The new song grabs my attention. The rapper sounds familiar but I’m still unsure.  The rap in question makes me want to scream “Hold up” but I control myself.  I ask “What song is this?” I get my answer “‘The Wait’. Tobenna and Phlowz. Off their Window EP. It’s not yet out”. I nod in acknowledgement and then it all seems to make sense. All those tweets warning us about the havoc Tobenna has been wreaking suddenly come to mind.  By the time I look up, the game’s in extra time and Ikay’s leading 4-2. Bolaji does go on to score a goal in the last minute but that does little to alter the outcome of the game. In fairness to him, he was a man down. 

DRB have come a long way. Starting out as the Rap Royals at Malvern College Teni (Teezee), Tobias, Tobenna and Ladi(Fresh L) made a name for themselves rapping over mainstream instrumentals. Over time, they improved and started to take their passion more seriously. The original four would then be joined by 3Feat, Bolaji, Didun (Didz) and Imran. Close friends Stan, Phlowz and Woodsy with whom they had collaborated heavily with joined what would become the super group CEDRB. Uzzee would be the last to join. Of late, the family has been subdivided into  ‘DRB LasGidi’ and ‘Creative Elevation’. And no, there’s no beef or anything of that sort. It was borne out of differences in musical direction. DRB Las Gidi which comprises of Bolaji, Teni and Ladi gravitates towards Afrobeats and locally infused sounds while CE(the rest) favors a more global Hip Hop perspective.  

Our interview finally begins. I ask him the basics. He’s 18(19 in less than a month) and a big brother to two boys.  He’s attended a long list of schools: Greenwood House, Greensprings School, Malvern College, Bales College and Bellerby’s College. He’s presently nearing the end of his first year studying Business Management at the University of Kent. 

The first time I actually listened to him and paid some attention (besides ‘Marry You’) was when he featured heavily on Stan’s ‘Songs about Girls’ mixtape in June 2010. “At the time, we were in the same school and we just sat down and recorded it on a Mac. It wasn’t really serious. I just used to record for fun. I recorded so many songs around that time but I felt so insecure about releasing them. ‘Gra Gra’ was the first time I’ve ever released something on my own. Those days, no one knew who I was. I was just that Boj guy from DRB that didn’t use to do anything. I’m sure people used to laugh at me. It’s the type of thing if I was with the whole crew and I said I wanted to record, no one would take me serious.  Before I released ‘Gra Gra’, I was so nervous. I listened to that song over two hundred times before it came out.” The vault of unheard material?  Deleted. 

I’m always interested in knowing how the parents of music makers within my peer group react. In days bygone, it was a taboo of some sorts. It seems to be more acceptable these days. He tells me that they do listen to everything he does and that they are big fans. Swear words? “I don’t swear or cuss so they’ve never really complained. My Dad did ‘tension’ me ‘cos of that Youtube video where I was drumming.” Ikay and I both ask “Why?” “I said bitch in it. The thing is that the video even cut at the bit where I screamed “That’s what you need to know bi….. But he knew what I said and told me off”. Does he see himself doing Music full time? “Yep. That’s the point.”

His story won’t be complete without talking about how he got onto the Music scene. I had heard from a friend that he started out as a Rapper but was waiting to ask in my own time. There would be no need as he volunteered it himself. When I ask what his first recording was, he instinctively says ‘Marry You’. Then screams “Oh! No. It was actually this song ‘Boys are back’. I rapped on it actually. There was this concert: Concrete Rose that I wanted to be involved in by fire by force and that was the one way I could get in.” 

Most talented people have THAT moment. The moment where they realize they are actually good at what they do. For him, it was after ‘Marry You’ came out. He asserts that the feedback was amazing and that the people loved it. That’s remarkable considering it was his first serious recording. I imagine if any doubts existed, that’ll have put them in a coffin. 

 Boj’s tweet game is heavy. He follows close to 1,000 people; a lot of whom I know are his fans by virtue of his monopoly on my timeline answering the numerous people who pass him compliments or demand follow backs. When I ask him if he searches for himself on Twitter to gauge the public opinion, he says   “Yeah! Now and then. I search for the songs and all that. I always retweet them.”  In such a space it’s likely that there would be negativity, he admits he takes that dismissively. “When it’s constructive, I take it into consideration, but if the person is just hating, I don’t even pay it any attention” he says with a shrug. I ask him who his sources of constructive criticism are and he tells me all his ‘guys’ tell him the truth. I ask him if anyone’s ever suggested working with a songwriter and he replies in the negative. “Has the thought ever come to mind?” “Nope. But now you mention it’s something I can look to.” I point out that from my viewpoint, that’s his only shortcoming but we agree that within the Nigerian music scene, there’s little appreciation for strong lyrical content. On possible areas of improvement he says, “Obviously, I’m still young and not at the top yet. I know I can improve. I’m not sure in what regard yet but I’ll discover with time”.

And then we get to ‘Toyin’, the monster hit that’s generated so much buzz. He calls it his biggest achievement thus far.  On so many fronts: downloads, radio airplay and general feedback. Even more than ‘Marry You’ did. I’m interested in knowing the creative process behind the song. “The whole thing happened so fast. After Industry Night where Teni and I performed ‘Swagga Mi Gbono’, we went to DJ Caise’s home studio. He played us the beat and I just went to the mic and said the first things that came to mind. That’s what I always do.” “What made you come up with that name?” “It just came. It’s a typical African name.” “When you did it, did you think it would be that big?” “No. But Caise did. He was like “Oh! Boy. This is IT”. I was just looking like “what is this guy saying?”  “And who or what is a Toyin? “Any fine African girl with a good body, nice hair, long legs, figure 8. You know all that stuff, we all like. We’ve done the video and I’ll love to tell you what it’s about but I honestly don’t even know how the Director’s doing it. We recorded many scenes but he has creative license  so he’ll be the one to decide what works best. Expect a mad video though”. From the pictures released, it comes across as having a retro theme.

We also discuss his influences. I get the impression he’s someone who listens to a lot of Nigerian music and he confirms it. He boasts that he’s got the whole upcoming scene covered. Whilst he does not think there’s anyone that influences him in the traditional sense he’s a big Fela and Wande Coal fan. “Do you actually listen to Fela?” I ask suspiciously. “Yes, I do. A lot. I actually love him”.
I probe on. Trying to find out what exactly his motivation when creating Music is. He says “Well, it depends. Most times, it’s based on my mood.” Suddenly, it dawns on me that I can’t think of any sad songs of his. “Well, I’m never ever sad” comes the reply.  He’s not sure what I mean when I ask about the motivation. I say “Like for me when I write something, I’m doing it to enlighten people and possibly change the way they think. It’s also a way of expressing myself. If it doesn’t fulfill those standards, there’s no point. So for you, what are those standards? Is it music that can make people dance? ” He screams “Oh! No, it’s for the ladies. Definitely, has to appeal to the ladies.” 

I understand that an artiste having a favorite song of theirs is akin to a parent having a preferred child. But that won’t stop me from asking. His reply?  ‘Ko Easy’. Coincidentally, it’s my favorite too. However I’ve always struggled to understand what was said on the first verse. I had made a note to ask him that. Here was my opportunity. He laughed and said “Which bit? To be honest, it was rubbish. Tobenna and I just said rubbish and harmonized it”. In terms of popularity and feedback, he ranks them in this order ‘Toyin’, ‘Marry You’, ‘Gra Gra’, ‘Swagga Mi Gbono’ and ‘More than Friends’”. He’s thankful to the  Producers he’s worked with:  Adey (‘More than Friends’ ‘Ko Easy’ ‘Let Me In’) , K Logic (‘Swagga Mi Gbono’), Ray (LXIX), CEO(‘Cruella’ in addition to co-producing ‘Gra Gra’) ,DJ Caise (‘Toyin’) , Tobenna (Co- production on ‘Gra Gra’) and KTP (‘Twisted’)

When we touch on his closest friends, he mentions “This idiot over here” pointing at Ikay. Tito. Stan. KC. Tobenna. Tobi, Ladi and I have come a long way. We were best friends in Primary school and we’re obviously still close. Tochukwu and Donald too.” Obviously the CEDRB family are covered.  That’s his inner circle. Those are the ‘guys’ who always tell him the truth.  He also has words of appreciation for his manager, Tenny Karim. “He’s been great. He’s helped us so much”.
On what to expect “Cruella’s going to be the next single from me. It would feature Shank. Fela’s Room’ is still on hold for the time being. The Toyin video should be out in April too”.

This is someone who’s been described as “the Messi of DRB”. When I asked him if he’d ever seen that comment, he admitted it put a smile on his face but went on to argue that it’s a team sport and that he’s nothing without his teammates. Just like the original Leo Messi, you get the impression he doesn’t take himself so seriously. The self-obsession and pomposity one would associate with a Cristiano Ronaldo are inexistent. This is a man who’s grateful for the opportunity to share his talent with the world. A man grateful and appreciative of his change in fortunes from maligned band member to key player. I must point out that provided he keeps this up, Boj would reach the greatest heights. It’s safe to say, Mr and Mrs Odojukan did a great job.

Photo credits
Baba Ikanade Agba
Toke Soyebo
Layla Photos


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