How Daddy Showkey, Daddy Fresh, Baba Fryo became stars
John Oboh, a.k.a Mighty Mouse mentored them and other Ajegunle musicians
Says:Ajegunle music is being affected by the commercialization of musical
promotions in Nigeria
Before now, many things had been written and said about the evergreen ‘Ajegunle music’, where the ‘Galala’ dance step Before now, many things had been written and said about the evergreen ‘Ajegunle music’, where the ‘Galala’ dance step made popular by the likes of Daddy Showkey, Baba Fryo, Marvellous Benji, Daddy Fresh ruled the Nigerian music scene in the early 90s. But not much has been heard about the man that mentored the stars. John Oboh, a.k.a Mighty Mouse.
Mighty Mouse was not just the creator of the Ajegunle beat, he was the man behind the success stories of some of the big stars from the ghetto. Today, the story of AJ music cannot be complete without mentioning the pivotal role played by this Isan, Edo State-born music wizard, performer, composer, producer and showbiz investor. Fondly called Mighty Mouse, Oboh clocks 70 this year, having been born in 1957. In this engaging interview, like he never did before, Mighty Mouse opens up on how the Galala beat was created, his dreams then, and why he shut down the studio that served as a training ground for many of the Ajegunle musicians among other things many didn’t know about the evolution of the AJ music.
BY BENJMAIN NJOKU
Ajegunle became prominent in the early 90s for its propensity for churning out great music stars who ruled the country’s airwaves for years. How did their journey start?
Ajegunle music evolved when the Ajegunle boys embraced the reggae dance-hall. They were mimicking the sounds of the dance-hall in Jamaica as explored by musicians like Yellow man, but using our popular pidgin English to express themselves. Then I was a Disc Jockey, trained in America. When I returned to Nigeria, I conceived the idea of infusing our traditional beat into the reggae beat with rap to give our music a unique flavour.
That idea came to me in 1991, and I discussed it with my sister, Mabel who was in Ireland then. We needed some studio equipment so that we could express the genre. With her support, I set up the studio and the equipment was delivered alongside the drum machine. We tried to programme traditional beats in the drum machine and that was how the Ajegunle unique sound came about. I did a demonstration of what I had in mind. Later, I went into the studio with the likes of Daddy Showkey and Daddy Fresh and we started putting down some tracks. That was how they picked up. We started with my studio called, Jahoha Studios and moved to a Lagos Studio to do our final mixing as it was done in those days. I got into contact with professionals like Nelson Brown, Joe Jazz and Super Bricks. They were the engineers and musicians we had in those days at the Lagos Studio. Together with their support, I looked at how we could come up with a unique sound. We later came up with the beat, while Showkey came up with the galala dance. That was how the music and the dance went together and gave Ajegunle music a unique sound. With the studio, I trained a lot of sound engineers in addition to setting up a dancehall called, Ragga Dub Chapel. Boys were trooping into the chapel to get inspired and write their songs. That was how Baba Fryo, Marvelous Benjy, Danfo Driver, Nico Gravity started developing their talents. Daniel Wilson came from Port Harcourt to join us in my studio as well as African China.
You started off with Daddy Showkey and Daddy Fresh before others followed the trend?
I first produced my own song before I produced Showkey and Daddy Fresh when we set up my studio. My music was called Culture Beat. It was released in 1993. I produced Daddy Showkey’s debut album, “Move on Daddy Showkey.” That was the album that gave wings to the Ajegunle music because it later became a hit as Showkey was also recognized internationally.
How come your name is not ringing a bell in the Nigerian music scene?
It is because I am a producer and I was not ready to sell myself. I know there are some Nigerian producers whose names are out there, but it depends on how you want to present yourself as a producer. If you want to front yourself as a producer or you want to remain in the background. I loved staying in the background. It’s not everybody that wants to live the life of an artiste because it has its own challenges too. I loved to live a private lifestyle.
At this point, were you married?
It was about the time, I was getting married. It didn’t affect my marriage because at that time, I wasn’t fronting myself. I was satisfied with discovering new talents. And it gave me much pleasure than fronting myself. I was pleased with the fact that we could do it. I was also pleased with people coming to use my studio and making efforts to change their lifestyles. That was satisfactory enough to me.
What happened to the studio thereafter?
The studio was there for a long time. We trained a lot of sound engineers in Ajegunle and also, we mentored a lot of artistes. With the advancement in technology, a lot of the people I trained left to set up their own studios. While family issues took better part of my time. After a while, I didn’t have much time for the studio again. It was the development in the family that put more responsibilities on me and reduced my presence in the studio. But what I did now, was to make the studio a private one and no longer for the public again. If I have a project now, I could work in-house.
Do they pay homage to you?
Yes, they do. They just gave me an award in recognition of the role I played in the development of the AJ music. They do give me my due respect as the pillar of AJ music and I appreciate that.
But you didn’t make money from the effort?
It wasn’t about money, but about social re-engineering. It was also about supporting the young talented AJ boys.
How did you get the vision to help the talents in Ajegunle realize their dreams?
The vision was God-given. I have been around here, and I was a Disc jockey for many years. I knew that some of them were talented and they needed someone to support realize their dreams. When I approached my sister for financial assistance, she didn’t hesitate to do so. And that useful support led to what we now have as the Ajegunle Beat. Generations of AJ musicians have emerged but we played the foundational role when it comes to the evolution of the Ajegunle music.
Looking at the Ajegunle music today, would you say it’s a departure to what you used to have in the past?
It is not what it used to be in the past, which is quite unfortunate. Ajegunle music has gotten to the level where it has built a unique sound, but unfortunately, the commercialization of musical promotions affected Ajegunle music and it’s affecting it now. Today, it’s costing a fortune to promote music as compared to our time when it was ‘goodwill’ from the Disc Jockeys. We didn’t use money to promote our music. I am hoping for a revival of the music. I want the artistes to remain committed because Ajegunle music is singing about the realities of living in the ghetto. That’s what I love about the AJ music. It chronicles the everyday life of those living in the ghetto. I want the music to remain like that. I don’t want the artistes to commercialize it by singing about women, rain and money. Everything is an expression of life and they should not forget their commitment to the Ajegunle people.
What’s your assessment of Nigerian music?
I’m proud of Nigerian music because I’m part of the success story of our music. The music has all gone one way around the world. This is because DJs are now the producers and the response to the music of our time. Following the advent of technology, most producers are using sound proof mic and they all sound alike . And that’s why Nigerian music is sounding like foreign beat. But ours is more rhythmical and strong in melody. I’m optimistic that Nigerian music will top the world judging from the way it’s going. Our sound is yet to be discovered by the rest of the world.
You were also the promoter of the Black Repatriation Sounds, what was it all about?
It was established to promote the music of the black race. We did our first concert called the Black Repatriation comeback Sounds in 1995,with RayPower FM. It was held at the Comfort Hotel in Apapa, Lagos. We were preaching to the black people all over the world to return home and join hands with the natives to build the Africa of our dream. We tried to reach out to Nigerians and other Africans in the diaspora, encouraging them to invest into Africa. This is because the English man is building England while a Chinese man is busy building China, the Indian man is building Indian. So, it must be an African man that must build Africa. That was the idea behind the Black Repatriation Sounds. And it was also the spirit behind the Ajegunle music.
But you have not been able to sustain the concert again?
We are working with interested parties at the moment. It is the concept that we are promoting. So, we are looking forward to working with interested corporate bodies and individuals who would help us to promote the concert. The last time we held the concert was in 2012, at Eleko beach.
Why notable names like Daddy Showkey, Daddy Fresh, Baba Fyro among other Ajegunle musicians hardly acknowledge the all important role you played in the development of the AJ music?
I don’t know. You are interviewing me today not because I talked about myself. The generation that played with me such as Daddy Fresh, Daddy Showkey and others always give me my due respect whenever they run into me. That’s enough for me. But the younger generation that came after them did not know much about me.
But have they publicly acknowledged you as their mentor?
That question should be directed to them. But I know that the award they gave me last Sunday, at the Ajegunle to the World concert, was a result of Daddy Showkey’s recommendation. What more can I say. It was through him that the organizers of Ajegunle to the World concert came to look for me. Even though I was unable to attend the event, they still went ahead to honour me. I am grateful to the organizers.
How were you able to discover them in those days?
I made my studio as cheap as possible for the artistes so that they could develop their talents. I was charging them as less as N2000 per session. It was the most affordable studio in Lagos at that time. I engaged capable hands that helped to train them.
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