BY CHUKS NWANNE
Can they sustain this,’ was the question on the lips of most guests, who witnessed the crowning of the Diamonds as winner of Star Quest 2009, a music reality show conceived by the Nigerian Breweries Plc, as a platform for discovering fresh talents. Personally, I nursed similar fear because in Nigeria, music groups don’t last for long; for sure, you know the reason for that –– money palava!
With N2,100,000 prize money, wardrobe allowance, an official van and a flat in Ogudu GRA, Lagos, levels changed for Diamonds. But for the fears expressed by some concerned music lovers, I decided to keep an eye on the 6-man band, monitoring developments, including watching their gigs. I specifically watched their performance at the Ilorin leg of Star Trek music concert; except for the choice of opening with their own version of D’Banj’s Why Me, Diamonds lived up to expectations.
A lot has been said about their debut album, Omo Naija, which was recently released into the music market. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to lay my hands on the CD, until recently, when I heard their title track, Omo Naija, from a friend’s radio set. It was Anthony’s (band leader) voice that actually caught my attention as the song came blasting from the woofers. Initially, I found it difficult identifying the group, but as soon as Jumoke took the last solo, she confirmed my guess; you can’t just miss her angelic voice.
Yes. For Diamonds, the biggest jewel in the group is petite Jumoke Nwaeze, whose almost child-like voice moved the heart of the audience, that voted massively for the group during the competition. I still recall that at the presentation ceremony, the bandleader, Anthony, ensured Jumoke was in front and finally lifted her up when the result was announced.
They were on the verge of setting out for the New African Shrine to gig Felabration ‘09, when I got in touch with Anthony. From our brief chat, all seem to be moving smoothly for the group.
How has it been working on your debut album?
It’s been very hectic but we are happy it came out fine
With your number in the group, I wonder how you cope with writing songs?
Everybody contributes to our song writing. In fact, that’s why we are unique from solo artistes; we’ve got six good heads thinking and writing.
But we’ve seen groups like yours come and go?
Hmmmm, well as for Diamonds, we have the passion for this business. I can’t say we are perfect; we’ve had issues that could lead to breakup, but we have a way of solving our problems; there’s love and understanding here.
Are you still living together?
Could that be a reason for the existing bond?
Yes, staying together is the most important tool for a group to last. Star Quest is a music competition aimed at discovering music groups that will last; that’s why we were given a year accommodation to help us understand each other better. We’ve gone through hard times together and we are still keeping it real together; together we stand divided we fall!
What about your new album?
The title is Omo Naija. It’s a 12-track album featuring Obesere, Kelly Hansom and Nasty; the album is out, grab your copy now!
Anyway, we are coming new into the market and we need a notable artiste to boost the work. Obesere is a popular in this region, that’s why we featured him in our hit song, Bo Sokoto.
Are you forgetting that Diamonds goes beyond western region? Your competition was national?
I totally agree with you, but you still have to understand that Lagos is the home of entertainment in Nigeria. We just want to start from here.
You are aware that another music group in Nigeria bears the name, Diamonds?
We’ve heard that before. As a matter of fact, anybody has the right to bear any name; it’s how you sustain the name that matters.
You signed for Kennis Music?
Yes, we have a record deal with Kennis.
You opted for Kennis?
Well, it’s the organizers of Star Quest that signs winners to a record label. But we are happy with Kennis Music; they made our first trip outside this country possible; we were at the 2008 Channel O Music Video Awards in South Africa. We were well taken care of. In fact, sometimes we wonder why people say a lot of negative things about Kennis Music.
Back with the string
BYGREGORY AUSTIN NWAKUNOR
KUNLE Ayo’s virtuosity on strings has earned him several accolades and comparisons with guitar great such as George Benson, Earl Klugh and Jimmy Dludlu. Many have even described his deep, soothing strings as one that “pulls at the heart — soulful as it is cheerful, funky as it is jazzy.”
Today, the guitarist will gig at the Lagos Oriental Hotel, Lekki, Lagos in An Evening of Jazz with Kunle Ayo.
But it was no easy ride for him on the scene, especially coming from a background where hip-hop is almost exclusively adored and raised to a religion.
Perhaps, if he had remained at home, maybe he would have become stuck in experimentation. Maybe not.
Why jazz for Kunle?
“I didn’t plan to play jazz, however, because of my love for the guitar many categorised me as a jazz artiste and before long, I began to see myself as one,” he says.
Born of parents from Epe, Lagos State, in his early age, Kunle acquired a reputation as a guitarist in his own right. As a youngster, he had always had an affinity to play, starting with drums and thumb piano and later graduating to guitar when he was a 20-year-old accountancy student.
“I love to express myself with my guitar. I was motivated by the sound of guitar primarily and it’s become my life,” the artiste retorts.
According to him, ‘’I could have easily become an accountant but after my father gave me that guitar as a birthday gift I was really inspired and encouraged to pursue music.”
RAISED in a devout Christian home, it was logical that he would join a gospel band. This he actually did in 1996 after completing his accountancy studies. He joined De Cross Band and from there, he moved on to The Compassion Band, a band that exposed him.
By the late 90s, he had started to make the guitar truly his own and was part of Lagos’ musical mainstream as a groundbreaking guitarist, who was experimenting with cool/fusion styles made popular by artists such as George Benson and Jonathan Butler.
His warm, groovy jazz is the product of an eclectic mix of indigenous styles such as Juju, Highlife and Afro-Beat.
By 2000, he was already cooking effortless beautiful sound: recording and playing with some of Nigeria’s internationally respected artistes as Chief Ebenezer Obey, Kayode Olajide and Lagbaja (The Masked One), with whom he toured Europe, North Africa and South America.
Those tours marked a turning point in his career as a professional musician. However, all he wanted was an environment where he could focus and develop his style as a recording artist.
Since his movement to South Africa in 2002, Kunle has performed and recorded with some of the country’s best artistes such as Marcus Wyatt (trumpet), Buddy Wells (saxophone), Moses Khumalo, Musa Manzini, Nombulelo Maqetuka, Judith Sephuma and Bayete front man Jabu Khanyile.
He has also shared the stage with Dave Koz, Kirk Whalum, Salif Keita, Al Jarreau and Butler.
His first album Ayo (Joy) was released in 2002 in South Africa and was followed by Sincerely Yours in 2005. “I have four albums in all,” he reflects.
In 2004, he joined trombonist Jonas Gwangwa, pianist Don Laka, Rebecca Malope and Mzwakhe Mbuli into the stellar stable of T-Musicman, the country’s leading promotions and event management company.
What motivates Kunle? He retorts, “every time we get an invitation to perform anywhere in the world, it’s always exciting because it’s an opportunity to do what I love. I enjoy seeing people smile and laugh when I perform and that motivates me a lot.”
But what makes him such an exceptional stage performer? ‘’What makes my shows special is the positive response I get from the audience. My philosophy on live entertainment is that I don’t play for the people but I play with the people.”
He adds, “I am a perfectionist, though I didn’t believe that until recently. I love performing over a whole lot of stuff to the extent that it has begun to affect my relationships.”
The easygoing artiste, who loves people, says, “I’m very passionate about music in Africa.” That suggests why he was part of the 2006 Joy of Jazz Guitar Summit, which also had Dludlu, Alvin Dyers and Louis Mhlanga.
And as one of the most sought after performers, he has appeared in lots of jazz concerts, notably Joy of Jazz, Jazz By The River, MACFEST and Mapungubwe Jazz Festival.
TALKING about his day-to-day responsibility, Kunle, who is also a TV presenter says, “I go to my studio after which I go shoot my programmes and then go back to finish up my projects in the studio. I sometimes do my meetings in between studio and shooting.”
He runs his own company, K Cool Productions, and has produced music for talented acts like MXO, Mac Jays, Peggy, Dudu Ndlovu, Mayé and a host of others.
He says, “I’m very interested in youth programmes as a TV presenter, I get to meet up and coming artists and talented people and I’m very keen on helping them in any way possible. I also support homeless and abused women and children organisations.”
Who is Kunle’s mentor? “Mentors,” he answers. “Sir Victor Uwaifor, Chief Ebenezer Obey and George Benson.”
Who is one person he loves to meet? “George Benson,” he sings.
Kunle, who is an extrovert, says the best way he relaxes is to watch films and hangout with friends. “I like to go to the movies, chill with friends and also talking. I read a lot of motivational books though I don’t read all the time.”
So what’s his philosophy of life?
“My philosophy is to love life and live it well. Making best of situation around you.”