By YEMISI SULEIMAN
Bezhiwa Idakula, simply known as Bez, is an explosive soul singer with a truly unique voice and playful stage presence. In addition to an amazing performance at the 2012 ‘Super Sun Concert’ held at the Eko Hotel & Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos, the Soul and Rock star had an outstanding year in 2012, from being inducted into the MTV Iggy Hall of Fame and premiering ‘Stupid Song’ ft Praiz on BET International to being honoured at the ‘Top 40 Personalities Under 40’ by Applause Africa magazine, amongst others.
He begins year 2013 with his European and American tour and an upcoming album. As he prepares for the release of his second album, the Nasarawa State-born star says fans should expect a bit more of African sound in his music, shielding it with a bit of mainstream Rock while keeping the Soul genre very much present in the music.
Sitting casually in his studio, Bez talks to Allure about the beginning, his meteoric rise and fame, expectations for the second album and more.
First of all, congratulations on the success of your ‘Super Sun Concert’.
How would you describe the experience?
It was very exciting to have my own mega-concert in Lagos. I’ve been doing a lot of mini-concerts around Lagos and Nigeria. It was amazing to have it. The turn up was great and we had great sound. The whole thing was just really amazing. It was the first and you know how it is with first (time out). So, it was really exciting.
What were your early musical influences?
My dad used to play the guitar. He was a politician, late Honourable Amos Idakula. He taught me how to play the guitar when I was 9. I just kept practicing because I have this love for the instrument and I love music. I grew up in a very musical home. My sister sang; my dad used to sing and record stuff with my mum and my mum will back up for him.
Yes. Just for the fun of it. They will hit the record button, sit down and create their own tape. So, it was amazing to grow up in that kind of environment. It sort of just set the path for me automatically. I did some plays and musicals in primary school. When I got to secondary school, I joined the choir and I was there for like six years; the whole (time I spent in) my secondary school.
When I got to the university, I joined the choir for one year and left because it wasn’t just for me.
I think I had my own style of music by then and the choir was more like playing worship and praise songs. I started to create my own style of music and started to practice a lot more by myself. Eventually, when I left the university in 2007, I started playing somewhere named Taruwa. That was where my sister started. Taruwa is mainly for spoken word poetry, music. It’s somewhere in Ikoyi, Lagos. It was a platform for people to express themselves. I played there every two weeks for years.
In 2009, I was picked for Hennessey Artistry, through Cobhams Asuqwo. That was where it started really growing. So, I released some songs in 2009 and in 2011, I released an album.
At what point did you decide to do music full time?
It was when I was in my 2nd or 3rd year in the university. One of my friends, Dr Frabs, had left school and was working with KUSH. They had a gig in some church and called me to put a young band together. So, he called me and a couple of my friends in school; that we should put a band together and play for them.
It was great to have that kind of experience with KUSH because I was a huge fan. So, we played for them and Emem asked me if I was really thinking of going into music? I said I wasn’t really sure and she said: “Well, I think you are in music already because I can just tell you are in it already”.
I think that stirred me and I started reading a lot about purpose. I started reading a lot about why I’m here on earth; what I’m going to do career-wise. I figured that I was created to create music and then to add value to people, using music as my tool. So, it came together for me recently. But before then, I just did music for fun. I never knew I was going to flow into it professionally.
The ‘Stupid Song’, whose idea was it? How did you get it together with Praiz?
We were in the studio and needed to create a song that was going to resonate with people. Now, it came by mistake, totally by mistake. Somebody stepped into the studio and said he wanted to do a stupid song because Nigerians really like stupid songs (laughs). Cobhams was like: “Ha, which kind of stupid do you want to do now?”
Then, he started thinking in a more creative way and the guy said: “No, I don’t want all those ‘oyinbo’ kind of songs. I want a proper stupid song”. At that moment, the idea came to Cobhams to create a song that was a mixture of different songs that we sang back in the day. So, we got into the studio and he created music almost immediately. Then, I started giving him the different songs that we sang and so we added some things and removed some. It was amazing.
One of our friends, Omolara, came and heard it and was like “Wow. I think you should bring in somebody who has the same voice texture with you in this song; just do collaboration and create something really nice.” So, we got in Praiz the next day. He was supposed to be travelling but he came really early, did his part of the song and we had it done in two days.
So, did you think it was going to be this big? Did you think it was going to be well received?
I knew it was going to be well received because of the way the Nigerian market is and how the Nigerian market relates to certain things in music. But I did not actually know it will be loved this much. I didn’t know it was going to blow like it did but I knew it was going to be well received.
Your induction into the MTV Iggy Hall of fame, how does that make you feel?
MTV Iggy is all about discovering talents around the world; talents that are not mainstream at the moment. They go round the world like Asia, Africa, discovering talents. When they do that, they induct them into the hall of fame; all that is saying is watch out for these people next year and these people are really going to be huge. So, it was amazing for MTV Iggy to discover me in whatever way they did and to induct me into their hall of fame.
I think it was just more of a confirmation that we are doing the right thing and we are in the right path, so we’ll just keep going and keep moving. The way MTV Iggy will discover you, that is the way a lot of us people around the world will discover you as well. So, with time, you will be really huge. I think it was really important for me.
Do you write your songs?
Yeah. I write most of my music. For my Super Sun Album, I had one song that wasn’t written by me and then two or three other songs that I co-wrote with some of my friends. But I do write most of my songs. For my new album, I have been doing a lot of writing with a great artiste called Simi. It will be more like 50-50 writing for my new album. I really believe in two heads being better than one. When you have a partner in writing, you can come up with really great ideas.
Tell us about growing up. What was it like for you?
I grew up in Jos. Jos is now really different from the way it was back then. It was really nice growing up in Jos. It has very cool weather and during Harmattan, it could get really cold so, sometimes, you find us sitting outside, burning wood to keep warm. Not that you can’t be warm inside, but it was fun; just like burn fire night. It was like an oyinbo town. It was really great growing up in Jos. We used to have family gathering burn fire night. We go to my sister’s school and perform as a family. I would play the guitar and the rest of my family would sing. These days, if you are not so well to do, you don’t have a house with a large compound. Even if you are well to do, you probably live in a flat in Lagos.
Then, in the north, you have a large compound; you have space to play and ride your bicycle in the house; you have trees to climb. It was just fun growing up as a kid in Jos. Musically, a lot of people would play music for the fun of it. You hear of a new guy in town, you go check out the guy; go back home and practice to sing like him. Sometimes, you go to a garden and some musicians are playing, and you hang out with them. With time, you find out that you are building your social circle around musicians and you are just honing your skills continuously. Eventually, you discover that you have honed perfectly and can go commercial. I think, that is one of the most important things about artistes that come from Jos.
You are from Nasarawa State. What fond memories do you have of it?
A lot of people do not know much about Nasarawa State. When I go around the world and people ask me where I’m from, I tell them I’m a Nigerian from Nasarawa State. First of all, Nasarawa State is the next-big-thing when it comes to resources. It’s the next big thing after oil and the more people start focusing on solid minerals, we can have alternative means of income for the country. There are loads of things I want to do with the youth in Nasarawa State; adding more value to their lives by creating more opportunities for the youth in school and more.
If you have a word for the governor, what would that be?
The governor has been doing a lot and it’s great to see somebody coming in, seeing the way things are and trying to create something amazing from it. We have a university in Nasarawa State which is really great. I think there are more things to be done and people like us, sons of the soil, can join hands with the government to create something really amazing for the state.
Let’s talk about your Europe/America tour. What is it all about?
Most of the time, musicians just want to play around the world. It’s great to be able to be invited for a couple of gigs. We were invited to play at the Colombia University, New York for their African Economic Forum. There is a place called the Rock Wood Music Hall. That’s a great venue in New York that has booking agents coming through with a lot of booking; we will be playing there as well.
That usually turns out into more gigs. There was a time we played in South Africa. We went there for one gig and when we got in on Sunday and played that Sunday. By the time we finished, we were booked for like three or four more gigs during the week. So, it is a process; you go, you do two or three and find doors open for you to do more and you keep going.
I will also be recording my new album in New York, shooting a video and then recording with an artiste, Ambassador, who is a rapper from Ghana but lives in Brooklyn. So, there is a lot to do.
What should your fans expect from your new album?
My new album is taking a bit of departure from the sound that they know Bez for. First of all, I have evolved into another level, so it’s not a complete departure. It’s just a small evolution. I think I’ve found a stronger voice, so that will be very prominent in my music. I’m putting a more African sound in my music as well, shielding it with a bit of mainstream and Rock while keeping the Soul genre very much present in the music. So, it will be much more exciting. The album and the new music will be very exciting for my fans.
Musically, is there any musician you look up to? Who do you admire? Who would you have actually learnt from?
There are a lot of musicians that are my colleagues in the industry that I admire. For example, Tu Face, who is first of all, a really humble person; but this is somebody who knew exactly what he wanted to do from the word go and he pursued it. I’m sure he had loads and loads of setbacks but he just kept on. It’s amazing to see his growth over the years and he is growing stronger and stronger.
Those are the kind of people I admire; that you can look up to them and say: ‘This person was able to do it and he wasn’t able to do it in just a year or two’. You could see that there is a period of paying dues; there was a period of growth and there was this period when he became a mega super star. So, those are the kind of people I look up to.
You always wear a fedora. Is that your style signature?
Apart from the fact that I think sometimes it makes me look cooler (laughs). First of all, I wear prescription lenses (medicated lenses) so, I thought if I am going to wear glasses, why not make it look really nice. I thought to use fashionable frames and then the Fedora; I used to wear face caps before. I had different types of caps but at a point, I just settled with the Fedora.
It works for me and it gives me that extra look. My style could be very laid back; sometimes, jeans with t-shirts, beads, hats with glasses. I just jazz it up to make it look interesting. To me, it’s just how I feel like expressing myself. I am not so fussy about wearing too many things.
Do you have a designer that makes clothes for the red carpet for you?
In Lagos, I am very good friends with MAI so, he does a lot of stuff for me. Orange Culture does for me as well. I have a lot of people that I have worked with randomly but these are the more consistent ones I use.
You were one of those honoured at the ‘40 Personalities Under 40’. What was it all about?
By Applause Africa magazine; they had an edition on the ‘Top 40 Personalities Under 40’ making a mark in the society and I was on the cover for that edition. Once again, to be recognized in an industry as one of the leaders is amazing. That way, you know you are doing the right thing and people are noticing. They flew us over to New York for the launch and I performed as well at the show.
Apart from music, what else do you do?
Music is (not) the only thing I do. I do advocacy as well for Friends Africa. I am working with them; teaching people how to protect themselves against malaria, tuberculoses and AIDS. I am also working as a board member of Ovie Brume Foundation. Again, I have great passion for education because, when I was in secondary school, I lost my dad and somebody paid my fees throughout secondary school and also part of university (a lot of people assisted). So, I thought to myself, where would I be now if people didn’t give me that opportunity to finish my education. So, I always think of working with people to give back to society and help when it comes to education. That is what I do with education.