Fiokee… From Star Quest To Master Guitarist
If the inventors of the guitar – from Antonio Jurado, to Christian Martin, George Beauchamp, among others – were alive today, they would be brimming with smiles, having listened to the just-released debut from Africa’s most enchanting contemporary guitarist, Fiokee.
Dubbed MAN, the 14-track album from Fiokee, real name, Ifiok Effianga, is a mesmerising piece that pins its position in history as the first compilation sound piece from an African guitarist with other artistes.
With over two decades of experience in the African showbiz industry, Fiokee has cut his teeth as a pioneer in the instrumental music scene across Africa. Impacting the discographies of several A-list artistes including Dbanj, Flavour, Yemi Alade, Patoranking, Adekunle Gold, among others, Fiokee has forayed into the realm of icons in the game, thriving as one of the most progressive sound-shapers of his generation.
As his voice boomed into the receiver, this reporter was astonished by the lightweight nature of Fiokee’s vocals. Adding that to his never-ending youthful looks, one will find it difficult to believe that the musician has become the latest addition to the league of African entertainers that have crossed the 40-year age landmark.
Born in Akwa Ibom, Fiokee is one of those artistes with a profoundly inspiring grass-to-grace story. Having hustled for three years after his secondary school, at a toy store in the bustling neighbouring city of Ebonyi, he saved for three months, until he could buy his first guitar. With die-hard determination, and a head full of dreams, fate became the final catalyst that paved his way to the top, as he stumbled on a cabbie driver who taught him how to play the guitar every night in a candle-lit room.
Several sleepless nights playing in disco clubs, living from hand to mouth, Fiokee remained resilient, believing in his inevitable fortune-fated future. And his 2008 winning stint at the Star Quest reality show in Lagos became the springboard for his marathon of successes in the game.
With MAN, Fiokee blurs the boundaries of instrumental music, with his soul-stirring guitar riffs, and progressive legatos, creating some of the most experimental compilation sound pieces in recent years. From RnB-fusion to Amapiano groove, down to the Tanzanian Bongo Flava percussions, among others, Fiokee throws in a fine mix of talents (both A-list and emerging), from Maua Sama, to Bella Shmurda, down to Ladydoe, to create a seamless musical experience for his generation of listeners.
Sitting down with Guardian Music, the Mechanical Engineering graduate discusses the inspiration behind his latest body of work, pioneering the modern evolution of guitarists in Africa, becoming Fiokee, as well as his unique peculiarities, including abstaining from smoking and drinking alcohol.
You recently dropped your new project. How are you feeling about it, and why did you choose January to drop it?
I FEEL good because this is actually a big one for me. Like being the first guitarist to actually drop this kind of album, not just in Nigeria, but also in South America, Portugal, Netherlands. I decided to drop it in January as my 40th birthday gift – that’s why I said the album is mine.
I have been in the industry, officially, for 14 years now – since 2008; this year makes it the 14th year. In 2009, I joined Dbanj on Scapegoat and I took it up from there to Davido’s Gobe, Kizz Daniel’s Laye, Simisola’s album, Flavour’s album, and so many others. I feel like people have grown under me from scratch; I have been able to conquer that part of being the best afrobeat guitarist.
So, what’s next? I just thought about it. It’s high time I dropped an album too. What’s the best time to drop the album? I am already getting close to the 40th and I think this is the best time, I started doing everything in January. So, this year started well for me, because I had dedicated it to dropping an album for my 40th birthday, and that’s a big one for me.
You influenced a lot of other people, but what has influenced your own discography so far?
Yeah, the influence is that I wanted to use the list to make some parts clear. Everyone is of the opinion that you must sign before you can be recognized, but I said no. So far, I’ve been able to create an industry whereby you appreciate the large instruments; like something to be emulated.
Instrumental music was prominent in the 70s, 80s, and 90s…?
But Sunny Ade, Oliver de Coque- were all full-time singers. They were just doing the guitar thing along with singing. Mine is pure guitar, mine is different. I didn’t project myself as a singer and I am not saying I cannot sing. I just wanted to use the guitar. I just wanted to make sure I used guitar all through, what nobody used.
Before we discuss the album and what it represents, tell us when you first picked up your guitar?
Apart from the fact that I love guitar, I love the keyboard too. The thing be say na condition make crayfish bend. I remember the man that used to teach us when I started the children choir – when we used to sing. We were singing “so fa mi re re…” and before we sang any song, we needed to translate it to that first. We were doing this such that it became part of me.
So, if I hear any song, whether Igbo, or Akwa Ibom (because I am from here), I can translate it into music. I could write the words down even without learning the words, and that helped me a lot. So, when I finished secondary school, I went to my dad’s place. I became a sales boy in his shop where I was selling, and he would be paying me N1,000 per month. I would save that money for three months and remove N700 for renting a guitar. Why I did that is because not everyone has money to buy toys for their children.
Sometimes, the whole day, we would just be sitting down, looking sad in the shop. One time, I thought I know about music so let me just play one instrument. I couldn’t get a keyboard, because it was expensive, so I went to rent a guitar for N700. It cost N8000, and I couldn’t buy it then. One day, I was going back home from the shop and I saw a man coming from a workshop who was like ‘young man, can I see your guitar?’ So, he collected the guitar from me and started playing. He began to play the guitar in the workshop. The guy is a taxi driver who came to repair his car.
I fell in love with the way he was playing the guitar. We started talking and he was like he was going to charge me N2600 for six months. So, when I close the shop at 7 pm, I will go to his place. I will work and trek to his place because he was always driving from one city to another and was only free at night. So, I will go from 8 pm to 10 pm at night. We were doing this for almost two months with candlelight, as there was no light.
After two months, I didn’t have the money to rent the guitar again, so I started going from one church to another, to be a volunteer so I can play the guitar. After a year, I got into many things, and I started playing guitar. So, in 2003, I moved to Warri, and I was there for five years. I used to travel from Warri to Port Harcourt and play in a church. I moved to Lagos, in 2008, where I started properly. That has been my journey so far.
You were going every night to learn the guitar, what kept you going?
I was suffering while I was playing the guitar. The money that we were given then was just to survive. I was like, ‘is this how my life would be?’ There was a time we were playing in the club, from 10 pm to 5 am for three years, back-to-back every Saturday. Then, we had like five singers and we were alternating it. Like you will be playing the guitar and your back will be paining you. But I didn’t see it like I was doing it for free. I was actually suffering and this has helped me become what I am today.
So, why did you call your album MAN?
I think I have explained that before. I have grown; I have suffered. I have been playing guitar for 22 years.
Now that you have dropped MAN, are you working on doing a sophomore album? Are you looking to do something after this or what’s the plan for you going forward?
Going forward, I will just keep unfolding many things; I come with surprises. This album dropped this year and I am going to take it up from there. First-quarter, second quarter- another day, another body of the work; you never can tell I’m working.
Why did you choose the collaborations you used on the album?
The reason I decided to work with these artistes is, that I have a particular sound I wanted to achieve. Even though I like big names, sometimes, I always look out for depth and classics in my sounds. Every track has its own message, style and my expertise in A&R made me understand the right kind of people to pair in a particular song.
So that made it easier for me; I was able to cut across all genres of music and artistes across the world. I have some artistes from South America, Jean and Alex from Puerto Rico. I have one from Portugal; that is Nelson Freitas. I have Maua Sama from Tanzania. I have Lirical from Netherlands. I have Gyakie from Ghana. You could tell that I was trying to cut across different territories. My music is so wide, so I didn’t want to limit myself to a particular audience.
The album is deeply experimental, why was that?
Yes, I experimented with sound, because I am very diverse when it comes to sound. I have been playing with a live band for over 10 years. I have played with Reggae, Makossa and RnB sounds. I just needed to create something that every audience from highlife to salsa, to pop, jazz-fusion could connect. I like to explore and expand. I am very glad that everyone has something in it.
Do you feel like instrumental music has a future in Nigeria?
The cause of me doing all these things is to create value for instrumentalists. The future of instrumentalists in Nigeria is already very bright. They never appreciated us, no matter what we do. Now that I have been able to push the narrative into the mainstream market, the instrumentalist industry is open. And I have been getting calls from younger ones appreciating what I do. They tell me that people call them to play the guitar on their songs more than before. People now love the guitar and sax and they want them on their songs. And I can’t work with everyone, so they look out for the younger ones. By doing so, I am creating job opportunities for others. I am grateful to God for using me to achieve this
So, who are you feeling in the industry?
I love the new boys- Joe Boy, Fireboy, Oxlade. I am looking forward to having one of them in my next album. I mean, these guys are fire!
Finally, tell us three things people don’t know about you.
I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, and I love to swallow. I am from Akwa Ibom, and I love different types of soup. I love almost every kind.