RnBact turned pop singer, Iyanya, was one of the best things to happen to the music industry in 2012. With the hit single, Kukere, that took over the Nigerian music space, the first-ever ‘Project Fame’ winner launched into the Nigeria Music scene.
Like a breath of fresh air, fans couldn’t get enough of the song. Perhaps to prove that he was not a flash in the pan, the pop star dropped yet a follow up single, Your Waist, which finally consolidated his position in the limelight.
In this interview with MERCY MICHAEL, Iyanya opens up on his struggles as an RnB artiste, secrets of his success, upcoming album, scandals and other things. Excerpt:
IT was awesome seeing you have evolved with the quality of performance you put up at the maiden edition of the LASAA Concert. What have you been doing secretly to up your game?
In the last two years, I would say that I have evolved definitely because I’ve watched a lot of my mentors closely. I used to watch them on TV, videos and stuff. But these days, I sit with them. I follow them to shows. I’m backstage and I’m watching them do their thing. And I always say to myself I can emulate these people. I can try to be better than them. So that way I’m learning very fast.
I’ve learnt from Tuface, Dbanj. I’ve learnt from everybody there. Wizkid, Davido, everybody, I just watch them and I learn. So in the last two years that’s what I’ve been doing. Trust me, I watch everybody that has made it. P-square, I sit down and say, how did they make it? What are they doing that’s making them go far? Dbanj is one of the best entertainers in the world, P-Square, they are the best performers, Tuface is like one of the deepest guys you will ever know. Wizkid is such a talented guy, melodies, hooks, just name it!
Would it be right to say Iyanya is so many personalities in one?
Yes, I’m not just Iyanya, I buy their albums, I listen to them. I buy Davido’s album I listen to it. I buy Wizkid’s album I listen to it. I wanna know why they are succeeding because they are like me. They are human beings. And if they are succeeding, I can. I wanna know why Dbanj goes on stage and the crowd goes wow! So I watch Dbanj perform. And I try to do better than him.
If you ask me, my number one performer that I love so much is Dbanj. Dbanj can go on stage and he won’t say a word and you will not leave your seat. You get what I’m saying. So I feel like if Dbanj can do it, then I can do it and even do it better.
When you were cooking Kukere and as at when you dropped it, did you have any inkling that it was going to be a hit?
Trust me, I never believed in that song. It took me 3 months to complete that song. I did not believe that song. I didn’t even like it. That was the first pop song I did, after doing RnB, so I was like men, this song is not going to work.
My manager, UB, pushed that song. He disturbed me and even lied to me that I should come over that we are about to do a show that they’ve already paid him. When I came they didn’t pay him anything. And he said my guy, I’ve been playing this song in my car, it’s a good song go ahead do it!
RnB experience. What was it like for you before the transition into pop songs?
The experience was quite trying because I was the one begging for shows. Do you know that it was so bad that I would beg for shows, I would say I want to perform for free and they won’t let me perform because they would be like, what do you want to sing? Is it not that RnB? They will be like peep, peep, see these crowd…I would peep and the crowd will be on a frenzy like ohhhhh.
I’ve performed in places and the crowds were just looking at me like what’s wrong with him? I will say make some noise! And they will be comot there. You will go for corporate shows that you expect that they will call the singer to entertain them but no they don’t want. They don’t want you. So it was really trying because I was not making money. The highest money I would get as an RnB artiste back then, the highest I would get in probably one month and it has to be in one fashion show, is like N150, 000 or N250, 000, that’s if the person likes you.
I couldn’t continue living like that. So all those rejections and all those things transformed me, It gave me the push. The reason why everybody rejects you at some point is because you have something bigger than what they all have. So you have to find that thing. What most of us probably don’t know is when we get rejected every time; there are two decisions you have to make. You work harder or you give up. I refused to give up when I was rejected. As a matter of fact, the people that rejected me, family, friends, colleagues they made me.
At a point you sold your car, CRV Jeep?
Oh yeah, I did. I sold my car because I had to do a tour to promote the same song when I saw that few people started appreciating it. I had to do a tour because I realised the song was big in most places, they didn’t know who did it. So I had to do a tour to say, ha! Na me sing this song oh! Make una no pay another person money o. On that tour, few artistes supported me. And when they supported me we didn’t have the best of times. I remember taking Vector, Pope the Hit Man, Chidinma, and others. We stayed out for six hours before we could get a room.
A friend had to come and keep his own car in the hotel and say, if they don’t pay for this hotel room, that’s my car. So it’s not been easy. Look, people should not think that I just came from nowhere and I’m making money. I’ve suffered. I have paid the dues.
Everything that I have today, God knows that I’ve worked for it. I and my manager, Bassey, have lived in one room. I’m not saying twenty years ago. I’m talking about a year and some months ago. It was not all rosy from the scratch. We paid the necessary dues. I sold my car. I was carless for one year. I was using cabs, normal yellow cabs without AC.
What lessons did you learn from that experience?
I won ‘Project Fame’ and I was supposed to be the biggest star but it just proved to me that your destiny is in your hands. You are who you say you are. You know what I’m saying. If I had won ‘Project Fame’ and I was still struggling, making Kukere a hit doesn’t mean that if I don’t work harder I won’t struggle again. So it just taught me that they higher you get, the more you achieve, you should work harder.
In 2012, you performed back-to-back, and in all, your performance stood out. What was your drive?
The fans, the team that I have, passion, God’s grace. It’s just beautiful when they just say, we have Iyanya in the building – you are backstage and the crowd goes wow! If you drove sixteen hours to that show you feel good and you want to go to the next show because you also want the other fans to also scream.
How do you intend to sustain the tempo of 2012?
The best I can do is just keep doing what I’m doing. Like I said somewhere, I said God will always bless us because we put Him first in everything we do. First cut is always the deepest. R-Kelly can never have I believe I can fly again, Tuface, African Queen will always be his biggest song.
Tongolo, will always be Dbanj’s biggest song. Busy body e, will always be P-square’s biggest song. Kukere will always be Iyanya’s biggest song, you know why? It was the introduction. But you see, all these guys I mentioned do extremely well today, why? Because, they refused to give up! Despite all the odds, they kept dropping. Consistency! So, l learnt from all of them.
If Tuface can be around for over 10 years, every other person can be. If P-square can keep dropping hits, you can keep dropping hits. If Sound Sultan can be around over ten years, you can. So it’s not about one song or two songs. If you work hard, if you are determined, you will get it.
What informed your decision to form ‘Made Men Music’?
I know I’ve not been around for a decade but I’ve been around well enough to understand the industry and how it runs. I’ve been around and I can boldly say that I’ve paid my dues. Ask anybody, show organisers, artistes, go and ask them they will tell you I’ve paid my dues. And I felt like it was high time for me to be a boss too. It was high time for me to sign my cheques.
It’s was high time for us to make our own money. It was high time for us to bear our losses instead of other people bearing our losses. Because it makes no sense, to suffer for five years, ten years, and somebody just comes from America and opens a label and signs you on Monday and you have an endorsement on Friday. The person takes their percentage. It’s not greed. It’s just you saying, let me take my life in my own hands. So when I make the money I make the money. When I lose I lose.
I sit back and say damn! I lost! So everything that we do today is this, from there to here (pointing at his team). We sit down just like that. We watch, should we set it out, no! Should we…Yes! This is us. This is MMMG. We don’t have to wait for someone to come back from America to tell us go! We don’t have to wait for somebody to say, he’s sleeping, when he wakes up! Nobody says, I’m sick right now, let me feel better. I think I will feel right about this. It’s us. We decide. We are young too. So we are vibrant.
People had this notion that you were a church boy. Would it be right to say you have derailed?
I love God and God loves me. The fact that I do these songs that does not make me evil. It still God engineering all these, so don’t get it twisted. So I’m still faithful to my God. I pray He answers. His answer is what you’re seeing. So that’s what it is.
What’s next after Your Waist?
I’ve just dropped a single. I’m dropping my album and from that album, I’m still dropping more videos.
What’s the title of the album?
He’s Desire, Iyanya. Iyanya means desire
Any New Year resolution?
I would just say move closer to God because this year I’m going to be bigger than anybody. All that 2012 is the intro. Believe what I’m telling you. So I just feel like it’s high time for me to get closer to God because I feel like it will get to a point where I would have absolutely everything like this. And you see, at that point, if you are not somebody who is close to God and if you are not somebody who fears God, you’ll probably think you are God.
After your recent scandal involving comedy merchant, Opa Williams, there were stories that you have become full of yourself…
Till today I still apologise to Opa Williams. It’s unfortunate this is in the media because we’ve already apologised to him and he accepted the apology and we returned the money he paid us. I personally apologise to everybody who had looked forward to my performance at that show. I realise that it’s not easy. When you work so hard, with your hard-earned money, and you want to see somebody and you don’t see the person, it’s painful, so I apologise to everybody.