Almost like the Bible of Reggae Dance Hall Music in Nigeria, Covenant Child In This Interview, shares a bit of his intriguing and gripping story
BY CAMI EZENWA, PAUL MBAGWU & TOCHICANDY OBIDINANWA
Can we talk about your Afro Fusion Reggae dancehall? How has it been especially in terms of handling fresh reggae artistes?
If you are doing anything and there’s no passion, forget it. Nigeria is such a difficult and challenging place, whereby your passion might not necessary put food on the table if you are not careful. That’s the most challenging thing in promoting reggae dancehall music.
However, I’m friends with one of the Kutis, Kunle Kuti, who anchors Afro Fusion entertainment – he always listens to me on radio and when we met one on one during Felaboration, he said, hey, we can collaborate and that was how we agreed and came up with Afro Fusion Reggae dancehall night.
Initially when we started, it was from about from 7am till about 11 or 12. When we did the first show, we brought in artistes whom we tried to groom. The next week Tuesday after we finished the first one, we had the second one. For the third one as we were entering the shrine, some people called us and said, “Covenant child please when I was leaving at about 12 in the last show, that was the time some people were coming in, to about 12:30, in the morning”. According to them, the people said they heard that Covenant child was playing there. They then asked where I was. When they heard that the show was over, they said what! They said no! no! no! in protest.
So he now said to me, please extend this show. I asked, to like what time? He said to like 4,O clock. I exclaimed, eeh eeh from 7pm to 4am? When I had a chat with my team about it, we agreed to do from 7pm to 3am instead.
And trust me, it’s not a cracker biscuit. It’s not easy. So, we now broke it down to segments – reggae, dancehall. But the part I’m passionate about is where I get to discover and groom these reggae dancehall artistes, because there is something called the sound system culture which many of them did not have. The sound system culture in Jamaica is responsible for propagating reggae dancehall music.
The sound system basically requires you having a crew. You have your sound equipment, your turn table or whatever and go to different places to play reggae dancehall music. Name the artiste in Jamaica, the biggest reggae artistes in Jamaica, they all started with the sound system, after leaving the church choir or whatever place.
So it is the sound system that cultures them, teaches them a whole lot of things – about stage craft, about performing and all that. And that is what has been missing in Nigeria when it comes to reggae dancehall music.
In the eighties, we were not having this, apart from the Floating Bukka. Floating Bukka was where they discovered Buchi, also it was where Ras Kimono started his DJ selecting style; a lot of people don’t know this. And that is exactly what I’m trying to do at the Shrine.
There, we have Afro fusion Reggae dancehall night. That’s where I get to groom the artistes, so much so that that segment has become a show on its own.
I went somewhere yesterday; as I walked in, someone said, “yooh Ital sound”, and I said “big up”, he said “every Tuesday”. Of course, I will not know everybody, and he said don’t worry, every Tuesday and went on and on talking about the way I give the instrumentals to those artistes and the way I correct them when they go off key.
He said that the whole thing is a package on its own. At times, the way I whisper in their ear if they go off key; to hold the mic properly and all that, is like magic. And the artistes just get it right the next time. So that’s the passion – I’m so passionate about that.
Thus far, have you been able to discover talents from the programme?
What! Yes! In 2015, I did sound riddim clash at Silver Bird Galleria, and I took a chunk of the money I made from other jobs, and just threw it there. Somebody emerged winner. Another person who finished, I think seventy-six, came to me and said he would be coming around. He had been with us at Shrine from 2015 till date, and I assure you this guy can contest with the winner today, because I’ve impacted so much in him, in terms of what it means to be a reggae dancehall.
In all of these, don’t ask me about brand, don’t ask me about sponsorship, don’t ask me about any brand supporting me, none!
So, what would be your impression of Reggae dancehall artistes in Nigeria? How are they faring?
In Nigeria some artistes are not that serious. A lot of people say they are Reggae dancehall artistes, but they don’t know the culture, they don’t know what it means to be a Reggae dancehall artiste. They don’t know the significance of a lion; they don’t even know what the Ital colour stands for nor the historical part of Ital colour.
And that’s the reason why when they travel out of this country and get to perform with the bands and sound systems and there is a little jerking, they don’t know what it means. They don’t have the Jargons for Reggae dancehall. They don’t know ‘pull up’, they don’t know ‘come back selecter. You as Reggae artiste do not know some of these things, and say you’re Reggae dancehall artiste, how? How? It is not possible. Let just stop being stupid. If you don’t know something learn it, learn it for heaven’s sake.
So, when I say I have discovered artistes, can I count?
I was at an event, that was four weeks ago, where a senior colleague’s daughter was getting married, and one of the comedians was the MC; Immediately we walked in, the MC called out, ‘youuh, Big up Covenant Child, Reggae!’. Believe it or not, the whole atmosphere changed to Reggae. And a guy walked up to me and bent down to greet: his whole hands were on the floor, and I was embarrassed, and I asked him to stand up.
He now said he know I might not remember him, but that he had to do what he just did. He now narrated how that though I never knew him from anywhere, but that he came to the Shrine with this artiste and I listened to him and asked him to climb the stage. And not only did I allow him to climb the stage, that I directed him on what to do. That’s the reality.
What do you say to coming up with your own album to show Nigerians what Reggae really is?
In 2005 or 2006, a marketer actually came to meet me. You know what the marketer told me! He said, “Covenant Child, your tongue dey sweet like Jamaican patoi and having seen you like this you have a face to sell. You know what! Leave this promoting thing and Reggae thing you are doing and sing. If you sing, me I will market it and sell. And I will make money, you will make money. What do you say?”.
And I looked at him and I thought: I’m trying to promote this genre of music and pave way for upcoming artistes; if I leave what I’m doing now and go and sing, who will do what I’m doing?”.
You know things change, so several years later, a senior colleague – I’m trying not to mention names – called me and said he saw my interview on Silverbirds and that was about fifteen years ago, and had been impressed that for the first time, they breathe a fresh air because of the authentic Reggae I represent. They said they had seen someone who knew what he was talking about. They said to me, take this thing to another level, do a song..
And that was why when we did the Ital sound riddim clash, I called the winner, the second runner up and African China and we did a song called “Come back home” .
That’s how I did it and left it, because I don’t like to do things anyhow. Promotion is a different thing entirely, the same with standard video production..
So to answer your question directly, about doing an album to show people what authentic Reggae dancehall music is all about, that’s not necessary, because I’m doing it already. Thank God for social media, I have videos that I put out every Thursday to talk about happenings to Reggae and what happens to the media. Plus, the things I do on radio and other places, that show the people what Reggae dancehall music is all about.
Do you think you are doing enough to promote Reggae music?
I think I’m doing more than enough. The sacrifices are just too much. If I didn’t have passion for this, if I was not born to do this, I would have left it about two, three year ago when I first started, that’s the truth. When I first kicked off, I never knew I was going to be a sound system person. When I say sound system person, I mean somebody who plays with a turn table. All my head was, I was just presenting Reggea music and that’s it.
I never knew I was going to do it on TV; I never knew I was going to begin to act with the Reggae, you understand. So Reggae opened up a whole lot of talents I have.
In 2015 Charles Novia met me when I had things to do with Majek Fashek and it was blown off. He kept telling me, I have a script for you, I have a role for you. When he sees me on any interview or television, as I’m leaving the television or interview, he would call me and say, “Covenant, don’t forget I have a script for you”..
Down the line in 2016, right from 2005; that was when they now called me and put a ring on it, which was the title of the movie, and they cast me for two roles as a twin, Dennis and Desmond. One character as Covenant child, the other character as someone who speaks Queens English – you know, a clear demarcation.
Am I doing enough for Reggae dancehall music, Jesus wept. I think I’ve given my blood. I’ve sacrificed, I’m telling you. I remember, before Kimono passed on, the god-father of Reggae dancehall music in Nigeria, Daddy C, the same person that started the Floating Bukka, which used to be a boat by Marina, had a party for myself and my empress, somewhere in Surulere. And we agreed that every Thursday night that we would all be playing there. Myself, Kimono all other people would be playing there. We played there for about six months, and because nobody was paying, a whole lot of other guys left. I was the last man standing and Kimono was always going in and out of the country. So whenever he was around, he came around to play.
That was where the sound system culture started again in Lagos. So much so that when they sold the building , which was along Ogunlana Street in Surulere, somebody now recommended me to one other place. And from there people stated to recommend me to play at different spots. And that was how I took Ital sound to different places.
So name the place in Lagos, I have played there as a sound system, as a selecter. Name the Radio Station in Lagos, I have played there.
Do you have any connection with your African roots? You told us earlier on that you are from Imo State; the way you talk, your mannerisms seem to be showing that you are moving far away from your roots…?
If you look at me, I am wearing a T-shirt and I am wearing Ankara, how come you not wearing Ankara? You are more white man than me you know; I am more entrenched to my African roots because that is the originality of everything.
Do you have any role models?
Role model? Before I started, it used to be David Rodigan in UK. David Rodigan right now should be in his 60s- he promotes reggae dancehall music in UK. Then, he used to be on Capital 95.8 FM before he now moved to Kiss 100FM, BBC, whatever, whatever.
That would be somebody I got some ideas from basically. Role models? When I really think of role models, they were the mistake.
What message do you have for your fans?
The message that I have for my followers, they should put religion in one corner because religion has dealt a heavy blow to the African continent. To open up their hearts and that is where all kind s of information are put in place.
Most importantly, make sure you open your heart to reggae dancehall music, because that is where you will get the lyrical content they refuse to tell you in your religious gathering.
Should I say not anymore, it used to be back in the days of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, but these days, the reggae we hear doesn’t have it.
It still is. I will give you an assignment: go and listen to Chronixx. Go and listen to Jesse Royal, go and listen Damian Marley , go and listen to Tuface. Do you understand? Go and listen to these people. There is nowhere in the world, you would know these people, but google them. These are the new reggae dancehall artistes.
I intentionally left out all the ones you know because all these names I have mentioned, they borrowed the riff from those old ones, you understand?
So, if you still listen to these new ones, you will hear something that would blow your mind. There is an artiste in Jamaica known as Kiprish; he did a song called loyalty; he said money is the root of all evils. That means that money is a big evil tree. Check the lyrical content, the guy who did this song is not up to 40. The title of that song is loyalty. It is not Peter Tosh, you understand. I rest my case.
What is your final word?
When you say final word, it is as if I am gonna die! Don’t mind me, sometimes, I am full of crap…. My parting shot would be to the… I don’t want to say broadcast management entity, radio, TV, online bla..bla ..bla : Let us leave sentiments aside and actually research into what people would want to read, want to watch, want to listen to.
And with the empirical evidence, we now create content, your segments, or whatever it is you want to do. This is one area the field is lacking heavily in Nigeria. And of course, I will say, keep listening to reggae dance hall music. To everybody, keep listening to reggae.