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Timi Dakolo: The Wedding Whisperer
After a lifetime of chasing impact via music, Timi Dakolo has become synonymous with vows, rings, and the symbolism of holy matrimony.
“Big Man, how are you?" Timi Dakolo stands under the blazing afternoon sun, squinting to shield his eyes. Dressed in a black native print outfit, he walks toward me graciously, after I lost my way in his Lekki estate. Sporting his signature wide smile, he brightens up the scene, infusing his work, art, and world with warmth. As we pass a security guard, a wave of greetings comes his way, met with another smile, accompanied by friendly banter. I cherish this wholesome moment as he leads me into his home.
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Timi Dakolo's living room feels familiar. Its white walls were once a constant feature on his social media pages, showcasing endearing moments with his 'Yard People,' a playful nickname for his wife and three kids. The children are nearby but maintain a respectful distance, understanding that Daddy is working. Faint voices and occasional glimpses of curious heads remind us of their presence, eagerly waiting to reunite with their father. But for now, they keep their distance. Dakolo affectionately refers to them as his co-creators, particularly his eldest daughter, who acts as a "litmus test" for his hit-making abilities.
"My first daughter," he says with pride, his face beaming. "Whenever I'm working on a new song, I like to be where she is. She might be doing something, and three days later, she'll be singing it. She's like my litmus test because she's the one who really loves music. When I finished the song 'Everything,' I started playing it. 'Everything you put your hand go work/And e go open doors, amen/You sef go—.' One day, while she was doing her homework, she greeted me and sang it word for word. I went upstairs and said, 'Thank God.' She's my litmus test. There's another song I'm working on secretly. I used to pass it through her unknowingly. I'd say, 'Come and stay with me jor. You haven't stayed with me in a while.' Then I'd start singing it. Somehow, when I go to meet her, she might not get the lyrics exactly right, but it's in the humming that I know this one will stick."
Dakolo recognizes echoes of his own childhood in her musical aptitude. Born in Accra, Ghana, to a Nigerian father and Ghanaian mother who passed away when he was thirteen, Timi was raised by his grandmother in Port Harcourt. It was there that his aunt, Susan, provided him with early singing lessons. Despite the temptation to move to his parents' home in Lagos, he remained devoted to music and made his debut as a singer in church at the age of twelve. In 2003, he co-founded Purple Love, a singing group that gained popularity in the Port Harcourt club and dance circuit. After the group disbanded in 2005, Timi won the local talent hunt contest G.E FACTO.
Timi's real breakthrough came through the 2006 edition of Idols West Africa. Despite facing the untimely death of his grandmother during the auditions in Calabar, Timi emerged victorious in the competition, surpassing Omawumi and the late Eric Arubayi by receiving the highest number of weekly votes.
"When I entered the industry, I didn't know what I was doing. I was just a choir boy singing in church," Dakolo explains. "You know how they'd ask you to rehearse on Tuesday, rehearse on Saturday, and then on Sunday, we sing. That's how I entered this space. But there's something about me. If you put any information in a book, I must understand it. If I don't know something and you mention it, I'll want to find out exactly what it means so that next time you say it, I'll have something to say back. I came here without knowing anything. I had made some music in Port Harcourt, and I had just won Idols, but that was the extent of my knowledge. Talent shows can take you up there, but they don't teach you how to stay there. So, you're up there, unable to hide anymore, and everyone expects you to remain on top."
After surviving a gunshot wound in 2008, Timi has flourished in the music industry, spreading love and melody while creating timeless hits. Often referred to as the father of love and "good music" in Nigeria, his catalog is filled with classic Nigerian love songs like "Iyawo Mi," which has become synonymous with deep love and holy matrimony in the country. With a powerful singing voice and exceptional songwriting skills that explore themes of life, healing, and progress, Timi's music stands out among his peers.
Beyond the studio, he has earned the title of the wedding whisperer. Thanks to his captivating ballads, Timi has established himself as the quintessential wedding singer. He is now closely associated with rings, vows, and ceremonial elegance, performing at weddings across social classes, celebrating the symbolic permanence of romantic companionship. When excited Nigerians and wedding planners envision their special day, there's an unspoken consensus that Timi Dakolo is the top choice for the couple's first dance. More than just a performer at these events, Timi holds this role dear to his heart for the symbolism it represents. Additionally, he surprises newlyweds by showing up unannounced at their venues, prompting joyful screams and shrieks before serenading the couple with a song or two. His eyes light up when he speaks about weddings. "I've always loved the idea of a man and a woman expressing themselves in their truest form, be it exaggerated or genuine," he says. "It happened to me accidentally. First, there was 'The Vow.' Then came 'Iyawo Mi.' After that, 'Medicine.' It's not a bad industry to be in because there will always be weddings. Yesterday, I was telling my friend, 'You know what's great about your song becoming a hit in a generation? The people hearing it now will play it for their children, and those children will play it for their own children. That's how songs endure through time."
Has this defined his artistry? "Yes," he agrees, although he prefers not to be solely defined by it. "I don't believe that the job of an artist is just for applause; it's about creating a significant experience in the hearts and minds of your listeners. When you achieve that, both of you grow old together. That's why someone can still say, 'Don't call me anybody. Call me Sunny Ade.' I enjoy being recognized for something, but I don't want to be solely defined by it. That's why I'm exploring other avenues, so as not to be confined to one thing," he explains.
Beyond the spotlight, Timi Dakolo's greatest strength lies in his relatability as a human being. He is well-known for being anti-celebrity, wearing his fame with a certain nonchalance. While he understands the implicit expectations of being a celebrity, he chooses to pursue a normal, ordinary existence where he can be just like anyone else. Timi never forgets a face and always has a smile and kind words for everyone. He has formed numerous connections and bonds through his accessible lifestyle. While he may fly first-class to perform at destination weddings or entertain government officials at state events to sustain his career, he finds solace in walking down the street and peacefully enjoying roadside corn. If you dig through social media, you'll find testimonies of Timi Dakolo being a "stand-up guy," showing up for all his friends and performing at their weddings free of charge. "I don't think I'm a celebrity," he leans forward and says. "You can ask anyone. You saw how that boy greeted me. Sometimes I walk over there just to sit down and eat corn. It's because the pressure from the outside world can break you. You start thinking that's how the real world is. First and foremost, I'm a person, a human being who wants to go to that junction and eat corn sold by that woman. It's my craving. Some Saturdays, I wake up and go to Lagos Island, where I find nice jeans for 4,500 naira. I don't have to wear True Religion or Rock and Republic to be a celebrity. People think they know me. They say, 'Hi, Timi. How are you doing?' The Chorus Leader. We sit down and chat, and then everyone goes their separate ways. I'm approachable. 'This guy, there's something different about him.'"
Since his debut album "Beautiful Noise" in 2011, Timi Dakolo has abstained from releasing another full-length project. While he did release a Christmas album titled "Merry Christmas, Darling" in 2019 as part of his contract with Universal Music, the majority of his work has been dedicated to completing a long-term project called "Love & Consequences." This project has taken several years to create and has led to the development of another planned album titled "The Chorus Leader." "Love & Consequences" is still expected to be released, with contributions from his trusted collaborator, producer Cobhams Asuquo. "It's ready," he reassures me, with a hint of guilt. "The album is ready. It's just that there are some songs I don't want to release just like that. I have a song titled 'I Hope I Find You There.' I wrote it for my wife. 'One forever is too small, so when this life we live is over and we walk the streets of gold, far away from all the sorrows, where our flesh will no longer grow old, I hope that I find you there to love you again.' I know that if I release that song through Universal, there's no going back. I also have another song called 'Substitute.' 'We found a love that's pure and true, but it's our egos that ruined it. There will be no substitute for me or for you.'"
While completing this project, Timi Dakolo's life revolves around his dedication to love and family. We sit and talk for hours about his artistry, the meaning of life, his journey into fatherhood, and what he aspires to leave behind for humanity.
You’ve have traveled a road that a lot of people haven't.
Yes. Don't you think so?
A road that a lot of people haven't traveled? I think the thing is I have gained experience in my short time that even people who have been here longer than me haven't. The reason is because I ask a lot of 'whys' as a person. So, if you tell me that my royalty is 35%, I'll ask why. Until you give me the barest details and convince me, my ‘whys’ will still be there. I like to be in a room where if they are discussing something, I have something to say. I listen, but I probably have a prior idea of what they are talking about, so I don't be the guy that keeps quiet while everybody says everything and I go along.
Moving through the industry as a curious person. How has the world reacted to it? What are your realities of living like that?
There are different kinds of people that I've met. A few threatened, "Why are you asking 'why' to what is the norm? You should take what is given to you and go.” But I'm not the guy to do that. Some people are shocked. When I say, "Excuse me, boss, why are we doing this one instead of this one?" The responses are usually, "That's how it's done." There's nothing I hate more than "That's how it's done." "That's how it's done," means it's what we have settled for, to me. That's my opinion.
In music, there are no rules, there are just principles to apply. Just like in life. Nobody says, "If you must do this, this is it." It's just that there are principles that'll lead you to a particular direction, and there are principles that'll overrule the existing ones and will open awareness. "Wow. So, it can be better than this." There are people that in all sincerity will tell you, "Okay. This is why." Then, I'll pick up my own principles from what they have said. "These things you are doing like this, let me try and better it myself." And then, there are people that arrogantly say, "No. You don't question it." So, I try to deal with everybody differently.
How has this approach played out in terms of your records? You claimed a part of the industry very early, the ‘good music’ aisle.
When I came into the industry, I didn't know my left from my right. I was just a choir boy that used to sing in church. You know how they'd ask you to rehearse on Tuesday, rehearse on Saturday, then on Sunday, we sing. That's how I came into this space. But there's something about me. If you put any information inside a book, I must understand it. If I don't know a thing and you say it, I'd want to find out what exactly you said and what it means, so that the next time you say that thing, I'd have something to say to you. I came here and I didn't know left from right. I'd done some music in Port-Harcourt. I'd just won Idols, but that was all I knew. The thing about talent hunt shows is that it takes a man up there, and does not tell you how to stay there. So, you are up there and you can't hide anymore, and everybody expects you to be up there.
Chances are that you don't know your left from your right. By virtue of people liking your personality, what you do next depends on you or depends on what everybody else is assuming should happen to you, which is a dangerous thing. If you don't accept that "I don't know" and you try to know, it's a dangerous thing. But if you play along like, "I'm a superstar," you are in danger of a fall. It would have been better that nobody knew you before, because if you play along with "I'm now a superstar, I've won a reality show," because winning is an inside job, you are not winning inside but everybody else is saying you are winning, the day you begin to fall, you can't even explain the swiftness. That's why I said, "I've won this thing, but I don't really know like that o."
So, I began to ask questions, read articles — because as long as it's written on paper, I'll find it — find people, write things that are interesting to me. I didn't want to go back to Port Harcourt and be that boy that won Idol that year. So, I stayed back in Lagos. It was difficult. I didn't have any friends. I also didn't want to go out because people would be like, "Ah. Timi, how far? Wey your record?" Me too, I do not know o. And so, I was gathering information.
I had this thing before, I thought it was a curse. I could wake up with music in my head, I wasn't a musician o. But I didn't want to tell my friends so they wouldn't think I was mad. I used to think that something was wrong with me. How could I just wake up with a sound in my head when I wasn't even a musician? I just loved music. Sometimes, I'd wake up with a bass. I could be doing something, reading a book or washing plates, and it'd happen. I thought it was a curse, but it came handy. It came handy when I started to discover that music writing and music composition came in different forms. To some people, it's the melody. To others, it was the lyrics that interested them. They'd go, "This thing sounds good. If I put a melody to it, it's gonna stick." So, I started to do anything that I liked. It was a joke.
When we were young, my friends and I could take somebody's song and change the lyrics, not for anything, just to impress the girls around the corner. It might not be as deep as that, but we were doing all those things, not knowing. You know how life won't tell you that it's preparing you for something. So, it was that to me, and in my Oniru house, I'd just be scripting things. I was also my biggest critic, so I'd wonder if it sounded any good. But right from time, I used to write essays, I loved the taste of words. It has to be like, "Wow. I said that." I also used to use metaphors in secondary school and university. I'd say those kinds of things that'd sound like you've just said something big. If I want to write a song, "What have I said? What could be said?" is one of my biggest questions. "What is he saying? How could I say it better? How can I astonish people's minds?" Those are the things that led me to where I was going. That time, they'd say, "Foolish boy. You just wasted our money. See Omawumi now, she has songs." Oh, Jesus. But I knew I wasn't going to go back to Port-Harcourt.
One day, I now called one of my friends. His name is Duncan Daniel. I saw him online, I think it was Facebook. He was in one college, Berkeley College of Music. I said Wow. I asked him what he was doing, he said he was learning Piano. I asked if they had songwriting, he said yes. I asked how much. I think he said $10,000. That was all my money from West African Idols. I now told my best friend. You know how people can give you advice based on their limited knowledge. I told him that I wanted to register for Berkeley College of Music, and he said, "But you can sing already now, what do you need it for? I said, "Guy, na only me know wetin dey pain me." I carried all my money to register for Berkeley College of Music, and the rest is history.
The thing that education teaches you. As a person, I think that talent cannot be trusted too much, in the sense that it fans your ego, but education tells you where to go when you are stuck. Just like inspiration, talent is patchy, it's not there every time. If I'm inspired to write a thing and my wife tells me that annoys me, it has gone, I'm no longer inspired because it's patchy. Someone said, "Be aware, because awareness will help you make better choices, and with better choices, you have better results." So, that's basically it. As I am, I like to fortify myself. I don't want to go back to where I am coming from, because there's nothing there.
You’re the wedding artist, the love artist, what do you think of love in this country? When people try to celebrate unions or soundtrack eternal companionship, you are always at the top of all the conversations and choices. how has that coloured your career?
I'll say this. You can be in a list, and you have to do the extra work of not being defined by that. It's a good thing, because you should be known for something.
How do you think you got there?
I think it's accidental. I've always loved the idea of a man and woman expressing themselves, in the truest of form, when it's hyperbolic or as it is. It happened to me accidentally. Then, there was The Vow. And then, there was Iyawo Mi. Then, Medicine. It's not a bad industry to be in because there will always be weddings. I was telling my friend yesterday, "You know the thing about your song being a hit in a generation? People that are hearing it now will play it for their children, and those ones will play it for their children, and that's how people experience songs till they are old."
The classic example I gave was "Omo mi o s'oun rere, ti e a dara o." It's not for the people listening to it now alone. They'll play it and their children will hear it, and if they are fortunate enough, they'll pass it down to their children. I don't believe that the job of an artist is for applause, it's to create a significant experience in the hearts and minds of your listeners. If you do that, the two of you are growing old together. That's why somebody can still say, "Don't call me anybody. Call me Sunny Ade." I like being known for something but I don't like to be defined by that thing, so I'm doing certain things by the side so as not to be defined by one thing.
Does the ‘wedding’ perception affect your artistry? You’ve got a dilemma. Having to maintain leadership in one aspect while also trying not to be defined by that thing that's working so well?
It's a risky thing to do, but it's worth doing. You know this Amen song, I've had it for two years, but the first thought that played in my head because I'm my biggest critic is that "Timi, this sound is not your sound sound like that," but then, if it's universal and it speaks to everybody, people don't really care what it sounds like at a point in time. That's what I've experienced with this Amen song. Cobhams pushed me to release this song. I said, "Let me release other things first." He said, "See this song? It'll speak to people more than you think it would. Forget how it sounds. People know you basically for your lyrics and for the things you are saying more than the rhythm and the beat. People don't remember the rhythm of this music, it's the things that I said. So, I'm sitting down here, my next single is coming out, it's titled This Woman, people in the hell of it will not remember me and Falz and Phyno and Cobhams in one song, but that is what I'm trying to do. I'm saying, "You know me for this, but that's not all there is to me." I can show up in this parlor and do reggae music. I can sit down tomorrow and say, "Ah, mehn. This thing fits Wizkid. Let me find Wizkid and put him in it," and it's not going to be a love song. You get my point? Be known for something but don't be defined by it.
Performing at Christian weddings makes you an adjacent gospel artist?
In the scale of preference, I think being this is better. It doesn't define you. You can sing anywhere. As an artist, trust me, I can sing anywhere. People used to call me to come and sing in church. But I don't want to be in a box. I used to quickly tell people, "No. I'm not a gospel artist, sir. I'm an artist. A musician. Don't put me in a box." So that when you see me with Burna Boy in a song, you won't be disappointed. It's a better thing than being defined by singing in the four walls of a particular religion.
What’s primary when you perform at weddings?
I think it's the fact that I get to bring joy to people on a day that's one of the most important days of their lives. It's the joy that it gives me. If I say, "I promise to be true, to give my all to you," it's not a song to them. It's a vow as a vow. It's a thing that a person is telling to the other person in the truest of form. And I get to be the person that says it on that particular day.
Has this forged a special relationship between you and with these couples?
Yes. Yes, it has. They've paid me and they still call to say, "Thank you very much. You made this day special for us." I remember a particular guy, he buzzed me and said, "Timi, the thing that you said in your song, you know I've heard this song like a thousand times o, we actually said you should choose the song, but you said the exact thing that I want to my wife on that particular day. I just wanted to say thank you again. It's ecstatic, it's beautiful. God bless you." And that alone in itself, even if you don't pay me, that is a reward.
Would you say it's this unique reward, beyond money, that pushes you? I mean you show up to weddings and play for free.
If I did an event probably on Friday or I have an event on Sunday, I just go, "Let's just make people happy." What that does is that it separates you from the rest, and it puts you in the minds of event planners, soon-to-be couples. So, that's it. I'm doing it, I'm not taking money. If I'd done nine weddings in one day, I'd probably earn 20 to 30 million in that day, if they pay me. But if you look at it in the long run, this particular thing has put you in the hearts of people that could probably earn you more. Not just for weddings, but for other things that they want to do, dinners and everything.
You’re experiencing a duality between pop and ‘good’ music. Does that in any way influence how you present yourself to the world?
First of all, I'm a very intentional person. I have defined my life since. I don't think I'm a celebrity, though. Ask everybody. You see how that boy greeted me, I used to walk sometimes to go and sit down there, we'll just eat corn. Because it's the pressure that the outside puts on you that breaks you. You now think that that's how the real world is. First of all, I'm a person, a human being that wants to go to that junction and eat that corn that woman is selling. It's my craving. Some Saturdays, I wake up and go to Lagos Island and see sweet jeans for 4,500 naira. I must not wear True Religion or Rock and Republic to be a celebrity. People think that they know me. People will say, "Hi, Timi. How far now?" The Chorus Leader. We'll sit down and gist, and everybody will go their own way. I'm approachable. "This guy, there's something about him that's different."
That's how I want to be. I don't want to be the guy that you'll be thinking, "Should I go and take a picture with me? Will he give me ela? Will he say, 'No. Not today'?" You know me. I put a certain part of me out there so you see. So that when you want to call me, there will be no fear. We can discuss. "Me I no get this plenty money wey you dey ask me, but this is what I get. Just do it for me." You can tell me that. But some people think that you have to pass through some manager who wears a suit and you have to send an email first. It's part of the industry, but I don't want to make reaching me that difficult. No matter where I go, no matter how far I go, I want to be the guy next door whose DM you can enter and say, "Guy, I know you don't know me o. I need 5k."
When you operate like this in a hypervisible industry like ours, doesn't that leave you vulnerable?
I think life in itself is vulnerable. The thing is that I don't see myself as a celebrity, I'm the guy next door. That is the first thing before anything else. I'm your guy, I'm your dude. I just happen to do the music that everybody loves. That's me. Everything else doesn't matter to me.
So, you don't really embrace your celebrity?
I think it's a job. Like somebody just shouting, "I'm a banker." Nobody just shouts. You are first a person.
A bulk of your artistry is structured towards happiness and goodness. What does goodness mean to you?
I think, as a person, the world is full of darkness and it's already a dark place. I have sad songs o. Ones that I wrote in times like that, because someone said to always turn your pain to art, so you can at least make money from it. I'm a happy person. I can vanish from people's lives. So, I like to uplift. It's one of my favourite words. I like to show kindness. It doesn't really cost anything. Someone would say, "Ah. Today na my birthday" or "Today na my boyfriend/girlfriend birthday, help me call am." I don't think there's anything to it. I used to see those things in my DM, and I'd say, "Okay. Send me the person's WhatsApp number," and I'd just send a VN, "Hi, my name is Timi Dakolo," or I'd call and all that.
I think that the essence of life is giving, because the more you give, the more you receive. I told my friends, I said, "Anytime my wife asks me for money and I give her, somebody dashes me plenty money." So, I dey always wait make she ask me for money. It happens o. It's the mystery of it I don't get. I've not told her o. She'd say, "How far now? I've spent my own money. Give me 200k," and I'd give her. In one week or less, somebody would call and say, "Ah, Timi. Come and do this thing for me," and those people are not even the kind of people you can negotiate with, but you know that after the event, they go sort you out well well.
I have this wedding that is coming up on Saturday in Abuja. My wife said, "Baby, dash me 500k," and I said, "Ah, baby. You want to kill me," but I still gave her o. In the evening, my oga oga called me and said, "Timi, somebody has been insisting that it must be you that must be at their wedding. I told her that Timi's money is plenty, but she said it must be Timi. So, now they've put it on my head." I said, "Daddy, na how we dey roll now." I will do all the things and after I finish, I'll come to you, "You know how we dey roll." You know those kinds of people, but you know by the time you are leaving, dem go sort you out well well. So, it happens. Or I'd just go somewhere and I'd see one of my ogas, "Daddy, pocket money day." Him go just give me $3k or $4k. Na those kind of people.
So, it happens to me, and I discovered that it's in giving. The mystery of giving to people is a thing I don't understand, but it happens to me, and I've come to embrace it. If I'm in a place to give, there's no need to withhold. And so, I like to share light. The day I met my wife, she was frowning. I said, "Fine girl, why you dey frown?" That's how our conversation started. "Come let me take you out. Come, I'll take you somewhere. You are my date." That's how we started talking.
I was telling my wife yesterday, I said, "You see, people think that people that are driving big cars are winning. Driving a big car to a job you hate is not winning o. Living in a big house that you hate to return to is not winning. Satisfaction is an inside thing. Nobody knows. We are all admiring you from the outside, but inside—."
You've made records that are evergreen and they have lasted more than a generation. Take for example, Iyawo Mi. What do you think happened in Iyawo Mi? Why do you think it's so special?
Like I told you that first time, people can genuinely give you bad advice. Somebody can tell you, "Jo, this thing wey you dey do, hunger go kill you o. Where does it go from here? In an industry where people dey do other things, editor and other things." People told me. People said, "Timi, this 'This little light of mine' song wey you dey sing, hunger go kill you in this country o. You no dey see Bumpa 2 Bumpa? You no see all those things? You no fit do all those music?" But one of the truest thing about art is being true to yourself. I could do it. I could jump around, but even you wey tell me to do am, you go know say that's not me. It'd be me in another person's lane struggling to emulate am, make am, imitate am, I'd struggle the rest of my life. Like I said to you, music comes to me. Sometimes, it's one phrase. I've lost good ideas just because I said I'd do them later. When an idea comes to me, I try to develop it to a certain level. There's a song I'm working on, it's called Don't Rent Your Heart To Fools. That's all I had. If you dwell on an idea long enough, it begins to give birth.
As a writer, if you say you'll come back with, that fire that you started with, there's no how you'll have it again when you come back later. I'd probably sit down and say, "Don't rent your heart to fools. Don't rent your heart to fools," and what you are invariably doing is that you are telling your mind, "Hey, mind. You are a superstar. You've given a good idea and it's worth developing." So, everytime the mind has a good idea, it sends it to you. What I do is I develop, so all of a sudden, I'm going, "Don't rent your heart to fools/Don't let people stain your truth/Because when all is said and done, your heart deserves what's good." I have fleshened it up, and I go from there. So, in Iyawo Mi, the first thing I had was, "Iyawo Mi, please don't leave me lonely." That was the first thing I had. It wasn't a love song at first. It wasn't. It was just an idea I thought was brilliant. It's how I've programmed my mind to know when something is important, when an idea is coming to me. It took years, but you know how a habit stays when you've successfully done it over and over, that's what happened to me. It was that and I thought, "It'd be better as a love song o." And guess what, the song came out in 2014 or 2015, but I sang it at my wedding. It was a full song at my wedding. My wedding song.
What happens again to me is that when I'm beginning to have an idea, I like to create pictures. I like when a song happens in a location and I must have a specific person I'm talking to. So, it makes your writing easy. I'm talking to you now and saying, "Don't rent your heart to fools/Don't let them stain your truth/So when all is said and done, your heart deserves some good." So, if I'm telling you that, I'm advising you, ain't it? If you are my best friend, there are some things I'm telling you in the song. Even if I'm saying not to rent your heart to fools, I can't tell it to a stranger. So, the more specific the person you are telling, the more genuine it'd be.
There's a certain part of pop culture that addresses that. Even down to marketing. It's what companies like Facebook and Google do with all the data they collect, so they can target a particular person. And when they do, they target a million people like that. I think a lot of it stems from creativity.
Creative writing, yeah. In songwriting, one of my first courses, it says every song must answer these three questions clearly; who's talking, to whom, and why? The way I'm telling this thing to a stranger is not the same way I'd tell my best friend. So, the more specific the person you have in mind, the more it'd go. You get what I'm saying? That's how it happens to me. At the top of my head everytime I try to put a thing together, I used to write it down in caps when I'm writing on my foolscap sheet: "My whole job as an artist is to create a significant experience in the hearts and minds of my listeners." And how do I do that? Through details. We don't say fabric, we say jeans? What color? Ripped? Blue. The more the detail, the more the experience.
Right. That's something that works, of course. It's very fundamental. It's also something I apply even to my writing. I'm very detailed. I'm not just going to tell you about this artist. I'm going to tell you this artist and this, this, this, this, and this. Not the song is sweet, but it's sweet because it has this, this, and this. That way you can connect more. So, Iyawo Mi happened and the record came out. When did you know that it wasn't a normal record?
The wedding day. After I finished singing it, the band picked it up and everybody was singing it. Then, as people were going, some people didn't get the lyrics so well, but they were singing. So, I knew. Let me tell you how I know a song is going to be a hit. My first daughter. If I'm singing something, I like to stay where she is. She can be doing something, and three days later, she'll be singing it. She's like my litmus test, because she's the one that really likes music. When I finished this Everything song, I started playing it. "Everything you put your hand go work/And e go open doors, amen/You sef go—." She was doing her homework one day when I came back, she just greeted me and she sang it word for word. I just went upstairs and said, "Thank God." She's my litmus test. There's a song I'm working on too. Unknown to her, I used to pass it through her. I'd say, "Come and stay with me jor. You have not stayed with me since." Then, I'll start singing it. Somehow, I get to come and meet her, she might not get the lyrics exactly as it is, but it's in the humming that I know that this one will stick.
That's interesting, actually. Then, it stuck, you dropped it and it just went wild.
People were asking, "Ah, Timi. This your new song." I said it's not a new song o. Cobhams is tired of me actually. Because I have a full album. Love and Consequences is with Cobhams. Everything is not even in Love and Consequences. It's in this project I'm working on called The Chorus Leader, which means that I'm going to give you sing-along songs. I'm not going to put it in an album, I might put it in an album, but every two to three months, I'm just going to give it to you and say The Chorus Leader is at it again. So, by the time I'm done with The Chorus Leader, I can say, "Let's gather and lead the chorus." We are in a full hall, we are singing everything together. It's not that I'm singing and you are listening. The experience is ours.
So, how does it feel? Owning a record like that. Does it make you proud?
It does. There are two things o. One is that music is written for the eyeless ears. You don't see it, you hear it and you experience it. It's you that creates the image yourself. If I sing, "I pack my bags, I'm leaving town," my own packing bags is not your own packing bags, but you are experiencing it. Again, it's in the details. It's in the image I'm creating. So, you are experiencing a song through your ears. The bags I'm carrying is not the ones you are carrying, but all of us at a point in time have had that experience. "No, this place is not enough for me anymore. There has to be more to me than this particular location, so I'm going somewhere else. Somewhere I'll be loved and appreciated. Somewhere things will happen for me, where I'll live the Lagos dream." So, that is one side of me. And the second side of it is the joy that as you are singing, your audience is singing with you. It's because they've experienced it. Their experience can be excitement, it can be, "Oh my God, this thing reminds me of an experience," or it can be, "This person is talking about me. This is me singing." However way, it's an experience. You must force a reaction out of your audience based on your melody and your lyrics. You are forcing an experience out of another human being. In giving them an experience, your whole job is done.
It's very cerebral, I'll admit that. You do a lot of reading, analysis and testing before you get your product, how does that part of you interplay with your creativity?
It does, actually. That's my curse. Because I have too many things in my head. I have to consciously tell myself, "Hey. Let it flow. Don't judge it now." I had to consciously write it in some of my books. Songs are not written, they are rewritten. Do the first one, come back again later. Don't judge it now, just let it go. Say all the rubbish you want to say, then come back to it later. If you do it now, you are choking your creativity. I used to consciously tell myself. "Ah. I could have said this." If I begin to say it at the beginning, I dey spoil the creativity. It's a conscious thing I do now. Before, I used to stop in the middle and say, "No. You can't say that. That's not what you say. You should not be saying that to yourself." So, it's a hard place to be. Too much knowledge chokes creativity, actually. It doesn't live for free flow.
Your life as a musician, your life as a father and a family man intersect. Big picture, how does that work, the intersection between family, creativity, and spontaneity?
Jo, it's a difficult thing to balance. On some days, I'm up here in my creativity. On some days, these children choose to be the naughtiest, always fighting. But to me o, I'll just go and beg them, "Daddy is doing homework. Help me out. Abeg nau." As I'm here now, one thing I've done successfully is that I know what each of my children can do. I know my child wants to say something o, he'll first say, "No no. It's okay," but I know that Alex did not walk all the way downstairs to not tell me anything. If my first daughter comes to me in my room and lays down near me and says, "Daddy, Daddy. Hi now. Why are you quiet?" I'll just go straight to the point and ask, "What do you want?" because I know. The last one will not come to you. She'll make you miss her. You'll now ask, "Ahan. Where's Zoe?" She'll now say, "Ah, it's been long since you bought pizza for us. You are always traveling." They are different like that. We try to understand each other. Like, "You people should just go to your room. Try to give me 3 hours, you hear? I'm doing this."
It's not an easy thing to do o. Parenting is not an easy job. Except you just want your children to go with the flow, which now means they are going to be spoilt. And as a creative, I try to not keep my children far. More than what you say, they watch what you do. My children like books because they always see me reading books. My son will say, "Daddy, you have not bought books for us o." I'll say, "What book?" Forget all these toys they are playing with. My son used to like Teletubbies before. I'll ask, "Do you like Teletubbies now?" No. "See? But you always liked to read. So, always read." It's those little little things, because they are my guys.
When I was a child, are you mad? You'll come and tell your father that? TV starts at 4 o' clock. And it's not within your rights to turn on the TV. Who are you? It's my father that'll decide when to turn on the TV. When he's sitting down to watch his own thing, you cannot say anything. Who are you? Who born you? But I don't want to raise my children like that, because children — I've come to discover — like validation, and it's a dangerous thing because if you don't give them, they'll find it somewhere else, and you don't know the intention of the person that they are finding it with. What's the person's true intention?
That's a delicate thing to balance.
I know it is, trust me. On some days, you don't want to talk to anybody, but you have to, because they are kids. On some days, I answer 20 unnecessary questions in this house o. I'll still find a way to answer them. "Why do you have to travel?" Because that's where I make money. "Tell them you don't want their money." Alex, you can't say that o. "Tell them you want to spend time with us. You want to take us out this weekend." But that's the money I want to use to take you out.
You partnered with Universal to create your Christmas album. What was the behind that?
I read somewhere that all the best singers have Christmas albums, if you want to be called a serious musician. I read it somewhere in one of those Billboard articles. They all have some form of single or a Christmas album. And I'm telling you that's by far the most difficult thing I've done in my life.
You know how you think you know a song until they tell you to sing it? In a Christmas album, you can't really change how the music feels, because everybody knows it. I don't think you can bring another Christmas song. You get what I mean? Because we already have our Christmas songs. This is a closed wall. You can't be coming to this house to say, "Let's switch on all the lights." No. If we let in, it's because we agreed to let you in. That's how Christmas songs are. So, I was singing them in exactly the same way, and I know that guy, like I told you, I like to change things, if you say fa, I like to say so, because it's me. But they didn't let me. And they made me pronounce things like they should be pronounced, and it was hard. You know how you have spent 30-something years pronouncing things the way you pronounce.
Now, you are thinking about the lyrics, the timing, the words, then the spirit behind the song. You have to be in it. One of the most difficult things was "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas." It's very jazzy, it's in and out of different beats. I remember I was in that vocal booth for like nine hours. They said I'm not going anywhere o. It was probably one of the most difficult days of my life. It's not like somebody was punishing me o, but I had to be determined to say, "Timi, get this thing done." We'd get angry at each other. I'd say, "Allow me to rest," they'd say, "No." I'd go outside, I'd drink tea, and it was cold. We were moving from L.A to London, London to Gabon, Gabon to Budapest. You'd wake up in a different time zone, but you had to sing. They'd tell you, "Sleep in the plane o. Our studio session has been booked and we can't cancel it." But I never used to do music like that. I used to do music on my own terms. Highest, four takes. We were having Take 55 of one line.
And they might eventually decide that Take 20 was the best.
Yes. They'd say, "I like this take o, but let's keep going." And it came out well. I still have two more albums with them. I want to do an EP. I'd call it Songs I Wish I Wrote. Just imagine me singing Phil Collins' 'We never talked about it, but I hear the blame was mine.' Songs like 'So here we are, in our secret place/by the sound of a crowd.' Full album of not my songs but I wish I wrote them. Bargain with them for some of the royalties. 'I can't believe that I'm a fool again.' Songs like that. Songs I wish I wrote. That's how Michael Bolton came to be Michael Bolton. Those songs were never his.
True. So, you learned a lot from that process?
It's the detail in white people. I just have to show up and sing. Nothing else concerns me. Somebody owns the part of bringing the water to drink. Giving you the lyrics is somebody's job. Temperature of how your room should be is somebody's job. What you should eat so that your voice will be at its best the next day is somebody's job. All these things are sent to you via email. So, it was in the details. "So, this work can be easy like this." It's optimisation. They are like that and I'm like, "No wonder. No wonder these people are these people." They are not even our mates.
You've been working on this project, Love and Consequences, for a while.
It's ready o. The album is ready o. It's me doing other things. I got it ready, but there are some songs that I just don't want to throw away like that. I have a song titled I Hope I Find You There. I wrote it for my wife. "One forever is too small, so when this life we live is over and we do walk the streets of gold, far away from all the sorrows, where this our flesh will no longer grow old, I hope that I find you there to love you again." I know if I release that song on Universal, there's no how. I have another song that's called Substitute. "We found a love that's pure and true, but it's our ego that let it ruin/There will be no substitute for me or for you."
Songwriting is a very key part of the work that you do. It's almost like a foundation.
Yes. I like to write. If I stopped singing, I'd still be writing.
What got you so interested in writing?
From secondary school, I started writing. Stupid things. Love letters, describing people. I used to listen to people's conversations and try to assume their character. One day, I'm Grace, my maid. The next day, I'm the filling station attendant. The next day, I'm the woman that is selling corn at the junction. I like to be people and see things from their eyes and describe them. It was fun o. I didn't know it was going to lead me to where I am.
It was just building the foundation, teaching your brain the how.
Well, you can't use my house like anybody else can. 95% of the time, I'm never here. I have a corner of my room that I lay down in most of the time, and my piano, books and charger are there. I don't need anything else. This whole setting. It's only when I'm having something like this or my friends are around and we are playing games that you'll find me here.
So far in your journey, what's makes you proudest? What do you think about when you are looking at all of this?
That I've grown. Not for anybody, but for me. That I've grown mentally, spiritually, as a man. I could picture where I was. I've added a lot of awareness to how I used to think. More than anything, I'm a better human being, and art is a big factor in making me that. I'm more of not people's actions, but people's intentions. It comes to my 'why' again. I've grown as a man, I'm raising a family that I love. I love my children ehn. We'll fight now, but let me travel for two days, it's me that'll be calling them. "You people are wicked like this. You cannot even call me to check up on me." I'm used to my space. I can be in this house for five or six days. I don't need to go outside. There's nothing to do outside. If I have to go outside, I'll just say, "Abeg, I don't have cloth." People think they see me but they don't. Physically, they don't see me, but they see me online.
Let us meet somewhere, I say, "No. I don't do that o." I've grown as a man. I'm raising a family. I have a relationship with my kids. I have a relationship with my wife. I'm trying for my family members, the best that I can. Not the ones that want to live their excess life through me o, and I used to smell those ones from far. I have an aunt that does not do anything, she wants to be having full decoder. The full 20-something-k decoder. I said, "Aunty, I cannot be doing that for you. I have children. I cannot carry all my money and be giving you. You cannot blackmail me. Yes, you try for me when I small. I've tried for you too. Make we easy on each other."
Thank you so much.
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