Jidenna- The Chief
The process of securing an interview with an artist can be an odyssey of phone calls and emails never mind an international artist about to embark on a sold out tour. Jidenna Theodore Mobisson simply known as Jidenna, is an award-winning artist and Grammy nominee for his breakout single Classic Man, which launched an international career under Janelle Monae’s Wondaland Records with whom he recorded the Yoga hit. His debut album The Chief was released under Wondaland/Epic Records (Epic is a subsidiary of Sony Music Entertainment) in February 2017.
Last year, Jidenna pacified the nation when he visited his family land and gave a live performance of selected songs from his album at the Hard Rock Cafe in Lagos. After earlier stoking up outrage with casual comments in an interview that as a light-skinned man he was more likely to be robbed in Nigeria, this visit went a long way to drawing him closer to his Nigerian audience and was a phenomenal night. The spread of his appeal reflects in the fact that his Long Live The Chief tour has sold out in across venues in the US.
His passion for his home country is reflected in his style, in his subtle introduction of pidgin to his hit singles Classic Man and Little Bit More as well as starting a scholarship with his sister in honour of his late father Professor Oliver Mobisson for Computer Engineering at Enugu State University. His contribution to the music scene in Africa as a whole has been recognised with a Forbes Africa cover as one of Africa’s top 10 music money-makers. Also on his list of accomplishments this year is becoming the face of Heineken’s latest campaign – There Is More Behind The Star.
The Nigerian connection
Jidenna who lived in Nigeria till he was six years is very much drawn to the culture, the lifestyle and the trends of his home country which reflects in his sound and fashion sense. Being raised in a home that promoted excellence and respect, which he says was instilled in him by his late father, this is perhaps one of his most charismatic traits as an individual and an artist. In his career, we see him transition from a classic man to a chief, from hip hop head to quintessential African gent, sartorially put together with dapper suits and layered lyrics.
What are your fondest memories of growing up in Nigeria?
My memories are of primary school, especially hanging with my classmate and cousin Aneto. I remember us playing around in our Superman and Batman pajamas. I told him back then that one day I would be a hero known around the world.
Nigerians are somewhat particular about titles, did this influence the change from Classic Man to The Chief in any way?
(laughs) This is true, Nigerians are particular about titles. When I refer to The Chief on the album, it represents my highest self, the best of my father’s DNA inside of me. In the traditional sense, I am not a Chief yet so I don’t walk around claiming royalty.
Would you say that your Nigerian roots play an important role in your creative process? How so?
Of course! As a first-generation Nigerian-American, I am constantly being inspired by our cultures in Naija and obodo oyibo. The Nigerian diaspora is blossoming in a beautiful way. I feel like one of the bridge builders in aiding the way the world understands us.
Your music maintains a distinctly African identity, is it a deliberate effort to make it more acceptable to Nigerians and Africans in general?
It’s not deliberate at all. It’s always been natural. This first album is just the shallow end of how far I’m going to go into the Nigerian and African soundscape. From Classic Man to The Chief, I was being subtle in how I played the role of bridge builder. In the last couple of years, the interest and acceptance of Nigerian and African culture has continued to soar even in America. Now that other artists have opened the door as well, we can all push to make our art as pure and genuine as possible so that it may continue to last for generations.
You’ve taken your music around the world, is there any country where you were surprised to meet a Nigerian?
I wouldn’t be surprised to find a Nigerian in Siberia, Antarctica, or anywhere for that matter.
How do you perceive the growing influence of Nigerian music, fashion, art, and contemporary culture on the global stage? What does it say to you?
We are gradually becoming a world superpower.
Long live the Chief!
As Jidenna performed tracks off his album The Chief last year at the Hard Rock Café he was very particular about the attention to detail and this made it a stellar performance. His engagement with his audience was remarkable, considering he was playing songs that were new to the crowd at the time. He touched us with his welcome home to fellow band members visiting Africa for the first time. In that moment they were not just a band but brothers in music. There is always a story to Jidenna. We notice through his album, style and conversations that he is also very much a traditional person as he speaks about pouring a little liquor to his late father, a practice all too familiar with the Igbo people in their dedication of their spirit (alcohol) to their ancestors.
In the last month’s One Africa Fest in London which was the buzz because artists like Jidenna didn’t perform due to the “African time” organisation and had the authorities at SSE Arena literally turning off the lights when the allotted time ran out. He spoke up on the situation via his Instagram page apologising about the event and cautioning the organisers as well as the people in attendance saying, “If we truly believe it’s our time as Africans, then we have to be on time.”
What informed the transition from the Classic Man to The Chief?
People have been calling me Chief since my youth. Once all of my classmates in America discovered that I was the son of a chief, they called me “Chief.” It’s always been a title that I aspire towards. Classic Man is the charismatic gentleman in The Chief. The Chief is the larger story of my life.
What was the inspiration behind your debut album The Chief?
The Chief is the story of a son grappling with his father’s transition. He must inherit new responsibilities and understandings. Each song is a moment in my journey as the newfound man of the family.
His style and his women
Reflective is another word that can be used to describe Jidenna as there is always a connection between his thoughts and actions, be it in his choice of style or in the woman who he hopes to spend the rest of his life with. On the album, we listen to him serenade Bambi and Adaora. He states that the inspiration for the album are all true life stories and we begin to wonder how these women influenced the artist we know today? His music is great but his sartorial flair has also been one of the factors that has distinguished him from the rest. Best described as vibrant and crisp, Jidenna is popular for his clean-cut suits and African prints but there is certainly more than meets the eye when this royal gentleman is concerned.
What’s the inspiration behind your style?
I like to wear clothing that makes me feel fun, powerful, clean, and swanky. The four men who have inspired me most in fashion were my father, Malcolm X, Ozwald Boateng and Prime Minister Nehru.
Finally, how would you describe your ideal woman and have you found her?
My classic woman is obsessed with the development and unification of the African diaspora. She is sharp, witty, goofy, and gorgeous of course. I need to be able to roll with her when we dine with the Obamas or we pay off the area boys.