By Sunday Ani

Highlife music maestro, Ogbobe Magnus Ikechukwu, popularly known as Okanga Ugbene Ajima, took the bull by the horns, when he quit his banking job and embraced the highlife music. A graduate of engineering, the 36 year-old musician from Enugu State, said music was his first love. In this interview with The Entertainer, he spoke on a wide range of issues, including how to revive the highlife music which appears to be fading gradually.

How was your childhood and growing up?

I had my primary education at Community Primary School, Ugbene Ajima, and my Secondary education at Community Secondary School, Abbi/Ugbene, both in Uzo Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State. I had my National Diploma in Civil Engineering from the Institute of Management and Technology (IMT), Enugu, and proceeded to the Federal Polytechnic Nekede, Imo State, where I obtained a Higher National Diploma (HND) in Civil Engineering. Shortly after my graduation, I got a banking job in one of the foremost banks in the country. I later enrolled for a second degree in Computer Education at Godfrey Okoye University, which I successfully completed. I spent six years in the banking industry before I resigned to pursue my dream in music. The stage name, Okanga, was revealed to me in a dream by my late father. I quickly adopted the name, which means talking drum.

How did you get exposed to music?

I discovered my passion for music at a tender age of six, but my parents didn’t take it seriously. As a matter of fact, people in my village knew that I had something to do with music at that tender age. The music that appealed so much to me as a child was Osita Osadebe (Kedu America), Ali Chukwuma (Oji Ego Ji Okwu) and Celestine Ukwu.

What inspires you to sing?

Past and current events in my life, both the good and the ugly, inspire my lyrics. Most times, I receive the lines of my songs in dream; even the wind whispers music to my ears.

I passed through a lot of challenges as I was growing up. Unfortunately, people believed that I was enjoying it, for the fact that I was the last child in a family of seven. I had some challenges when I was growing up because all my siblings were still struggling to find their feet. At some point, I became a commercial motorcyclist to support myself in school during my diploma programme in IMT.

What was the reaction of your family members to your choice of music as a career?

I come from a strong Christian family. At one point, I attended a pastoral school, hoping to become a minister of the gospel. But, when I discovered that my calling was not to be a pastor, I followed my heart. There were prophecies in the past from known and unknown seers that I had a microphone in hand and people gathered to listen to me. I interpreted the revelation to mean becoming an evangelist, but later, it became clear that the microphone I was holding was not that of a pastor but a high life musician. I am still a preacher, but I now preach through my songs.

How many albums have you produced so far?

I started music late 2019 and I already have three albums: Mgbo Eji Agba Enyi (4 tracks); Echi Ebuka (6 tracks); Ifeoma (5 tracks) and other singles. I have more than 30 tracks of music recorded and still counting. In my latest album, Ifeoma, there is one track, Ofor, that I love so much. I wrote that song for more than one year. Another track, Echi Ebuka, which is in my second album, has touched so many people with the message of hope.

Highlife music appears to be fading away; how can it be revived?

High life artistes should work more on the messages that form the heart of their songs. The message is the ingredient that makes the highlife music what it is. We have introduced hip-life, which is mixed with pop, and the idea is to carry the younger generation along.  Just like in my second album Echi Ebuka, I have a track called Credit Alert, (Track 1) strictly for the younger generation.

When people ask me about the future of highlife music, I usually tell them that it has bright prospects. It is normal to get to a certain age before you start appreciating highlife, because it is usually filled with words of wisdom, and idiomatic expressions. Highlife music is for the mature minds. In other words, highlife can never lose its appeal because the younger generation will definitely get to the age of listening to music rather than dancing to music.

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What are the challenges facing the entertainment industry?

The cost of music production is too high, including video production and promotion. This requires support from family, friends, fans and well wishers. Most times, people around don’t usually believe the dream, especially when you are still starting, and I find it difficult to beg for support. I used a large chunk of my savings to push my music to where it is today.

Promotion is usually expensive. I have good songs but I have not really promoted them because of the cost. I need to have my own band, equipment, or studio. This is the business side of music, but the cost of setting up a studio or procuring musical equipment runs into millions of Naira. In some places, family, community, personalities and politicians support artistes, both with promotion, connections and equipment, because they understand the importance of music and how it can be of value to the community and the younger generation.

The truth is that in Nsukka zone, Uzo-Uwani Local Government Area and especially my home town, Ugbene Ajima, there is no such support. The few support I received in the past came from people outside my town.

Most musicians often frolic with women, and have babies out of wedlock. How do you handle beautiful ladies that flock around you?

I am married to a beautiful woman with three kids, and I am contented. Most musicians doing that are not doing it because they are musicians, because even if they are not musicians, they would still leave a similar lifestyle. By the way, there is nothing wrong with that, it is called choice. People that are not musicians even do worse things.

About 80 percent of highlife artistes are responsible people, go and verify. Having babies out of wedlock is just a lifestyle, and anyone can choose to live that way.

What is the most interesting moment in your music career?

The first day I performed live, and the first huge sum of money I received from a fan.

You made a career digression as an engineer by going into music. Do you regret not practising engineering?

No regrets at all, I only regret not studying music or a related course. I am a good science student, my teachers will attest to this, but I would have been a better art student.

You praise men of character in your music. Does it imply that you don’t sing for money?

Most people I praised so far, 80 percent did not know, until they heard the song. I see it as an avenue to encourage people to keep working hard and keep doing good.

I don’t sing for money, but there are other ways that we make money through singing. I don’t praise money that has no foundation. I don’t praise people without offices, no shops, jobs, and no positive impact on society.

I sang a song titled Ugbene Ajima Ndi Oma. I produced it with my money and 80 percent of the people mentioned have not even called not to talk of chat me up. I am not bothered because my aim was to encourage hard work and make the name, ‘Ugbene Ajima,’ (my town), which I achieved.