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Cobhams Asuquo: I’ll Never Stop Evolving With My Music 

By Chinonso Ihekire
17 December 2022   |   4:10 am
Back in the early 2000s, the Nigerian music community was introduced to a gentle, passionate and brilliant music producer called Cobhams Asuquo.
Cobhams Asuquo

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Back in the early 2000s, the Nigerian music community was introduced to a gentle, passionate and brilliant music producer called Cobhams Asuquo. Already, the then law student had begun to gain significant notoriety for producing the ‘90s pop group, Maintain’s I Catch Cold.

Between 2004 and 2008, he had created some of the most iconic sounds of the decade, producing hits like Asa’s self-titled debut album, and Faze’s solo debut album, Faze Alone, as well as Djinee’s Ego, Modenine’s Cry, and several other hits. His production style was widely compared to American legends like Dr Dre and Timbaland. And he even bagged songwriting deals with Sony/ATV, as well as Universal Music, going on to work on music for stars like Beyonce, Laura Isibor and many others. By the end of the decade, it was evident that Cobhams was in a league of his own, sustainably crafting evergreen music. 

Twenty years later, the self-taught music legend is still racing among music charts, creating competitive and sonically-evolved collaborations, including his most recent hit song, Jah Eli featuring Bella Shmurda and Patoranking. Preluding his next major collaborative project, the father of two has just unveiled a special Christmas project dubbed, Christmas in Lagos, where he gives his enigmatic renditions of popular Christmas carol songs. 

For this week’s Guardian Music Special, we get into the Christmas spirit with Cobhams, delving into his creative process, a sneak peek into his next album, as well as tapping his wits on the way forward for the Nigerian music scene. 

How do you feel about your new project? 
A lot of thought goes into my music; the process is laborious sometimes. I wanted Christmas in Lagos to be a bit different. It is very whimsical; it is a testament to the fact that you can be a lot more relaxed and put out a great project. It was ‘vibes’ for me, from beginning to the end.

I feel like I have discovered a new way to make music; I do not overthink it. I just retained the same level of excellence and simplified the process. The whole project was done in less than five days. For me, that was a break from the norm of how I create music.

I thought you are also working on another album? 
Yes, I am working on another album; I have been on it for like two years. It has been ready, but we are just tying up some loose ends. It is an album I am excited about. We have exciting features from Joeboy, Sauti Sol, Tubaba, Yemi Alade, Tems, Simi, Falz, and so on. It is, perhaps, one of the biggest collaborative efforts that music in this space has seen for some time.

I am really excited about it. It takes a lot of thought and planning to pull a project like that. Naturally, with the heavyweights we have on this project, it is expected to be a slow burn. But that also means we will retain a lot of the flavour. It will come out next year and it will be worth everyone’s wait.

After 20 years in the industry, how do you manage to remain relevant to this industry? 
I don’t do it secretly. I am an avid music lover; I love and listen to a lot of music. As a matter of fact, I listen to music that would not be accepted by the mainstream audience, from Classical to Jazz, to music of the mystics. I enjoy and create music from an enjoyment perspective, you are able to come through from the era of the Shalamars and the Whispers to the era of the Plantashun Boiz and even the era of the Drake’s and the Pop Smoke and the era of Burna Boy, Mohbad, and the likes, and even the Remas and Magixx.

I am able to travel between music time spaces. I understand the sounds; I evolve with sounds. Before South African music became most notable for Amapiano, there was Kwaito at some point. I evolve not just by listening but also by creating music. I passionately love music. I also have a technical understanding of how music is created. And I employ it based on the time-space I am in to create music that is most relevant to my target audience.

You have imparted a lot of people in the Nigerian music scene. Was there any moment where you felt like giving up? 
I might have thought of quitting music before. My frustration with it has been more of people’s technical ineptitude than it is with myself. I have never felt like music has not given me my due. I am not trying to sprint my way through life. Honestly, music has been good to me. I became who I am today through music and its exposure. Music has only brought me blessings and fortune.

However, I once considered quitting it because of a technical situation I was faced with. I was so frustrated. My creative process is contingent on the type of help; I don’t create music on my own. I create with people. My music has come this far, because I have people who have helped in the process, whether session managers, or producers or artistes. And in such circumstances, I felt frustrated with some people who do not work at my pace. That is a passing feeling.

And there are times when knowing that you are on the right course is enough motivation for you to stay on that course. Music has been good. It is one of the most consistent things in my life. I have thought of quitting before, but I have never had enough of that to outweigh the motivation to stay.

So, what do you look out for in working with new people?
Talent is important. It is frustrating to work with people who do not have talent in music. Then, you have to do much more. You have to have something; you need to bring a gift, whether singing or writing. It is frustrating to work with people who do not have any talent in the creative space.

As a considerate human, I want to work in a relaxed environment too. I like working with people who can work in a state of zen. A lot of the people I have made music with are generally good human beings.

With over two decades of experience, what do you think our industry should do better?
Afrobeats is going global, and it is very nice. However, we do not have the infrastructure to be the biggest beneficiaries. The artistes might cross over, but is it benefiting the collective? Entertainment is a global contributor to the global economy. There’s need to be a tourism angle to Afrobeats; the same way reggae is to Jamaica.

We need to also focus on building our own platforms; what are the parallels of Apple music in Nigeria? What is the role of uduX in space? We need to think local. We need to not allow the global market influence, but not control the narrative. We need to have proceeds come back to us.

The government also needs to get involved. Apart from getting shows and royalties, we need to reap the direct benefits. We need to do stuff to create a system that gives us direct benefits. In the latin music scene, there is an understanding of having a parallel structure that helps them to sustain the benefits directly. They have an ecosystem that supports them. If the plug is pulled on Apple music today, what do you think will happen to us?

So, what is next for Cobhams?
My next album is going to be very exciting. The sound is very unique; it was born out of friendship. For instance, I have worked with Sauti Sol so many times. It was very natural to create this album. Same thing with Yemi Alade, and I have watched Yemi Alade evolve. A lot of good vibes came out of that session. The album is very friendly.

There is also history on the album. I think most people would love it. So, I am going to also enter the touring space. I am really excited about the process of sharing my music all around the world. I think as long as you have a voice and something to say then the world is listening. Also, having been in music for 20 years, I want to share more knowledge to help people to sustain their craft.

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