Sunny Neji hails from Ogoja Local Government in Cross River State. He holds a Diploma in Fashion from Yaba College of Technology. He told FLORA ONWUDIWE about growing up in the village, his inspiration, influences, being exposed to drumming and dancing at a young age and listening to all kinds of music. Excerpts…
How would you describe your music?
My music is mainly Highlife music; it is a bit eclectic because of my background. Whilst I was growing up, I was exposed to different genres of music from Pop to RnB, Highlife, to Jazz, Calypso, Juju to Fuji. I listen to all kinds of music, so you put all these together. Sometimes, this gives people the impression that my music is a little eclectic, but it is predominantly Highlife.
How would you describe your voice and the message you hope to pass with your music?
For my voice, I will leave that to music fans. But for my message, I pass it to you, because I sing about love, about relationship and about the society. I sing about the times, I sing about situations, I sing about basically what is happening around my immediate environment.
I am passing out different messages at different times, depending on what I have been through or what I am experiencing, what I am seeing happening around me. What people are talking to me about, the things that I feel that are necessary, that I feel I should talk about at a particular point in time. I talk about anything I see in my music.
Where does your inspiration come from?
Is it when you go into the studio or you have strong ideas on what to sing about even before? My inspiration comes from everywhere; it can come at any time. Yes, it could come when I am in the studio, but it could also come when I am in the bathroom.
It could come when I am driving, it could come when I am in the living room, even when I am watching television. It could come at any point in time. So, inspiration is not what one has control over. Of course, once you are a receptive individual, you should give it time.
Oruka ti d’ owo na seems to be a mega hit, how did you come up with it or what led to that song?
That was an inspiration that came out of the need to have a wedding song. I had just got married then. The more I thought about it, the more I nursed the idea of doing a wedding song. Of course, it was like waiting to see something to do a wedding song. When I was recording it, I did not know that it was going to be such a hit, that’s the truth. It is one of my biggest songs.
Among all your albums, was that the most popular hit?
I don’t know whether to call it the most popular or not, but I would say it is one of my popular songs because as for my most popular songs, I have Mr. Fantastic, I have Face Me and Face You, I have Tolotolo. So I will leave that to you to determine, but I will consider it to be one of my most popular songs.
Who are the artistes you looked up to at that time and why?
I looked up to a whole lot of artistes not just one, because I listen to music and I love every form of music; a lot of artistes interest me in one way or the other. Fela Anikulapo-Kuti to Sunny Ade to Oriental Brothers, Manu Di Bango, Michael Jackson, Don Williams, Lionel Richie, Kenny Rogers, I can go on and on, I can listen to anybody. So, it wasn’t just one individual, it was everything I was listening to at that time that would eventually determine who I became.
As an artiste what’s your view on using your voice to represent the voiceless, to sing on a particular subject that you have strong belief in?
Yes, of course, that is why you are an artiste in the first place. God didn’t give us these gifts for nothing, He gives us these gifts for a purpose. If God’s gift is in your heart you could do that, it’s not everyone that can do that I must confess, but for those who have the capacity to do it, they should do it. It is a wonderful purpose for humanity. If you have the voice I subscribe to it. If you have the capacity to use your voice and it stands you in good stead to highlight a cause for the masses, go ahead.
How did you initially get into music?
I grew up singing and dancing in my village; my grandfather used to be head of various dance troupes, cultural activities, there were a lot of drumming and dancing then. I grew up doing that as a little boy, so when I left my village for Lagos as a little boy staying with my elder brother who happened to be a music lover, that drew me to contemporary music. The various genres of music that I mentioned, I was exposed to all of them with my elder brother.
What can be done to improve the quality of music these days?
Music is art and art is very subjective; what one person doesn’t like another person loves. So it is difficult. If people feel that there is something happening right now that they do not like, they are free to choose. What you patronise is what you want to see; the more you patronise them the more you get to see them.
If you don’t patronise them, then they will die a natural death. What is happening right now is due to the fact that everybody is in support of it, if I am doing something and nobody is buying I will go and do something else.
We have a lot of artistes in this country they are all playing different forms of music and they all have different messages; if you see a particular message you want to hear, patronise that message and you will discover that more people will follow the line too.
Nigerian parents could be strict on career choices for their kids; did your parents raise eyebrows with regards to your choice of music?
No, they did not because they were already used to me doing that, so it wasn’t out of order. It was like the normal thing.
You are the most popular artiste from Cross River State, could you shed more light on your background?
I was born in Lagos, the last born of five children. My father was a soldier, so I was born in Myhoung Barracks, Yaba. My father retired soon after I was born and we relocated to the village. I grew up in the village as a village boy but after my primary school education, I left for Lagos to live with my elder brother. I went Government College Ikorodu and from there I proceeded to Yaba College of Technology where I got a Diploma in Fashion and Design. After that, it had been music and music all along for me.
You have a lot of female friends, what is the most interesting story about them?
My female and male fans are all my fans. Female fans play a bigger role. It’s a normal thing and without the followership that we get from our fans, you won’t see male artistes going anywhere. In my career as an artiste everybody is playing a role.
Do you still find time to practice what you studied at YABATECH?
No, I don’t. That was a long time ago. Music takes your time and it consumes you. You need to give it all your time, all your energy, if you want to go anywhere. It has been music all the way.
Aside music, fashion, what else would you have been more comfortable with as a career choice?
I don’t know because I have never really sat down to consider that. Ideally everybody was created to do something, if you discover your path, you will do well to stay on that path, and make the best of it. We are all created for specific reasons.
The worst thing that can happen to a human being is to come to the earth and leave without exactly knowing what they came here to do. It is not something I have really sat down to think about, I just enjoy what I do and I am happy doing what I am doing. I am happy to see the effect of what I am doing in the society.
What advice would you give to the up-and-coming who look up to you as a role model?
Well, I will tell them to look up to God, because God is the perfect role model and when you look up to God, you look up to yourself. Try and discover that special gift that God has given unto you. Because each and every one of us has a special gift, discover that gift and work on improving that gift. And you should never get to a stage and you say you know it all, because life is a continuous process. They should make the best of what God has given on to them.
Which of your album brought you into the limelight?
The first work that brought me into limelight was Mr. Fantastic, Ikebe Will Put You For Trouble. That is what brought me into limelight before all other things followed.
Are you working on a new project?
Yes; I am working on a project that I have been working on for the last five years. I think I am going to release an album in the next couple of months. I have been working on that project and I am still working on it.