Michael Collins Ajere, popularly known as Don Jazzy, is currently Nigeria’s No. 1 music producer. Highly sought-after and deservedly celebrated, he was born on November 26, 1982 and hails from Umuahia in Abia State. Also a gifted singer, songwriter, entrepreneur and celebrity model, the multiple award winning showbiz impresario runs Mavins Records. Reputed for constantly making hit records, Forbes magazine not long ago adjudged him the 36th Most Powerful Celebrity in Africa. Educated at Government College, Lagos and Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, where he studied Business Management, before relocating to the United Kingdom, he had a marathon interview with YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine’s KOREDE BELLO, where they discussed a lot of issues. Come with them…
Who is a good musician?
I would say one that has the passion for the craft and can play an instrument. If you say you are a musician, you should be able to play at least one or two instruments. Then, you need to have love for music.
When is a musician successful?
There are two different types of success. You can be successful by just being famous. Some people can be famous for being lyricists on the roll; or a good song writer or a good stage performer or someone that comes up with loads of hit songs. Somebody that comes up with meaningful songs that a lot of people can relate to. But then, I prefer the other arm of being successful. I want to have all that I have mentioned now, but also the money so that it would not be as if all my work has been in vain.
What are the necessary ingredients needed for a hit song?
A very catchy beat, catchy hook, sing along – hooks. One that can get the crowd going and everybody can sing along. And the right artiste on that perfect beat. But then, if you don’t have the right artiste to carry it, that might slow things down. So, it’s important that you study your artiste to know the kind of beat that you lay down for the person to sing. You study artistes to also know the kind of songs you write for them or you let them write for themselves as well. There are songs that a D’Prince can sing now and it’s a hit song. But then, if Dr. Sid should sing it, it’s not going to be a hit song. There are some songs that suit some people; there are certain words that suit some people. There are a lot of words that Prince can say now that he’ll get away with and I won’t expect you to sing and get away with it. Let me use D’Prince and Praiz for instance. There are a lot of things that Prince would say that if Praiz should say it, they would stone him. But if Prince should say it, it can be acceptable. It just sounds well in his mouth. It all depends on your personality.
So, which of these ingredients is the most important?
A catchy hook.
Why do so many artistes find it hard to succeed then, since many of them have catchy hooks?
They don’t get promoted the right way and some artistes’ attitude suck. They’re not open to criticisms in the sense that almost every artiste believes that their stuff is the best. Well, almost every artiste that I know. I have tried as much as possible to be my greatest critic. I take my time when I want to make my music and I criticize myself to a fault. It has even become a problem in-house, with people that work with me. Sometimes they might be like oh! It’s fine, it’s fine. But I’ve seen situations that people around you can make you believe that you have a hit song. But then, at the end of the day, you just get deceived. Maybe because they’re trying to protect your feelings or they don’t want to hurt you or whatever. They just make you believe that everything you do is nice. They don’t get to tell you to your face that it’s not. So, when you’re being lied to that you have a good product to put out there. Some; it’s by their friends; some; it’s by their families. They just let you put stuff out there and at the end of the day, it might not be that you have a catchy hook at all. The fact that everybody around you learnt the song fast might be because they have your interest at heart; they love you, so they want to associate with what you’re doing. So, it might be catchy to them, but then, to the outside world, it might not. A lot of things are involved as well in the sense that it depends on when you drop your song; it depends on your market – you need to know your market. There are artistes that are big in certain areas in Lagos, but then not big outside Lagos. There are a lot of songs that somebody would do and they will blow in Port-Harcourt, you come to Lagos and you realize that your song doesn’t sit down well here because the people here don’t have the same mind set as the people in Port-Harcourt. So, you have to study well to know which song would be able to cut across.
How does it feel to be rated by Forbes as one of Africa’s most influential personalities?
It feels good. It’s funny because up until that time when they did the Most Influential List, I didn’t see myself as that. I don’t know why that is; maybe because deep down, I really don’t see the difference between the Ajegunle Michael Collins Ajere and the one that is here now. Apart from my bank balance, I still see myself as the same guy that loves making music. People know me now and they greet me on the road, on the internet, blah! blah! But it’s not like I was calculating statistics to know that oh! You’re influential now. But then, from that point, I was like ‘okay’, this thing is real; people have now come to respect your hustle and recognize your craft. Yeah! It’s feels good and we thank God.
Who was the first person you called when you saw the rating?
I didn’t call anybody o. I saw it on the internet and I had to go and check if it’s not fake news (General laughter). You have to check o! Because sometimes it might be fake; because all these blogs, nowadays, can come with different kinds of lists or different kinds of stories.
What are some of the pains of being a celebrity?
One of my greatest regrets is actually that I’m not Lagbaja. Different people have different priorities. I like being Don Jazzy; I like to have a successful career, but I want people to know my work and love my work. I don’t like the fact that I can’t go outside and be what I want to be. For instance, the period I started wearing pyjamas; I don’t know why it’s a problem that I’m wearing pyjamas on my own body and people are complaining that it is not nice (Smiles). There are a lot of things that you want to do or you feel is right to do. You know it’s human rights! So, I don’t think that I should reduce my own rights. A lot of people have that freedom to come on twitter and say whatever they feel they want to yarn, but I cannot come on twitter and say good morning when it’s afternoon, without them killing me. If a thief should attack your own house now, you’d go outside and shout ole! ole! ole! But me, they expect me to stay in my room and whisper ole! ole! ole! (General laughter). So, it’s not good. They say what is good for the goose is good for the gander; live and let live; as you lay your bed, so you lie on it. So, I think the best idea ever is Lagbaja. When he’s wearing his mask, he’s Lagbaja and when he’s not wearing his mask, you don’t know who he is. That’s the best thing ever. So, it’s paining me that I did not think of that concept first, so I can come outside and do whatever I please. Now, I have split personalities; there is Michael Collins and there is Don Jazzy. If you don’t see the walking stick around, then it’s Michael Collins you’re seeing. If you see the walking stick, then it’s Don Jazzy you’re seeing. I wish I could cover my face.
Is it too late to rebrand?
I should go and wear mask? (General laughter). They know my face already. At some point, I used to wear face caps and glasses a lot with my walking stick; D’Banj was now telling me that if I remove my cap and my glasses, people would not recognize me. It did not work o. I just tried it once and now my face is known, so it’s too late. I can’t do anything about it.
Where do you think up and coming artistes get it wrong; where do you think they miss the point?
Nowadays, their eyes are too big (Laughs). They have big eyes; they don’t want to crawl before they start running. They want to jump straight from birth to university; they don’t want to go to nursery school, primary school, secondary school, they just want to graduate instantly and it doesn’t work like that. All fingers are not equal. Some people might get it right from the word go, but almost everybody they see, they think that oh! They just came into the industry and they made it. They don’t know how much struggle they’ve done behind the scene before they made it. They just assume, and it’s not that easy. So, they should try as much as possible to study the entertainment industry a bit more before they jump in and they should also perfect their craft; don’t try to copy people, don’t be a follower, reinvent yourself – be somebody that is going to start a trend, don’t just jump on another person’s trend. You’d just be second best. What else? They believe the hype too quick. Just because you put your download link on twitter and the people in your estate download your music and they hail you in the morning when you come outside doesn’t mean the person in Surulere knows who you are and you expect to go to the club and fight the bouncer because he doesn’t not recognize you – you no know me? I’m the person that put this download link yesterday (General laughter). Nowadays, when anybody wants to release their song on twitter or facebook, they always put “the new brand hit single chart buster; No. 1 record, million downloads” (General laughter). They lie to themselves and that is one of the biggest problems ever – to lie to yourself. That’s the worst thing you can do to yourself.
What’s the secret of becoming a successful producer?
I can just decide to cook up one stupid lie and tell you that oh! This is the formula. But the truth of the matter is that I don’t really know. I just make music the way I have learnt. It’s God. I pray harder than a bunch of people, even though some of the songs have nyansh and breast inside. And that does not mean that I do not pray. I pray well well o! Very, very well. It’s not by force that you have to do Christian music, because you have to cater for the people that want to listen to some kind of music, but sometimes I do gospel music when the spirit leads. I have a good artiste that comes around, I do that as well, but I think it’s just always trying to reinvent yourself; don’t try to sound like anybody else, follow your guts, do your thing and perfect your act. You have to realize that there are a bunch of producers out there. If you come into the studio and you want to work – it is not just going there and pressing do re mi fa so la ti do (plays the keyboard). It’s the same scale that are there that the other producer too is going to come and play, so you have to think hard because the options are not really that much. If I come into the studio now and play…(demonstrates by playing a chord), that’s what another person will also play. So, you have to think harder to be able to surpass what the other person would not be able to think.
Talking about instruments, how does the knowledge of an instrument help a producer?
I think it has been a big help to me actually. Any instrument at all that there is, if I sit down with the instrument for like 10 to 15 minutes, I’ll be able to use that instrument to produce music. I might not be an expert in it, but then I can use it to play whatever sound I want to get out of it. My major instruments are the piano – not that I’m Beethoven o. I play the bass guitar. I played that professionally for a long time. Till today, I’m not really that good on the lead guitar, but I can do solo some times on it for recording purpose. I play the drums, I love playing percussions a lot. I played a lot of percussions in my church – Cherubim and Seraphim. So, I’m always drumming. I’m always making music in my head. Any small sound I hear, I automatically turn it into music. I think I should start blocking my ears because when I hear any sound, I think of turning it into music. I live for music – it’s my life. As I finish eating, I’m thinking of going to the studio; when I wake up – I’m thinking of going to the studio; before I sleep – studio, studio, studio. You can never have too many songs. Just keep creating. There’s nothing like oh! He has too many songs, he doesn’t need to create anymore. It’s a lie. Just keep creating, you can never have too many.
What role or purpose do musicians play in the society?
I think we’re a big influence on the people in general. We affect people’s trends – dress trends. Nigeria has been able to even change how Africa views music. In another way, we can even use music to aid tourism. The only thing I know about America or the few things I know about America, I either learnt from the music videos or the movies. How did we know that if we want to try to take down Obama now, you cannot because there is one bunker that is there (General laughter). How do we know if they’re washing us or not? How did we know that they really have one bomb that if they press, it will scatter us? But they use all those things to threaten us and we give them world power. So, I’m just saying that both movies and music, they can actually portray some kind of messages. How we want the people outside to see us.. The way we see them showing Miami, New York, ATL and so on in videos from all around the world, we all want to go there and experience that same feeling that we saw them feeling in the video of P Diddy, 50 Cent, Jay Z and co. So, the stuff that we show in our music videos help to influence the way people see Nigeria.
What motivates you to give?
I think I got that from my mum. She’s that kind of person that if she has N10 and you ask her for N11, she’ll probably go and borrow N1 to also dash you. It’s good and it’s not good at the same time. She just has that giving heart. And you should always give o! It’s the biggest investment that you could ever make because you don’t know who is going to help you tomorrow. Today, you might have and tomorrow you might not have. Sh**t happens. But other than that, it’s just logic – you have, this person does not have; they ask you and you help out. That’s all. I don’t need any motivation other than the fact that you asked me. Nothing needs to motivate me; it’s just that you don’t have it, I have it, you ask me, I give you, if I have it.
How about your life?
It’s not just me. Changing my family’s life is also changing my life. It has generally changed my life and the life of my generation. There is no way that we envisaged or saw this coming or things being this perfect from when I was a child. That boy selling akara in Ajegunle and doing agidi and stuff. There’s no way I would have thought things would be like this; there’s no time I saw myself flying out of the country and now I have like four passports with stamps. So, I think it’s just God. God has done it; He has done it.
What has music not yet done for you?
It has not turned me to Jesus Christ. Not that I’m saying I want to be Jesus Christ, but so that I can be able to use my music to heal the blind. You know, maybe someone that is deaf is around and they just play my beat and he’s like “oh my God! It’s a miracle, I can hear, I can hear”. I can quit after that. No, I won’t quit so that I can heal more people. I think that would be very nice; I just come out as Don Jazzy and someone that has not seen before would just say “I wish I can see Don Jazzy and his eyes will open”. That would be powerful for music to do. When God does that, I’d be very grateful.
Three reasons why you love Nigeria?
One, we’re genuine, good people. So, that means we’re good people, great nation. Two, we have a fighting spirit. I don’t mean violence. You know we suffer, but we still persevere and believe that one day ‘e go beta’. I’ve not seen any other nation that believes in that ‘e go beta’ philosophy as much as Nigerians. We’re very optimistic people. Three, I like entertainment in Nigeria. I can’t trade it for doing music anywhere else. I like my country’s music, I like my country’s movies. I’ve been to America – e no dey even sweet me like dat sef. I like to be a part of this growth. Our music is sweet. My best genre is highlife actually. I love highlife, it’s just beautiful. You know that kind of music that you can use to cruise your babe – drinking and eating nkwobi (Smiles). Not all the pakuru pakuru ones that we do nowadays. Highlife; correct highlife. Yeah! I like that. The entertainment industry generally, I like.
When was your most trying period as an entertainer?
(Pauses for a moment) I would say the first year of Mavins Records. The transition from Mo-Hits to Mavins Records was quite trying because the fans were heartbroken just as we were heartbroken, so they were not even giving us a chance at that period. It took a while for them to heal, so it kind of slowed a lot of things down. Even though we churned out a lot of music then, they didn’t want to hear us because they were upset. We churned out like 45 songs in a year. That’s a lot of work, but they just zoomed out. Well, I knew that it wasn’t going to be that easy, but then I was like okay! I’m just going to keep on making music, I don’t care if I make hundred and you guys don’t listen to them. I like them, I listen to them in my house, so I will just keep making (more); even if it’s just one person that is listening to it, that’s good enough for me. I’ll continue making it. Whether the music that I’m making now is going to give me money or not, I’ll keep making it because I like making music. There are some people that complain that I like to sing now – I’ve been singing from day one. I like to sing and I’ll keep singing, so they should not disturb themselves. I’m not quitting anytime soon and there’s nothing that would make me stop except they come and kidnap the computer in my house that I use to make music with my keyboard too (General laughter). Other than that, I will keep making it, keep posting it on the internet (Laughs). E no dey hard me now to promote, you understand. It’s not different anymore, so I’m having fun doing what I do now. But that first year was very trying. Now, everything is beautiful o! Life is beautiful with MTN. Everywhere we go, they show us love; MTN love.
Who is Don Jazzy’s favourite musician of all time?
2Face Idibia. I can answer that in my sleep. And he’s going to be my favourite musician for a very long time.
What’s Don Jazzy’s favourite food?
Ah! Me like food o! I like different types of food. I don’t have a particular kind of food that I like. I like food and I can eat heaven and earth (General laughter). I dey eat well well. I don’t like oyinbo food, I like African dishes. Talk of rice, pounded yam, eba, okro, banga soup, plantain, fried egg, fried in the Nigerian way o! With all those pepper, tomatoes and all those things.
When are we meeting Onome? When is Don Jazzy getting married?
That one, I don’t know o! You people are going to ask God. When God gives me the liver to be able to propose. I have trust issues, I’m scared of relationships. I have been scared of relationships for a long time, until Onome came o. See, I’m very very dangerous in the sense that my mind can change sometimes. For instance, a lot of people used to think that I like people with big hips and big nyansh – big–figured people. But I woke up one morning and everything changed. I’m a totally different person now and I like my women straight up from the runway – Lepa to bad (Smiles). Some of my friends say I’m having midlife crisis, but that’s what I like now. So, I might just be saying I don’t know when I’m going to get married, but all of the sudden you’ll hear that I’ve gotten married. I like my privacy, so I might just get married and you’d hear that I got married three months ago or something like that. It’s not like I don’t want people to come for my wedding o! It’s just that I don’t like the story. You people can do the party after the wedding (Laughs). I believe in jinxing. I don’t want a situation where I will tell you people “oh! This is Onome and this is when I want to get married”. I have done that in the past, introducing my girlfriend, but people would just jinx it for us because they will just put their eyes on our thing and it might just spoil things. So much pressure. That’s when they will now put her picture on Linda Ikeji and a bunch of people would now come out to tell you the history of the day that she washed her pant and the day that she did not wash her pant; where she went to go and hang the pant, then someone now came to eat her food and all that kind of stories that will make you start doubting the love that you have for her. So, let me just bone all these…
What’s your favourite gadget?
I live on my computer, so I think that’s the closest thing to me. If I’m not on my computer, then I’ll probably be on my desktop.
What’s your favourite accessory?
I’m not a vain person, so all those things don’t really matter. If I’m wearing a wrist watch, I’ll wear it until the watch goes bad, then I will now change it to another one. It’s not like I would have five, six, ten wristwatches when all of them are still going to tell me the same time. So, I have one quality wristwatch at a time.
How many cars does Don Jazzy have?
I don’t know now o! I have plenty, but I only drive one at a time.
Does Don Jazzy go to church?
Didn’t I tell you that I used to pray more than most of you? Yes, I do go to church.
So, what’s next for Mavins Records?
Big things again (Laughs hard).
What’s Don Jazzy message to his fans?
I love you all. Thank you very much for the support that you have given us and we’re very sorry if we have broken your heart in anyway. It happens; things happen. Just as you fall out of relationships with different people in your lives, that’s how we too fall out of relationships. It’s just because of who we are, so if there is anything that we have said out of context or taken out of context that has offended you, our beloved fans, we are sorry. It’s the same love that we have for you guys that we still have and we’ll keep on giving you people good music. We love doing this music for you guys, for ourselves and you guys as well. So, please, continue giving us the support that you have been giving us for over ten years now. We appreciate it and we pray that the unwise things that we’ve done in the past 10 years, God would make us wiser in the next 10 years and beyond in Jesus’ name. Amen!
NB: First published December 2013