When I saw that Yola was too small for me then and there was pressure from my family to quit music, I went to Lagos. When I got to Lagos, my uncle who liked music supported me. He gave me money to go to the studio to record my first demo, Binta Ni Ke so. Afterwards, I secured a recording contract with Radio Nigeria on their label “Broadway”. We launched the first album here in Abuja in 1999, and since then, Funkiest Mallam has been a household name in the music industry.
After my contract with Radio Nigeria, which was for two years, I released my single called Ga lemon or End of Discussion. Since then, I have been releasing singles; right now, my second single is ready. Some people ask why I have released only two albums since I started, but Funkiest Mallam always produces something very good, and to produce anything good takes time.
Most of all, I think I have sacrificed so much in developing the music industry here in the North. I left Lagos at the peak of my career and decided to settle here in the North.
Where do you live presently?
I’ve been living in Abuja since 1999 after the launch of my first album. There was pressure that I should come here and help. It’s been so far, so good. The music industry in the North is seriously improving; we have been given a chance in the Nigerian music industry.
Why the name Funkiest Mallam?
I did not choose the name myself. The name was given to me when I was about to launch ‘Binta ni ke so’. We were at a meeting in Radio Nigeria, so someone said, “You can’t use Ibrahim Baba (my real name). It is too formal.”
Left to me, I wanted to use my name, but they insisted, so I asked what name they wanted me to use. Someone said Funky Mallam. Funky Mallam is what they call you if you are into entertainment in Lagos. But the first Funky Mallam then was Mustapha Amego, the then PMAN president. So, someone in the meeting said there should be update on the Funky Mallams, “why don’t we call him Funkiest Mallam?”
So how has music been so far?
I will say I thank God. Though there are many challenges in terms of getting sponsorship because our people in the North don’t want to invest in the industry because they don’t believe in it. But honestly, there is a lot of money in music and some are beginning to invest.
So when you hear your music on air, how do you feel?
The Northern music is going round. When you do a good thing, I think you hear it all around. When I went to Calabar, I heard my song and I was glad. Also, many people call me from around the world.
What big bang are you giving your fans next?
I have a single now called ‘Zip Up’. It is all about AIDS. It is a fusion of Makosa and hip hop.
What made you go into music?
I think it is a gift and talent from almighty God. I started very young in the industry. I started as a dancer. I got the award for best dancer in my school and in my state. It was the euphoria and response that I got from the crowd that motivated me to go into music.
Tell us about your educational background.
I went to General Murtala Muhammed College, Yola and then Federal Polytechnic, Yola. After that, I decided that I’d go into music, though my parents wanted me to be an accountant. But then, music was all over me. Music was what I wanted to do. Even if I bagged a bachelor’s degree in Accounting, I would still have been a musician.
So are you enjoying what you are doing?
Yes, I am living on it. I am a professional musician. I have a stake in the music industry, especially in the North.
I remember that my mother gave me her blessing when she watched me performing for the then wife of the Vice President, Hajiya Titi Atiku.
Are you going to do music for the rest of your life?
I’m not saying that. I will do music as long as the North has picked up in the music industry. We have abundance of talents right now. They need assistance and support. So some of my friends and I have come up with an event company called Arewa Event Consult.
Under this, we are going to have a record label, which will be producing young stars within the North especially. We are going to be covering events in the country as well.
So you are interested in promoting other talents as well?
Let me tell you, Funkiest Mallam came out as a raw talent and the society embraced me. I got fame through assistance from people who I didn’t even know. So, I want to extend that kind of gesture to other young ones, coupled with the fact that music is not highly encouraged in the North. We want to break that jinx and barrier.
Let parents allow their children to do what their interest is and what their hearts desire. I have friends whose parents are highly placed and they tell me they want to go into music or have a record label and I encourage them.
So who inspires you in the music industry?
When I was growing up, I listened to a lot of people, like George Benson, Maxi Prince and a reggae musician in the UK. Then in Africa, Hugh Masekella from South Africa and Manu Debango from Cameroun; these are the people who inspired me. I listened to lots of music, which is why I came out with my kind of concept. These people contributed to what Funkiest Mallam is today.
How do you see yourself in the next five years?
I see myself still producing albums and then going for international tours. Right now, I have a promotional outfit trying to secure a marketing deal for me abroad. Recently, I was in Jos and was nominated as a judge in the Naija Sing that is going on in the whole of Africa. It is going to be on DStv in July.
Have you been getting the financial rewards from music?
I can only say I thank God.
If the rewards were not coming, will you still be into music?
It is my talent. Even if I was not getting anything, I know if I keep up the good work, I will get the financial reward eventually. That is what I will tell the younger artistes that they should not look at money at the beginning. You have to first develop yourself, then the money will start to come.
What do you do outside of music?
I play football. That is one thing I like doing to help me keep fit and also for leisure. I am a sportsman.
How do you see the music industry now?
It is the bomb, and it will still grow. We are still trying to find our feet. Initially, our legends did not create a platform for us to build on like you have in Francophone countries, but gradually, we are making our impact to be felt everywhere in the world.
How do you think Nigerian musicians will get there?
By being original, being the Nigerians that we are and also inculcating our culture into whatever we are doing, that will sell us more than anything. When you go to clubs and you hear songs in Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo, that will help to promote our culture.
Are you married?
No, but I’m not searching. I already have someone.
Would you allow your child to go into music?
I will allow them to follow their hearts.
How old are you?
I am 35 years old. I don’t celebrate my birthday, but because I was born on December 25, which is Christmas day, people always celebrate my day.
What’s your highest point in music so far?
It was the day I performed at the National Stadium alongside DMX and Ashanti during the programme tagged “Battle of Hope” for the then Vice President’s wife, Titi Atiku Abubakar. She and others danced. It was not only her, but other foreign musicians who came appreciated her. That was exceptional for me. After the show, people were calling me.
So are you fulfilled as a musician?
Yes, I am.
How do you get your inspiration?
I look at the society. And if you notice, you will feel a little comedy in my music. That is the way I want to express myself. And I am getting positive responses.