African pop star D’banj’s February 19 performance at the New York City’s Irving Plaza has kept on receiving rave reviews from local and more international media. As The Entertainer marked his formal US debut , MTV Iggy caught up with the Mo’Hits act as he talked about working with his G.O.O.D Music record label boss Kanye West, why he feels he’s already broken out and how he feels bringing Nigerian music to a more global audience.
How does it feel to be bringing Nigerian music to a more global audience? With the reception I’ve gotten, I’d like to say, not like I was nervous, I just hoped and prayed that people would come with an open mind, that they can listen. And I saw that today, they came with their hearts, they came with their minds. I’m only grateful to God that that’s the beginning. Seeing this, I’m now eager to move around and continue the gospel.
What is your next step toward world domination? To go on the road. America, for one. Even with this crowd, they’ve already shown us that there is massive audience for me here. I thought I was in New York City, but I’m seeing New Jersey, I’m seeing Maryland, I’m seeing Houston. I already have bookings in Houston. It’s just a big privilege and I’m so humbled. I can’t wait to just gladly take the music there to touch them. A lot of American artists and rappers are working specifically with Nigerian musicians.
What do you think it is that attracts them to that scene? I think it’s not just now, and it’s not just about one or two things. First, I give a lot of thanks to a lot of people who have come before me. For one, I would say it’s not just even rappers. If you look at what happened here in New York for the last twenty four months, with Fela Anikulapo Kuti on Broadway [the musical FELA!]. I was fortunate to be at Radio City Music Hall during the Tony Awards. It was nominated for eleven awards. Also, it’s our culture, It’s what we’re preaching, the music, for one, as you know, the sound. It’s not like I want to blow our trumpet, but I always say we came up and we already have sounds and melody and now we’re seeing the aggression.
If you had to describe the difference between performing in Lagos versus anywhere else in the world, what would you say? Wow. With today, I wouldn’t say it’s any different. Today my people showed me here, people appreciate good music. Good music is universal. Is there something in Lagos that sets the scene apart? It’s very real. It’s very real and very original. You know, people are asking me if I’m going to change and I say, ‘What Kanye likes about me is that I’m very original’. Even the way I call my name: ‘I’m D’Banj!” And I don’t want to change that. That’s what we all have in Africa. You know that we’re blessed with a lot of natural resources. We’re blessed with things like oil, and also we have talents. They say we’re a developing continent. Well, we have been developing. Now, we are developed. You are already recording with Kanye West. What is it like being in the studio with him? I came with a mind-set to learn. Also, to show my culture, but more importantly to learn. In the studio the chemistry was great. You know, music is universal. I’ve been in the studio with people who don’t speak English, but, at the end of the day, I love melody. I’ve gained a lot from him, that’s the main reason I’m here. Do you have a place here in New York? I do, but I’m not a New York fan. The weather is a bit crazy. I like ATL, it reminds me of Africa. Anytime I stop by the ATL, I like it. The roads are wider and I love the weather. Miami too.
Who is going to be the video for ‘Oliver Twist?’ I heard there would be some cameos. A lot of cameos. I’ll give you a hint: my new family members.
How did you choose the harmonica as your instrument? Oh, I didn’t choose the harmonica. My late brother chose the harmonica. And you play it because of him?
Did he teach you? No, no one taught me. Later, when I studied it, I learned that it’s such a spiritual instrument- coming from even way back, from the era of the slave trade. It was one of the very rare instruments that Africans, now African-Americans could play. It was one of the few things that they could do, people that were stuck over here. But even for people that were not African-Americans, it stood for something that was more natural. Like, if you listen to country music a lot of them play the mouth organ and the harmonica. Are you going to be doing something really different on the new album? I really don’t know. I’m exploring. I’m going to be doing rock now. I’m doing a rock song! Don’t you believe I can rock? Tell me about Kokomobile. You have a branded cell phone on the market in Nigeria? Yes, I do. Well, my brand is called ‘Koko’. It comes from the song on my first album. And people say, ‘Well, what is the koko?’ The Koko is whatever you do to derive pleasure. It is the bone of contention. So, people started calling me the Koko Master. Today, no one knows its specific definition. But now I have the Koko Lounge, my club in Lagos, Nigeria. And I have Koko Garri, my breakfast cereal. What will it take to bring Nigerian music to a mainstream audience in the US? I think it’s already happening. It’s happened. I walked around; I saw the pictures of the people that have performed here [at Irving Plaza], The Beastie Boys, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, on the same stage. So, it’s already started. The thing I love about Americans is they’re open to good music. If it sounds good to them and it looks good, they’ll buy it. If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be? I like Rihanna.