Zaaki Azzay has been in the music industry for more than two decades. The Vice President of the Performing Musicians Employers’ Association of Nigeria (PMAN) in this interview speaks about his torchlight, the importance of music in politics and why it is better for musicians to be apolitical ahead of the 2023 general elections.
As one of the pioneers of hip-hop music in Nigeria, how do feel about the exploits of Nigerian artistes on the global scene?
It is like giving birth to a child and being happy when that child achieves his dreams. That is how best I can describe the exploits of Nigerian musicians today. When we started, it was a bit tough for Nigerian music because most media houses promoted more of western music than Nigerian music. Now, without government support, the music industry has been able to break even. We have gone international and our music has been finally accepted globally but before then we were actually convincing Nigerians to embrace our music. That explosion started as soon as Nigerians started embracing our music the way they were embracing Western music. That gave us a better platform to explore the international scene and in turn gave birth to what is now going in the Nigerian music industry.
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Nigerian music is now international because people in different countries, even where they do not speak English, listen to Nigerian music. I am happy with what is going on. I am happy that I’m alive to see a day like this. If Nigerian musicians, on their own, with their struggles were able to conquer the world, what will happen if the government supports us? We still need government support because intellectual theft is one of the struggles we have not been able to resolve. There are still big markets that sell pirated songs which is why most people prefer to market their products online. I will still appeal to the government to stop losing money because the entertainment industry is capable of solving unemployment in Nigeria. Just take for instance how many people one artist employs and everybody benefits from that one artist. They have producers, dancers, video directors, fashion designers, band members of about 25 people, songwriters and so many other people. It is a very big circle and I think unemployment will be solved and entertainment is the only industry that is capable of flooring the oil industry in terms of providing GDP for Nigeria, it is just that the government and everybody are looking at oil.
One Nigerian artist is worth millions of dollars and you can count how many we are. Several industries need the music industry to strive. The Nigerian music scene is wide and vast. For now, I am happy with what we have become and what we have been able to achieve without government support. I think the Nigerian government should use the entertainment industry to solve most of our problems which are hinged on unemployment.
Having spent about 27 years in the industry and considering how hip-hop has evolved, what are you doing to ensure its relevance?
Hip-hop is a brand of music I pioneered. However, it is not just to sustain the hip hop music but music generally – whether hip hop, afrobeat or others. It is one of the reasons I chose to serve. I was the vice president of PMAN during Femi Lasode’s administration about 12 years ago, and now I am also the vice president of PMAN. My constant involvement in the union is the answer to your question. My work in the union is why I choose to constantly volunteer and sacrifice my time for the union so that we can sustain the music industry. I can tell you authoritatively that most of us paid a lot of prices and laid the foundation that the music industry is striving on today, as an artiste and part of PMAN executive.
Some people are wondering what has become of your iconic torchlight. Would you ever give it up?
I have upgraded. When I started, we were using batteries now all my torchlights are rechargeable either powered by electricity or solar. The torchlight is till death do us part. It is a covenant I made with God some years ago. I can never be found without the torchlight because it reminds me of the covenant I made with God. In Abuja, I visited a popular supermarket for new flashlights. Everywhere I go, I try to visit the popular supermarkets to see if I can pick up some torchlights. In my studio in Lekki, there are torchlights labelled on the wall from 1994. All the torchlights I have used over the years, I kept them in my torchlight museum and I labelled them so it is continuous. My music doesn’t have darkness. There is no evil in my songs, my songs are to eradicate darkness, to enlighten and console people and you know God is light. It is a good covenant.
Political campaigns have begun and the entertainment sector is crucial to these political meetings. What roles can entertainers play in ensuring peaceful campaigns?
It is not possible to do many things in this world without music. In your homes, you need music. If you want to worship God – the creator of the universe, you need music. God created music, and David (in the Bible) we know was a musician. Music has been and will always be important to politicians, farmers, conductors, drivers, hoteliers etc, there is nowhere you will not find music. It is the foundation on which people evolve. It is a connecting soul to everybody in the world. It is a must-use. Politicians are bound to use music. I remember during President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, he used musicians for his campaigns. Most politicians are obviously going to improve on that. Music is like water just as Fela said, “water no get enemy”. Music is meant to mend fences. It consoles, it is meant for education, and enjoyment and makes you forget your sorrows. Musicians should be neutral. They should not be political; I don’t think any musician should be political. If All Progressives Congress (APC) calls you to perform, you go and perform. If Labour Party (LP) calls, you perform and if it is Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or any other party, you perform. I think all musicians should follow their conscience and do whatever they want but I won’t advise any musician to be political and say that they will not perform for this person or group. Are the groups not made up of Nigerians?
I think we should remove state of origin from our curriculum, nationality is the most important thing and that is how musicians should be. Sing for everybody – all the political parties, if they invite because they are all first Nigerians. It is just for you to convey the message and if they are doing anything wrong, feel free to talk about it as well. When they pay them to sing, that is even a platform to talk about the bad things. You sing and systematically drop the bomb. That is what I think but it is an individual opinion. If a musician feels strongly that he does not want to perform for this party, it is his opinion. It is just like choosing what you want to wear. Nobody can force you to wear black shoes if you do not want to wear black shoes.