By Ayo Onikoyi & Juliet Ebirim
Just as you could judge a book by its cover, so you could put a tag on many Nigerian artistes of today by the kind of music they do, but not the enigmatic Rex Suru. By listening to him, you get a feel of reggae, then highlife with a breezy Afrobeat temperament but Rex is much more than that.
He would tell you he does Afro-roots reggae but when you listen to him confusion sets him because of the spectrum of the beat and sound. He started his music career in the United States but now back home in Nigeria to re-invent himself. Weekend Groove recently met up with the debonair musician who spoke about his career, his music and how the voice of God spoke to him about his kind of music:
CAN we know a bit about you?
My name is Rex Suru. I’m a
native Nigerian. I started music in the United States soon after I got there in my junior years in college. I’ve had the inspiration since then and I was determined to follow through. I started producing music in the early 90s and my first production was called ‘Will like to live and not to die’.
Most people loved the music and that gave me more inspiration and belief that this is the path I must follow. Since then, I have produced three albums and I’ve been promoting them locally in the United States, but I decided to bring it back home. I realised that most African musicians in the United States that had a breakthrough started from home.
As an African doing music in the United States, it is difficult to break into the American music scene because they have a different style. As someone with an African background, the music will sound more appealing back home.
I realised a lot of great acts are from Nigeria, so I decided to come back home and introduce myself to my people.
When did you start doing music professionally?
Professionally, I started in the late 90s and I promoted myself on the streets of San Francisco, Beckley and Oakland. I later took a break and this is my second coming.
What was it like getting your music to be accepted by the United States audience?
The United States is a very good place. I started as an originator of Afro-roots music because I was determined to do only original music. After promoting myself all by myself, I realised that hardwork pays because there was usually a huge turn out of people at my gigs. And it motivated me more. I broke even and I was satisfied with the turn out because they comprised of people from all ages and races. In 1997, I had a street performance. The then Mayor of San Francisco, Frank Jordan walked up to the stage and said, ‘Rex, we need more of you in this city’. At the early stage, my music was well accepted, but I still didn’t get where I wanted to be.
The lyrics in my music are very great, positive messages and I’ve never swayed. My music was accepted in the United States but I lacked the resources to give it a grand promotion and the push I need. So, these compelled me to come back home. In doing the kind of music I do, what really matters is having a band that sticks with you.
These days, musicians rarely have bands. All they do is go to the studio and do their songs…?
It’s the new generation and they will eventually return to the order of things. In clubs in the United States, you’ll discover that most people don’t want to listen to pre-produced music, they prefer live music. Acoustics and instrumentals are the core of music.
With the advent of the new generation digital music, it’s rare to get a band because most musicians are not even good at playing instruments, how do you hope to get a band in Nigeria?
It’s a big world. Some youths are wiser than their peers. There are some youths in music schools learning how to play musical instruments and most of them are looking for bands to play with.
Most people desire the joy of live music and that’s what we are trying to bring back. I do not think the old ways will just fade away, because a lot of people still yearn for it and I’m one of those willing to provide and revive it.
We appreciate what is currently going on musically in terms of technological revolution, but I believe we have to improve our skills and contribute for posterity, not for the moment.
How did you discover your genre of music?
My genre of music is Afro-roots reggae. Afro in the sense that I’m an African and the roots of my music are based on traditional African rhythm.
Traditional African rhythm
All the creative force that comes out of me is a rhythm, the way I talk, laugh, walk etc. Reggae is what I love doing.
What inspired your coming up with this genre of music?
That cannot be explained, it is what it is. One day, I was working in the United States on a scaffold and I asked God that if I could have a band, what would I name it. And I heard ‘Cherubim Vibes’ meaning the vibration of angels, that’s positive vibrations.
Was it influenced by your Cherubim and Seraphim background?
It could be. But what I heard from God on that day was ‘Cherubim Vibes’. Though I was raised in a Cherubim and Seraphim church as a young boy in Lagos, I’m in a different church right now, though I believe all churches are the same.
I also asked God what I would name my record label when I have one and I heard ‘House of Rhythms production’. Since then, I’ve been using those names in affiliation to my music.
How do you intend to get your reggae based music into the hip-hop hearts of Nigerians?
Reggae never dies. It inspires people, the youths especially.
Why do you think people shy away from playing reggae?
They ‘re not shying away, they only lack the inspiration. Reggae music never dies, it only goes through a transition.
How do you get the inspiration to compose?
Usually, the base is the rhythm and sometimes, I hear sounds. I’ve worked with different producers, sometimes I tell them what I want and at other times, I just let them do their thing. The base is the driving force behind the rhythm.
How do you view the Nigerian music industry?
When I came in 2012, I was challenged with the way things were going. Even though some people might have problems with the lyrics of most Nigerian songs.
Personally, I was impressed and motivated. I thought about what to do to break through and I came up with the song ‘Lagos Boy’. I did a few other reggae songs too.
Most people are of the opinion that Nigerian songs lack evergreen qualities …?
Opinions vary and I do not condemn anybody, but I appreciate the efforts of Nigerian musicians. We need to motivate and encourage our youths.
These days, there’s lot of sexuality in music, but your music seem to be spiritual, what’s your take on the infusion of sex in music?
A whole family cannot be alike, there are things that distinguish each person.
I can’t ask them not to talk about sex, but I do those songs that evoke the spirituality in them and calls them back.
Which of your three albums is particularly dear to you?
I had to reproduce my first two albums. Production-wise, they lacked quality but the messages are very important. So now that I have more experience, I reproduced them to improve the quality for posterity sake. My last album is perfect and up-to-date. I love all my albums.
As a married man, how has doing music affected your married life?
It has in a way. I had problems in the past through music and hanging out with negative people and it affected my first marriage. But this is my second marriage.
My first wife is a good person and I respect her a lot. I respect my current wife even more. Marraige doesn’t really affect my music production, but helps me choose my friends carefully.
It makes me separate my music business from family business. I love my wife very much.