‘My Songs Are Accepted By People, But Maybe Not As Much As Olomi’
Though not a stranger in the country’s music industry, talented singer Tosin Martins came to limelight with the released his hit track, Olomi. The classic love song, which comes with distinct message and melodious tune, enjoyed massive airplay across the country, even when a greater part of the song was rendered in Yoruba. In those days, Olomi was more like an official theme song for weddings; many used the song as ringtones. But ever since then, the singer is yet to match that hit.
Though he has equally made other good songs, in terms of sound and lyrics, whenever his name is mentioned, everyone thinks about Olomi. In this interview with CHUKS NWANNE, Tosin spoke on his music career, his latest album and the challenges of doing his kind of music in a country like Nigeria.
Olomi was a major hit, to the extent that whenever your name is mentioned, people think about the song. How come you’ve not been able make another hit?
It’s not easy; it’s very difficult to do that. As an artiste, you just do music and hope, pray and wish that people would accept it. But I found that people have accepted everything I’ve done, maybe not as much as they accepted Olomi. I found out that in the life of an artiste, there’s that one major song; you may have other songs that they love, but that one is just the favourite. I don’t think people have loved any song by Micheal Jackson than Thriller. Even locally, there’s always that one song, either at the beginning of your career, the middle or towards the end. I think what matters is consistently doing good music; it’s more important than hits.
So, it’s not juts about making hits?
I’ve also found that there are soft hits; people miss this. When you do good music, you find that some songs may come and for the first two years or six months, they may be everywhere and they are gone. But some people do songs that grow on people; you don’t think it’s a hit, but 10 years along the line, people still listen to them. There are songs of Fela like Palava; it was not as big as Water No Get Enemy. But guess what, people are getting rights and they still play Palava all over the world. Once you do good music, you don’t have to worry about hits.
Some people describe you as a gospel singer; others say you are a secular artiste. How would you describe your genre?
To be honest, I don’t know how to follow any genre of music; when I say it, people don’t believe me. Once I get into music, everything that comes is expected. Once it helps the message I’m trying to pass across, to get people feeling what’s I’m trying to say, why not. I believe in God and I think everybody who believes in God has the right to share that in his/her music. Just the way music is about sharing how you feel, I don’t see how you can believe in God and you don’t want to share that in your music, unless you truly don’t.
Does your music in any way define your personality?
Trust me, there’s no way you will listen to a song by Tosin Martins and you cannot tell that this is Tosin. R Kelly has gospel songs, he will still do R&B and world music; he comes from a culture where God is a big part of who they are. There’s no black person who, who doesn’t have the heritage of gospel music. So, that they are doing secular music doesn’t mean they are going to leave their roots. Don’t forget they all grew up listening to their grandmothers singing gospel songs.
Between message and beat, which is more important to you?
Message is it for me; that’s truly what I’m after. To me, once there’s a message, it doesn’t matter what name you call it. As long as it is a positive message, a message that you don’t have to tell your child, ‘close your ears, you don’t have to listen to this,’ whether it’s for us to sing and dance and be happy. Not that I have a problem with my friends, who may have music with different orientations; it’s not my place to tell anybody the kind of music to play. For me, that’s not the kind of music I want to do; I’m a father myself and I don’t want to tell my child, ‘close your ears.’
You try to be African in your beats, is that deliberate?
We are Nigerians; we are Africans. What put an identity to your music is the hint of where you are from. I try my best in terms of the style and I ensure the quality is as good as it should be.
What informed the title of your latest album, I’M A MES?
First of all, we wanted a bold title that will get people talking. Also, we wanted to play with words based on the way the album is; it has a mixture of many things. When you mix so many things together, then it’s a mess. In the album, you have some highlife, R&B, gospel… it feels like a mess really. But in this case, MES means I’m a Minister, Entertainer and Statesman. When you listen to the album, you will find that some songs that give you a feeling of ministering, some are entertaining, but some will give you a consciousness of a statesman.
How would you describe the song in the album?
The songs in this album are vintage Tosin, but we are still experimenting with new sounds and trying to accommodate new songs. You will get some highlife, you will get some African sound, you will get a lot of R&B; you will get a bit of everything. You should expect good music. Of course, in collaboration with other friends, who have come on the album and producers, who have done their best to make the music sound good; I’m talking about producers like Cobhams Asuquo, Dr Frabz, Mastercraft, Oladunde, Flo and Wole Oni… they are all on the album.
You have collaborations in the album?
Yes, I worked with Ebenezar Obey, Tiwa Savage, Waje in Letter Days, which we’ve just put out. The song is talking about love in the days when we used to write letters as against the days of social media. There was a lot of work to it and the process made it feel true. I’m not saying we should go back and start writing physical letters, but I’m saying that the whole effect of that era, we can bring it into our social media days.
The way you came into the industry, many expected you to have gone beyond where you are today. Do you think it’s a matter of not having the right platform?
Let’s be honest with ourselves, the management that you have here, how many of them know how to push my kind of music? How many of them have done audience analysis to show that this area or that area of Nigeria or this demography of people, likes the kind of music that a Tosin Martins play? Even if you find the ones that will do that, do they have the resources to then begin to do the mappings, the promotions, shows and tours? So, it’s still a growing industry and you have to make do with what you have. If for now what we have are people that will remind you that Tosin Martins still exist, and tell people his music is there and get the fans who call you for business, then you make do with that. You have a lot of live performance platforms these days, which means you can do stuffs weekly or monthly, if that’s all we have for now, well we have to take that and hope that the next generation coming doesn’t suffer the limitation we are suffering or hope that things get better in our generation.
Obviously, the industry is growing, but it seems lack of proper music festival, like the ones you have in South Africa, is still a huge challenge for artistes like you?
When you don’t have such platforms here, artistes like us tend to be on the fringes as it were.
And radio stations are not helping matter in terms of giving equal airplay to artistes of all genres?
We feel very bad and discouraged about that. Some of them try their best to accommodate other kinds of music, but some of them do so based on their perception of the artiste; they will rather play that kind of music if the person is younger and hip. Sometimes, it’s just pure perception; it’s not like they have anything against you. Some of them don’t know about music; once they don’t know you, they don’t know you. So, it’s not an encouraging thing; it’s not something that builds an industry, but that’s what we have right now. But we will keep educating them; keep encouraging and pushing and sometimes appealing to them to do the right thing. Really, people like me should not even complain because you still get to hear my music on air; there are some artistes you don’t get to hear at all.
The stations claim they play what the people wanted to hear, but I tell them, ‘you played it, that’s why they want to hear it.’ You decide what you want to play and if you play it enough, if it’s good, people will like to hear it.
What’s your take on the hip-hop music scene, especially the commercial success of some of these younger artistes?
I’m happy for them; these are my younger brothers and I think they’ve worked very hard. They’ve done well in the area of branding; they’ve taken music to a level, in terms of packaging and branding that we didn’t do. We saw it, we started to attempt it, but maybe we didn’t come at a time when we got enough support and resources. I mean, by the time we came into the industry, no telecommunication company was endorsing artistes; maybe I would have got my first N50million then. Everybody knows what to do, but not everybody that has the resources. They’ve learnt from us and we are also learning something from how far they’ve gone; we are in it together. Most importantly, they are making us see that it is possible.
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