Dabyna… Son Of Rock Takes On Xenophobia
From the telephone conversation, you could tell that this is not just an ordinary artiste; his husky but soothing voice gave him out. In a country like Nigeria, where many are soaking up hip-hop fever, Dabyna Poll-Abraham remains a proud son of rock music. So, when he tells you he’s ‘gold,’ you can’t help but agree.
Though his name might not ring a bell, this is one guy that has stayed strong to his passion for sophisticated sound in almost 25 years. Beyond his talent as a singer, he’s a great dancer and showman. A master guitarist, his stage performance is usually laced with energetic moves and theatrical displays; he strums the guitar with so much dexterity.
Yet, this is a guy that lives with metals in his thigh as a result of an accident.
Born into a music family, Dabyna, a graduate of Mechanical Engineering from the Federal Polytechnic Auchi, Edo State, encountered music at a very tender age. His soldier father’s collection was all it took for the young chap to fall in love with music.
“I grew up as a child listening to western music from my father’s collection; he was in the military and they kept sending him oversees. He always came back with a lot of vinyl records of rock musicians and I was in charge of tuning into VOA or BBC. So, I think I got to hear a lot of those songs in that process, including Nigerian artistes such as Sunny Ade and co,” he recalled.
Due to his love for music, Dabyna’s father, at some point, set up a family band and assembled his children as members.
“It just occurred to my dad that since he plays music, he could incorporate his children into a band, but he never knew we were already trying our hands in music. He gathered us together and formed a family band, which he called Abe and JazzoAfrica band, though he changed the name several times. At a point, he called it AfriKokori Band,” he enthused.
Even as a music enthusiast, playing in his father’s band was a tough choice for the dreadlocks-wearing artiste.
“If I show you the pictures now, you will just start laughing; I was always frowning. He’s a tough man and he doesn’t overlook details. My father is a very nice guy, but he’s very straight to the point. It wasn’t easy at all,” he retorted.
Describing his father as a great influence, Dabyna said, “I think it’s what I’m all about now; it’s the reason why I’ve been consistent with what I do. Going through secondary school, I was very popular; they call me GQ. I went to Command Secondary School Jos; I was the school’s top dancer. My dancing actually started from home; my siblings used to take me to parties to dance and win gifts. There was a time I represented Ibadan in a final competition in Lagos and I won that event. I was a child then and my gift was a Bible; that was when I knew the line I was going to face,” he said.
Unfortunately, just when he started showing signs of taking to music as a career, his father became an obstacle. However, that didn’t stop him from gifting his son a guitar, which eventually became his weapon for musical exploits in school.
“Even while playing in the family band, he did everything to discourage. I was frustrated; the church didn’t allow me to sing, my voice was bad. I was trying to clear my voice, but it was too rough. But he did something that impressed me; when I was going to college, he bought me a guitar. That was when I really worked on my craft; I spent most time practicing and rehearsing. I didn’t really have a teacher and my father only taught me just one thing for a whole year; I was only playing just one thing. The day I decided to be a little bit rebellious, I played something else; I didn’t know I was doing the right thing. He turned to me and said, ‘Now you are learning.’ He just wanted me to discover myself instead of trying to be like him.”
Done with studies, young Dabyna took a job with an oil firm, though still keeping tabs with his first love, music. By this time, he had won the AMEN Award for Best Band in Nigeria for 1998.
“I did the theme song for MKO Abiola and for the award ceremony; all that was before I even graduated. So, my father was already like, ‘Oh, this boy is going into music.’ But I made sure I came out with grades enough to defend that I went to school. Though I’m into music, the good thing is that I worked as an engineer and I’m still working as an engineer in my own company.”
Dabyna’s relationship with the oil sector came to an end abrupt end after a trip with his boss to oilfields.
“Something happened that touched me. While we were around Eket going to Mobil, I could see the fire burning as a result of gas flaring and we were inside my bosses’ car. Even with the air conditioner at its peak, I could feel the heat; that changed everything about me working as an engineer or having anything to do with oil and gas. I felt, ‘If I could be feeling the heat in an AC car, what about the people, who live around that place?”
He continued: “When you hear about the Niger Delta problems and what the people are going through, you just hear it from the face value. But when you go there and feel the pain… when I felt the pain, being the kind of person that I am, I said to myself, ‘I need a career that can give me the kind of funds I need to push my inventions; to create for the society and make it better, instead of repairing what other people created.”
Back from Eket, Dabyna resigned from his employment with the oil firm to focus on his music career. Not even a salary raise and offer to further his education in Italy could change his mind.
“I refused; I said I was done. That was how I left my job to play music. My family was pissed; my mum was angry, but my mind was already made,” he said.
Two days after he left his job, Dabyna ran into actress Shan George and comedian Okay Bakassi on Awolowo Road, Lagos. Being a huge fan, he approached them for an autograph.
“Okay prayed to form me and said, ‘for recognising us, you will soon sign an autograph.’ Two weeks later, I was invited for a competition and I beat 67 artistes to a live contest; that was in 1998. I also go nomination for AMEN award, which I won; I was given the right to make the theme song for MKO Abiola and the theme song for the main event. It was only Sunny Ade and myself that played then at Golden Gate Hotel Ikoyi during the AMEN award. By 1999, I was called for the Nigeria 99 and I played at the stadium with Majek Fashek and others,” he recalled.
For his musical exploits, Dolphin Studios, Surulere, Lagos, offered Dabyna a record deal. And just when the relationship was about to yield fruits, the promoter, Chief Emeka, passed on.
“I said to myself, what’s happening?’ I finished secondary school in 1994 and started my band in 1995. I looked at the whole thing said, ‘I think I’m way ahead of my time.’ So, I slowed down and went into doing covers; I tried a lot of things that didn’t work out. They didn’t work out because then in Nigeria, you don’t come out and say you are a musician; nobody will look at you. So, I felt, let me take things easy and see how it goes.”
On his love for rock, he said, “I go for gold; I don’t like the thing that is common. I don’t like a thing that anybody can do; I think I got that from my dad. Besides, I grew up listening to rock music, so, when I wanted to start singing, my voice was rough; it was in tune with rock music.”
He continued: “For rock music, you don’t have to write too many lyrics, but the few lines will make you sit down and think. I used to think a lot and spoke very little. So, rock music fits my purpose and agenda regarding my inventions. When I wanted to start writing songs, I looked at the greats and found out that people have been talking about freedom and fighting in Africa. These people have written so many great songs and nothing has changed. I found out that what I have to give humanity is love; I decided to focus on that part of writing.”
Noa mater the situation, Dabyna will never write a song in anger; up to 99 per cent of his songs talk about love.
“If I’m angry, I don’t write songs,” he said, adding, “If I write an in anger, I’m going to write a very bad song. There was a period in my life that I didn’t write anything; that was like downtime for me. But anything could influence me to write a song,” he said.
In an effort to promote his band, Dabyna made efforts to enlist for different music festivals across the world, but his country of origin remained a huge challenge.
“Once I put in Nigerian, I would be bounced; it was that bad. So, I tried something in Dubai, a rock festival, but they said Africa was not eligible. “There’s no rock band in Africa,’ they said. I took my time to present myself to them in Dubai and they were very impressed. They said to me, ‘for you to have come to present yourself to us physically, go back and do three songs. If they qualify, we will open the door for sub-Saharan Africa to be able to compete in the Dubai Dessert Rock Festival. I came back and we produced three songs here; we sent them to Dubai and they qualified. That’s a book I’m writing entirely because it’s a long story,” he noted.
Even when he failed to get a sponsor for the Dubai trip, the festival organisers had to bend rules to accommodate his band.
“The festival actually sponsored me all the way from Dubai and I traveled with half of my band. I came first, but they gave the person that came second first position because, half of their band joined me, which has never happened in any competition. I was okay with it; I got VIP treatment. Then I got back to Nigeria and was robbed on my way home. If I tell you who robbed me, it will be a different story; it’s in my book. I was frustrated that after struggling and opening doors for Africans, I came home and was robbed. Along the line, I left Nigeria for South Africa.”
Dabyna had done a theme song for the Most Beautify Girl In Nigeria (MBGN) at the time and Joan Okorodudu, organiser of Nigeria’s Next Super Model, who saw his performance, was impressed.
“She invited me and asked me to do a theme song for her pageant, which I did; it eventually took us to South Africa. While I was in South Africa, I saw a lot of things. During the xenophobia thing, I took my time to study what was going on. I was given a work permit for three years, but I spent three months and came back. I didn’t stay because I didn’t want to stay, but I had other things I was doing; I was supposed to be in the States recoding and schooling,” he revealed.
Dabyna was actually on sabbatical from social media when the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa happened, forcing the son of rock back to the studio.
“I saw how Nigerians destroyed Nigerian properties in reprisal. They looted Novare Mall; I lost some money because I have some goods there. I went back to social media to see what people were saying and I was sorry for the state of Africa and the way Nigerians approached things. So, I decided to write a song Ubhuti.”
Written, arranged, performed and produced by Dabyna, Ubhuti, which in Zulu language means brother, was conceived as a tool to unify Africans.
“I’m pushing a campaign for brotherly love in Africa, trying to address the roots of the problem. We’ve grown in Africa, especially in Nigeria, to complain; we complain and nobody brings a solution. We are very used to blaming just the top; we don’t blame commissioners, we don’t blame governors, we don’t blame ministers, we just blame the president.”
He continued: “My song Ubhuti is to bridge the gap between ignorance and reality. I don’t think South Africans woke up one day and started killing Nigerians; something led to it. I mean, these people have suffered apartheid for God knows how long. A lot of them are not yet exposed; they’ve not yet integrated themselves with the white South Africans. And we that have had independence all these years, that have become hustlers, we go there, according to what they are claiming, to take the jobs they refused because they want to fight for their rights.”
He then singled Nigerians out, saying, “We as Nigerians, we don’t like to tell ourselves the truth; we have excessive pride. The things that we do to each other, we understand it because it’s our lifestyle. But you can’t take that outside; they won’t take it. I mean, a South African girl and a South African guy would go out with N1000 and they are happy. A Nigeria guy will take that same girl out and put N10,000 on the table for her and you expect the guy not to be angry? There are reality checks in all these.”
He continued: “I’m saying that we can’t just blame Nigerians, we can’t blame Zimbabweans, we can’t blame South Africans… we have to look at the root of the problem. The South African leadership has failed; if it didn’t fail, we will not have this crisis. Nigerian government has also failed, but it’s not a one-man thing; it’s not about Buhari or Ramaphosa. It’s like when you have a crack in the wall and you’ve been patching it, one day, it’s going to give up. So, when you want to look at the crisis we are having in Africa generally, you don’t just blame the current leadership; you start from day one, how did it start? That’s why I did this song and, hopefully, we will be able to push the campaign,” he said.
For Dabyna, it’s a sin to see an opportunity to create peace and harmony and progress in the continent and not do it.
“I spoke to my Executive Producer Oskar Ibru and he likes the idea and said, ‘why not? Go on and do it.’ The campaign is to bring awareness that you cannot victimize South Africans, you cannot victimize Nigerians, you cannot victimize Zimbabweans… we are all Ubhuti; we are all brothers! There’s a reason this thing started, so, let’s look at the root of the problem; lets’ not deal with the people involved. There’s always room for peace and progress. Next year is going to be my 25th anniversary, but this thing came up and I decided to do something about it.”
According to the engineer turned musician, the song is a prelude to other activities lined up for the pan-African campaign.
“We have other things we won’t like to talk about right now. It’s not just Ubhuti the song, we are also going to have the Ubhuti Tour. We are also creating an Ubhuti Festival, which is a charity festival. We could start from Soweto and a huge percentage of the proceeds will be used to develop the city that hosted the festival. We could do it in Nigeria, Zimbabwe and other cities in Africa,” he said.
Though there had been collaborations between Africa artistes, Dabyna said, “it’s more of pride and the bling. Now, we want to come from an angle that all these collaborations are to show brotherly love, to show the relationship between the Angolan and Nigerian. We need to start from somewhere,” he noted.
Meanwhile, the artist is working on his latest album, Love Not War, a hard rock album that will herald the 25th-anniversary celebration.
“I have albums and I’m still producing. I have a few albums that were never released; some got lost in the studio. I have four albums online; I have well over 800 songs. I’m very slow, so, I get inspired easily. My pain in Nigeria is that we don’t know what we have in terms of human resources. We’ve come to the level where if you say the truth, you are proud. The truth is that I’m gold; I’m not common. I released three albums, all songs written, produced by me. I released the three albums the same day in three different genres; a full rock album, a full reggae album, and a new genre I coined together, which I called rock life; it’s a blend of rock and highlife. On my 25th anniversary, we are going to be reproducing those old albums. So, next year is going to be very exciting for me,” he enthused.
As for young artistes, who are comfortable singing about hips and boobs, “I’m not in the position to blame them because nobody can give what he/she doesn’t have. If you are 30 years and below, whatever you do today is not your problem; that’s what they grew up with. For me, my plan is to show Nigerians that you can truly be original and be commercial.”