Ayoola Ogundeji, better known as Ayo Jay, might not be as popular as Davido or Wizkid on the home front right now but there is a reason he was the first Nigerian artiste to be signed to Sony Music RCA Records. His singing and song writing abilities were discovered at a young age but knowing education is key, he relocated to the United States after high school to pursue a college degree in finance and investment from Baruch College. In this interview with ADEDAYO ODULAJA, Ayo Jay, who is the first home grown Nigerian music talent to boast of Gold certification for his single, ‘Your Number’ by RIAA speaks on how it all started, collaborating with Chris Brown, his forthcoming EP among others.
What project are you working on that your fans can look forward to?
I’m currently working on my first EP titled Coming To America.
How has the journey been for you so far?
It’s been an incredible journey so far, especially in the last 18 months. The success of my single, ‘Your Number’ in the United States especially has really opened a lot of doors for me including being signed to a world-renowned record label, Sony RCA. This is particularly exciting for me as I feel my sound requires that global exposure.
How does it feel being the first Nigerian act signed to Sony RCA Records?
Being the first Nigerian fills me with a lot of joy and pride when it happened. It may have surprised many but it didn’t entirely surprise me or my team as we had major goals to break into the industry in the United States and establish my sound and the Afrobeat genre there.
I also felt and still feel a sense of responsibility to make our kind of music and sound popular in the United States and around the world. How much has been on the label helped your brand and craft? Definitely in many respects.
A good amount of money was spent to promote my hit single, ‘Your Number’ which turned out to be a big success. The label was also able to get me to perform at some of the biggest stadia and at some of the biggest music festivals in the world. This definitely helped my brand in terms of being very visible and there is a lot more to come from this partnership.
Knowing that you were signed to One Nation in Nigeria, how did you get a deal with Sony music RCA Records and what does it mean for your Nigerian label?
I got signed due to the amount of attention the song, ‘Your Number” was getting at the beginning of 2016. The number of views on YouTube were increasing at a very fast pace and it was getting very popular on the streets of New York, which is where RCA is based.
They noticed it as well and contacted One Nation Records to see if we could do business so it’s a partnership with all three parties. There was stiff competition to sign me due to interest from other labels like 300, Interscope, and Columbia but RCA had the most ideal plan for me and showed more belief and desire in wanting to promote this new sound so I went with them.
How does it feel to be the first home grown Nigerian act to have Gold certification on your record single, ‘Your Number’ by RIAA?
If feels really great to make history with the song. I’m glad be the very first to do it considering the fact that when I initially left Ebute Metta in Lagos for New York, it was just to go to school, obtain a degree, and earn a living with it. I was able to get that degree and create a bit of history too so it is an amazing feeling. I hope other artistes can achieve the same and even more.
As you are based in the United States, how do we get the Nigerian vibe that fans have come to love in the music of Nigerian acts?
In terms of releasing music and doing the usual promotional leg work, nothing has changed. Even though I am based in New York I still come to Lagos each time I am releasing new material. I still go on all the radio stations to do interviews and I still go on TV shows as well. As a matter of fact, a week after I dropped my latest two releases, ‘The Vibe’ and ‘Want You’ I flew to Lagos for a month to create awareness about the songs and also to keep everyone informed with my progress in America.
Has your label in any way influenced the kind of song you put out?
Yes, they do have a little bit of an influence, a good one though. My sound is already commercial so there isn’t much influencing to do in terms of the direction of the music but they do help provide beats and link me up with some of the best producers around.
Do you feel any pressure that new Nigerian artistes getting signed by major record labels in the United States are likely to break your record?
No pressure at all. With my sound and my style of song writing, I’ve always believed I’m in my own lane. I am the only one that makes my type of music so the only kind of pressure I feel is from within. From me knowing the potential I have and from me fulfilling that potential. I am delighted for the other Nigerian acts who are involved with major labels in America. Doors have been opened and I truly hope more and more acts get opportunities like I did.
With how saturated the Nigerian music industry is, what would you say set you apart?
My melodies, my voice, and the whole sound as a whole. I can pretty much come up with any melody you can and can’t think of.
As an artiste, how are you improving yourself?
I recently teamed up with one or two world class song writers to help improve my writing skills and my song writing thought process in general. I write every single one of my songs so I feel like another writer’s input could lead to even better music being written. I also try to study a lot about the laws of music business and other ways to monetise my music.
Taking note of your education, what would you be doing if not music?
I graduated in 2013 with a degree in Economics and Finance. I had a couple of internships a year before I graduated so if I didn’t go into music I would probably have gone into Investment Banking. I’m also a huge soccer fan and at some point I wanted to try and play professionally.
How soon are we expecting an album or EP from you?
I’m dropping my first EP, Coming To America in September.
Which international artistes would you like to work with and why?
I’d love to work with Drake, Popcan, Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, and Tori Kelly to name a few. I think they are all really good in their lanes.
How about those you’d like to collaborate with on the home front?
Wande Coal and 2Face definitely
What was growing up like for you?
I was fortunate to be raised in a stable home of six. In the fast paced hustle and bustle of Lagos, it was very important to have stability. I can honestly say without the support of my family and friends, I wouldn’t be the same person I am today. My family showed me the importance of education to my future and I was surrounded by good friends who taught me things and helped me stay out of trouble. No matter where I go or where I live Lagos will always be my home, my foundation, the start of Boy Wonder Ayo Jay.
How supportive are your parents towards your chosen field?
They are very supportive especially since I made sure I got my degree first. Plus the fact that I am making a living off music and I am able to take care of them so we are all satisfied and I am grateful to God for that.
What was their reaction when you opted for music?
They were surprised. Everyone, including my friends, were surprised. I didn’t make music growing up and I was really shy so being a performer or artiste would have been the last thing on their minds. I worked hard secretly on developing myself as an artiste before I declared to everyone what I intended to do so that the surprise would be a pleasant one.
You’ve been on a couple of songs with big names including Akon, Pitbull, Tega, Kid ink, Nico & Vinz and of course, Chris Brown but while is there no collaboration with any female yet?
I’ve collaborated with a few female artistes that aren’t really known yet. I love working with female artistes, they always have a unique perspective. On my EP, I plan to feature a female artiste very wellknown to everyone but we are keeping it as a surprise.
You have two new singles, ‘Want You’ & ‘The Vibes’ which are being well received at the moment. On which of these should your fans expect another surprising remix?
I have only remixed my song once. RCA remixed it the second time and put Chris Brown and Kid Ink on it.
Diamond Platmumz’s lover, Zari, chooses Valentine’s Day to call it quit
Famous Tanzanian singer, Diamond Platnumz, obviously had a black Valentine’s Day celebration as his first baby mama, Zari, chose the august occasion to kick him out of her life over allegation of gross infidelity. Sadly so, the news surfaced after his second baby mama, Hamisa Mobetto, dragged him to court for allegedly neglecting his child’s support.
Zari who is tired of the cheating scandals shared a photo of a Black Rose on her Instagram and wrote about the sad end of her long term relationship. The text reads: “Understand that this is very difficult for me to do. There have been multiple rumours some with evidence floating around in ALL SORTS of media in regards to Diamond’s constant cheating and sadly I have decided to end my relationship with Diamond, as my RESPECT, INTEGRITY, DIGNITY & WELL-BEING cannot be compromised. We are separating as partners but not as parents. This doesn’t reduce me as a self-made individual, and as a caring mother, and the boss lady you have all come to know.
I will continue to build as a mogul; I will inspire the world of women to become boss ladies too. I will teach my four sons to always respect women, and teach my daughter what selfrespect means. Unlike many, I’ve been in the entertainment industry for 12 years, and through all my challenges I came out a victor because I am a winner, and so are all of you Zari supporters.
As a child I was hoping to board a plane one day –Queen Blessing Itua
Atlanta, Georgia-based Queen Blessing Itua is a Nollywood actress and recipient of the President Obama Global Achievement Award. Also a lifestyle empowerment motivator, inspirational author and speaker, she told ADEDAYO ODULAJA that her aim is to touch lives when shooting movies as evident in her latest production, Mrs Adams.
Not much is known about you beyond your involvement in Nolllywood. What else do you do?
I’m based in the United States and I’m very passionate about so many different things. I’ve done quite a bit and I’m privileged to have been honoured by the former President of the United States, Barack Obama. I also received another one from the United Nations. It was just all coming to me even from countries like Zambia, Kenya and others. So having done all of that in the States, there was no way I couldn’t bring it back home, because home is where the heart it.
On this particular visit to Nigeria, what are you out to achieve?
I have an NGO in the US called Global Empowerment Movement while for Africans, I have ‘Blessings of Africa Empowerment Foundation’. The reason for that is that it takes all of us Nigerians to be the ones to actually spearhead the development we seek. That was why I paid the Edo State governor a visit.
This is the way I was thinking about these things. I had written the books, but I didn’t want to release them because I needed to make sure that I’m doing the actual work. I want to walk the talk. It is not just about speaking but talking about it. I don’t make noise about anything. Even on my social media platforms.
In all of these, what is your ultimate goal?
My goal is to spearhead the development goals in our own motherland, and in doing that, we have to be focused. I’m on this journey because of my true passion of being a blessing to Africa, of being a blessing to my community, of being a blessing to Edo State and of Nigeria. And ‘Blessings of Africa’ is not about individuals. It is about all of us together collectively, because you must first of all understand that you are here with a vision and with a plan. God created you for a purpose and has given you that talent, something inside of you that you have to be able to impact wherever your community.
What are some of those projects you are carrying out?
I wouldn’t want to go into details but we have created a project that we hope will solve the herdsmen crisis. Remember, it’s not just another photo op. Our team decided we will be presenting the solution for the herdsmen issue. We hope to liaise with the First Lady, so we can hopefully change what is going on. I’m looking at it from the public health point of view. Even the herdsmen are in danger.
The cattle are in danger, people that they come across are in danger, everybody is in danger. Sometimes they don’t even know what to do. They have no choice because those cattle have to feed and that’s their business. It is actually not wise to kill another man because of cattle. So you have to look at the whole picture before we can start a conversation.
This is not a blame game. I’m not blaming anyone but unfortunately lives have been lost and it’s not right. In order for us to have a solution, we have to think for everyone involved because we are not partial. I’m not partial. My heart bleeds for people that have lost their lives but how long are we going to continue like this?
Was your visit to the Edo State governor a political move?
When people hear that I visited the Edo State governor, the first thing they ask is ‘what is the contract? What are you working on?’ It is not about that. I’m here to make an impact. I’m not here to ask for something from him. I’m here because I have a vision for the people. A lot of our people are actually in need. We cannot close our eyes. We cannot turn deaf ears to all of these. The Edo State governor is doing a lot and I’m proud of what he’s doing. But of course, there is still room for improvement. Of course there are still ways we can support him.
How much of your current realities did you have as dreams growing up?
Everything I go through; I remember that young girl in the village, I remember the woman I left when I was in Bendel State. In 1984, as a very young child, I had won a state-wide essay competition, so I was to meet the then governor, Colonel J T Ogbeha. So I left my village, Iruekpen, to Benin to be honoured by the governor. I remember that we didn’t even have a TV to see myself.
The governor was there. He shook hands with me and presented me my award. I went back home where I was celebrated. The Abebes, the family of the Stella Obasanjo, gave me a scholarship and did all of that stuff with me. But I never saw myself on TV. So since then, I saw myself as that little girl in the village who hoped to enter a plane one day. When I was actually writing one of my books, it suddenly dawned on me that my son who is now the state essay writing champion in Georgia, and has been representing his state on TV, is the same age I was when I won the award. This was when I knew it was significant.
At what point did you leave the country?
I left Nigeria after I graduated from the University of Benin as a Biochemist. But in the US, I’m a public health practitioner with a specialty in fitness, nutrition, wellness, all of that stuff. I’m the one who helps women get healthy, especially after their babies. I help people because I believe my area of specialty academically is preventive wellness. In that capacity, I help people. Because when a woman knows her role at home, she is able to know what to do and how to feed her family and the community benefits. My passion is putting all of these together and using my books to make movies.
How many kids do you have?
I have four children. I’m blessed with two boys and two girls. I know the challenges we face but we must learn to empower our people, to look beyond our own personal issues, because we must see ourselves as blessings in whatever situation we find ourselves and you add God to that blessing, your attitude changes.
For someone who has acted in some foreign movies, why did you settle for Nollywood?
When I was called to host the Nollywood Europe Golden Awards (NEGA), I did mention that when I get there, I’m going to work with African stars. I didn’t know who was coming, but I told my colleague that when I get there, I will be working with Nigerian stars. I realised that I have this whole opportunity to work with them. I never portrayed myself as an actress because I was doing other things in politics. I needed to focus on one thing. The overall vision is not the acting but creating the platform to help people. And my background is not in the arts.
Are you now ready to get fully involved in acting?
There is a time for everything and when God has a plan for you, you might not know how it will unfold. But I also know that people want to see you focused. So, I had to learn to figure out what the focus was, especially with that high level position. So now, I have to be able to defend why I’m doing that, so that people on the high level that I’m working with will not see me as just acting.
This is real. I’m actually who that person is. However, the vision and the passion that drives my acting career is that as a public health practitioner, who has seen this big vision, I know that I have to be the voice. I’m using my movies and my books to address these critical public health issues.
Which roles have you taken on so far?
On the roles that I have taken so far, a majority of them have portrayed me as expert of what the movie is addressing. So that is how I could defend my passion for acting. For example, I was in the same movie with Will Pharrell. Will Smith was in the movie too. So was Kanye West. It’s titled Anchor Man 2. Though I was in other independent movies before that, that particular movie was Hollywood, so I had no control over it.
I didn’t audition for the role. I was picked b e – c aus e of my height, m y s h a p e and all that. Of course I was doing a lot of fitness. After that, I was in a reality TV show. I don’t know how far it went here because I was not here at the time. It is titled Nigerian Housewives of Atlanta.
So, I just felt like it wasn’t time for me to unfold my acting career until I’m in charge of what I’m doing. So, what happened is, I ended up doing a movie titled Skin. It is a Hollywood movie too, but I was the associate producer. The reason I did that movie was because my focus was now more meaningful.
What is the movie about?
The movie is about skin bleaching. It is about self image. You can now see how that movie tallies with my personal goals today. I did the movie because that story needed to be told of who I was. I have used skin lightening cream. I’m a biochemist and a public health practitioner who is using her movies to send messages. That was how the movie came about.
That was how I reshaped the movie as a co-executive producer. Van Vicker was our African star. So, after the movie, I realised there was still more to be done and I decided to bring it home? That was how the vision of going to Europe to work with our stars came about. I have worked in Hollywood, but my true calling is to support my people back home. I am the one who wants to address the social issues that we truly have right now.
Are you likely to go into politics anytime in the future?
I don’t know. To be honest with you, everything is open right now, because when God is leading you, you must be open. If anybody had told me that I would leave four young kids with my mother who is 84 in the US, to travel all over Africa, I wouldn’t agree with them. That is why I say when you get a vision, don’t think about yourself. Remove yourself from it and say God, let your will be done. He will give you the strength, the resources and the people you need.
What has life taught you?
I’m still learning. I have learnt that life is not a do-or-die affair. And it is not always smooth sailing. I’ve also learnt that challenges are meant to take us to the next level. We are supposed to use the challenges that we go through as a stepping stone to the next level. That is what life has taught me. When you go through challenges and you feel like the whole world is coming to an end, it is not.
PRAIZ: I’m yet to find a lady of my dream
RnB singer, Praise Adejo, popularly known as Praiz is one of the most charming songsters with impressive hit numbers in the industry. The Rich and Famous singer speaks to LANRE ODUKOYA about music, women and the industry.
Why are you yet to hold a concert like most of your colleagues?
I like to do things differently. I have yet to do any solo show because I am not ready to do what I really like to do. I have a massive plan, but the time has not come to unleash it. For my concert, I plan to invite an international RnB act. Pretty soon, everyone will witness it. I believe anything worth doing is worth doing well. Generally, I had a great outing last year. I dropped a couple of songs that did well internationally and locally. We are in 2018 right now and I am ready to drop a 5-track EP this month, precisely February 14. We have artistes who drop singles every month, but I am not that type of musician. I am strategic with the way I put out materials. I believe everyone has their own technique.
Are you satisfied with your growth in music?
I love my growth. I prefer to have 1, 000 fans who are loyal to me than a million fans who are not loyal. When you talk about people who broke into the industry from reality shows, I am one of them even though I didn’t win it. As matter of fact, people always think I won Project Fame. I believe you need to understand your fan base and person. But it does not mean you should be lazy or relax with the position you are. While you are still pushing to be a better person, one needs to be grateful to God. I owe everything I have achieved to God, but most people don’t know that I work a lot. I tell people that I have lost four years of sleep in my life. I am always working; I go to bed 4 am daily. But we also have a lot of people who work hard the way I do and they are yet to get results. For me, it has been God, patience, being focused and hard work. I know where I want to be and I am working towards it. I am a talented boy who is enjoying the favour of God. Once God sees your heart and how much you are passionate about what you do, He blesses you.
You’re effortlessly a stunner in look and in voice, so much that many wonder if you’re a lover boy…
It is okay if you call me a lover boy; I think you are right. Basically, I am an RnB singer. When you talk about that genre of music, the first thing that comes to your mind is love. I sing about different stages of love and my major fans are women. For every man who sings, women should be their prime target because they bring everyone on board.
Have you had to break a lady’s heart in recent times?
There is no one I can remember at the moment. But I try my best to avoid breaking any woman’s heart.
Do you honestly believe in love?
Yes, I do. Loving someone is a sacrifice because you need to go out of your comfort zone to ensure the person is happy. Love is a sacrifice.
Do you have a child?
From my knowledge, I do not. But it doesn’t mean artistes that have baby mamas are irresponsible.
Have you forgiven the Nigeria Police after your recent feud with some of their officers?
I honestly don’t want to talk about this again. But one thing I like people to know is that I was not rude to them as claimed. I have never been rude to anyone regardless of who I am or my position because I had a good upbringing. Even if you do me wrong, I will react to it respectfully. I don’t believe in violence or being rude to people.
What has fame deprived you of?
Obviously, there are certain things I enjoyed doing before that I cannot do again because of my new life. But I still look for a way to do things I did before fame came. I still take a walk on the streets or go to a public place alone. I think that makes fans appreciate you more. Fans don’t see us as ordinary people; so, when you do things they do, they relate to you better.
Was there a time you wished you were not a celebrity?
I cannot be fed up with the place I am right now because I still try my best to live my life. I don’t try to be another person because I am famous; I have not allowed fame to change me.
Do you have plans for marriage this year?
I am certain I will get married, but I don’t know how soon it will happen. You don’t need to rush into marriage because it is an institution you are not expected to abandon once you are in it. Though people get married to the wrong people, marriage is a beautiful thing. But when a marriage turns violent, I always advise people to walk away because staying alive is important. I am taking my time as I don’t want to rush in and rush out.
Have you found a lady of your dream?
I have yet to. But I believe in marriage and it is something I love to experience.
Can you marry an entertainer?
I cannot really give an answer at this point. There are things we don’t have a say or power over; they just happen and we accept it.
What is your greatest concern about the industry?
I just want every genre of music to be respected and given the same opportunity. In Nigeria, you don’t always see awards for other genres apart from the popular ones. The media also has a role to play. They need to encourage people who do other genres of music by giving them more airplay.
Do you see RnB music becoming as popular as hip-hop in Nigeria?
Everyone likes RnB music. You cannot be with your girlfriend and you will start playing rap music. But it is not a genre people like to play every time. We are in a nation where everyone wants to forget their struggle. People don’t want anything that will make them reflect on bad memories; they would rather settle for songs that make them happy. Though I understand that RnB music has a certain market, I still believe it will get to be accepted more in Nigeria over time. But I don’t think it can ever be as popular as pop music because of the environment we live in.
What other things do you?
It is very important for every artiste to have different sources of income. I don’t depend on music alone, I have invested in a couple of things. But music is the major thing I do because it brings in the money. For me, the most important thing is what you do with the money music brings in for you.
Do you think you are the best RnB singer in Nigeria at the moment?
I think it is left for fans and music critics to state who is their favourite RnB singer. But I am certain that if they are talking about RnB music in Nigeria, my name will be mentioned.
Do you have a song that is dear to your heart?
It is hard to say a particular song is my favourite because all my songs have their peculiarities
Have you ever thought of doing rap music?
No, it cannot happen. I can’t rap to save my life. I don’t even see myself trying to do rap music till I die.
When do you consider your turning point in music?
People accepted me right from the days of Project Fame. My music career has been a process or journey and I will never despise days of little beginning. But the first song that put me in the limelight was ‘Stupid Song’ with Bez. Also, people began to notice me after I did songs with M.I and Wizkid. Apart from my original songs, the collaborations I did in the past contributed to my growth in the industry.
How many albums have you released?
I have a double-album. I am dropping a project this month; I plan to drop two projects this year. Whatever I do, I don’t want to rush it. I like people to feel that I put in a lot of work in a production once they listen to it.
What makes you different from any other artiste?
I feel my vocals stand me out from any other artiste. Every artiste has their strong point. When you listen to a song, you can tell it is my voice without seeing the video.
Didn’t you feel it was the end of the road when you didn’t win Project Fame?
I didn’t see it in that manner. Getting the third position with money and a car was enough for me. We had people in the competition that could sing well but didn’t go home with anything. I felt if I could go that far, there was hope for me in the music industry.
What do you find disturbing about Project Fame?
I don’t think there is anything disturbing about the show presently. I only feel the participants should keep working hard and ensure they capitalise on the exposure they got from the reality show.
What came to mind when you were called upon to be a judge?
I felt accomplished. There was no time I thought I would be a judge on a reality show. I didn’t lobby for it or spoke to a top person to get me on board. It only shows that if you work hard and you are consistent, you will always stand out. It will be recalled that I didn’t even win when I participated in the show, but I was deemed fit to be a judge years later. I have been a contestant so I know what it feels like to be in that position. I am also in the industry now and I know what is required to be successful in music.
Do you agree that products of reality shows struggle in the real world?
Well, I can’t speak for anyone but myself. But when you come from a reality show, you need to work harder because things will not come to you on a platter of gold.
At a time you got Project Fame’s form; didn’t you feel you were bigger than a reality show?
For you to succeed, you must suppress your ego. Since a competition will be helpful to your career, why can’t you go? It doesn’t change the fact that you’ve been doing music for years. I have heard people saying they cannot go for reality shows, but that is what they believe in.
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