By Lolade Sowoolu
Armed with a formal study of Classic music from the Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON), Pascal Ejikeme is more than your average artiste.
Stage named Etcetera, his conviction and perception of music and how it should be done is equally thought provoking. He trades in an uncommon genre called â€˜Alternate musicâ€™ or â€˜Soft Rockâ€™. And today, we join in celebrating his â€˜Michelleâ€™- a song he recorded in 2003 but didnâ€™t get recognition until six years later after he released his first album.Â Signed to X3M music, Etcetera bares all. Excerpts!
How old is â€˜Michelleâ€™?
I recorded Michelle in 2003 and that was when I released it.
Why did it take so long to get noticed?
Sometimes, it does happen that way. You record a song and put it on radio and it looks like nobodyâ€™s talking about it. And then suddenly, something sparks something and itâ€™s everywhere. Like the song Dido did with Eminem. Until Eminem made a re mix of the song, Didoâ€™s original recording didnâ€™t gain prominence.
In the period the song wasnâ€™t receiving attention, what wentÂ through your mind?
As a musician, you should be ready for anything. The profession itself is a surprising one. I knew I did the best I could. Thereâ€™s the luck factor in everything. Itâ€™s 95% hard work, yet that 5% of luck is very important. It needs to come into play.
Wasnâ€™t it strange that the same song got you the â€˜Recording of the yearâ€™ award at the HHWA â€˜09?
First, you need to consider the fact that there was no album then (in 2003). Most times, artistes donâ€™t get nominated based on their singles. Itâ€™s only here in Nigeria that you have conflicting and confusing nominations. Sometimes it takes an album for people to assess and digest your single, and then for it to become a hit.
How old is the video?
I shot it last September in Cape Town, South Africa, and it was released here sometime in May.
So, is there a real character called Michelle?
Thereâ€™s no Michelle.
So what does the fictitious Michelle stand for…?
In life, everybody has certain things that he or she tends to be looking for. For me, it could be salvation. For you, love. For someone else out there, it could be getting laid, or getting high or even a stable relationship. In that song, Michelle represents that thing youâ€™re looking for at any given point in time.
What inspired the song?
Life itself is a journey, and thereâ€™s always a quest when thereâ€™s a journey. Michelle is the face that I put to your target. I wanted to venture into music as a career and music is like a venture into the unknown. So, I decided to represent my quest in a song.
How was it making Michelle, six years ago such that it qualifies to win the â€˜Recording of the yearâ€™ in 2009?
Sometimes,Â inspirations just crop up from your subconscious. Most times, when I write, I get the rhythm first. Then I look for words to fit. Itâ€™s the easiest way to have a good fit. Having a rhythm first helps you know where to stop the lines in each part. I got the rhythm in my head, then got the guitar to score it and then I put pen to paper to get words for the rhythm. It took two days to finish.
Who produced the song?
I produced it myself but was assisted by a friend called Joe Kenny. Itâ€™s easier when you already have a rhythm, found the chord on the guitar and sort all the progressions. Thatâ€™s why itâ€™s a lot easier working with musicians instead of artistes that canâ€™t play instruments and donâ€™t know the chord. Thatâ€™s why people can produce craps for those artistes and they donâ€™t know the difference.
Is it so vital to be a musician as an artiste?
Instrument playing and song writing work hand in hand. Sometimes, while trying to score a song of one of the greats on the piano, then you discover that if you go another way, it could be a song on its own. Before you know whatâ€™s out of someone elseâ€™s inspiration, you get your own.
Will you consider having dance able songs on your next album since thatâ€™s what people are quick to respond to?
I didnâ€™t go into music because I failed trying to do something else. Music is an art and art is something that portrays the feelings inside. Nigerians are well read, well travelled, smart and educated. The truth is you canâ€™t dance all the time.
Someday, after youâ€™ve danced for so long and you find time to listen to the same songs youâ€™ve danced to, thatâ€™s when youâ€™ll realise how hollow they are.Â It is times like that my songs will minister to you. I will not be a part of the crowd.
This is what I have inside of me,Â and thatâ€™s what Iâ€™ll give.
Do you play music full time?
Yes. Iâ€™ve been playing music since 1999 but professionally, Iâ€™m just about a year if you decide to count from when my album dropped.
How commercially rewarding is playing soft rock in Nigeria?
Reward comes in different forms. Itâ€™s been totally rewarding, both financially and otherwise.
Who are some of the artistesÂ you consider deep enough to be on your songs?
The likes of Majek Fashek, Bongos Ikwue, Age Baker and Asa. Iâ€™m never going to water down my music. Iâ€™m going to give what I can defend anytime I have to.
Why did you travel to South Africa to shoot your video?
Music is a global citizen. There shouldnâ€™t be restrictions to where you want to do your stuff. But basically I went to SA because I discovered it was that particular place that could best interpret what I wanted for the song.
Whose concept was the video?
It was set up by my management and the South African director called Dave Mclean.
Whatâ€™s the force that ensures a stay in this unpopular lane of music called Soft Rock?
It depends on what you want; to make a song that sells for six months or one thatâ€™ll sell for 50 years. A song you listen to for a while and then go back to it in 10 yearsâ€™ time and be ashamed that you ever listened to it, or something that will last and become evergreen.
Sometimes, bulk money does not measure up to the money you make in a stretch of time.Â It depends on what you want.
I have chosen my path: alternate music or soft rock is the only way I can be myself through music. I have picked my audience and Iâ€™m going to satisfy them, even if itâ€™s just a handful of them.