By SAM ANOKAM
In the late ‘80s, Nigerians were entertained with roots reggae music from the likes of The Mandators, Majek Fashek, Ras Kimono and Oritz Wiliki among others. That was the fad until 1990 when a 24 year-old graduate of Sociology from University of Lagos, Edward Inyang aka Blackky, swept the Nigerian music scene with his reggae hit track, Rosie.
Overnight, he became the toast of the town. However, after six albums, he disappeared from the music scene. Now in his 40s and after 21 years as a performing artiste, Blackky who is still single will stage a comeback when he performs live today at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos.
According to the musician who prefers to be addressed as The Blackman, Blackky is just descending from the mountain top; “he is walking back into another mission that Jah has sent him musically and is getting things ready for his forthcoming album and concert dubbed ‘Blackky’s Playground’ starring Blackky live in concert.”
To him, Blackky’s Playground is a concert specially packaged by Blackville Limited, Blackky’s management outfit for Blackky’s fans. He says: “We are trying to meet our fans at a particular place where the Blackman would be performing quarterly or bi- annually so that they will enjoy our sound. Unfortunately, our music is plagued by piracy and poor remuneration and the artiste is gradually becoming an endangered species.
“We also want to in a way encourage live performances. A lot of Nigerians want a place where they can listen to live music and enjoy the music of artistes they have followed over the years. And my fans have been asking for that concert where it is not only Blackky singing Rosie or Delilah but Blackky singing a string of the hits since we have had about six albums. That is why we were particular about kick-starting Blackky’s Playground.”
During the period of his absence from music, a lot of rumours made the round that he had retired. Blackky, however, debunked the stories as fallacies and gave reasons for the blackout.
“We were up and rolling with Blackky’s Playground and we were looking at surprising our fans again. I won’t let the cat out of the bag but I want fans to know categorically that we have not retired. Some Babylonians were spreading rumours that the Blackman had retired, that the Blackman has stopped singing and we found it ridiculous.
“When we were at the mounting top, we could see you but you couldn’t see us. That is why these people do not know the true story. The fact is that after Reggae Icon, our sixth album, which got us a KORA award nomination for Best Ragga Artiste in 2010, we found out that Nigerian music was in a big mess!
“We do not have structures. Artistes are pirating their songs and even paying marketers in Alaba to pirate their songs on compilations. That is how bad it has gotten. You go to Alaba and give your CD to them to market and you are told that you would be paid less than the price of a blank CD. So, the business side of music is in big trouble.
“A lot of our artistes need to start speaking up. In terms of creativity, videos are getting better. We have more international reach now. We have our younger colleagues going out there and teeming up with Kanye West and other people but what about the business side? Now the artistes are finding it difficult to sell their music. So what are they doing? They are churning out singles.
“We move from album production now to just churning out singles just to get publicity. If the track is a hit then the artiste gets concerts and that is how the artiste survives but it is not supposed to be like that. These were the problems I encountered after the sixth album and I realised that this is not the way to go so we had to go to the mountain top to see how we could descend this time and revive our music and at the same time, tackle the inadequacies of our rickety Nigerian music scene. This was why we had to take a break for like a couple of years.”
As a music icon, Blackky attempts a solution to the situation. “When you want to change a thing like this, it should be done in unison. Our association would have tackled this problem but unfortunately, that is not happening. Artistes are left on their own to hustle. The artiste is the producer, director, distributor, marker, songwriter, composer and everything. It can’t last for long before that artiste packs up and this is what I have been trying to say after all these years.”
So what is Blackky doing between 2006 when he last released an album and now? He says: “We have been performing. If you go to Calabar and the east, you will realize that we are jamming live in concerts. A lot of people do not know that Blackky is a songwriter, composer, arranger and all that.
“It takes a while to come out with the tunes. I tell my fans that it is unlike Blackky to release an album every year. I compose my songs in a way that they will stand the test of time. If you listen to any of Blackky’s hits, you will realise that the songs sound fresh. We did not get any producer to cook up a beat for us or write lyrics. It was only in Blackky’s Skank that Kinsley Ogoro did the instrumentation.”
The mountain top
Throughout this interview, Blackky uses the phrase ‘mountain top’ repeatedly and we sought to know what he meant by that. “The mountain top we are talking about is the mental state of mind where you detach yourself from a situation and watch from a distance,” he explains. “Now, when you are watching, people will not see you but you can see them and observe more closely. It is just a mental picture of separating yourself from your environment.
“My inspiration comes from the problems we have in Nigeria, the poverty, the selfishness and cruelty of our leaders who think only about themselves. And that is why I have songs like, Useless People, Cost of Living, Killer Disease, which talks about HIV and songs that describe how the people feel and the fact that our leaders who are in the minority keep on oppressing the masses. Blackky also talks about man and woman problem. That is why you hear songs about Delilah, Rosie, Divorce and Bang Belly. These songs are socially relevant.”
Back in the day when Blackky held sway, another young man by name Daniel Wilson also sprang into the limelight with his ragamuffin style of reggae music. It became a case of rivalry of some sort and it went on for sometime. Looking back now, Blackky comments on the situation thus: “It was highly spiritual and interesting. As far as I was concerned and that is how I have always taken it. Music is a mission and not a competition. I don’t know how any other person feels about it but I have always felt it is by my works and by my lyrics that you should judge me. I think the media tried to play that up. Daniel Wilson was playing ragamuffin while I’m a dancehall artiste. But I was not concerned with all of that. I was more concerned with my music and the destination that I was headed.
“As far as I was concerned, I was just getting to the fans and giving them African dancehall because I happened to be one of the pioneers of this sound that we still have till today which a lot of the younger artiste are using as their beats. As a pioneer, it was my desire to try and make sure that I created a path for African dancehall, which is the modern face to reggae music.
“When I started, I had my bigger brothers like Ras Kimono, Majek Fashek playing reggae music so when I came with my kind of reggae, a lot of the record companies didn’t want to sign me. They were used to the cultural roots. Then record companies put millions of naira into a release. Not like now when you go to the studio, cough once, auto tune it and next minute your single is ready. It takes months of planning. Before they put money down they had to be sure. That is why I had to go to the Lekki Sunsplash talent contest and win in 1990, to get my deal for the Rosie album release entitled, About Time.”
Not too long after the release of his album, Blackky began to court controversy with one of the tracks, Sugar Stick and it got the hammer of the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission when the song was banned. In fact, some people still hold tenaciously to the argument that the ebony skinned artiste could be said to have pioneered lewd lyrics with Sugar Stick. What is the Blackman’s take?
He responds: “That song I must confess got me into serious problems because I was just graduating from campus when this album came out. Sugar Stick was one of those naughty songs. After recording the track, we took it to the record company, I didn’t even want it to be played by the executives at that time but it was surprising that one of the executives requested the track must be on the album. Anytime I did Sugar Stick at UNILAG, the place was always on fire.
“I wanted to extend that to the listeners out there, whether they could see the humour in it because the song is talking about a man who is boasting about his sexual prowess. When it came out, it got banned. My mother was so upset because she had given the album to a lot of her friends and she couldn’t believe that kind of song was on it. These are the things that happen when you are a creative person. Sometimes, some things don’t sit down well with your loved ones but what is important is that your fans loved it. You hear them singing Sugar Stick till now.”
The musician had a series of tracks that were banned including Yanshman, Sugar Stick and Bang Belly. Is it that Blackky is a blunt artiste and a lot of people are uncomfortable with that? “The way I look at it is that I played a major role in the evolution of blunt lyrics. A lot of people thought I was x-rated but I was playing with minds musically.”
Having churned out many hits, he also talks about how he got influenced into his kind of reggae music as well as his spirituality. “I was hugely inspired by King Yellowman and Winston Foster. When I was in St. Gregory’s College, a sister’s friend gave me a tape called, King Yellowman Live in Concert. Listening to it got my creative juices running. It was then I discovered that this may be my talent and I started mimicking Yellowman and that is what I carried into UNILAG. Then I started adding some lyrics into some of the Yellowman’s songs. I was also inspired by Bobby Brown and Shaba Ranks.”
Blakky says he is a full-blooded Christian who believes in the power of the Most High. “When I say Jah, a lot of people do not understand. Jah means Jehovah and that is the point of departure between me and anybody who is into Rastafarianism. I would not want to delve into something I don’t have understanding about. What I know is my Almighty God and Jesus Christ, my Lord and Saviour.
“That is why you will hear in my music tracks like Praise Him, Give Thanks and He Got The Whole World in His Hand, which many pastors didn’t find funny but it was what was going on in some of our churches; pastors making advances at members of their congregation, getting them pregnant and then, they will turn around and call us sinners. My take is if pastors can do this, then let us talk about it.”
Place of reggae
Blakky, who strongly believes that reggae music cannot die, explains the place of reggae in the Nigerian music scene. “When I started, we started like a full blooded army. From artiste like Ras Kimono, Oritz Wiliki and Majek Fashek to a lot of artistes back then. But there are not many of us that are still on the beat. Those of us that are still on the beat should be given gun salutes. I am celebrating 21 years as a recording/performing artiste in Nigeria. My area of specialty is not reggae but dancehall which is the modern face of reggae and I call it ‘African dancehall’.
“I still insist that reggae music is always going to be there because you hear people wanting to hear Bob Marley every time. You want to listen to all the legends from Shaba Ranks to the others. It is evergreen and you can never say goodbye to it. Reggae music is what you love to listen to all the time but the others would come and go. I want to encourage the young ones that they can get a career out of reggae.”
Of course, in those days when he held sway, he earned the sobriquet, Master Toaster because of his Rosie video and it was assumed that he was loose with women like an average musician. And as expected, he was romantically linked to some ladies but Blackky has his own version of his love life. He also speaks about why he is yet to get married.
“Fire burn Satan! My love life right now is Blackky’s Playground and the new album we are working on in the studios. I usually tell people that when you are called to do jobs like this, it’s a serious calling. I am not talking about those that come into music because they want to drive the fastest cars or want girls or fame and fortune.
“I am talking about those who have messages to give. It preoccupies your time. There is not much time for that because the fans were expecting so much from Blackky; it’s a lot of work. The Blackman is not married and does not have a love life at this point in time because the biggest love of his life for now will always be his fans who sing his songs. I was passing through one of the toll plazas recently when a fan was so surprised to see me. She screamed and told me to forget about the toll and just drive on; that is the love we are talking about. But If Jah wills it to be, why not?”
Denying rumours that he ever dated songstress, Esse Agese and ex-beauty queen, Ibinabo Fiberesima, he continued: “I have heard a lot of rumour that I dated Esse Agesse. No way! I never dated Ese Agesse, that was my producer’s wife. We only did a song, Kissing Game. Ms Ibinabo Fiberesima is so dear to me and she was on Bang Belly and one or two of our videos and we just loved her energy.
“It is just because we had a working relationship. I also had a good working relationship with Stella Damasus. These are the people that are dear to me but a lot of people when they see the Blackman with a member of the opposite sex, they associate us together and make all kinds of speculations but they were all unfounded. They were totally wrong and false. The Blackman is not yanshman or gay but if you notice, the Blackman does not speak much about his private life. The Blackman is more of a private person.”
Coping with fans
“We are now pensioners of 21 years. Every single greeting is a huge honour for me. It takes one thing for an artiste to come out for 21 years and still be respected. Maybe in the first one or two years, the fans are excited probably because they have not seen the brand before but after a while, they begin to lose interest. I find it surprising that people still show as much love as they showed when I started my career. I want to use this opportunity to give 21 gun salutes to all the Blackky fans. Without them the brand would not have been able to live for this length of time.”