March 25, 2023

Willy Obiano’s stint as musician: Sweet Breeze before, after, now – Dallas Anyanwu

Willy Obiano’s stint as musician: Sweet Breeze before, after, now – Dallas Anyanwu

Defunct Sweet Breeze star singer and front man Dallas Kingsley Anyanwu here gives what is considered his heartfelt interview in which he tells FRED IWENJORA many things including times before, during and after Sweet Breeze, one of Nigeria’s most beloved pop music groups.

Many people expected you at the old school music jamboree organised by former Gov Willy “Bass” Obiano to honour pop music stars of the 70s but you were conspicuously missing..why?

Before the invitation to Anambra state, I had already signed up with God. And the word of God says if anything be in Christ, that thing is a new creature. All old things have passed away and behold everything becomes new.

This is recorded in 2nd Corinthians 5:17. I had asked the organisers to allow me sing gospel songs. I had prepared to sing gospel songs with all the melodies of the old songs but they insisted that I sing the songs they knew. How can I be singing ‘Palm Wine tapper remember me?’ How can a palm wine tapper be remembering me as a pastor? How could I be singing ‘Mr and Mrs Fool’ and ‘She is my choice’ when Jesus has become my choice?

It never clicked so I decided to stay out of the programme. This left many people unhappy. I still pray that people understand my new position. I did not want to perform and later get in conflict with my master Jesus. I am following the Lord that is very jealous. I do not subscribe to people putting their legs in the world and also putting the same legs in the kingdom of God. You are either for Christ or you stay in the world.

Now let us hear the history of Sweet Breeze from the mouth of one of the horses that made the history

We started Sweet Breeze as Rock Breeze. It was immediately at the demise of Stoneface Iwuagwu’s Life Everlasting band. Stoneface was our leader at the time. I joined the group through the invitation of my high school band mate Jackie Moore Anyaora. I later realised that Stoneface and I are both from Mbano area of present day Imo state. He comes from Umunkwu while I hail from Amaraku.

I can trace the formation of Sweet Breeze way back beyond this period. I started my musical career in secondary school. While at Dennis Memorial Grammar school Onitsha, I was part of my school band Dee Mites.

Dee Mites was a shortened form of Dengramites if you catch the drift. In the band were Vin Ik Iketotuonye, my close friend who was then doing his higher school at Dengram.

We also had Jimmy Henshaw, Willy Bass Obiano (former Governor of Anambra state). He was our second bassist. He was then a student of Christ The King College Onitsha and would join us regularly for rehearsals and recordings. At Dee Mites we used class tables and cartons as drums. We later recorded four singles including Money Drive, Hell’s Angels and the others for Scottie Records which also had the popular band Future Hopes under the label. I heard that the owner of Scottie Records died recently. He was a high chief in Oba Anambra state.

I recall we were the first high school band to record in Nigeria about 1972. It was after our records that we heard of Ofege from students of St Gregs, Lagos.

It was after my secondary school in Onitsha that I moved on to IMT Enugu to study Business Admin. As a singer, I found Stone face Iwuagwu’s Life Everlasting band. We played the regular Sunday Jumps. We also were resident at the Presidential Hotel Enugu until Stone face disbanded the group. With Life Everlasting band we played every Friday and Saturday at Presidential Hotel.

Maybe Tony Okoroji would love to hear this. The first time Tony Okoroji performed publicly was when Life Everlasting was in session at Tourist Hotel Enugu. He came and begged me to feature. I had never met him before then. He told me he was a student of CIC Enugu. He pleaded that he be allowed to do just two songs. I stepped aside and he gave an incredible performance. I can’t recall the songs he did but he was so good at them. I knew that this guy would go places. I am not surprised at how far he has gone.

I invited some of my friends in Life Everlasting and others from Dee Mites to my residence where we formed Rock Breeze. I was then living at Abakpa Nike Enugu, near the famous Liberty Hotel, in fact the house nearby. Abakpa Nike was then like the Trench Town of Enugu. At the time I am talking about, Bazzy Cole Akalonu was playing Drums for Speed Limits. Speed Limits had Justus Nnakwe (he just died not too long ago..may his soul rest in peace. Speed Limits also had Draggo who is also late and Pecos who was their lead singer. Pecos is an Obong in Uyo as we are speaking.

As Rock Breeze was still in its formative years, our drummer Samuel Ohanyerenwa (Bucana) was taken away by his father. His father came one day to Enugu and took him away. He couldn’t understand why his son would take off with musicians. They all believed that musicians were never do wells. Musicians were stupid people with nothing to offer. But most of us were in school anyway.

Almost at same period that we lost our drummer, Bazzy was having issues with Speed Limits so was free. I do not know the detail of the issue he had with his band. He was also a student of IMT Enugu but my senior. He immediately filled the drummer’s place in the new band; Rock Breeze.

Once we were rehearsing at Tourist Hotel, Zik’s Avenue, Enugu, when famous radio producer at the  time Pal Akalonu, Bazzy’s elder brother who must have heard about the existence of the band through Bazzy came to watch and later auditioned us. His first advice was that we should change our name from Rock Breeze to Sweet Breeze. We did.

After a series of auditions and rehearsals, he took us to EMI studios and recorded our first album; Across the desert which was released from FF Records, a subsidiary of Melody Records. Pal was producer for EMI but may have convinced Melody to sponsor the recording. It did not take up to two weeks after recording and the music boomed everywhere. We were later to move to EMI with him and recorded many other Sweet Breeze albums.

Who wrote the songs?

As a matter of fact and with all humility,  I am not boasting here. By the grace of God, I was the major song writer of Sweet Breeze and lead singer. I also played keyboards and rhythm guitar in that album. Musically, I found out that I am so endowed by God. I must have inherited the talent from my mother who was a great singer in the choir. She was well known in the area. My playing of instruments just came just like that.

I was only a singer in Dee Mites but started playing instruments after I moved to Enugu. I first started by vamping on the keyboard before later perfecting on them.

After Across the desert….?

Pal Akalonu then took us fully to EMI where we became EMI artistes and we did Advise, Igbaraka bia Ilum, Songs of the Breeze, Fire in a jar. While as EMI artistes, we were given a full set of instruments and part of the benefits gave me a VW Beetles car. Jackie also bought a car with his benefits.

Let me shock you.

Nothing came out from the album Across the desert, I must tell you. Could you believe that Melody the Nawfia chief gave us nothing from all his sales of Across the desert even till today that the music is still selling worldwide on youtube and other music platforms? That will be a story for another day ooo.

My IMT years

I studied for OND/HND at Institute of management and Technology Enugu. I did my IT period at Owerri. My NYSC was at Observer in Benin. It was school that brought me to Enugu and I sought to make ends meet as a student with my talent and interest in music.

National Youth service in Benin

During my one year NYSC at Observer, Benin, I would regularly take off to jam with Sweet Breeze and return to be at my desk every Monday morning. People were enjoying our music but no one knew I was part of the songs.

While in Benin, I often heard about the popular stars of the Benin scene like Pat Finn, Emma Ogosi, Renny Pearl Nwosa of the Aktions were all my seniors.

What in your opinion kept Sweet Breeze together when other groups were disbanding?

Sweet Breeze may have lasted longer like it did because we saw ourselves as equals. We saw ourselves as brothers and friends. I resisted going solo. We were a group of friends and this friendship is solid and lasts till today. Bazy is like my brother and we speak almost daily.

Vin was my best man during my wedding. One of the biggest problems of the music industry is going solo. That is when one sees himself as the super star of the group. Sometimes the record company leads the lead singer astray. I strongly believe that without the bassist, the singer would not sing better and without the drummer, no rhythm. We all need each other to flow well. It is my belief that for one to really excel in a musical group and go so far, the members must see themselves as equals. You must be brothers and friends.

Sweet Breeze seemed a gentleman group playing refined music and dressing in suits; why?

I think that education played a role in this. Again, your parentage and family background also was responsible. I was not brought up to play music as a street boy. We did not do some of those things so many others were doing at the time to be called musicians.

I never believed one had to smoke and drink to belong to the class of musicians. We believed that we needed to be disciplined, well dressed and well packaged. I am not saying that wearing jeans or rasta hair is wrong. Education did plenty to us and must have had a lot to do with the way we carried ourselves.

As a talented musician, you must have been very attractive to the girls…how did you cope with women in those years?

Remember I told you all things have passed away and everything becomes new. All those are passed now.

At what point did you travel to the US?

The albums kept coming from EMI from 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980. I travelled out to the US in 1981. My friend Jackie Moore Anyaora was first to leave and paved way for me to follow.

The opportunity came after the EMI national award. Roy Obika who was our bassist in ESBEE family was living in Canada at the time. In the years of ESBEE, Roy would link up with us at New Jersey, US where I was staying for rehearsal and we all gathered in London for recordings.

I recall your last records as ESBEE family were done with Tabansi..

Oh yes. Chics and chicken, Peace of mind, My man understands, Let them do it to you (to them) etc were all done when I was still in the US.

Roy Obika who lived in Canada and Jackie Moore Anyaora and I would converged in London for the production under the watchful eyes and magic fingers of Jake Solo. Jake was my senior at DMGS.  There is no musician in the specie of Jake Solo that I ever met.

On your return?

On my retrun from the US, I first was engaged at Tabansi Records as marketing manager. Chief GAD Tabansi loved me so much and took me as a son. He wanted me to work for him. As you know I studied marketing management at Pace University to Masters degree level.

He took me as one of his sons. I became the marketing manager for the company for about two years or less before it dawned me that God was actually looking for me.

Could you trace how you met the Lord?

When I returned from the United States between 1983/84, I had already started getting close to God.

But I was not deep into it. Up till today, I cannot really say why and what made me leave the United States at the time I left. I just got up one fine day and started packing my things, telling my friends that I was leaving for Nigeria. People thought that I was joking or was out of my mind. With the benefit of hindsight, I believe that God had a hand in it all. I had no issues in the US and my visa was still running with about two years to go before I returned.

People were wondering what had come over me. When they asked me why I was going back to “that” country, I had no answers to give.

My marriage to Dr Nkechi

It was after my stint at Tabansi as marketing manager that I found a wife. Late Dr Nkechi Christianah Anyanwu. She was a pharmacist and departed this world about five years ago. Before our meeting, she had never met or heard about me and the music years. She was a calm and cool woman. She was last daughter and last child of the traditional ruler of Ugiri. She was very pampered and well groomed.

She was not like other women. She was too gentle and too fragile. It has not been easy living without her since she passed to be with the Lord. But God knows why He took her away from us.  The same God said that it is not good for man to live alone so you could imagine what I have been going through without her

How I answered the call of God

When it became clear that God was after me, I had to go to a theological school. I did not want to go into a thing I am not very groomed in. I enrolled into West Africa Advanced School of Theology, an affiliate of University of Uyo. The school is still located at Fathers House Mbari, street Owerri. I had to drop all I had gotten in the secular realm and started afresh. I spent four years.

I had set up Cubicle studio in Owerri so I was working in the studio and schooling.

After the course I started teaching at the school for another three years until God said enough is enough; You have to do what I called you to do and that is serving Him in a church. You know God owns the church. I am not co owner. I am just a slave, a servant, a son of God.

It might interest you to know how I was called. I had been invited to a thanksgiving service. The event held at a church located around Nworieubi area of Owerri. As I walked into the church with my wife, the preacher was shouting that I should come forward. He said I was not supposed to sit where I was about to sit. He said I should come to the pulpit.

He called on the ushers to bring my wife and I up to the pulpit. I have never been shocked like that in my life. I literally froze and stood there motionless for a while. The pastor said he would not allow me to sit among the congregation because there was something in me that says I should come to the pulpit. He urged me not to feel embarrassed. That day was the first day I would sit with Bishops and high ranking men of God as an ordinary fellow.

Then when he started preaching, the preaching seemed to be just about me. He said God raised me to serve Him but I was serving the world. He was just preaching but his words were hitting me. Others may not have known that he was talking to me directly. He never knew me as a musician. Tears welled up in my eyes. I was shaking and trembling. A Bishop beside me held me tightly asking me to be calm as he knew what I was going through. After the service, I asked the Bishop how I could be ordained. That encounter convinced me that God really wanted me to serve Him. We postponed a meeting as he said we should discuss the matter later.

When I later met with him, we discussed what next. I discussed with my wife too. She told me that she had been telling me ever since about going closer to God. She had been closer to God than me. Since that day, I have not looked back. I submitted myself for ordination.

The role of your Cubicle studio in the propagation of the famous bongo music is noteworthy; could you talk more?

Cubicle studio still remains the first state of the art studio in Owerri. It came before Beaton and Labamba. Cubicle started in 1998 with a Sharp twin deck/recorder. I ran it for years with Bruno, BM and left my son to continue. Now it is being managed by my third son. He took over from my first son who relocated to London. I have three children who are deeply involved in music. There are several other musical sons from my tutelage.

While I was running the studio years ago three boys came to record. Their name was Triple Effects. They are Bruno, BM and …… When I heard them sing, I told them to stay and learn music production engineering because I discovered that Bruno and BM were very gifted in production.

They listened to me. Both Bruno and BM went to IMSU while still working with me and later on branched out on their own. The history of how Bruno later became the main protagonist of current bongo music is still being told. He added modern touch that most Bongo musicians linked up with him. Bruno is currently in the UK just as BM who later set up a studio in Abuja. BM has relocated to Canada with his Chinese wife.

The third of them is still with me in the Jesus Family and Friends Assembly church.

You are said to be running a tuition-free school in Owerri?

The free tuition school is what Jesus would do if he were still here with us. Our kind of Christianity in this country is not acceptable to God. We are not doing what we are supposed to do and I believe that God is not happy with us.

You can’t have a missionary school that is more expensive than the others and claim that we are serving God. If Jesus were here, would he establish a school and ask people to pay fees? Yet we say we are light of the world. If we are His followers and He is our God, we can’t do differently. He sent us here to shine the light through good works so that men may see and give Him praise. I do not quite believe that it is right for a church to set up a school and charge high fees too expensive for the ordinary person to afford. 

My new gospel band

I try to see myself having a full package of what God would love to see. I know He gave me immense gifts and talents. I have a good voice to sing songs and I have the talents to write those songs. I now sing in the church with the choir.

At a time, I thought it would be nice to set up a group to minister in songs. By the grace of God, I have assembled this group. I also have assembled a massive equipment and a truck to move the haulage of equipment. We have been playing at many events. I have been too silent about all that I do in the ministry because I am not the loud type. When we receive engagements, we go and sometimes the band goes without me.

Do you still make music?

Yes I sing almost every day. I record song every now and then. But they are to glorify the name of the Lord?

The song Amaraku for instance is not necessarily a song for Amaraku people. It is just a song for peaceful existence of the world; a song of peace. The best seed to sow is seed of peace and love for one another.

Coincidentally the community I come from is Amaraku, a home for peacemakers and sons of God.