Darey… Finding The Way Home
It feels like a breath of fresh air, as you begin to listen. After five long years, Darey Art Alade’s music finally returns to the listening ears of his teeming audience. This 7-tracker extended playlist (EP) is a blend of the musician’s profound storytelling and intricate sound-direction, which have long remained his artistic trademarks.
Beginning with Wild West, to Show Me Love (Featuring Teni) and Jojo (featuring Patoranking), Darey paints portraits of love experiences, while he fills the other parts of the playlist – from Mo Oh, to Gone, to Jah Guide Me, and Way Home – with profound notes on appreciating one’s cultural and self-identity. The entire album, mélange of Afro RnB and Pop-soul, sounds exactly as “fresh and vibrant” as the musician describes it. He also baptizes it as a genre called African and Blues (Afro and B).
Spanning over 17 years, Darey has carved an iconic career image for himself across Nigeria’s thriving creative space. In the last decade, he took the backseat from music to focus on his entrepreneurial exploits. In this chat with CHINONSO IHEKIRE, he talks about his musical comeback, building a sustainable legacy in the entertainment and media industry, family life, alongside key prospects and issues in the country’s thriving music industry.
How has life been in the pandemic for you?
It has been interesting trying to manage all the facets of things I am involved in; the news was affecting us daily and all that. The way it has affected me is not different from the way it has affected anyone; you know, having to change our diets, do our exercises and keeping an eye on the news. Then, of course, losses here and there; either from family or knowing persons one way or the other, we have all had similar experiences across the board.
How did it affect you musically?
Apart from the fact that it affected us all from the humanity angle, as a creative, I was able to record a new body of work – an EP titled Way Home. I was able to record most of the songs within this pandemic. For example, the first single titled Jah Guide Me was inspired heavily by the lockdown and all those challenges that we faced.
What was the journey like making Way Home?
Way Home itself is really a journey to self in terms of if you imagine what it is like to leave work and then return back home; the sights and sounds that greet you remind you of your journey home. So, for me, in putting together Way Home, it was like a discovery of roots and heritage. You know how Africa is the Centre of the world and the cradle of civilisation? This soundtrack is for those people on a journey back home, trying to find their roots – whether they are from Ghana or South Africa. I have tried to bring in elements that remind you of your culture and your background, from the rhythm to the language to the melodies. In that very abstract and artistic way, that is what made me do it.
Between this EP and your last project, what has changed for you musically?
I have grown and matured more than before. However, I have always maintained my youthful side; this project is very fresh and vibrant. On the other hand, the maturity is there, the esoteric is there; that is the mixture that you would find on Way Home. You would hear a lot of growth vocally; my voice is still in great shape. I have still been able to keep my traditional style of singing, while still trying to push myself to appeal to a younger audience.
Is this a strategy you would recommend to newcomers?
The sky is big enough for all birds to fly; I have always been one for variety. At the end of the day, anybody can do any type of music and thrive. If we can get more people writing more deliberate lyrics, why not? It would inspire hope. It can help people study, fall in love, and express their emotions and all. That is where the kind of music I make comes into play. At the same time, you would also want to enjoy some Lamba; you would want to dance and all.
As a player in the music industry, are there some issues you’ve noticed?
There has been some progress made, let us be fair. However, some things still persist. We need to encourage the culture of people buying music. I know streaming has increased now, but compared to the number of consumers, it is still on the low side. It is just a cultural thing we have imbibed – not wanting to pay for anything.
Also, audiences feel like they are doing you a favour for listening to your music. It is just for us to try and convert that fan-behaviour. If you want to be a fan of an artiste, show that artiste the right support because they need to be consistent. Then, again, piracy has been there in the mix too; sharing music for free is still a form of piracy. Those are some of the issues we face; infrastructure is still an issue, inadequate distribution and all that. Regardless, we have still witnessed growth and we see new artistes popping up every now and then.
How do you think we can effectively maximize the increasing global attention on the Nigerian music industry?
For me, it is not to get carried away by the hype. The hype is neither here nor there. Even a broken clock is right twice a day; everyone would have his shine. However, we have to be looking at the long-term value we can build upon. We need to develop our own structures – a lot of DSPs (Digital Streaming Platforms) have emerged, and none of them is indigenous to Nigeria. So, who is fooling who?
The hype is there, but we need to tap into our indigenous talents. That way, we can export. Anybody from around the world can go to a central platform to buy anything Nigerian; a place where we generate genuine and real numbers. We don’t even need anybody else; Nigeria has the purchasing power. We just need to look inwards to solve our own inadequacies.
Any clues on why we are not doing this currently?
There are a few trying to make those moves right now; it is something that would take a lot of investment. It needs that visionary, whether as a person or as a group of people, to bring that to life. Some people I know, including my team, and myself over the last several years, have been in several conversations around this.
Look at Apple for example, alone, they have pumped in several millions of dollars into the African market. So much so that in the next few years, you are going to be seeing how much Apple owns African music. A lot of us are streaming on those services, at the end of the day, it is almost like we are working for these platforms. It is left to us to build our own in a way that it speaks to your average Nigerian.
Again, we have the numbers. We just need to find that touch point where it becomes a culture where they can consume music easily and affordably.
You have been actively involved in talent discovery, being a judge on platforms like Project Fame, the Voice and so on. What are your thoughts on diversifying platforms for talent discovery in Nigeria?
I think that has already been happening; look at what comedians have been doing on social media. They blew up a lot; a lot of talents have come up using social media. I think it is something that has been rampant. Add that to the reality shows, which are making a comeback. I am a coach on the Voice season 3; we have seen what has happened with Project Fame in the past. There is a resurgence of reality shows.
Look at Big Brother, even though people criticise the concept, at the end of the day, you become popular because people watch you. Look at them now making money and a good name for themselves, either by influencer works or ambassadorial works. Others can also build a career in the media. It is something in the works and something that we need to see a lot more of.
Livespot happened, then, your sudden disappearance from the music scene. What is the story behind all that?
There is really no magic behind it, no juicy gist behind the story. All I have done is taken some time off to build the business, along with other members of the team. We just needed to focus and spend time. As you know, Livespot stemmed from being a production company, as when we started from doing things like my first album launch, concerts like Love like a movie. That really just gave birth to people experiencing the kind of things that we could piece together. It was based on the fact that we founded our advertising and experiential marketing.
As our work spoke for itself, a lot of people wanted us to do a lot of things for them. I had to move my music to the back burner because there was a lot of work to do. Luckily, over the past year, I have been able to put out the music finally. It is not like I went anywhere out of the entertainment circle. However, the music has been put on a hold from release; I had always been recording and writing. I made demos and stuff like that, over the past few years.
In attracting these big names, such as Cardi B, among others, what really was the strategy?
I think it is a combination of our professionalism, our attention to detail and just having that experience to say that we have done these before, you can see for yourself. Then, with our huge network of associates and the kind of people we know across global entertainment, it is a no-brainer. All we need do is figure internally, the kind of people that create the experience that we want to bring on; it is not really rocket science for us.
The Cardi-B saga increased Nigeria’s global exposure positively. How do you feel about that?
It is something that placed us on the global map in a positive way, from a tourism perspective; it shows how accommodating we are. It is just one of the positive outtakes, for us here at Livespot, to show that this is what we did, along with our partners and sponsors. It is something that even the government can be proud of.
How did you start working with your wife?
We have always worked together, across every project – from music, to experiential marketing, etc. So, at the end of the day, whenever our kids are ready to step into this line of business, they can. We are encouraging them to understand what it is that we do. They are always around, whether at rehearsal or set-ups. Subconsciously, they understand what their parents are up to.
Do you hope any of them would be the next Darey Art Alade?
Well, my kids won’t be the next Darey Art Alade; they would carry their own names. It is very important to encourage our children to believe in themselves and to become whatever they want, as long as they believe that anything they put their minds on is possible.
Taking it back to the music, why did you decide to retain your name professionally?
My name is my name; some people like to use nicknames. Growing up, I have had all kinds of nicknames – Darey Bobo, Darey Panko, Dareyyy, Dee. It all depends on how you feel when you are coming out as a solo artiste. For me, I just went with my name.
When was that precise moment that you knew you would be a musician?
Well, I don’t know about a precise moment; I have been surrounded by music all my life; it was inevitable, although I thought I would be a pilot. My mum used to work for the airport. So, from my early experiences, it was all about planes and all that. Along the line, music came. I started doing things in different capacities, either leading a choir or showcasing my talent in a school or one thing or the other.
There has been a variety, over the years – going to radio, television, and just generally operating around the media and entertainment. I joined an acapella group, and later became a solo artiste. There is no particular day that I just realised; it is something I went with over the years.
How did your parents feel about you doing music at that point?
I was 12 when my dad died; we didn’t really have too many music experiences together. After he died was when I took off musically. It was gradually, not suddenly, however. So, I would attribute a lot of the support that I got for my career to my late mum. She encouraged me to do auditions; she gave me transport money and all that.
What are those things you miss about not being famous?
I don’t miss anything o; I have been very lucky. The kind of fame I have has been able to keep me anonymous, yet famous. I am able to walk past a group of people, without them knowing who I am, maybe because I just mind my business or I don’t walk around with one huge security detail. I have been lucky; I can still be myself.
I can go to a bukka if I still want to. I go to the pharmacy, I go to the supermarket, I also don’t mind at all being stopped for a picture or someone asking for an autograph. I am a cool guy like that. Now, also, I can’t do anything bad – not that I am a criminal or something. So, I guess that can be a downside. You know what I mean?
I realise you are an avid music listener. What are your five favourite songs from Nigerian artistes?
I find myself listening to some songs over and over. Wizkid’s new album is really dope; I like the song with Damian Marley, I like the song with Burna Boy. A lot of the songs are nice. I like Timaya’s new album as well; so many songs from there. Burna Boy’s Twice as Tall is dope too. I am also listening to DJ Spinall’s new album, Grace; I like a couple of songs there. I am also listening to a bit of Fireboy, I am listening to Dunsin Oyekan on some gospel. I am listening to Simi, Olakira, Adekunle Gold, and Omah Lay… a lot of artistes, especially those that put out music during the lockdown.
Among the new voices, who are the top three you would like to work with?
Well, this new Mavin artiste, Ayra Star, she seems interesting. She has this Tems’ vibe, but on a very youthful and fresh p. In terms of young acts, Omah Lay is a young act – even though he has probably been a producer for a long time. There are so many young ones. Although, not enough female artistes, in my opinion. Olakira too is a new artiste; I like his talent. When it comes to new artistes, those are people I would like to work with. Who else? Bella Shmurda.
You mentioned now that we don’t have a lot of females emerging in the industry. What are your thoughts on bringing more females on board?
My wife is huge on female empowerment; we have always supported a lot of female acts, especially behind the scenes. We have done that over the years; it is not something we are going to stop anytime soon. Hopefully, we can inspire a lot of females over the years, to come out and give the guys a run for their money.
What are the major issues preventing them from breaking out?
I think that the culture is one of the stumbling blocks; we need to be deliberate. We need to be purposeful about that. Even in the workspace, you would notice that there is a surge of female talents getting into positions that would have been reserved for the men, so to speak. We all know that women are better at all these things. I think it is just a cultural mindset because it trickles down to everything we do.
What is your vision for Darey in the next five years? Are we going to wait another five years before hearing your next project?
If you like, don’t wait o; the patient dog eats the fattest bone. However, you won’t have to wait that long. Don’t worry, I am already working on an album. There would be new music very soon. In terms of my vision, more music, expanding the media empire. I would love to finalise my own radio station; there’s already a lot of content from a TV perspective. I would continue to provide experiences, taking Nigeria further onto the world map. Making statements abroad and making us proud, God-willing.
What are your thoughts on the socio-political happenings in Nigeria?
I think everything that happened was important that it happened. Politically and culturally, we need it. We need it for growth and for the sake of our unborn children. It is important to speak truth to power and it is important for power to listen to truth.
As we can see, a lot of things haven’t changed. People are still being silenced for their opinions. People can’t ‘Soro Soke’ and get things off their chest without being victimised and all that; a part of me is happy that these things happened. In a democracy, we are allowed to express ourselves. However, when you start seeing reminders of a regime that is not accommodating enough, it just opens up a lot of thinking on other issues – ethno-religious crises, insecurity. It is a worrying time. For me, the music is just an escape.
What do you think about the new wave of Afro-fusion music, popularly called ‘Alte’?
The Alte sound is very welcoming; it has given a lot of people an opportunity to express themselves musically. We do need to be more accommodating; variety is very important. With this new album, I was able to push my own limits. I have come up with my genre that I call Afro and B; part of it falls under the Alte and part of it falls under the Afro RnB. We just continue to express ourselves. As long as you are able to do your research and come out musically to do whatever you feel sounds good. I think people need something that allows them to express themselves in a way that they can’t find words to. They would always find their way as a career; it is very welcome for me.
Tell us five things about Darey Art Alade that we haven’t heard before?
I am an open book o. However, do you know that I am left-handed? Let’s take that as number one. Number two, I love riding power bikes; if you see the video for Jojo (featuring Patoranking), you would see me riding my power bike. Did you know that I can shoot pool (snooker game)? Sometimes, I like to drive to relieve stress; driving is therapeutic with me. Finally, in as much as I am left-handed, I am also ambidextrous; I can also use my right hand, depending on what I am doing.