The name Ola Onabule has come to be synonymous with fine music, fine art, stage craft…name it. Ola, who spreads good news to the world using music, has blazed his own trail at every step. First he left behind an education in law, and then shunned big record labels, built his own studios, set up his own record label, and tour tirelessly with his band.
Well, Ola is now a regular at some of the world’s premier festivals and concert halls.
Ola looks forward to making greater inroads into the Americas and Asia while hoping to play a
modest role in raising awareness about certain issues afoot in our globalizing world.
On January 2011, Ola performed with the Deutsche Film Orchestra at the NIKOLAISAAL in Potsdam. The concert was filmed for a documentary being made by a British documentary
Having given so much to the world, Ola has decided to take his music back to the root and the root, I’m proud to say, is Africa.
I won’t finish this piece without mentioning the fact that this talented gentleman, even though British, has Nigerian blood in him – yes Ola Onabule is a British/Nigerian, even though some would say Nigerian/British.
In this interview with Nollywoodgossip’s Live Online With Delia, Ola takes you through his life and dreams.
Were you born in the United Kingdom?
Yes, I was born in London.
Did you grow up in London as well?
I was in London until I was 10, and then I went to Nigeria for about 9 years. I did some of my primary and secondary school in Nigeria and came back to London to complete my O level, A level, and University; got into music and have been in London ever since.
Ok let’s talk about your career, when did you start making music?
Professionally I have been making my living in music for like 20years now. You know, one year roles into the next and you think you’ve been doing it for just a few years, especially when you start, but looking back on it you realize it’s been that long.
You once said that you don’t want to be involved with any big recording label, and that you’ll rather have your own recording label, why?
Yes, that’s because when you get involved with a big recording company, it’s very difficult
to express yourself, say what you want to say, write what you want to write and play the kind of music you enjoy playing.
Because they are investing all that money, they want to make sure they get their investment back, which usually means that you have to do what they say, and they present you the way they want to present you. A lot of people are happy doing that, so they don’t need me for that, they have Britney Spears for that.
Ola Onabule & The Babelsberg Film Orchestra – He’s Gone
Do you have any events coming up?
Yes, by the end of July or middle of August I’m going to release my 7th album which will be called ‘Seven Shade Darker’. There’s going to be 12 songs in the album, which will kind of tell the story of my career so far, how I see the world and the things that I have experienced.
(Laughs) I think I’m still a young man, even though I’m no more as young as I used to be. I see the world with different eyes and that is what I’m passing across in this new album.
Why did you choose the name Seven Shade Darker?
Well, because as you get older you see the world slightly different. You know when you are young; everything is positive, good and great. You talk about your dreams as if they are statements of fact; Saying something like, one day I’m going to own a Mercedes Benz, and you say that with no doubt. But as you get older, you know there are conditions and obstacles on the way to certain things. You might get the Benz, but you got to pay for it. It might not be just in money, but in time, suffering, struggling, hard work, etc., so that’s what the title is trying
to bear – things get darker as you get closer to it.
Does your environment affect your music style?
Yes, a lot. It started with the fact that I’m Nigerian/British, in the sense that sometimes I feel that I don’t have one brain but two – Nigeria brain and British brain. Sometimes, when I’m having conversation with a British guy, my mouth will be responding but my thought is thinking in Lagos way, like.
And when I’m in Nigeria and people are talking to me, I’m hearing what they are saying but in my London mind, I’m thinking, my good man this is not how it is done, you know in a very British way. Yes in a way I think it affects basically the type of music I write.
As a Nigerian Musician in Europe, have you experienced any kind of
You know, I have to say that things are getting better; I have no doubt about that. When I
first came here in the 1980’s people made it very obvious they don’t like you because you are black, they will even say it to your face and also to your hearing.
I remember what happened one day when I went to a football match with my friends; people were throwing banana skins at black footballers. It means that, on the way to the football match, people actually bought bananas with the sole intentions of throwing them at black footballers.
But, all of that is now impossible in open places, because it’s against the law for one, you might be arrested and taken away, so things have changed.
Having said that, it’s really hard to convince black people that you may have gotten an experience that may have been very bad, so many of us are in a good positions, so many are in a good jobs, and they don’t seem to believe that someone is doing something because of their color.
There is still work to be done and I try to put out many messages, through my music, on what needs to be done and how to go about it.
Have you ever performed in Nigeria before?
I’ve never performed in Nigeria doing my own song. But when I was a young boy, I had a band in Nigeria called The Diplomat that was when I was 14 /15 years. We played a few times on NTV then, beyond that, I haven’t done any concerts in Nigeria but I’m looking forward to it.
What kind of music do you listen to?
As far as music is concern, I listen to everything. I try to keep up with the music back home in Nigeria, so I’m into D’banj, Asa, and Nneka. I listen to R&B, I love jazz, and I love Afro Beat; even though I don’t feel Afro Jazz since the big man Fela Kuti died. I even listen to rock music – even hard rock, because there might be one or two ideas that I can incorporate into my music. Yes, I listen to everything and anything.
It’s clear that you’ve done so many tours and traveled wide, where is the most unusual place you have ever performed?
That is a very interesting question; I played in a club that is owned by a very great guy, I don’t want to mention the name of the place. But, after we played one set we then took a break to meal. While we were eating, the boss noticed that one of us was throwing his face while eating in a way to suggest that the meal wasn’t very good. So, the boss came over, dragged a spoon from the table, took some food from the plate and put it in his mouth and it confirmed to him that the food wasn’t that great. So he went into the kitchen and beat the hell out of his cook, kicked him out and then cooked another meal right there and it was amazing.
(Laughs) That was one interesting occurrence I have experienced.
Wow, what a story! Ok which is the most interesting place you’ve performed at?
Few months ago, I played with a German orchestra. This is a very big orchestra called
Germany Film Orchestra, Potsdam.
They played my songs in a way that I never imagined when I was writing them.
There were thousands of people in the audience and being on the stage I thought to myself this particular one is special and very glamorous. That was certainly a very happy day for me.
Your music is not always sad, so what makes people cry whenever you’re on stage?
It’s not always sad music, but some of the music is sad. You know when I’m on stage I
sell myself in what I’m doing. I suspect what is happening is: I try to write songs from the things I’ve been through and some of those things are sad. So, when I’m on stage, I go back to the
experiences and renew them again. You know, when people try to express something that you know is from the heart, you find yourself feeling what they’re feeling or maybe remember your own experience. So, I could imagine, that was what is happening to them. But sometimes, when people say they cry, I feel like: I hope they are not crying because it was too bad.
Ola Onabule – ‘Soul Town’ @ Montreal Jazz 2009
Where do you feel much home, in Nigeria or in the UK?
I’m one of the lucky people that feel at home wherever I am or among people who are
lovely and nice to me. I feel at home also when I’m in the midst of happy people. A few weeks ago, we were in Italy; I felt that Italians are very much like Nigerians – very generous with music. They’re also very friendly, so immediately I thought, wow I feel at home here.
One of the advantages of being a musician is that we get to travel around and you get to realize that your home can be anywhere where people are nice to you. My natural and spiritual home is Nigeria, but I feel like I also have homes wherever I have good friends.
Who is your idol, or your role model in music?
My first role model has to be Stevie Wonder; I love everything he does in music, but I
have a lot of role models in different things.
My father used to play Sunny Ade and Ebenezer Obey. When I went to Nigeria, I stayed with my grandfather a lot and he used to play a guy I love so much, I can’t remember his name now. I
love their concepts and their reasoning. My favorite musician though is Aretha Franklin, It’s incredible the way she uses her voice.
Some of those artists in 1970’s, I can listen to them every day of my life and still
don’t get tired of them.
Who is Ola Onabule really?
I’m just a guy who is trying to make some music. I used to think I’m going to be a lawyer, so I went to law school. It wasn’t until my final year that I started thinking to myself, if I stick to the law thing it is going to be for life. So before my final exams, I called my parents and told them that I wanted to be a musician.
For them, it was a bad news; you know how parents are? They are never one hundred per cent sure about music; they always think you’ll be doing what Fela did. In a sense, I’m just celebrating the fact that I was able to make that decision, otherwise, I would be going to court every day.
What advice will you give to young people who want to do music?
I’ll tell them to be sure of what they want to do, if you want to be famous and popular
just figure out what area and be prepared to accept whatever conditions that are attached to achieving your goals.
There are great rewards like money, popularity, etc., but there is more to it. If you have to make music that last for generations, there are conditions – be faithful to yourself and be able to turn the music into art.
One of my role models Fela Kuti gave a lot for his music and this I love so much. He used his
music to send a message to our people, a message which is still relevant even today.
What aspect of music making excites you the most?
I like every aspect of it; writing a song is exciting, you are taking an idea out of nothing and from the things that don’t exist you create a song. That is very, very exciting.
Then the next stage of making music that I love most is when you get back in the evening from stage and you know there were maybe four to five thousand people in the room and every single one of them followed the songs note to note.
Sometimes during a more quiet song, everywhere gets so quiet that you can tell that people are even afraid to cough so as not to break the stillness created in the room, it’s so magical.
What are your plans for 2011?
My plans are to release my album Seven Shade Darker, do more touring and again
get into acting in Nigeria. There are so many Nigerian movies that I have watched and
I love them so much. I want to bring fresh ideas in the Nigerian movie industry.
So I’ll be working towards that this year.
(Cut in) you know that will mean spending most of your time in Nigeria?
Absolutely, that’s not a problem. It’s my country. My parents are there, all my family
members are there, and I know they will take care of me. So I don’t have problem with that.
Talking about Nigeria, with President Goodluck Jonathan as the new President,
where do you see the country in two to three years’ time?
Nigeria is taking incredible steps forward. This is the third democratic election even though many people are saying democracy is not for Nigeria. I can remember those discussions, and look at us now! This election was more peaceful than the ones before and by God’s grace the next one will be even better.
Once we know how to do that, so many things will gradually be put to place, businesses
will come into the country followed by many other developments. Nigerians are very creative minded, very artistic, and can express themselves
Are we going to see you into politics one day?
No, no, no, politics is not for me. No, I don’t know how I really feel about politics, that’s not my field. I think if I’m going to make a change in the world, I hope I can make it through my music.
Nollywoodgossip wishes you the best.
Thank you for having me on your show.