Victor Essiet of The Mandators fame, who just returned to the country after sojourning in the United States for over two decades now speaks on why he has not married again after the death of his former wife, Peggy. He also talks about his upcoming album, his American experience and his plans to revive the reggae music in Nigeria
What’s your latest album, ‘Freedom Train’ all about?
You must know that the track is an introduction of the upcoming album which is 15-tracks. The message of redemption is still strong today. There is no prosperity for the suffering masses and their ordeals are on the increase. Freedom is our right, it should be demanded for; it is not earned. We are not going to beg for our freedom.
But it is a collective effort of the masses; the masses should come together and demand for their freedom. It is a message that we are bringing as usual that since the world is not getting better, we cannot relent on our efforts to mount pressure on those oppressing us.
I am working with independent records companies such as Mystic Records California and PP Records based in New York to release this major work. We are still working on this album.
This is one single that is dropping very soon. I will be shooting a video of this very track in Los Angeles before we embark on a world tour. We are planning to release the first single in February while the second single will be released in April. The album itself will be released in June.
Were you surprised that no Nigerian artiste was invited to perform at Mandela’s funeral?
I was not surprised because this is Africa, and in Africa we have a lot of wicked people. They do not believe in doing the right thing. Yes, we stood for our sister country during the apartheid era, and one had expected South African leaders to use Mandela’s funeral to honour Nigeria.
Until Africa finds the right people who would put things in perspective, things would remain this way.
What is the essence of this event?
Do you know that Nigerians keep asking me why I left Nigeria for America? I went for a radio and television interview session, and the listeners were calling to find out what I’m doing currently and why I travelled out of the country.
I realised that I am so much loved and the things I did while I was in Nigeria and which I took for granted were appreciated by the masses. Yes, I sojourned in America for a long time and while I was there, I got blessed by God.
I didn’t make much name in America like I did in Nigeria. But I gained in terms of monetary compensation much more than I did in my own country. The big names in Africa didn’t buy my cassettes and video cassettes. The masses bought my video cassettes and listened to my songs. The masses made me who I am today.
I got to America and I didn’t have to introduce myself because I was seen on TV, the papers, recordings and so much more. The Americans were elated by the way Africans applauded my arts.
So, I got their attention and made something for myself because of my popularity in Africa. As you know, Nigeria is dying because the truth is suppressed. I am using this medium to tell all my contemporaries that I am back home and ready to support everybody.
Is it a way of reviving reggae music in Nigeria?
Yes. Reggae is about truth and justice and the reggae artistes need to earn a good living singing their songs. I have just signed a franchise in America known as ‘Reggae meets Africa’. Reggae in Africa has to be exported. I happened to be the only reggae artiste from Africa known in America, and this is not supposed to be so.
Honour is never given to whom it is due. But I have won an award in America as ‘Best New Entertainer’ by International Reggae World music. If I have won the award, that means I have what it takes to stand the test of time. My coming back is to show them that I appreciate them and wants to carry them along in whatever I am doing.
When I left Nigeria for America, I didn’t relocate because I don’t like my country. But I left for America because I got to go to somewhere else and do something differently. I am not using this medium to try to get back into the Nigerian music scene because I am ever present in the scene.
I am going to continuously offer quality music. I am looking at the situation where every good reggae artiste in Africa would be known by the world because of the message they are conveying to the masses.
For instance, Rhymzo is a very good reggae artiste, but he hasn’t done much for himself in monetary value. How can he survive this way?
There are other good reggae artistes wallowing in poverty because of the truth and justice in their songs. Meanwhile, the government is sponsoring artistes doing meaningless songs because these musicians are not condemning their wicked attitudes toward the masses.
I cannot fight this battle alone. That’s the reason for this invasion. We are not only talking about reggae artistes in Nigeria, but all my brothers in Africa. We want a situation where we can take a reggae artiste from Nigeria to South Africa and bring in Ghanaian reggae artiste to Nigeria.
You were known to be a social crusader. Is it that you have changed since you got to the United States?
This is the mistake we make. Back in the days, I made my first album; it didn’t make it because it was not promoted very well. I made another album, it didn’t also fly. I produced the two albums while I was still in college in Lagos.
The third album which was Crisis contained songs such as ‘Rise to the Top’, ‘Inflation’, ‘System’, ‘Redemption’ which canvassed for the emancipation of the blacks in South Africa and the song, ‘I love You’, which preached love and unity in Africa became a major hit and automatically turned the music industry around in this country.
There are ghettos in America; joblessness, sufferings but it is not in the same magnitude that we have here. Wherever I am, I represent the voiceless people, the downtrodden people.
I am not going to be shooting a music video depicting some kind of things that is not part of me. I am a sufferer from time immemorial. As long as there are suffering people, people that are not having enough to eat then, I’m a sufferer.
We are not alright until my African brothers or sisters are doing well. Again, I said there are 15 songs in the album. We will be shooting the video in Nigeria as well as other parts of Africa.
How have you been able to maintain your dread locks?
It has been with me almost all my life. I handle my dreadlocks just as you wash or comb your hair.
Have you re-married?
Not at all. I am just being focused on my career. It is very difficult to make it on the international scene. It demands a lot of commitments. So, I have been putting a lot of energies into my music to be able to achieve what I have achieved internationally. I’m still a single father. I have a son and his name is Essien. I love him so much.
Don’t you think you belong to the old school, and hip hop has taken over in Nigeria?
I just want to correct another thing. I lived in the US and I would want somebody to tell me where music is highly sophisticated in the world? I want somebody to tell me where the centre of entertainment is located in the world today?
When you tell me that, then I am going to tell you that hip-hop that we are talking about today is not the hip-hop we know internationally.
If I belong to the past, King Sunny Ade was in the past, Chief Ebenezar Obey, Late Sonny Okosun, Fela, Victor Olaiya et al were there before I was born.
When I came into the scene, I had a place in the Nigerian music industry. I am strong and resolved in the things that I do. I can do anything. As a matter of fact, I am not boasting, I can do what every other musician is doing. But they cannot do what I do.
I was there before so many musicians that are here today just like many where there before me. They made ways for all of us like I made ways for others. Others came to make way for us, they did not come to destroy or drive away other people.
I have been doing music for a long time now and I have been growing from strength to strength even when I am not here. I am here joining hands with the young people who we have paved the way for .
Myself, Majek Fashek, Ras Kimono, Onyeka Onwenu, Evi Edna, late Xtian Essien, among many others were in the forefront and are still doing it. Let’s face the reality. The reality is that old school is the real music. All the songs I have released are evergreen.
What is going on in the country today? It’s the same thing I was singing against in the 1980s. We are yet to have another Moses who would lead us to the promised land. What we have today is hypocrisy.
It pains me because I went through this and only God helped me to be able to be sitting here. Not that I am fully back but I am going to be here doing the things that we need to do to move our country forward.
I don’t have problem with what kind of music we have in the country today. But the problem is within us as a people, let us promote whatever we have but gear towards the emancipation of the real people.