Idahams… Truth, Love and Confessions Of Bonny Island Native
When Hart Idawarifagha Ishmael was barely 7 years old, he saw his father shot in the waist by a policeman, while peacefully protesting against rampant oil spills in his native Niger Delta community. And while his father would later survive that incident, Ishmael continued to live with the trauma from that day, buried deep into his consciousness.
The bustling Bonny Island maverick, professionally known as Idahams, now follows in his father’s footsteps, using his music as a voice for activism and therapy for healing.
With Idahams’ discography, it has always been a buffet of cathartic storytelling and melodious singing, ever from his 2019 debut body of work dubbed, Amanyanabo, to his critically acclaimed sophomore, Man on Fire. And the Afro RnB/Pop maestro has retained this same blueprint in his just-released debut studio album dubbed, Truth, Love and Confessions.
In the 13-tracker record, Idahams journeys down a trail of self-reflection, reminiscing on his life’s experiences. He partitions the album into a 3-course diet, narrating his most sombre life’s experiences, documenting his grief with losing his parents; his bitter-sweet adventures with romantic love; as well as his eccentric escapades with an Abuja-based ‘sugar mum.’
In TLC, Idahams unfurls his life boldly, with his artistry. And it sweetens his music, with intimacy and relatability, making the entire record feel like a heart-to-heart conversation.
His stellar line-up of collaborations includes the Port Harcourt superstar duo, Ajebo Hustlers; the Kenyan chanteuse Xenia Manasseh; Canadian rapper Zach Zoya; Kenyan singer Muthaka; Nigerian rapper Metha4our, and the British rapper Tugga Skii, which all complement his mid-tempo sonic delivery to create a body of work with high replay value. The entire album is easy to soak in, with a good track arrangement and exciting nitpicks of backing instrumentation, and it is effortlessly his best work yet.
In a chat with Guardian Music, the Grafton Records singer narrates the making of TLC, detailing the real-life experiences that inspire the tracks; his creative process; and why he feels like the Nigerian Kanye West, among others.
Congratulations on the new album. Why is it titled Truth, Love and Confessions?
YEAH, Looking back at my life, you know, my music revolves around my life, the happenings and my experiences. I feel that since this is my first project, my debut album, I should not just do anything. I should do something that would stand the test of time; something that you know, even if I am no more, people can always go back and feel it and it resonates with them.
Truth, Love and Confession is what the album is all about. It is my Truth, my Confession and my Love life. It is just me telling the world about myself.
How long have you been recording this body of work?
It’s been more than two years. I have been selecting sounds, selecting the right lyrics- for two years now.
This album feels different from your other projects. What changed?
You know, an album is like a body of work that needs to be organised or arranged. It’s not like you’re dropping a single or you want to drop an EP. Album is just like a catalogue of something you brought together and they must connect. So, the reason why it took me this long to put these songs together or the album together is that I was looking for the sound and lyrics that would connect.
You know, before you start working on an album, you have to have the album title to work with. So, the album title helped me. People need to know my Truth, people need to know my Confession, and people need to know my Love life. Basically, me putting these three things together, I started writing songs that would actually connect with the title of the album. It was easy for me, like yeah, everybody would say that ‘Idahams is another version of you.’ When people hear it, they are like, ‘Is this you?’ And I’ll say, ‘Yeah, it’s me.’
What’s your creative process like?I always start with the beat; the melody connects with the lyrics. It determines what I want to do on a song. I am very picky when it comes to the melody. Sometimes, if I want an extra producer to come and produce for me, I play. So, it’s very intentional. I get the melody then I just freestyle with a melody on the beat and I start putting the words together. That’s how I create music.
Sometimes, I will allow the beat to play, while I am inside the toilet; the toilet is one of my best places to create records. So, I just sit down, pause, and ponder, and the melody will just be flowing into my head, while I write the song.
What’s the quickest song or easiest song you wrote on the album?
Kpofire. That’s because it’s something I saw with my eyes. So, when I did the beat, the lyrics were just there in my head, it was just left for me to record. Kpofire was freestyle.
Does your music make you feel depressed when you relieve your traumas in them?
Yeah, I was at that point. You know, I was reminiscing on so many things about life. I was trying to play a song- I was trying to freestyle Fireboy’s song featuring Oxlade- Sing. Then I was like, ‘no, let me do something that is about my life.’ You know, the thing was just in my head; it’s a very emotional rhythm.
I started playing the keyboard, I was freestyling, I was in dark mode; I was just recording as the inspirations kept coming. In fact, I had a choir here. I hung the mic on my chandelier and everyone was just recording. So, with these songs, I just want people to hear my story, this is the Truth- what happened in so and so time, and what I went through.
In this album, you collaborated with some unique names. How did you pick these people to work with?
Xenia was brought on by my A&R. Big ups to my A&R for that; he told me that she’s very good. He played her songs, she is a soulful singer and I really love souls. I had other people too, like Tugga Skii & Metha4our. Tugga Skii is my boss’ son and Metha4our is my guy that always comes around; he is a very talented guy.
When I was doing that record, he was in the studio and I asked him to vibe. So, when he vibed, I liked it. Even though nobody knows him, what he did on that track is very unique, so I left it. Everyone was like, ‘oh no let’s add this,’ I said ‘no, what this guy did, though he is a nobody, I like what he did on the song.’ For me, it is all about prioritising quality.
There were songs on the album where you talked about you being beaten up by the police, was that true?
Yeah, it happened to me in real life at the Lekki Toll Gate. Mr. Macaroni and I went to Lekki Toll Gate for the Occupy Lekki Toll Gate protest; I think it was the second protest we had after the Lekki shooting.
They opened the Toll Gate and we went there to ask questions- why do you guys want to open the Toll Gate when the people that lost their lives have not got justice? Then next, they beat me up. I woke up in the hospital at Redington; I passed out, so that’s where I found myself.
Did you take it up legally?
We did not. We tried to, but some people were coming, especially from my former label, telling me to take it easy and calm down. I wanted to make noise with it, but they said, ‘you know it’s the government.’ So, we had to use wisdom. It’s the country we are in, but it was a crazy experience.
Does it give you any sort of PTSD or Trauma?
Of course, yes. They had to even book me for therapy; I went to therapy for a week. I went every day; I couldn’t do anything like I couldn’t record. For three months, I didn’t record; I was just here. Just watching movies, going out, going to the beach; trying to clear my head, because the events kept replaying in my head. It took me a while, but I came back and started working again; the hustle must continue.
What other profound truths do you have on the album that I might have missed?
The truth when I lost my mum, in the song, Gratitude. Even in Kpofire where I was talking about the militancy struggle, you know.
Generally, how do you feel about the Niger Delta situation right now?
I feel happy. You know the most important thing is where you are, let there be peace. Let people have their peace and rest, instead of those social vices where you wake up and hear that something has happened. So, if people live in peace and harmony, there will be progress and prosperity.
You know, since these two people have come together to make peace, forget about whatever grudges you might have had in the past, and you will see progress and prosperity.
Do you get afraid sometimes when you do activism with your music?
No, I don’t. Let me blow your mind, when my dad was my age, he went with his friend to protest; I don’t want to mention the name of the company, it’s an oil company though. They were not doing what they were supposed to do for the community. Our fishes were dying in the sea because of oil spillage, and there was some sort of settlement they were supposed to pay, and they did not pay. So, they came out to protest. Mobile police shot him in the waist.
Did he show you the gunshot wound?
He didn’t have to; I witnessed it. Although I was small, I still understood what was happening as a Port Harcourt boy. I think I was seven years old. Everyone was crying that my father would have died, but thank God he made it.
Apart from the Toll Gate event, have you experienced any other case of police brutality?
Of course! Back when I was in Port Harcourt, it was a lot; I can’t even count. The last time was when I went to Port Harcourt, I was trying to meet up for an interview at SoundCity, and I was behind time. The way the policemen saw me dressed, you know, they just stopped us and the next thing I heard was, ‘Come down from the car.’ I said, ‘Bros, what is the matter?’ Omo, the guy hit me on my chest and said that I should get out of my car. I came out and held him, like ‘Why did you slap me?’
He asked everyone to bring out their phones to record it. The guy said he would shoot me, and I said ‘shoot me!’ I was like ‘let me take off my clothes so that you can shoot me.’ I pulled off my clothes, and was like, ‘shoot me bros!’ Everyone brought out their phones, and the man couldn’t do anything, so he left us. It was a bad experience.
So, on the album, What was the ‘confession’ part about?
The confession is on the song, Go Again, where I was dating a sugar mummy that was in Abuja. I used to have a sugar mummy.
How do you think she will feel when she finds out you made this song?
I don’t know. It’s just music, you know. I didn’t call her name, but if she hears the song, she’s going to know that she’s the one I am talking about. She used to come, sometimes; I used to go to Abuja. She comes to Lagos, we’ll meet in hotels and do our thing, you know.
Is she a popular figure?
No, she’s not. She is a wealthy businesswoman from the North.
What made you stop?
I had to stop because I knew I was going somewhere in life. I just had to stop.
She didn’t want me to leave, but I had to tell her that I need to put my energy into my music, and I don’t want anything to obstruct what I am trying to build for myself. I told her that if she loves me, she should let me go.
Did you have any other partners at the time?
Yes, I used to have a girlfriend.
Did she know about it?
Yeah, she knew; she understood what I was doing. We were not married, and she knew that I and this other woman were not going to end up together.
Was she getting anything out of it?
Of course, she knew that whatever she needs, I give her and she knew where I get that from, so she’s fine. That is the confession; she was a very nice person though.
Do you feel any sort of shame, in putting this out in the public?
No, it’s my Confession. That’s why I said this album is just putting my life to the world, like telling the world that this is me; this is what I have done. This is, you know, my testimony. You should embrace your past and your flaws. That’s what makes you who you are.
For me, each time I feel rejected, you know, I feel motivated. I take my rejection- when people do stuff that they shouldn’t do to you, you close your eyes and start feeling some sort of way. No, I don’t have that time. I just work harder to prove you wrong.
So, what is the ‘Love’ aspect of the album about?
You would find it in the song, Somebody’s Daughter. That is where the love comes in because I was just talking about someone I love. It’s a love song for everybody that is in love or is married. Also, it is for every girl that is in a toxic relationship and wants to move on.
If you’re in a relationship with a guy and he is telling you that you cannot cook, or that you are getting fat, there are people that would appreciate you for who you are. Like I heard Joke Silver has not cooked for Olu Jacobs, and are they not in love today? Are they not still in marriage? Some people who cook day and night have broken marriages. So, what we need is connection. When you are connected to somebody, you don’t see his or her flaws.
Which other song addresses your love experiences?
The true-life story that happened to me is in the song, Hate That I Love. When I was in Port Harcourt, I used to date this girl and I was warned not to date her, because they know to say the girl dey waka (prostitution), but you know the way love be, I was headstrong.
So, there was one faithful day I went to take her by surprise. I got to a supermarket, I bought champagne and I went to her house, but I didn’t tell her I was coming. On getting to her door, what I was hearing was crazy. The moans I was hearing were crazy. To see how foolish I was, I didn’t still leave her; I went back. I forgave her.
What happened to the relationship later on?
Growth. As I grew, I just told myself, ‘bro, dem born you and this girl? No. Are you fit to change this girl’s character? No.’ So, I just moved on.
Your sound shifted on this record. Was that intentional too?
Music changes, and when it changes, you have to change, but let your originality be your originality. Even if I am sounding a particular way on this project, it still says that this is the way that I sing, you understand.
So, I have always had my voice, regardless of trying to make this like, far from what I have done in the past.
Do you still have any height you aspire to reach, in terms of your singing?
Of course, every day, you work on yourself; you see things. You are trying to look into YouTube and there are some adverts you just see that inspire you. You also see one thing and before you know it, you are doing it and you are learning about it. Also, before you know it, you are doing it on yourself and it shows that it’s actually working and you are progressing.
If you were going to rate your album, what would you rate it?
My album is 10/10. See, I won’t be surprised if it attracts Grammy’s attention. I have played some of the albums for people at Audiomack, Boomplay, and other places. People took me more seriously after listening to the album.
Do you feel like you have been undermined a lot?
Yes, of course. Like Kanye West, if you go back to his story, even when they saw the talent in him, they were still not giving him what he deserved. That’s the same thing that happened to me.
You are opening a company and the company doesn’t want to give you what you deserve. You don’t sleep, you don’t rest, you know, but they don’t want to. They see your hunger, oh this boy wants to be bigger than whomever he wants to be bigger than, but they don’t want to give you that thing that will put you at that spot. But we move bro.
What do you want people to expect from listening to this record?
They are going to be emotional. They are going to be reflective. It’s going to reflect a whole lot of things in their lives because my songs are very relatable. In fact, when you listen to them, it resonates with you.
There was a time I was in a bar; I played Gratitude. The man was just telling me that I should replay. I said, ‘no sir, I was just playing for somebody,’ he said no I should replay. The man was like, you don’t know what I just did- transferred money instantly to me. He is still coming for my listening and he is my friend now. So that’s it.
I want people to take away not just something from the noise, but something impactful. You know, motivation. Anybody can make it regardless of wherever you are coming from. As long as you want it, nobody can stop your shine.