Thursday, 30th November 2023

‘I Want To Use My Music To Spread Hope’

After over two decades of a stellar comedy and filmmaking career, ace entertainer Bright Okpocha, also known as Basketmouth, has opened a new vista in his career

After over two decades of a stellar comedy and filmmaking career, ace entertainer Bright Okpocha, also known as Basketmouth, has opened a new vista in his career with a 10-track visual album Yabasi (meaning Onions in the Igbo Language).

It is also the official soundtrack for his forthcoming comedic sitcom, Papa Benji. An instant melodic feast, this album, which is heavily crafted as a fusion of highlife, Hip-hop, and Afro-pop, largely notes on human living conditions for the average Nigerian, motivating hope in the listener.

From the first highlife-heavy track, Peppersoup, which features the veterans Duncan Mighty and Iceprince, to the feel-good hi-pop (highlife/hip-hop) melody on Oxlade’s and ShowDemCamp’s Myself, travelling through to the Phyno and Flavour’s gyrating ‘Papa Benji’, pre-climaxing with the enigmatic Cavemen and Bez’s duet, and then balancing with the Peruzzi and Illbliss’ record, the songs centrally inspire and sketches facets of the daily struggles of the average Nigerian – the ultimate hustler’s playlist.

Some other songs focus on the beauty of love and positive interactions such as the Waje and Ladipoe’s Ride or Die, which re-surfaces Waje to the music scene with her enchanting vocal melodies that complements Ladipoe’s poetic songwriting. The Chike, Zoro, and Play’s (Basketmouth’s younger brother) trio’s party-starting record is a compelling song on the sound piece, reflecting on love as well.

While the song has a peculiar largely experimental sound direction and style, which places it on a very artsy pedestal, it sounds like a largely deliberate project – unusual from the Official Soundtracks (OSTs) for most Nollywood flicks. What is Baskemouth up to? Wearing multiple hats, from Executive Producer to Content Director, to Artiste and Repertoire (A&R), what does he hope to achieve with this album?

With a wide-eyed enthusiasm, he sits with CHINONSO IHEKIRE to talk about his creative process, returning to music, the inspirations behind Yabasi, and balancing his multi-versatile personality as a Nigerian entertainer.

What is this soundtrack all about?
IT is an official soundtrack of the show Papa Benji. The show is centered on a beer parlour owner – his family, customers, and all that. At every beer parlour space, one thing that you cannot do without is music. In Nigeria, we love music. Right now, what I am trying to do now is to tap into that demand from music. I decided not to use any existing song, but create my own sound; that way, I don’t have issues with permissions and all that.

To be honest, I have always wanted to create my own sound. There is one thing quite unique about the album: it has got its own sound. I decided to create something refreshing that I also own. Beyond everything, it is not just a soundtrack; it is also part of a story. We aren’t creating music to compliment a sitcom; we are creating music that tells the story even better.

The project sounds very deliberate; the themes all match each other from beginning to end. What is the inspiration behind this soundtrack?
There is a story behind the whole soundtrack. Papa Benji is a real spot that existed back then; I don’t know if it still exists. Papa Benji was in Kirikiri town in Cardoso Street; I used to live there. He had the best pepper soup, not just in Kirikiri town, but that whole area. My dad used to ask me to buy him peppersoup from Papa Benji and my mum is a great cook. So, you can imagine the kind of guts my dad would have to tell me to buy peppersoup from Papa Benji with my mum’s approval. That is a part of my memory that I can’t take out; it was part of me.

Then, my first love was music. Again, I wanted to create a unique sitcom. One unique thing about everyone is our own unique voice and experiences. There are some socials ills I would also like to address, but I am not able to talk about with the jokes, with My Flatmates (sitcom) because it is commissioned by Mnet. So, you can only pass a message with something you own. So, if you want to pass a message to these people a beer parlour is the best place because that is where everyone comes. Music is actually a conduit; you are what you eat. With my kind of music, I want people to feed positively from it.

So, from picking the producers to recording, how did the whole creative process play out?
My plan was to make the soundtrack about three tracks. I was like ‘Bright, you need more songs on the album; you cannot play only three songs, in a real-life beer parlour; you also have to throw in a masterpiece into it.’ So, what I did was to make the album a visual album and not just an album; there is a story behind the album. Getting these guys together, what I did was to get the kind of sounds that they would like, something that they were comfortable with and something very new. Only the professionals got it right.

There are some people I approached and they were like it would be too hard. So, when I was listening to the instrumentals, I listened to it over and over again. There were some instrumentals that, after we created them, I said that this is this person and this is that person. I wrote their names down; I selected every person personally.

What were your best and worst memories in creating this project?
To be honest, every moment around this project was quite unique. We used 14 days to record this project. It was fast because we had nice sound (great instrumentals). So, it was fast when I sent it to the artistes. Immediately I heard one of the instrumentals I said this is Duncan Mighty; I just sent it to him. And he didn’t sleep all through the night; he buzzed me the next morning and said, ‘you gave me sleepless nights, so I am going to give you sleepless nights.’ So, for everybody, I gingered them with the kinds of songs.

Even with Peruzzi, I took the song to him. I showed respect to these guys; I didn’t call most of them to come to the studio. I would go to most of them to pitch the song. A few of them that were living far from where we were producing, I begged them to come. Beyond everything, it was the love and respect they have for me that made it easy. They believed in the work.

The core reason I’m doing the project, actually the show is because I’m trying to create a happy community around my social media space. Papa Benji is strategically directed to the common man trying to hustle. I cannot be cracking jokes for everybody, but I can create content that can entertain them.

Let’s look at your legacy in the Nollywood industry. It is not uncommon to find a comedian delving into moviemaking, but it is not something easy to achieve as well. How do you balance this? How easy or how hard?
It is not easy o. The reason why I think I do it so well, to be modest, is based on the fact that I have an amazing team; they make my work easy. Most of them have been with me as far back as 30 years ago; it is just the new ones that have done 2 or 3 years. The same way I am able to pick good musicians to jump on my instrumentals is the same way I am able to pick the right people to work with; I have got an eye for talent. When I get the right people, it makes my life easy.

In terms of balancing it, it is all about timing. I overwork myself; I don’t sleep when others sleep. From midnight, that is when I am cooking spiritual things. I am ahead of most others; by the time they are awake, I am done cooking. Most of the guys I cook with are based in Yankee (abroad). So, they are awake and I am awake. And the ones in Nigeria – Abinibi, Funbi, and the rest – I dey frustrate them regularly.

Balancing the family is not that difficult, because I don’t go out. After everything I do, I must come back home; they must see me, except for the few times I work overnight. It is difficult, mentally, because a lot of creative energy is used. However, the reason I can also pull this off is that I started working on the idea of Papa Benji three years ago. This is the ripple effect; the album is the only thing I jumped into shortly, that was in August. Everything is fresh.

Any favourites on the album?
It changes. That is why I know I have a good album. There is a friend of mine I sent the link to and he lost the link. He started begging me to send the link again. I was doing shakara and he started calling and begging; that was when I knew that the album is good.

Only one producer worked on this album, why?
Yes, I worked with one person – Duktor Sett. I like my life easy; I found him on Instagram. He did samples of stuff and I liked it; I tested him for over a year. I gave him samples of stuff to work on, so, I was testing him. Until one day, I just told him about the project. It was him all through, except the track with the Cavemen. He did a little on it, but the Cavemen are equally good. The Cavemen and Chike’s songs actually were the last two songs we added.

The album was initially seven songs. So, the beat was solid and I needed someone that could finish the work. Then, you know God is miraculous. I was on my own when Chike indicated an interest in the project; I just asked to meet. I gave him the instrumental and he just ran with it. He crossed my mind one time, prior to that, but I doubted he’d agree because he doesn’t owe me any favour. He is quite humble; it is actually one of my favourites. My younger brother is on the song too; his name is Play.

Any return to music for you?
Maybe, I am not sure. However, I am beginning to enjoy it the way I used to because I made my first beat in 1995, with a Yamaha PSR5 or something. What I wanted to do then was blend hip-hop and highlife. Now that I have the key, I have unlocked that door.

Is there also any interest in owning a record label?
100 per cent, I think I can do it.

Why Yabasi as title?
Yabasi, the ‘I’ in it is silent. It means onions in Igbo language. So, the story about Papa Benji is that he used to stay in the kitchen with his Dad, learning how to cook and that is how he learned the secret recipe; that is me. I used to stay in the kitchen with my mum when I was younger. So, there are layers that fabricate the whole show, different layers. So, I pieced everything together. So, what another way to describe this apart from onions since they are all in layers?

Two years ago, I was making a hashtag called Kutukutukutu – exactly as the sound of when you are cooking something and it is about to get ready. So, I was like one thing you can’t cook without is onions.

Since Papa Benji is a peppersoup joint, I just put everything together. When you breakdown each song, apart from the message, the number of parts of the instrumentals is over 90.

Looking at the sound direction, it seems you had a lot of influence on it. Did you influence all the sounds or you let your producer exercise his creative freedom?
The first question he (Duktor Sett) asked me was ‘How do you work?’ I was like, ‘I would guide you, but I would let your creativity take over.’ I wanted him to come inside my mind and see what I am seeing. That was how we made the first beat – the one with Peruzzi and Illbliss; it was one of our most difficult beats. I sent him to reference songs from Celestine Ukwu to Sir Warrior and I made him understand they were my influence; my dad listened to all these songs. My late brother was also a DJ; I had influence by all these songs. I explained he had to marry all these sounds with Hip-hop. It was difficult at first, but when he got it, it was like ‘Boom!’ The whole room exploded.

You have a penchant for experimental projects. You were about releasing Nigeria’s first-ever comedy-horror flick, but you stopped. What happened to the Exorcism of Alu?
I stopped because I wasn’t ready; it is still coming. It is going to come in next year. It is a short movie but it is crazy.

When are we expecting their release?
The first single drops on the first of October, the one with Oxlade and ShowDemCamp; that song is solid. Then, we are going to be dropping Papa Benji – the one with Phyno and Flavour. Then, on October 23, the album drops. On the 2nd, people can also pre-order the album and see the tracklist. The introductory episode of the sitcom drops on the 21st of October and the first episode drops on October 30. It is going to premiere at the Cinemas; I really want to make it an experience.

On a personal level, tell us three things we don’t know about Basketmouth.
Number one, I cook like a woman. Number two, I am afraid of roaches; if I see a cockroach in a house, I would move out. I can hug a snake, but I can’t go near a cockroach. Lastly, I am a very shy person. People don’t know, but I used over 15 years to perfect it. After a gig is over, you hardly see me hanging around.