|Prof. Bob Ejike Eme|
Prof. Bob Ejike Eme is not an artiste that could easily be forgotten in a hurry. He started as a columnist with the defunct Drum magazine at a tender age of 13, before venturing into acting and singer. He has featured in more than 40 home movies, outside the rested TV drama, Basi and Company, and also recorded six albums since 1985; he made his first appearance in the music scene. This multi-talented artiste spoke to OMIKO AWA on this latest album ‘Bright Eyes’ and music in general.
We’ve known you to be a movie person, why music?
I am a man of both worlds. I made my first CD, “No Vacancy” in 1985 while I was acting in Basi and Company TV drama. The album was a success in Nigeria. I took it to Italy, where I re-launched it and remained for 22 years, before coming home. Though, most actors move from acting to music for lack of roles in the movies; with me, it is not so, for I have been doing the two for long.
Was “No vacancy” translated into Italian?
No, it remained in English language. In fact Italians listen to a lot of music in English. It also made a big hit in Italy, making me to enjoy large following.
What’s is in the offing?
It’s my latest work, a 16-track album titled, “Bright Eyes.” All the songs are written, arranged and partly produced by me, in my studios.
Since you did most of the work, who then is handling the sales?
This is really a problem for most Nigerian artistes, who for the sake of selling their records accept whatever the producer tells them. I have my strategy of distribution and marketing, which include direct supply to the Alaba boys.
Aren’t you afraid of piracy?
To be candid, I see it as a secondary problem. The main problem of any artiste is how to make his or her work to get to the market. It may interest you to know that some artistes even pay pirates to help market their albums, so that it could be heard everywhere and thereby make them popular. For me, piracy is no problem; ‘Bright Eyes’ is my major concern. I have spanned through three generations of Nigerians, having played alongside with big time artistes such as the late Tina Onwudiwe (a.k.a. African Oyinbo), Dizzy K, Chris Okotie, Jide Obi, and Onyeka Onwenu among others.
For you, music and movie, which comes first?
I started acting before entering into music. My first film ‘Echoes of Wrath’ in 1982, won the National Festival for Arts and Culture (NAFEST) prize. We featured Richard Mofee Damijo, for the first time in television in 1982. I have been in the arts for long, I started writing from 13 years and still write for The Sun Newspapers till date. I once shared column with Ben Okiri in The Drum Magazine. I was also the first person to write a graduation dissertation on the works of Ben Okiri. I wrote it without reference from any previous work on him to serve as a guide or literature review, though there were write-ups on him by The Guardian Newspaper, then; they were not really fleshy enough to be used for a work of such magnitude, besides I could not lay my hands on them. I made an ‘A grade’ from that work. I studied under the tutelage of the late Prof. Ola Rotimi, Gabriel Okara, Elechi Amadi and others. I had wanted to go into writing novels, but the available structures were not motivating enough for new entrants. You will write and publishers would tell you that you are not good enough to be published, instead of saying they don’t have the fund for it. So, we went to the film industry, because sponsors were available and ready to fund productions — they were even coming after us — with mouthwatering incentives and I quickly jumped at the opportunity.
How many films have you done?
I have acted in over 40 films outside several musical videos in my studio.
Which instrument do you play?
Have you watched, ‘This is it’? You will see that Michael Jackson can’t play any musical instrument; you will see that he was just using his mouth to reproduce various musical sounds. I tried to learn how to play instruments in an institute in Rome, when one of my instructors after listening to my music said: “Bob, you’re either a mad man or a genius, to want to learn musical instrument.” He advised me to either concentrate on my music or lose it, because instrument will make me lose concentration. He said, the work of a composer is quite different from that of an instrumentalist as singing and playing instrument along with it will lead to distraction.
But Fela was a good instrumentalist, composer and singer:
Yes, he was and there are others like him, too. But, it must be noted that we all have different gifts. I was told that the concentration you give to the instrument could lead to distraction. I have worked with artistes that play instruments and I have always pointed out where they go off the tone, which goes to confirm what I was told.
Do you observe that our music is full of vulgar languages?
It’s a serious issue, but the truth is, vulgarity is not for creative art, which must be clean and pure. Music must elevate and not reduce man or the hearer. The vulgar music popularly referred to as ‘Naija’ music talks about sex and other trivialities. You even hear artiste praise themselves, tell their illicit affairs with women, abuse people and even announce their acquisition of new property. Despite the complaints people make about them, you will still discover that they are directed by a producer to sing such, so that, they can make money. They see vulgar music as a money spinning music. For me, money is not all; I am not into music for money, but to use it to elevate man. In my 30 years of hard work, I have carved a niche for myself that I would not allow such songs tarnish dignity.
What is the borderline for music and movies for you?
It’s very thin. In music you are the sponsor and the artistes, so, you need to do much work to cover larger grounds while in movies, a sponsor does the sleeves, advert and promotion; all you need to do is to play your lines and get your dough. The borderline for me is very slim, but for now, I am fully into music.
I’m from a humble background. My father, Steve Ejike Eme was a tax commissioner in Anambra State Internal Revenue and my mother, a beautician. I inherited my musical gift from my maternal grandfather, who was a World War soldier. He used to entertain soldiers with his guitar then. I attended Government Secondary School, Umuahia and later University of Port Harcourt, where I studied English Language and Literature. With the success of ‘No vacancy’, I left Nigeria for Italy in 1987, where I joined a band known as Iree, that later broke up, making me to take up a job and go back to school to study Art Communication in a popular University in Rome. I also taught in a University before coming home. And since I arrived, I’ve been into acting, modeling, doing TV presentation and writes for The Sun Newspaper. I have done a lot of works, but my latest is ‘Bright Eye’, which is my sixth album.
Advice to the youths:
Most of them are not patient enough; they are in a hurry to be independent and to make money. I would advise them to be honesty in all their dealings and to know that ‘the only success that stands the taste of time is that earned through hard work’. The youths owe posterity a duty to turn the country around for good because the older generation has failed us, which is the main reason for the failure of infrastructure and other social amenities.