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Mavin Record label’s artiste and Don Jazzy’s protégé, John Drille lands on the music scene with a peculiar folk sound. Unperturbed by the recent clichè offerings of his peers in music, he creates a comfortable niche for himself through his style of music.
Recently, Drille headlined the Make Music Lagos Festival in celebration of World Music Day alongside juju maestro, King Sunny Ade, Omawummi and Bez. Here, the University of Benin graduate talks about his music, influences, aspirations and inevitable challenges of being a musician.
When did you discover music, or did it discover you?
I like to think music discovered me. I was very little when I joined the children’s choir in my local church. My sister and I would always sing at night under the moonlight. Those were my earliest music memories. I pretty much grew up around musical instruments and they helped shape me to become a musician.
What does music in its entirety mean to you?
Beyond my day job, it’s almost everything to me. It’s almost like a life mission, to achieve more and more. It is love, it is passion, it is food, it is beauty, and it’s a lot of things to me.
Getting a record label isn’t a piece of cake; can you relay the journey leading to being signed on the Mavin platform?
I have been independent for a long time and atimes things were hard because I had to get everything by myself. My first contact with Mavin Records was with Don Jazzy in February 2015 when I dropped my cover of Di’ja’s song, ‘Awww’. He followed me on Twitter and told me he liked it and would love to hear more. We kept in contact over time and then he was silent for very long period. At some point, he was really silent and I figured maybe I shouldn’t hope too much and that I should just keep pushing myself, and everything. Then, sometime in August of 2016, I got a message on Twitter from Don Jazzy asking me if I was in Lagos at the moment, and thankfully I was. He invited me over to his office and let me know he wanted me to join Mavin Records. In March 2017, I was officially announced as a Mavin Records’ artiste.
Johnny Drille and the Mavin’s crew, has that always been your dream?
It had in fact been a dream for me and I’m glad it came true. I hope to fill up a stadium someday.
What does it feel like working on the same label with the likes of Tiwa Savage?
It feels great actually. The good thing is that everyone that I have met at the label is outstandingly established act, and it is some sort of motivation for me to aspire to achieve what they have achieved. It won’t come easy but I will try my best. It is like family over there, and you’ll be surprised how closely knit the tie is. Everyone is directly and indirectly a part of the other person’s journey at the label.
Do you work directly with Don Jazzy?
Yes. We all work directly with Don Jazzy. He is a very busy person but he still makes out time for everyone.
What’s working with him like?
He just keeps going and going almost like he is never going to get tired. Before we had extra producers, Don Jazzy was the only producer who did all the work. He’s an all round great person and if you ever get to meet him, you will know for certain.
Your creative direction is focused on folk music. Why folk music?
At some point, I was really looking for recognition in the music industry. The Nigerian music industry was quite saturated and one had to work extra hard in order to get noticed. I found the music of Owl City, then Mumford And Sons and sort of figured that if I could merge these kinds of styles with African elements and Pidgin English, and see how it turned out. Apparently, it turned out well, if not, I wouldn’t be here today.
What inspires you to write music?
I’ve been inspired a lot by love because I think it is universal and also very necessary. I’ve also been inspired by family, faith, God, and life in general.
Do you feel the folk music genre is one that would thrive commercially especially in a climate where Afro-pop offerings from Wizkid and Davido have claimed mainstream dominance?
I believe that every kind of music has got its own audience and that it is just a matter of finding them. Afro-pop is our sound and we can’t deny that, but at the same time, for an industry to grow and mature, it needs to give other genres of music a chance to shine. I’m really excited for my kind of music because it is gradually happening.
What challenges do you face as an up and coming act?
When I wasn’t signed to a label, things were a bit difficult, but since I joined Mavin, it’s been a much smoother ride.
Most people compare your sound to that of Adekunle Gold. What’s your take on this?
I think he is a brilliant musician and all round a great person. Our music is of different genres but then Gold is very versatile. With what he did with ‘Sade’, I guess that’s where people find the similarity.
Any plans for an album?
Absolutely. I hope to put out a body of work soon.
When is it due for a release?
We don’t have a release date yet, but when we do, I’ll make sure I communicate it.
Who are your musical influences?
I have a lot of them actually. The earliest being Abba, then Don Moen, Owl City, Mumford and Sons, Jon Bellion, Ed Sheeran, and Laura Mvula.
Do you play any instruments?
Yes, I do play a bit of the guitar; I also play the piano.
When did you learn to play it?
I learned to play the keyboard in 2002 or 2003.
What did your parents think about you pursuing a career in music?
Initially, like most parents they were concerned that it wasn’t something I should do as a career, but overtime they have had more faith and given me their full support.
You are young and certainly must attract a lot of female fans, how do you deal with the attention?
I don’t really have an issue dealing with female fans. I try to engage them as much as I can, so I don’t get a lot of those issues. I’m glad that people feel a connection with me beside just my music.
What are your views on the Nigerian music landscape?
I think it is a very wide one that needs to be explored more. There’s so much to our music than we know. The world loves our sound right now and it’s only going to get better.
As an insider in the industry, what do you think that the music industry needs direly in order to effortlessly break into the international market?
I don’t think we should try so hard to break into the internationalal market. When we get everything right the world will come to us. Our music is beautiful, we just have to pay more attention to the details and present them as beautifully as possible.
If you could dump music for another profession, what would it be?
I can’t really think of anything else, maybe a pilot.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
I don’t know. But I have faith that God will take me to better places.
Do you consider yourself lucky or blessed or you achieved all you did through sheer hard work?
I’m absolutely blessed. I don’t deserve most of what I’ve got. I’m really grateful for that.